There’s no doubt that food plays a key role in the health of children. In fact, ensuring the best nutrition for kids can help promote growth and development, support immune function and set long-term healthy eating habits.
Conversely, a diet high in nutrient-poor processed foods, added sugars and trans fats can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies, stunted growth and behavioral problems, along with a range of different health issues.
In this comprehensive guide on the best nutrition for children, we’ll cover some basic guidelines to follow, take a closer look at a few of the most important micronutrients and review the best foods for kids.
Child Nutrition Facts
Researchers have long been studying the importance of childhood nutrition and the link between health and nutrition for kids. Not only can adequate nutrition support proper growth and development, but it may also provide protection against disease and promote healthy eating habits throughout the lifespan.
Studies show that it could also impact many other aspects of health as well. For example, a 2016 study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that early childhood nutrition was associated with enhanced educational outcomes for adolescents. According to the study, offering a nutritional supplement to pregnant women and children under was linked to improved school enrollment and completion of more grades at school.
Ensuring the best nutrition for kids may also affect:
- Growth and development
- Bone formation
- Immune health
- Cognitive function
- Dental health
- Disease prevention
Nutritional deficiencies can contribute to stunted growth, bone abnormalities and behavioral problems, along with conditions like anemia, rickets and goiter.
Balanced Diet Chart
So what exactly does a balanced diet chart for a 10-year-old child, toddler or preteen look like? In 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration (USDA) published MyPlate, which replaced the traditional food pyramid for kids and set simple guidelines on what a healthy meal should look like.
MyPlate is divided into four sections and comprised of about 40 percent vegetables, 30 percent grains, 20 percent proteins and 10 percent fruits. It is also accompanied by a small circle, which represents dairy in the form of milk or yogurt.
Ideally, the plate should be made up mostly of minimally processed, whole foods. Not only are these lower in added sugar, preservatives and chemicals, but they are also higher in the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants necessary to optimize child nutrition.
In order to ensure the best nutrition for children, take the following steps:
1. Consume nutrient-dense foods
It’s important to fill their diet with a variety of nutrient-dense, whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and protein foods all offer a wealth of vitamins and minerals that are essential for child nutrition, along with other essential nutrients like fiber and antioxidants.
2. Drink water
Hydration is also a key component in any child nutrition guidelines. Staying hydrated is important for many aspects of health, and drinking enough water regulates everything from cell function to body temperature and beyond. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, water requirements can vary, but typically range from 7–14 cups per day, depending on age and sex.
3. Minimize intake of added sugars
It’s also important to minimize intake of added sugars, which are found in foods like sweets, candies and desserts as well as soda, juice, sports drinks and sweet tea. Not only are these foods typically high in calories and lacking important nutrients, but they may also put kids at risk for tooth decay, weight gain, heart problems and type 2 diabetes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting added sugar intake to less than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day for children 2 and older. Meanwhile, foods and drinks with added sugar should be avoided altogether for children under 2.
Swapping fruit juice for whole fruits, serving water in place of sugar-sweetened beverages and checking food labels carefully for hidden sources of sugar can help cut back on your child’s sugar consumption and help promote the best nutrition for kids.
4. Avoid trans fats
Trans fats should also be avoided at all costs. Frequently found in processed and fried foods, this unhealthy type of fat can contribute to serious conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
Minimally processed, nutrient-dense, whole foods are the best foods for children’s growth and development. Try incorporating a few of the ingredients below into your favorite recipes to whip up some healthy meals for kids.
Alternatively, start experimenting with some of these healthy snacks for kids to squeeze some extra nutrients into the diet.
Here are a few of the top foods for the best nutrition for kids:
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
- Swiss chard
- Eggs: egg yolks and egg whites
- Dairy Products: milk, yogurt, cheese
- Fish: wild-caught salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, anchovies, cod
- Legumes: black beans, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans
- Meat: grass-fed beef, lamb, elk
- Poultry: organic chicken, turkey, goose, duck
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Fatty fish
- Grass-fed butter
- Olive oil
- Brown rice
A healthy, well-balanced diet is essential when it comes to ensuring the best nutrition for kids. Certain vitamins and minerals may be especially important and can play a role in bone formation, brain function, immune health and more.
Nutritional needs range based on age, sex, size and activity level. Here are the recommended daily values for a few of the most important nutrients for children:
- Fiber: 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed
- Calcium: 260 mg for infants 0-12 months, 700 mg for children ages 1-3 and 1,300 mg for children over 4
- Iron: 11 mg for infants 0-12 months, 7 mg for children ages 1-3 and 18 mg for children over 4
- Vitamin B12: 0.5 mg for infants 0-12 months, 0.9 mg for children ages 1-3 and 2.4 mg for children over 4
- Vitamin C: 50 mg for infants 0-12 months, 15 mg for children ages 1-3 and 90 mg for children over 4
- Vitamin D: 10 mg for infants 0-12 months, 15 mg for children ages 1-3 and 20 mg for children over 4
- Vitamin E: 5 mg for infants 0-12 months, 6 mg for children ages 1-3 and 15 mg for children over 4
Using supplements or vitamins for kids is usually not necessary, as most children are able to meet their nutritional needs by following a healthy, balanced diet.
However, supplements may sometimes be recommended for those with restrictive diets or underlying health conditions that can interfere with nutrient absorption. Working closely with a pediatrician or registered dietitian can help address any concerns to ensure the best nutrition for kids.
Risks and Side Effects
Although vitamins for kids can be safe when used as directed, taking high amounts can be toxic. Unlike water-soluble vitamins, which are generally excreted through the urine in excess amounts, fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K can accumulate and cause an overdose. Gummy vitamins and chews, in particular, often taste and look like candy, which can be especially dangerous for children.
Consuming high amounts of vitamins or minerals can cause serious side effects like stomach pain, diarrhea, cramps, nausea, heart burn and skin problems. In severe cases, it can also cause organ damage, coma and even death. Therefore, it’s important to use supplements only as directed and keep all vitamins and minerals out of reach for children.
Be sure to also select high-quality vitamins and minerals that are specifically formulated for children and free of additives and fillers. If you have any questions or concerns about picking the best supplements for kids, consult with your pediatrician before starting supplementation.
Keep in mind that there are no one-size-fits-all guidelines when it comes to the best nutrition for children. Nutritional needs vary based on a number of different factors, including age, sex, size, physical activity levels and health status.
For this reason, it’s important to talk to a trusted healthcare practitioner to address any concerns and ensure that your child’s needs are being met.
- Nutrition plays a major role in many aspects of health for kids. In fact, child nutrition is involved in brain function, bone formation, immune health, disease prevention and more.
- In addition to following a healthy, well-rounded diet rich in many of the best foods for kids, staying well-hydrated and limiting consumption of added sugars and trans fats is also key.
- Many specific vitamins and minerals are especially important for children. While supplements or vitamins for kids are not usually necessary, they may be recommended for those on a restrictive diet or with certain underlying health issues.
- When selecting the best supplements for kids, it’s important to pick high-quality products free of fillers and additives.
- It’s also crucial to use supplements only as directed and consult with a pediatrician or registered dietitian to ensure the best nutrition for children and confirm that all nutritional needs are being met.