Good nutrition and your child

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “Is my child eating enough?” It’s not realistic to expect parents to watch everything their child eats. Children generally eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. A child who is gaining weight and growing well is getting enough to eat.

Our culture has become accustomed to large portions, but a child-sized body should consume a child-sized portion. A child-sized portion is approximately one-third to one-half of an adult-sized portion. With their small stomachs, children cannot eat enough at meals alone for their high-energy needs. They need to eat more frequently than adults, and so snacks make up an important part of childhood nutrition. Three meals and two or three healthy snacks a day help children meet their daily nutrition needs. If possible, try to stop snacking two hours before meals; otherwise, your child will not feel hungry when mealtime comes along.

One challenge parents might encounter is when their child seems to go for days without eating. This is normal behavior for children, especially toddlers. Toddlers and preschoolers grow in spurts, and they also tend to eat in spurts. Don’t be alarmed if your toddler seems to go a whole day or two without eating. Children reliably eat when they are hungry. As long as you offer them a healthful selection of foods, they will get what they need.

One of the more difficult tasks that parents face is helping their children to eat a healthy diet. Healthy food can be more expensive, more time consuming to prepare, and less appealing to a child’s picky palate. Better diet translates to better health, so it really is worth the effort. Here are a few steps you can take to help your child eat more healthfully:

  • Model healthy eating. Children are nothing if not keen observers. Anyone who has ever heard their toddler quoting them word for word knows this all too well. Toddlers and preschoolers certainly have their own ideas about things, but nevertheless, they want to do what their parents are doing. If you want your child to eat his vegetables, eat your vegetables. Your struggle will become infinitely easier.
  • Start with a healthy breakfast. Cereal is a great breakfast option. Most kids love cereal, and it’s a good way to sneak in a little milk to those kids who don’t like it. Kids over two years old should be drinking low-fat milk. Cereal can be tricky so use a little caution. Most cereals are loaded with sugar and lose most of their nutritional value this way. Choose cereals with less than 10 grams of sugar and at least 2 grams of dietary fiber per serving. Also, adding fruit to cereal is a great way to get in one of each day’s fruit and vegetable servings. Frozen fruits are just as healthy as fresh fruits and make a great topper to breakfast cereal.
  • Focus on “five a day.” School-age children should eat four to five different fruits or vegetables per day. Try to incorporate at least one at each meal and for at least one snack. The more variety of colors children eat, the better, so encourage them to “eat a rainbow,” meaning eat fruits and veggies of as many different colors as they can. Offering dips can really help kids eat more fresh fruits and veggies, for example, dipping apples in peanut butter or carrots in ranch dressing.
  • Eat together. Children are healthier when families eat together. Try to avoid eating while doing other activities such as watching television, and do your best to sit with your kids while they are eating.

Your child’s annual well-child check is a good time to talk to your family doctor or pediatrician about your child’s nutrition. A schedule of well-child exams is available on our website. The foods they eat as children will influence the food choices they make as adults, and also their overall future health.