Nutrition: Diet: Meal Planning: Guidelines: Suggestions: Children
Balanced Diet for Healthy Kids
All children benefit from healthy eating and physical activity. A balanced diet and being physically active help children:
- grow naturally
- learn to value health and nutrition
- build strong bones and muscles
- have energy for daily activities
- maintain a healthy weight
- avoid obesity-related diseases like type 2 diabetes
- get plenty of vital nutrients
- feel good about themselves
Parents play a big role in shaping children's eating habits. When parents eat a variety of foods that are low in fat and sugar and high in fiber, children learn to like these foods as well. It may take 10 or more tries before a child accepts a new food, so do not give up if your child does not like a new food right away. Try these tips in your home:
- try using vegetables as rewards for adherence to positive behavior
- instead of ice cream or cookies for treats, make vegetables interesting to eat; try "ants on a log" (raisins over peanut butter on a celery stick)
- find a "favorite" and use it with frequency
- mix in good foods with "junk" foods slowly and progressively
- make vegetable fruit drinks -- try juicing
- use crackers instead of chips
- substitute fruits for candies
How can Mom and Dad influence little one's from becoming "couch potatoes?"
Parents have an effect on children's physical activity habits as well. You can set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride after dinner instead of watching TV. Playing ball or jumping rope with your children shows them that being active is fun.
With many parents working outside the home, child care providers also help shape children's eating and activity habits. Make sure your child care provider offers well-balanced meals and snacks, as well as plenty of active play time.
A few general guidelines
Children 2 to 6 years old need two servings from the milk group per day; children over 6 need three servings. Do not limit fat for children under 2. For older children, aim for a total fat intake of no more than 30 percent of daily calories.
- Do not put your child on a weight-loss diet unless your health care provider tells you to. Limiting what children eat may interfere with their growth.
- Involve the whole family in building healthy eating and physical activity habits. It benefits everyone and does not single out the child who is overweight.
- Accept and love your child at any weight. It will boost his or her self-esteem.
- Help your child find ways other than food to handle setbacks or successes.
- Talk with your health care provider if you are concerned about your child's eating habits or weight.
Kids are little people with big needs
Remember, you play the biggest role in your child's life. You can help your children learn healthy eating and physical activity habits that they can follow for the rest of their lives.
Make sure your child eats breakfast. Breakfast provides children with the energy they need to listen and learn in school. Offer your child a wide variety of foods, such as grains, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy products, and lean meat or beans. Talk with your health care provider if you are concerned about your child's eating habits or weight.
Try a few of these tips
- Cook with less fat—bake, roast, or poach foods instead of frying.
- Limit the amount of added sugar in your child's diet. Serve water or low-fat milk more often than sugar-sweetened sodas and fruit-flavored drinks.
- Involve your child in planning and preparing meals. Children may be more willing to eat the dishes they help fix.
- Be a role model for your children. If they see you being physically active and having fun, they are more likely to be active and stay active throughout their lives.
- Encourage your child to be active everyday.
- Involve the whole family in activities like hiking, biking, dancing, basketball, or roller skating.