Healthy Kids: How to Ensure Your Child is Eating Healthy
When you have a picky eater in your house it can be difficult to tell whether your child is getting the proper levels of the various vitamins, minerals, and other substances that make up adequate child nutrition. Even when your children eat enough it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether the foods they are eating are giving them the nutrition they need on a daily basis.
Today we are going to be looking at just what makes up good nutrition for school-aged children as well as tips for making sure that they are getting what they need.
The Building Blocks of Good Child Nutrition
All nutrition is based on a set of dietary substances that even we as adults should be working to get the recommended daily amount of each day to help stay strong and healthy.
For a complete list of recommended daily allowances by age be sure to visit this helpful chart at Consumer Lab.
When choosing a protein you should always go for lean meats such as poultry, fish, or other kinds of seafood. You can also choose things such as eggs, beans, and even a few vegetables. However, it is important to make sure that you are getting all 9 of the essential amino acids into your diet.
Many animal proteins have the proper levels of these amino acids. For this reason, they are known as complete proteins. However, for those going with a plant-based diet, your diet may consist of incomplete proteins and will require some supplementation or adjustments.
Complete Proteins: These are proteins that contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that are not made in the body.
- milk and milk products
Incomplete Proteins: These are proteins that do not contain all 9 of the essential amino acids. You will need to combine two or more of these proteins in order to add up to the proper levels of amino acids.
Combination Examples Include:
- brown rice and beans
- corn and beans
- brown rice and green peas
- nuts and legumes
- hummus and whole grain pitas
School-aged girls and boys (9-13) should be eating about 5 ounces of protein per day. This can be from complete or incomplete proteins as long as you are eating a variety of proteins.
When serving vegetables it is key to choose fresh options over those that are canned. Frozen vegetables can be used in place of fresh in a pinch. However, canned vegetables can often contain added sodium, sugar, or preservatives that will detract from the nutritional value of the vegetables.
It is best to try to get a wide variety of color into your child’s diet when choosing vegetables. This will help to ensure that essential vitamins such as Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Iron, and other nutrients are being consumed. Vegetables can also be a fantastic source of dietary fiber which helps to aid in digestion.
High Fiber Vegetable Examples:
- split peas
- Brussel sprouts
School-aged girls and boys (9-13) should be eating 2 to 2.5 cups of vegetables per day. It is important to eat a wide variety of vegetables such as dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes, and starchy vegetables.
At one point in time, it was believed that the amount of fruit in a child’s diet should be equal to that of vegetables. However, recent studies have found that the natural sugars found in fruits can be bad for your health if consumed in large amounts.
Fruits can also be an extra source of water in the diet (However, it is important to drink plain water as well to avoid dehydration)
May fruits are an excellent source of antioxidants. These are substances that help to remove potentially dangerous oxidizing agents from the body.
Antioxidant Fruit Examples:
- goji berries
School-aged girls and boys (9-13) should eat about 1.5 cups of fruits per day. They should include a wide variety of foods such as citrus fruits, berries, and stone fruits.
When choosing grains for your child’s diet it is important to always go for whole grains when possible. Refined grains are grains that have been stripped of their nutrients. Often, refined grains will have added substances such as sugar.
Whole Grains Examples:
- brown rice
School-aged girls should have around 5 ounces of grains per day and school-ages boys should have around 6 ounces per day. This can come from things like bread, cereals, or even popcorn. However, it is important to try to stay as close to possible to the natural form of the grains that you choose.
There can be confusing information out there when it comes to dairy. Some sources state that you should always choose skim or low-fat options. Others feel that regardless of age children should drink whole milk for the full benefit. The official recommendation from the USDA is to choose low-fat or skim milk to avoid saturated fats.
Dairy products are an excellent source of Calcium and Vitamin D which helps in the absorption of Calcium.
Excellent sources of dairy include:
- hard cheeses
- fat-free of skim milk
- ice cream
School-aged boys and girls (9-13) should be consuming around 3 cups of dairy products per day. This could come from low-fat yogurts, cheeses, or milk.
Although they are not considered a food group oils are an excellent source of many essential nutrients such as fatty acids or vitamins such as magnesium and potassium. When choosing oils to add to your child’s diet it is important to choose those that are higher in monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
Healthy Oil Choices:
School-aged children (9-13) should have around 5 teaspoons of oils in their diet each day. This could include oils from dressings, nuts, fish, or cooking oils.
It’s a Numbers Game
By following simple child nutrition guidelines and understanding the recommended daily value of each of the foods listed above you can ensure that your child is getting the proper levels of essential vitamins and minerals in their diet. When choosing fruits and vegetables be sure to pick a wide variety of color to cover all of the vitamins.
Vitamins by the Colors:
- Vitamin A: Can be found in carrots and orange foods. This vitamin is good for eye health.
- B Vitamins: Can be found in yellow foods like bananas or lemons. B vitamins are good for energy and immune system support.
- Vitamin C: Of course, can be found in oranges and citrus fruits. It can also be found in green peppers, guava, or cantaloupe. This vitamin is an excellent anti-oxidant good for strengthening skin and blood vessels.
- Vitamin D: Think brown for vitamin D. Excellent sources of this vitamin are eggs, mushrooms, and fish. This vitamin aids in calcium absorption and supports strong bones and teeth.
- Vitamin E: This vitamin can be found mostly in nuts like almonds or sunflower seeds. It provides support to the body by fighting free radicals.
- Vitamin K: Green, leafy vegetables are a great place to find Vitamin K. This vitamin helps with proper blood coagulation.
Be sure to avoid foods that are highly processed These foods are often low in essential nutrients and high in things such as saturated fats or chemical additives. Many times these foods will be nothing more than empty calories that can lead to poor eating habits, obesity, and health problems later in life.
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