Childhood Nutrition: Necessary Nutrients
Let Food Groups guide your children’s meals.
Proper nutrition is the key ingredient to your child’s growth, development and ability to learn. Ensure your child reaches his or her daily goals for key nutrients by offering three meals each day. Also offer nutritious snacks between meals to help obtain nutrients and Food Group goals necessary for a balanced meal plan.
When planning meals and snacks, give special attention to:
Obtained primarily from four Food Groups: Grains, Fruits, Vegetables and Dairy. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, so focus on high-fiber whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables and milk products with minimal added sugars.
Found predominantly in the foods from the Protein Foods Food Group, protein rebuilds tissues, makes up hormones and maintains a strong immune system. Incorporate plant-based proteins into meals with foods like dried beans and lentils, soy, tofu, nuts and seeds. For meat, choose lean sources like fish, chicken and turkey without the skin, ground turkey breast and lean cuts of beef and pork.
Used for insulation, temperature regulation and protection of organs, fat is a necessary nutrient, but should not constitute the majority of your child’s diet. Make plant fats (canola oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds) and omega-3s from fish the main source of fat in your family’s meal plan.
Although meeting all vitamin needs is important, the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans cites vitamin D as a nutrient of concern. Vitamin D is essential for growing bones, a strong immune system and cognitive health, so make sure your child’s daily intake includes sources of vitamin D from foods like fortified milk products, juices and fish.
Proper hydration helps to maintain energy. Let thirst be your child’s guide and keep them hydrated with water, lowfat milk and caffeine-free, low-added sugar beverages.
Ensure your child’s meal plan includes plenty of calcium for bone development, potassium for fluid balance and maintaining blood pressure and magnesium for bone strength and body enzymes. Have your child reach daily calcium goals with three servings of Dairy products or equivalent calcium-fortified foods. Eating a meal plan rich in deep-colored fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dried beans, peas and lentils, nuts and whole grains will provide the needed potassium and magnesium.
Children and adults alike miss out on fiber. When choosing sources of carbohydrates, focus your family’s shopping dollars on whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice and high-fiber, low-sugar whole grain cereals and crackers) versus those made with processed grains (white bread, white rice and high-sugar, low-fiber cereals and crackers).
There’s no secret to what your child needs to grow into a healthy and successful adult — balanced nutrition! By offering nutritious family meals and snacks that provide the necessary nutrients, they’ll look, feel and perform their best.