Balanced Diet for Children

Developing minds and bodies need to eat a healthy, balanced diet in order to ensure that they are getting a variety of the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals they need for proper growth and development. Healthy eating can also prevent or reduce the risk of developing certain conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and even cancer.

The choices you make for your child today will have lasting consequences on their health tomorrow.

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How to Ensure a Balanced Diet

Model good behavior. Don’t allow a double standard to get your kids off track. If you want kids to choose fruit over candy, a healthy diet starts with you.

Incorporate family meals. We all know that some days, dinner consists of drive-through burgers in the car on the way to soccer practice. But eating together at regularly scheduled intervals as often as possible goes a long way toward establishing healthy habits. It also fosters family togetherness and teaches proper table manners. Aim to eat together at home at least three to four days out of the week.

Stock healthy foods. The old adage, “out of sight, out of mind,” holds true for food as well! If you don’t keep junk food around the house and instead keep a variety of healthy snacks within reach, you will be setting your kids up for success.

Involve your kids. Research shows that when kids feel like they’re a part of the process, they are better able to own their choices and develop habits that will last a lifetime. Kids as young as two can start to learn how to help you make dinner, read labels at the grocery store, and shop for healthy items. When meal planning, involve the whole family and get everyone’s input on what healthy side dishes or entrees they’d like to see that week.

Encourage trying a variety of foods. Many families operate under a “one-bite” or “three-bite” rule to encourage their kids to try everything on their plate. Sampling a variety of tastes from a young age helps ensure a healthy diet later in life.

The Specifics

A healthy diet will include plenty of this good stuff:

Protein: The best sources of healthy proteins include lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, and nuts. Just how much protein do kids need? In general, parents should aim to serve around half a gram of protein for every pound of body weight daily.

Healthy fats: Healthy fats like omega-3s are vital for brain development, energy, and even hormone regulation. The best sources of healthy fats for kids include nut butters, olive oil, avocado, and fish for unsaturated fats. Daily servings of eggs, grass-fed beef, or dairy in moderation can also be healthy sources of saturated fats.

Fruits and vegetables: You can’t go wrong with whole foods like fresh fruits and veggies! Experts recommend that a child’s diet contain more vegetables than fruit due to the high sugar content of most fruits.

Whole grains: Try to avoid simple carbs like white bread (which is often heavily processed and refined) and stick to healthier options such as whole grain bread and brown rice.

Dairy: Assuming that your child has no dairy allergy or intolerance, a daily serving of nutritious dairy products like organic whole milk can be a great source of essential vitamins and nutrients.

And a healthy diet will avoid these sneaky culprits:

Added sugar: One of the biggest sources of added sugar are sweetened sports drinks, juices, and sodas. Just a single serving of these drinks can include as much as 50g of sugar! (Meanwhile, the American Heart Association recommends that kids get just 25g of added sugar per day.) Too much sugar can lead to abnormal cholesterol levels and even type 2 diabetes. Read food labels carefully to find hidden sources of added sugar, ditch the sweetened drinks, and aim to serve water or milk as much as possible.

Saturated fats and trans fats: These unhealthy fats can raise cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. Saturated fats typically come from animal products, and many processed foods contain either saturated or trans fats. Read labels carefully and aim to keep these unhealthy fats within 7–10g per day.

Calorie Intake by Age

Age Range Girls Boys
2–3 1,000–1,400 1,000–1,400
4–8 1,200–1,800 1,200–2,000
9–13 1,400–2,200 1,600–2,600
14–18 1,800–2,400 2,000–3,200