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Healthy Eating - Healthy Eating Plan for Kids

Child Nutrition Basics

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Updated June 15, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you have a picky eater at home, your kids may be nowhere near the healthy eating plan that the food pyramid recommends, including that kids, depending on their age:

  • eat 1 to 2 cups of fruit each day
  • eat 1 to 3 cups of vegetables each day
  • drink 2 to 4 cups of milk each day (typically fat free or low fat for kids who are at least two years old)
  • eat 2 to 6 ounces of low-fat or lean meat or chicken, or other foods from the Meat & Beans food group, such as fish, beans, peas, eggs, etc.
  • get half of their grains from whole grains

Following the above healthy eating recommendations will help your kids follow a diet that has a lot of foods that are high in fiber, low in fat and have calcium, iron and other vitamins and minerals that they need. These recommendations also help them avoid high-calorie and high-fat foods that can lead to childhood obesity and other health problems.

Healthy Eating Plan

If your kids don't eat well, you might view the food pyramid as a goal to reach for and use this healthy eating plan to get there:

  • Offer your kids at least one serving of fruit each day.
  • Offer your kids at least one serving of vegetables each day.
  • Offer your kids at least one serving of non-fat milk (skim milk) or low-fat milk (1% or 2% milk) each day or other high-calcium food, like cheese made with low-fat milk.
  • Limit 100% fruit juice to only one serving a day.
  • Eat most meals at home together as a family.
  • Offer at least one whole grain food each day, such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, or a whole grain breakfast cereal.
  • Cook foods by baking, grilling, or roasting as often as possible, instead of frying them.
  • Prepare and serve whole foods as often as possible instead of processed and packaged kids' meals that are often high in fat, calories, and salt, and low in fiber.
  • Offer age-appropriate portion sizes when your child eats meals and snacks.

As your kids learn to make healthy choices and start to eat better, you can then move closer to the food pyramid guidelines, for example, starting to offer them 1 1/2 servings of vegetables each day.

It may take some time, but having a healthy eating plan will help move your kids away from wanting to eat chicken nuggets and french fries at every meal.

To help your kids with their healthy eating plan, it may also help to:

  • Avoid flavorings that can make milk less healthy, keeping in mind that chocolate milk or strawberry milk flavoring will usually add more sugar and calories to your child's serving of milk.
  • Avoid serving or don't serve fried meats, such as chicken nuggets, corn dogs, or fish sticks, more than once a week.
  • Avoid serving or don't serve high-fat meats, such as sausage, bacon, hot dogs, or bologna, more than once a week.
  • Don't give your kids drinks with a lot of added sugar, such as sweet tea, soda, or fruit punch or any fruit drinks that are less than 100% fruit juice.
  • Avoid eating fast food and make healthy choices when you do go out to eat at a restaurant.
  • Avoid giving sweets on a regular basis, limiting candy, cookies and cakes to occasional treats, and offering healthy snacks in between meals and for dessert instead.

Combined with regular physical activity on most days, this healthy eating plan can help your kids maintain a healthy weight or even begin to lose weight if they are already overweight.



Sources:

Robert C. Whitaker, MD, MPH; Rachel A. Gooze, MPH; Cayce C. Hughes, MPH; Daniel M. Finkelstein, PhD, EdM. A National Survey of Obesity Prevention Practices in Head Start. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163(12):1144-1150.

United States Department of Agriculture. MyPyramid.gov Tips & Resources. Accessed December 2009. http://www.mypyramid.gov/tips_resources/index.html

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