Just like adults, children should eat along the guidelines of the food pyramid, getting the recommended number of servings daily. The difference for children comes in the sizes of the portions served. The number of recommended servings from each group is as follows.
For children, six servings from this group are sufficient. Grains contain important complex carbohydrates. The selections should come in the form of whole grain products, from wheat bread to brown rice, etc. Portion or serving sizes are as follows: 1/2-1 slice of bread, 1 1/2 large or 3 small crackers, 1/3 cup of cooked rice, cereal or pasta, 1/2 cup of cold cereal, 1/2-1 roll, biscuit or muffin, 1/4-1/2 bagel, English muffin, hamburger or hotdog bun. Cakes, pastries, cookies and corn chips should be used sparingly.
Three daily servings from this group are recommended. Vegetables should remain fresh if possible, or cooked to retain a fair amount of freshness and nutrients, as is done by steaming. Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and celery can be chopped fresh and served with a small amount of vegetable dip or ranch dressing. If you serve veggies this way, be sure to count the dip as a fat serving. Portion or serving sizes are 1/3 cup cooked or raw vegetables, 2/3 cup raw leafy greens (leaf lettuce varieties or spinach, for example). Go with the darker green and deeper red/orange varieties, such as broccoli and spinach or sweet potatoes because these vegetables are high in vitamins A and C, both of which are essential for growth. Dry beans and peas are also included in this category and one creative way to get your child to eat them is to put them in soups or salads. Fried vegetables and chips should be used sparingly.
Two daily servings of fruit are recommended for children, and they, too, should be prepared and eaten fresh. Fruits are rich in many vitamins, namely vitamin C. Fruit flavored drinks do not count as a fruit serving but freshly squeezed juice does. Portion or serving sizes are a small piece of fruit, a small melon wedge, 1/2 cup of fresh fruit, 1/2 cup of fresh fruit juice, 1/3 cup berries, 1/3 cup sliced or cooked fruit, 3 tablespoons of dried fruit. Dried fruit should be served with water to aid in digestion. Fruit pies of fried fruit, such as apples, should be used sparingly.
Meat, fish, dried beans, eggs, and nuts
Two servings are suggested, totaling 3-4 ounces daily from lean sources. This food group brings the major sources of protein. All food in this category needs to be well cooked, except nuts. Meat served should be lean cuts, with all visible fat trimmed, including removing the skin from poultry. The use of egg yolks should be limited. Meats should be cooked by baking or broiling instead of frying. Portion or serving sizes are 1 oz. of lean meat, poultry or fish, 1 egg, 1/2 cup of cooked dried beans. Remember, the daily intake should be 2 servings which can equal 3-4 ounces. The foods to avoid in this group are hot dogs, luncheon meats, bacon/sausage, peanut butter and fried foods.
Milk, yogurt, and cheese
Two daily servings are recommended. Dairy products should be low-fat or non-fat, and are essential as a major source of calcium that is essential for strong teeth and bones. Children under two years of age, however, should not be cut down to “no-fat” unless directed by a physician, which would be unlikely. Some children over tow, however, need to be limited on their fat intake, so low fat products are recommended. Portion or serving sizes are 1 cup of milk, 8 oz. yogurt, 1 1/2 oz. of natural cheese or 2 oz. of processed cheese. Ice cream and pizza should be used sparingly.
Other nutrition tips for kids
Fats-oils and sweets can be partaken of on occasion, but more than four of these on a daily basis is not recommended. These items include sour cream, cream cheese, butter, salad dressings and oils, sugar, candy and soft drinks. Even natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup, as well as molasses should be limited. Check packages for portion/serving sizes and deduct about 1/3 of that for a child’s portion size.
Spices can be used according to a child’s likes and dislikes, but salt should be limited. Selecting fresh foods will automatically limit salt intake, but you can also cut back on salt used in food preparation. Omit salt when cooking and buy low salt items such as unsalted butter. If your children love soup, make your own. Avoid processed foods and pickled foods.
Avoid sugary drinks. Fresh fruit juice is good, as is lo-fat milk, as long as you consider the number of daily servings your child is taking. Water is the most important beverage, and should be encouraged whenever a drink is desired. Children need water for healthy skin and cell function at their young age, as much as adults need it when they get older.