Providing balanced, healthy meals for your children can sometimes feel like a full-time job. However, with a food pyramid that is easy to digest, nutrition does not have to be difficult. Indeed, the US Department of Agriculture abandoned its old-school “food pyramid” (remember the big base of “bread and cereals” on the bottom?) in favor of “MyPyramid,” which divides the old groups into vertical, triangle-shaped slivers that better reflect harmony and balanced eating habits.
Here’s a closer look at some dietary recommendations to help you properly feed your brood.
Know your calorie requirements, and don’t overeat. These can differ. For younger children, it is usually linked to age; for example, a 1-year-old requires only about 900 calories per day. Gender becomes more important as children grow older: Girls between 14 and 18 require 1,800 calories, while boys in this age group require 2,200. Use this calorie calculator as a starting point to get a sense of your child’s specific nutritional requirements.
- Fruits are best served in various ways, including fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Fruit juice contains too few nutrients and too much sugar, filling children up while decreasing their appetites.
- The more cancer-fighting carotenoids a vegetable has, the darker its color. Broccoli, kale, dark leafy greens, orange vegetables, beans, and peas are all good choices.
- Children should consume at least one fruit or vegetable per meal. Change up your vegetables as well (for instance: spinach, broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes).
- Whole-grain bread and cereals are more nutritious than refined grain products, which lack fiber, iron, and many B vitamins (the latter two are re-added with “enriched” grains). The first ingredient is listed on the food label. You should eat whole grains for at least half of your grain needs.
- Serve calcium in the form of nonfat and low-fat dairy products. Children aged one to eight years old require two cups of milk per day; those aged nine and up require three cups. If lactose-free products are required, select them.
- Lean meats and poultry are high in protein, which helps to maintain healthy skin, bones, muscles, and organs. Choose from baked, broiled, or grilled options. Avoid steamed and sautéed options, particularly when dining out. Protein sources include fish, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.
- Reduce your consumption of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars. Most of your fats should come from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids-rich foods like fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.