Growing Up Healthy: A Pediatrician’s Guide to Kids’ Nutrition and Balanced Diets
We all know that children should eat healthily. But what nutrients do they need and how much?
Kids’ nutrition is pretty similar to adults’, but they need different amounts of nutrients as they grow. Their diet should consider their age, how active they are, and other factors. Here are some basic ideas from the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Focus on nutrient-dense foods, which are packed with nutrients and low in sugar, saturated fat, or salt. This way, your child gets the nutrients they need without too many calories.
Some great nutrient-dense foods include:
- Protein: seafood, lean meats, eggs, beans, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds
- Fruits: all kinds of fresh, canned, frozen, or dried fruits (watch out for added sugar in canned fruit)
- Vegetables: fresh, canned, frozen, or dried veggies (choose low-sodium options for canned or frozen)
- Grains: whole grains like whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, or brown rice
- Dairy: low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as fortified soy beverages
Be mindful of your child’s calorie intake from added sugar, saturated fats, and salt. Check nutrition labels, avoid sugary drinks, limit juice, and choose lower-sodium options. Encourage snacking on fruits and vegetables rather than chips and cookies.
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s diet, talk to their healthcare provider or a registered dietitian.
Here are some daily guidelines for kids based on their age and gender:
Ages 2 to 4:
- Girls: 1,000-1,400 calories; 2-4 oz protein; 1-1.5 cups fruits; 1-1.5 cups vegetables; 3-5 oz grains; 2-2.5 cups dairy
- Boys: 1,000-1,600 calories; 2-5 oz protein; 1-1.5 cups fruits; 1-2 cups vegetables; 3-5 oz grains; 2-2.5 cups dairy
Ages 5 to 8:
- Girls: 1,200-1,800 calories; 3-5 oz protein; 1-1.5 cups fruits; 1.5-2.5 cups vegetables; 4-6 oz grains; 2.5 cups dairy
- Boys: 1,200-2,000 calories; 3-5.5 oz protein; 1-2 cups fruits; 1.5-2.5 cups vegetables; 4-6 oz grains; 2.5 cups dairy
Ages 9 to 13:
- Girls: 1,400-2,200 calories; 4-6 oz protein; 1.5-2 cups fruits; 1.5-3 cups vegetables; 5-7 oz grains; 3 cups dairy
- Boys: 1,600-2,600 calories; 5-6.5 oz protein; 1.5-2 cups fruits; 2-3.5 cups vegetables; 5-9 oz grains; 3 cups dairy
Ages 14 to 18:
- Girls: 1,800-2,400 calories; 5-6.5 oz protein; 1.5-2 cups fruits; 2.5-3 cups vegetables; 6-8 oz grains; 3 cups dairy
- Boys: 2,000-3,200 calories; 5.5-7 oz protein; 2-2.5 cups fruits
Reference: Mayo Clinic – “Nutrition for Kids: Guidelines for a Healthy Diet” [https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/nutrition-for-kids/art-20049335]
MD, FRCPC, FAAP, Consultant Pediatrician