Nutrition requirements — everywhere you look there’s different information and recommendations. Figuring out nutrition for your kids can be a frustrating experience. We’re bombarded by marketing that says a snack is “healthy”, a drink of this can be the same nutrients as a plate of vegetables, and “low-fat” this and “no-calorie” that options are available everywhere. We think we’re doing ok offering these foods to our kids only to find out that the sweetener turns into formaldehyde inside our bodies, that the drink has high fructose corn syrup as a major ingredient, and that snack food isn’t that healthy after all. It’s frustrating but also a very sad situation when parents really want to do what’s right for their children. Here are some basics about nutrition requirements.
Young child nutrition and development go hand-in-hand. As your toddler develops into a young child he will develop social, fine motor, and gross motor skills. He will use all those skills during meal times. He will learn how to sit at the table, feed himself, will experience new foods, and watch his parents eat and observe their meal time behaviors. Nutrition requirements, your child’s intake, and your young child’s development are closely linked. What is the food your child eats? It’s the “fuel” his body needs to function. Therefore, if your child doesn’t take in the necessary nutrients (fuel), his development will suffer. For children who have unhealthy diets, many times you’ll see hyperactivity, fatigue, irritability, more illness, or discomfort from things like constipation.
Food decisions, table manners, and other messages received from adults all affect a child’s nutritional intake and therefore can affect development. Let’s first talk about what a child requires for health at different ages and then we’ll discuss the other issues around food intake.
Nutrition Requirements for a Young Child
What a healthy child needs is based on his age, sex, and daily activity level. The first step is to determine your child’s activity level, consider a typical day.
Now go to My Plate Daily Food Plan, following the instructions you’ll see how much your child needs from each food group. Now click on the “Meal Tracking Worksheet” and print out your child’s personalized worksheet. Use this worksheet you’ve printed out and on the left side write down everything your child eats & drinks for one day. Then, use the middle portion to determine serving sizes and then list the food into each food group.
Lastly, calculate how well your child did in getting the appropriate numbers of servings from each food group. Click here to see an example. When you look at what this 7 year old ate (listed on the left), it looks pretty good. However, when looking at the right side, she’s taken in a little too many grains (6 servings when her body only needs 5), not enough vegetables (took in 1, she needs 2 cups), much more of fruits needed for the day (4 cups when she only needs 1 1/2 cups), 1 serving extra of milk, and not enough from the meat & beans group. For the child in this example, a few changes to her diet that day could make a big difference in the total calories consumed and could balance out her nutritional intake. The three changes listed here would help this girl get what “fuel” she needed for the day
1. measuring out 1/2 cup of orange juice in the morning and this being the only fruit juice given for the whole day, replacing the remainder of juice offerings with water,
2. changing the afternoon snack to 1/2 ounce of almonds and a handful of baby carrots with a glass of water,
3. and finally making the PB&J sandwich with one slice of bread instead of two.
Using a tool like this every once in a while can help you identify which areas your child is doing well in and which food group areas your child ‘s dietary intake is lacking or overfilled from.
Harvard School of Public Health has come up with another tool that can be helpful called the “Healthy Eating Plate“.
Ask questions from your child’s healthcare provider about your child’s nutrition requirements.