Feeding Kids Right

image credit: Dan McKay

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designed a new food guide pyramid specifically for kids. It’s organized by colored stripes representing the five food groups, as well as fats and oils.

Kids may vary in the amount of food they eat each day simply because of their appetites. Offer healthy food choices at consistent times to assist with developing appropriate eating habits.

Food Groups
Foods are grouped together based on their nutrient value. Some foods, however, can be good sources of several key nutrients. For example, beans, milk and yogurt are good sources of both carbohydrates and protein, so a bean burrito would count towards both a protein and grain serving.

Serving Sizes

Many people have questions regarding serving sizes. Use this as a guide in offering foods to your child.

Milk and yogurt: 4 oz. or ½ cup
Vegetables:  ½ cup raw vegetables or ¼ cup cooked
Fruit and juices: 4 oz. juice, 1 small piece fresh, ½ cup canned
Meat: 1 oz.
Meat substitutes: 1 egg, 1 Tbsp. peanut or other nut butter

Fostering Good Habits

  • Offer meals/snacks around the same time each day.
  • Offer small servings of different foods. Your child will not be overwhelmed with new or different foods on their plate, and if they like them, there will be room for seconds.
  • Keep junk food and sweets as special or treat foods only. There is little room for them in the daily diet.
  • Remember that developing healthy eating habits occurs over time. Having a healthy attitude and approach towards accepting all foods in a diet and showing your child how to make that happen is as important as learning whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable.

Food Jags

It’s common for kids to go through food jags where they will want the same food or foods on a daily basis. Parents often worry or get frustrated when they feel their children are not consuming enough of a certain nutrient or too much of a certain nutrient. Rest assured, food jags seldom last for long periods of time. During this period, however, it is important to keep offering different foods, offer something at every meal that you know your child will eat and if needed, provide a vitamin-mineral supplement after a thorough discussion with your pediatrician.

If your child will not eat chicken, beef, pork or fish, try offering one of these foods:

  • Nut butters like peanut, almond or macadamia
  • Scrambled, hard-boiled, or fried eggs
  • Cheese (Swiss, mozzarella, or provolone are good choices)
  • Seeds, including pumpkin or sesame
  • Legumes or beans (for example peas or refried beans)

If your child will not eat milk, try offering one of these foods:

  • Cheese
  • Fortified soy milk
  • Almonds or almond butter
  • Calcium-fortified cereals or orange juice

image credit: deedoucette

If your child will not eat fruit, try offering one of these foods:

  • Different types of fruit or different textures (dried, frozen, blendered)
  • More vegetables your child likes

If your child will not eat vegetables, try offering one of these foods:

  • Different types of vegetables
  • Sometimes kids respond to foods that are “their” size, such as baby carrots, crinkle-cut zucchini pieces or broccoli tops

Highly preserved or processed items like cream cheese, sour cream, salsa or pickles may help promote interest in other more healthy food items, but they don’t count towards servings from any actual food group. For instance, you might want to try serving raw vegetables with a cream cheese dip or salsa. You may also like to try whole wheat waffles or pancakes spread with cream cheese or peanut butter. Be creative, keep trying and be a good role model yourself for healthy behaviors you want your child to model.

Try using this guide to help plan your child’s day.

For 2–3-year-olds:

Breakfast = 1 grain + 1 dairy
Example: 1/2 c cooked oatmeal + 4 oz. milk or yogurt

Lunch = 1 grain + 1 oz. meat or substitute + 1 dairy + 1 vegetable
Example: 1 slice bread + 1 Tbsp. peanut butter + 4 oz. milk or yogurt + 1/2 c. baby carrots

Snack = 1 fruit
Example: 1/2 fresh pear

Dinner = 1 grain + 1 oz. meat or substitute + 1 vegetable + 1 dairy
Example: 1/2 c. cooked pasta + 2 – 1/2 oz. meatballs + 1/2 c. cooked broccoli + 4 oz. milk or yogurt

Snack = 1 fruit + 1 dairy
Example: 1/2 fresh apple + 4 oz. milk or yogurt

For 4–8-year-olds:

Breakfast = 1 grain + 1 dairy + 1 fruit
Example: 1/2 c cooked oatmeal + 4 oz. milk or yogurt + 1/2 banana

Lunch = 2 grain + 1 oz. meat or substitute + 1 dairy + 1 vegetable
Example: 2 slices bread + 1 oz. lunch meat + 4 oz. milk or yogurt + 1/2 c. baby carrots

Snack = 1 fruit + 1 oz. meat or substitute
Example: 1 small apple + 1 Tbsp. peanut butter

Dinner = 1 grain + 1-2 oz. meat or substitute + 1-2 vegetables + 1 dairy
Example: 1/2 c. cooked rice + 2 oz. stir-fry chicken + 3/4 c. stir-fry vegetables + 4 oz. milk or yogurt

Snack = 1 fruit + 1 dairy
Example: 1/2 c. canned peaches + 4 oz. milk or yogurt

– Christine Eagle M.S., Registered Dietitian

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