Healthy Eating for Growing Up

School-age children love to measure their progress from year to year on a growth chart. They want energy to run and play—and the energy to do well in school. Parents, teachers, and other caregivers have the same priorities: helping children grow up healthy—and have the energy to experience their world.

Pyramid Power for Kids

MyPyramid is a healthy eating guide for all members of the family. That said, a kid-friendly version— MyPyramid for Kids—motivates children, ages six to eleven, to "Eat Right. Exercise. Have Fun." Among its goals: it's meant to help combat obesity, starting at a young age. What does MyPyramid for Kids on page 413 say to active, growing children?

  • Be physically active every day. The child climbing the steps reminds kids to be physically active every day: 60 minutes of moderate activity on most days! Read "Get Up and Move!" in this chapter.
  • Eat foods from every food group every day. With a stripe for each food group, MyPyramid for Kids reminds children to eat a variety of foods from all five food groups—Grains, Vegetables, Fruit, Milk, and Meat and Beans Groups—plus healthy oils. Encourage many colorful vegetables, not just fries; fruit as a sweet snack, not just ice cream; and chicken or fish sandwiches.
  • Choose healthier foods from each group. Every food group has foods that kids should eat more often—more nutrient-rich foods. Offer mostly whole-grain crackers instead of cookies; yogurt rather than ice cream; raw veggies instead of chips; fruit in place of fruit pies. See "Foods to 'Chews'" on page 414 for more ideas.
  • Eat more from some food groups than others. The stripes of MyPyramid are different sizes, suggesting how much from each group. Most children need more vegetables and fruits than they eat now. "Vegetables for Kids: The Challenge," on page 413, offers tips. Most children need more whole-grain foods, too; choose whole grains for crackers, breakfast cereals, and sandwich bread.
  • Make the right choices for you. For help in making personal choices for eating better and moving, check the Web site (
  • Take it one step at a time. For kids and parents, learning to eat smart and move more is sensible. Start with one new, good thing a day. Add another new one every day.

The Dietary Guidelines advise everyone ages two on up to consume enough fruits and vegetables, yet stay within their calorie needs. For school-aged kids, there's more food-group advice: Consume whole-grain products often; at least half the grains should be whole grains. Children two to eight years should consume two cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent milk products. Children nine years of age and older should consume three cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent milk products.

For more about the nutrients, foods, and amounts from the food groups and healthy oils, refer to chapter 10.

For Wis

For Wis


Vegetables for Kids: The Challenge

Kids—and adults, too—are urged to eat a variety of colorful, nutrient-rich vegetables for plenty of health reasons! American kids typically eat more than half their vegetable intake as potatoes (most often high-fat fries) or tomatoes. Snacks are often cookies, chips, other salty snacks, candy, and dessert foods rather than fruit or veggies.

What's a parent to do when vegetables are greeted with a chorus of "yuck"?

  • Add veggies to kid favorites. Mix peas into macaroni and cheese. Add carrot shreds to spaghetti sauce, chili, lasagna, even peanut butter. Put zucchini shreds into burgers or mashed potatoes.
  • quot;Fortify" ready-to-eat soup with extra vegetables or canned beans.
  • Offer raw finger-food veggies. Kids may prefer uncooked vegetables. They like to "dip," too. So offer salsa, bean dip, or herb-flavored plain yogurt.
  • Kids like the bright colors and crisp textures of vegetables. To keep them appealing, steam or microwave veggies in small amounts of water, or stir-fry.
  • Start a "veggie club." Try to taste vegetables from A to Z, and check off letters of the alphabet as you go! As you shop, let kids pick a new vegetable as a family "adventure." Post a tasting chart on the refrigerator door to recognize family tasters.
  • Grow veggies together. If you don't have a garden, plant a container garden. Most kids eat vegetables they grow!
  • From your library, check out children's books about vegetables. Read the story, then taste the veggies together!
  • Nothing works? Offer more fruit, another source of vitamins A and C, and phytonutrients.

Source: "Healthy Start: Food to Grow On," volume IV (Food Marketing Institute, American Dietetic Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics, 1995). Reprinted with permission by the Food Marketing Institute, ©1995.

Learning about Healthful Eating

Depending on their age, many children know the basics of healthful eating. And most know they need to eat smart and move their bodies to stay healthy. But it usually doesn't just happen. As a parent or caregiver, take time to help your child practice healthful eating and active living until they become everyday habits.

Reinforce the nutrition and physical education efforts at your child's school. For example, help your child: use MyPyramid to choose or help plan a family meal or snacks; count how many colorful vegetables he or she eats each day; prepare foods (perhaps with fruit or vegetables) at home that he or she learned about at school; and track physical activities.

Encourage healthful snacks and physical activity in your child's after-school program or activities, too. Some programs and clubs offer "junior chef" or gardening activities. Pick one that gives your child experiences with healthful food choices.

What about Nutrient Supplements?

Does your child eat a variety of foods? Do his or her meals and snacks follow MyPyramid advice? If so, your child probably doesn't need a nutrient supplement. Meals and snacks likely supply enough vitamins and other nutrients for growth and health. Food is the best nutrient source, anyway.

If your child has a feeding problem that lasts for several weeks or if you're unsure about your child's nutrient intake, get expert advice. Before you give your child a supplement, talk to your child's doctor or a registered dietitian.

Beware of claims for supplements targeted to help children get over colds, depression, or attention deficit disorder, among others. These claims aren't supported by sound science; such supplements may be harmful. An appropriate supplement may be recommended if your child avoids an entire food group due to a food dislike, allergy, or intolerance; or if your child is a vegetarian. If your water supply isn't fluoridated, a fluoride supplement may be advised by your dentist.

Foods to


Chances are that some of your child's favorite foods are

higher in fat and food energy. To get the most nutrition

and to trim calories and fat, offer these foods:

More Often . . .

Less Often . . .

Baked potato, colorful

French fries


Baked or grilled chicken

Fried chicken strips and nuggets

Bagels or English muffins

Doughnuts and breakfast pastries

Graham crackers, animal

Chocolate-chip cookies,

crackers, fig bars


Pretzels, plain popcorn

Potato chips

Low-fat or fat-free milk,

Soft drinks, fruit drinks

100% fruit juice

Raw vegetable snacks, fruit


Frozen yogurt

Ice cream

If your health provider recommends a nutrient supplement for your child:

  • Buy what's advised, perhaps a children's supplement. Check with the pharmacist if you need help. It should have no more than 100 percent of the Daily Values (DV). Unless stated otherwise, the % Daily Values stated on the Supplement Facts panel are meant for children age four or older, as well as for adults. On supplements meant for younger children, look for the % DV for children under age four. Beware: An adult iron supplement can be dangerous for children!
  • Choose a supplement with a childproof cap. Store it out of your child's reach.
  • Give a supplement only in the safe, recommended dose. Too much can be harmful.
  • Remember: Supplements are just that—supplements—not an excuse to forgo smart eating.
  • Remind children that supplements aren't candy, even if they come in fun names, colors, shapes, and package designs.
  • Remember that enriched and fortified foods may
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