What Constitutes A Healthy, Balanced Diet for Children?

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Not only is it important what a child eats, but also when. Whereas it is recommended that adults eat three meals per day with a snack each in the morning and afternoon, children can also follow this eating routine, but with the addition of an evening snack.

So what does a balanced diet look like for a child? To start, it should include foods from all of the five food groups at the recommended percentages:

Fruits and vegetables – 33%
Whole grain – 33%
Dairy – 15%
Meat – 12%
Fat and sugar – 7%

By eating this way, children are getting the correct amount of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, protein (both meat and dairy) and fats. Why are each of these important to a child’s development?
Carbohydrates are necessary for energy. With a child moving all the time, they burn up a lot of calories. With a third of their calories coming from carbohydrates – whole grain, you’ll ensure they’ll have the energy they need.

Protein are the body’s building blocks to create, sustain and repair muscles along with building antibodies which can protect them from certain diseases. Twenty-seven percent of their calories should be derived from the high protein foods eggs, dairy and meat products.

Vitamins and minerals play a big part in the development of your child. For example, calcium builds strong bones and teeth. Vitamins boost the immune system and helps in the development of cells and organs. Vitamin D is needed by the body in order for it to breakdown calcium so the body can absorb it. Without enough Vitamin D, the calcium goes through the digestive system and is wasted.

The same holds true with a child eating good fats from the unsaturated family – mono and poly. Certain vitamins such as A, D, E and K are fat soluble. So without the proper amount of healthy fats to dissolve and absorb into the body, these too go through your digestive system unused and your child ends up deficient in these vitamins.

Finally while not really a “food”, water is a vital ingredient in your child’s health. While the amount a child needs depends on the outdoor temperature and level of activity, generally speaking they should have this many 8-ounce servings per day at the various age groups:

Age 4-8: 5
Age 9-13: 6
Age 14 and older: 8

What, when and how much you feed your child now plays a big part on their health as an adult. Make sure they get their three healthy meals and snacks per day at approximately the same times each day and in the correct portions. If you need help in identifying foods that comprise a healthy diet for your child, see your child’s pediatrician for advice.

4 Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids

Besides eating three meals per day, kids also need three healthy snacks. But what constitutes healthy? Generally, you will want to stick to the basic food groups of whole grain, fruits and vegetables, and dairy. Here are some easy to prepare, but nutritious snacks that fill the bill:

1) Whole Grain Cereal Clusters

Start with 3 cups of whole grain cereal, ½ cup chopped dried strawberries and 1 ½ cups of white chocolate chips.

Put the cereal and strawberries on a bowl. Melt the chocolate and drizzle it over the bowl mixture. Mix up the melted chocolate and bowl mixture. Spoon into mini muffin cups, and refrigerate until firm.

2) Cheese and Fruit Kebabs

When cut into fun shapes, these are a real hit with your kids. Take 4 cantaloupe or honeydew slices (or 2 slices of each), 4 fresh blackberries, 4 whole fresh strawberries, 2 ounces of reduced fat cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese and a few stick pretzels.

Using a 1 to 1 ½ inch cookie cutter, cut out shapes from the melon slices and cheese. Thread the fruit and cheese onto the stick pretzels and chill.

3) Fruit Smoothie

While you can buy fruit smoothies, most are loaded with unneeded sugar. You can make healthy ones at home (and for less money).

Start with an 8 ounce container of nonfat vanilla yogurt, 1 banana, 1 cup of strawberries or peaches and ¼ cup of orange juice.

Put all of the ingredients into a blender and whip. Serve in glasses.

4) Snack Mix

This snack only takes 15 minutes to make from start to finish. Ingredients needed are:

1. 6 cups of popped popcorn
2. Non-stick cooking spray
3. 2 cups of potato sticks
4. 3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
5. 1 ½ cups of peanuts or almonds
6. 1 cup of mixed dried fruit.

Start by popping popcorn either in the microwave or air popper. Lightly coat with the cooking spray and toss to coat the popcorn evenly. Sprinkle on the parmesan cheese and toss again. Finish by stirring in the potato sticks, nuts and dried fruit.

All of these recipes are healthy snacks that take almost no time to prepare. And all recipes are kid-proven to be something they will eat. Making your own snacks for your kids is not only cheaper, but you control what goes into them. Many pre-made snacks are loaded with sugar, salt and unhealthy fats. At least when you make it yourself, you can be sure what they eat between meals is healthy and nutritious.

How Do the Calorie Needs of Children and Adults Differ?

While caloric needs of children do differ from adults, they also differ according to the age of the child. As an infant, they need nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals, to develop properly. Breast milk and formula are great options at this stage of life because both are formulated to provide exactly what a baby needs.

But as a child gets into the toddler stage, the focus should shift from liquid and soft foods to whole foods with more protein and calcium to build strong bones and teeth. As far as calories, this equates to 1,230 per day for boys ages 1-3 and 1,165 for girls. As the child grows older, this requirement steadily increases.

Percentage-wise, their caloric breakdown should be 45-65% carbohydrates, 5-20% protein and 30-40% healthy fat for children 1-3. By the time they reach age 4 (and up through age 18) the recommended carbohydrate percentage stays the same, but the protein shifts to 10-30% and healthy fats to 25-35% of their daily caloric intake.

As you can see by the chart, that is a lot of calories for a child to consume. And because their stomachs are small, they fill up easily, so they have to eat more often than adults in order to get their full daily caloric requirement.

Under age 5, children should be eating full-fat dairy products and oily fish for the healthy fats, but limited on foods that contain a lot of fiber. Because fiber is filling, they may get full and not be able to eat the recommended amount of nutrients and minerals.

But as they move into school, age 5 and up, their eating schedule should shift toward that of an adult – eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with a snack in the morning and afternoon. Foods should contain a lower amount of healthy fats, salt and sugar, and higher fiber. Fresh fruits and vegetables are great choices.

By knowing how many calories your child should consume (and about how many calories they actually are consuming), you can prevent them from becoming part of the statistic of 15% of the kids are overweight and another 15% are at risk of joining them. Most of this is due to bad eating habits, lack of exercise and a lack of supervision from parents.

By letting a child become overweight, or worse yet obese, you are setting them for a lifetime of low self-esteem and at a higher risk of developing several health issues, some of which can be life-threatening. Don’t do that to your child. Teach them how to eat right.

Are Weight Loss Supplements A Good Idea for Children?

While there are several weight loss supplements on the market today, healthcare professionals are in agreement that none are safe for children under the age of 18. In fact, many could end up harming instead of helping your child.

The only true (and proven) way for your child to lose weight is through diet and exercise. There isn’t a “magic pill” that will melt off weight that many companies would like you to believe.


If your child is overweight, most likely other family members are as well and they can also benefit from changes to a healthier diet. They key to getting your child to lose weight is by making small, almost un-noticeable changes to everyone’s diet. Do not single out your child by providing him/her with their own diet! That does nothing but erode their self-esteem which may already be low because of their weight.

Move your family toward a healthier lifestyle by first having everyone eat at the table as a family, not in front of the T.V. or in their room. Studies have proven that children who eat with their family are less likely to be overweight.

Make it easier for your child to eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Start by having a bowl of apples and oranges on the table throughout the day. Or keep washed, bite-sized vegetables with a healthy dip in the refrigerator.

Next, start gradually cutting back on sugared drinks and sodas (even diet and fruit punch are not good for them). Start by cutting back by one the first week, two the second week, etc. until your child is not drinking any at all. Encourage your child to drink water instead.

Make sure your child has time to eat breakfast. Your mother was right – it is the most important meal of the day, but one many children do not eat. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, skipping breakfast leads to weight gain.


The first step in getting your child more exercise is to limit time spent watching T.V. or playing video games. Instead, use that time doing physical activities, such as playing outside or engaged in a sport or going for a walk as a family. Geocaching is a fun sport for children of all ages (and adults too). The physical activity has to be fun or you’ll encounter resistance to doing it.

Another way to get your children interested in eating healthy is to get them to participate in meal planning and grocery shopping. Not only will they learn what foods are healthy, but they will get exercise just from walking around the grocery store and a sense of ownership from helping.

20 Quick Tips To Healthy Nutrition for Kids

Healthy Eating Tips:

1) A balanced meal for children means including foods from all 5 food groups: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, fat and protein.

2) Kids aged 2 to 3 need 1,000-1,400 calories depending on their activity levels.

3) As a general guideline, kids aged 4 to 8 need between 1,200 and 2,000 calories depending on their activity levels.

4) The calorie needs for children greatly increases as they hit puberty. So if they complain they are always hungry, they probably aren’t lying!

5) Children must have a healthy breakfast to set them up for the day ahead – healthy cereal is full of fiber to help keep hunger at bay.

Healthy Switches:

6) Try to avoid fruit juice as much as possible and switch it for whole fruit instead.

7) If your child will tolerate it, try to switch to wholegrain bread instead of white. It contains more fiber and is less processed.

8) Instead of choosing unhealthy kids meals in restaurants, order restaurants or let them try a little bit of what the adults are eating.

9) Make eating veggies fun for kids by including a healthy dip such as hummus or homemade guacamole.

10) Make the switch to sugar free peanut butter – it won’t take long before kids are used to the healthier version.

Picky Eaters:

11) If possible, offer as much variety as possible in your child’s diet while they are still young, as food preferences develop early.

12) Remember that children need time to get used to new foods – you may need to offer it more than once before they accept it.

13) Always remember that YOU control what food is available in the house. If you don’t buy it, your kids can’t eat it.

14) Forcing your child to clear their plate at every meal isn’t the best idea – instead you want them to listen to their body when they are full.

15) If your child has a small appetite, don’t force them to eat. Instead, serve smaller portions and let them ask for more if they want it.

16) Never reward your kids with dessert, or withhold it if kids don’t eat their main. It reinforces the idea that dessert is the “best” food.

17) Try not to prepare separate meals for your child if they refuse the first one. This will reinforce their picky eating.

18) Get kids involved with food shopping – look at nutritional labels of various products and teach them what they mean.

19) Kids are often more likely to eat a meal that they had a had in cooking, so get them involved in meal preparation from a young age.

20) Try making healthy vegetables look more fun on the plate if you want to encourage kids to eat more of them.

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