Not only is it important what a child eats, but also when. Whereas it is recommended that adults eat three meals per day with a snack each in the morning and afternoon, children can also follow this eating routine, but with the addition of an evening snack.
So what does a balanced diet look like for a child? To start, it should include foods from all of the five food groups at the recommended percentages:
Fruits and vegetables – 33%
Whole grain – 33%
Dairy – 15%
Meat – 12%
Fat and sugar – 7%
By eating this way, children are getting the correct amount of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, protein (both meat and dairy) and fats. Why are each of these important to a child’s development?
Carbohydrates are necessary for energy. With a child moving all the time, they burn up a lot of calories. With a third of their calories coming from carbohydrates – whole grain, you’ll ensure they’ll have the energy they need.
Protein are the body’s building blocks to create, sustain and repair muscles along with building antibodies which can protect them from certain diseases. Twenty-seven percent of their calories should be derived from the high protein foods eggs, dairy and meat products.
Vitamins and minerals play a big part in the development of your child. For example, calcium builds strong bones and teeth. Vitamins boost the immune system and helps in the development of cells and organs. Vitamin D is needed by the body in order for it to breakdown calcium so the body can absorb it. Without enough Vitamin D, the calcium goes through the digestive system and is wasted.
The same holds true with a child eating good fats from the unsaturated family – mono and poly. Certain vitamins such as A, D, E and K are fat soluble. So without the proper amount of healthy fats to dissolve and absorb into the body, these too go through your digestive system unused and your child ends up deficient in these vitamins.
Finally, while not really a “food”, water is a vital ingredient in your child’s health. While the amount a child needs depends on the outdoor temperature and level of outdoor activities, generally speaking they should have as many 8-ounce servings per day at the various age groups shown below:
Age 4-8: 5
Age 9-13: 6
Age 14 and older: 8
What, when and how much you feed your child now plays a big part on their health as an adult. Make sure they get their three healthy meals and snacks per day at approximately the same times each day and in the correct portions. If you need help in identifying foods that comprise a healthy diet for your child, see your child’s pediatrician for advice.