For children ages two to twelve, it is very important to instill good eating habits and avoid overindulgence in refined sugars and flours and high-fat, fried fast foods. Children need a lot of nourishing foods to provide them with all of the important nutrients for growth; though physical growth is a little slower in this age period than it is in infancy or during adolescent years, mental growth is relatively rapid.
Creating healthy eating patterns begins with encouraging the consumption of good quality, wholesome foods, which is a lot easier when parents eat this type of diet. Children’s tendencies are toward the sweets, treats, and salted snacks and away from vegetables, the important food group that probably offers the greatest nutritional challenge for parents. Try to be creative with veggies; most children prefer raw vegetables to cooked, so try more raw veggies. Basically, offer whatever vegetables the children like and maintain the fruits, grains, and protein foods.
Many children like to help and be part of their nutrition. Support this by reaching agreements and creatively inspiring their food choices and by teaching them to prepare food and feed themselves at an early age. Avoid soft drinks and excessive poor quality, “treat” foods, and offer more nourishing snacks, such as fruits, cheese or yogurt, nuts, crackers, or popcorn. Avoid nutritional adversity—battles and hassles around mealtime, and rewards of sweets such as ice cream, cake, or candy, or just dessert, for eating their vegetables. Bribery and rewards may emphasize the treats and lessen the value of the more healthful foods. Again, getting children involved in meal planning and preparation as they get older is often helpful. Having them assist in preparing their school lunch will give them more identity with it and pleasure in eating it. Good eating habits will generate good nutrition and thus a good mind and good actions.
For preschool kids, ages two to five, this is often a time of slower growth, and sometimes these children will decrease their food intake. Parents may be concerned, but usually these kids are fine. Offer them wholesome foods. Avoid bribing. Just keep offering them the foods they need, and be a good example yourself. Keep their diet low in refined foods, chemical foods, and sweet, salty, or fried foods. Children this age like to eat with their hands, especially finger snacks, so give them small pieces at meals when appropriate.
For school children, ages five to twelve, it may get a little tougher. Often likes and dislikes will limit their diets. Food games lose their charm, and rebellion may begin. On the other hand, many kids in this age group will become more cooperative and want to be helpful and accepted and thus may really attempt to eat well. A good breakfast is essential for these children going off to school. Eating hot, whole-grain cereals will provide a good source of morning energy (the sugary cereals may be more stimulating, but the boost is short-lived and may be followed by a depressed period); some protein, such as eggs, will also provide sustaining energy. Given the current level of institutional (school) nutritional awareness, it is best to sack a good lunch for your child and to encourage them to eat it at lunchtime. However, there are always outside influences at their age, such as other children or television, that will attempt to undermine the healthful eating habits you have tried to develop in your children. Setting a good example (to not only do as we say, but also as we do) is the best influence parents have on the overall nutritional patterns of their young ones.
Many parents overestimate their children’s needs and the amount of food required (which we do for ourselves as well). It is best to create simple meals and serve smaller portions more frequently throughout the day. Needs for calories and many of the basic nutrients will vary from ages two through ten. Obviously, with increased size and activity, the older children will need more food, which they naturally will eat. The more we can support them in avoiding empty calories, the better chance they will have of optimum growth. During the middle years, the average youngster will gain between five and eight pounds and grow about one-half inch per year, provided they have the nutrients they need. Support a healthy amount of physical activity in place of laziness or too much TV and telephone.
As insurance to prevent nutrient deficiencies, many parents want their children to take some supplements. Chewables are still a favorite, though as they grow, many kids can swallow pills and capsules. Powdered formulas can be added to foods. The nutrient levels shown in the table reflect the RDAs plus a little insurance for the special needs of children between the ages of two and eleven.
|2–4 Years||4–6 Years||6–11 Years|
|Protein||23–28 g.||30–35 g.||35–45 g.|
|Vitamin A||2500 IUs||3000 IUs||4000 IUs|
|Vitamin D||400 IUs||400 IUs||400 IUs|
|Vitamin E||15 IUs||20 IUs||25 IUs|
|Vitamin K||30 mcg.||40 mcg.||60 mcg.|
|Thiamine (B1)||0.8 mg.||1.0 mg.||1.5 mg.|
|Riboflavin (B2)||1.0 mg.||1.2 mg.||1.6 mg.|
|Niacin (B3)||10 mg.||12 mg.||17 mg.|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||4 mg.||4 mg.||5 mg.|
|Pyridoxine (B6)||1.0 mg.||1.5 mg.||2.0 mg.|
|Cobalamin (B12)||3 mcg.||4 mcg.||5 mcg.|
|Folic acid||150 mcg.||250 mcg.||350 mcg.|
|Biotin||75 mcg.||100 mcg.||150 mcg.|
|Vitamin C||100 mg.||150 mg.||200 mg.|
|Calcium||800 mg.||800 mg.||850 mg.|
|Chloride||1.0 g.||1.5 g.||2.0 g.|
|Chromium||80 mcg.||120 mcg.||200 mcg.|
|Copper||1.5 mg.||2.0 mg.||2.5 mg.|
|Fluoride||1.5 mg.||2.0 mg.||2.5 mg.|
|Iodine||80 mcg.||100 mcg.||125 mcg.|
|Iron||15 mg.||12 mg.||12 mg.|
|Magnesium||200 mg.||250 mg.||300 mg.|
|Manganese||2.0 mg.||2.5 mg.||3.0 mg.|
|Molybdenum||125 mcg.||200 mcg.||300 mcg.|
|Phosphorus||800 mg.||800 mg.||800 mg.|
|Potassium||1.5 g.||2.0 g.||2.5 g.|
|Selenium||100 mcg.||150 mcg.||200 mcg.|
|Sodium||1.0 g.||1.3 g.||1.8 g.|
|Zinc||10 mg.||10 mg.||10 mg.|