Nutrition and Diet in Children

Proper nutrition between infancy and adolescence is vital to your child’s growth and development. Nutrients, such as protein, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and fat, are an essential part of any healthy diet. While children’s nutritional requirements vary depending on age, using a balanced approach that includes nutrient-dense foods from all the major food groups will provide appropriate nutrition and promote good eating habits.

Digestive Health & Nutrition in Children

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Nutrition Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a whole diet approach in which no ingredients are banned, but rather sugar, fats, and oils are used strategically in small amounts to enhance flavor in highly nutritious foods. For example, a child may be more likely to eat vegetables or salads with a small amount of dressing added. Other AAP whole diet suggestions include:

  1. Selecting a variety of foods from all food groups.
  2. Avoid foods that are highly processed.
  3. Offering a variety of food experiences.
  4. Offering portions appropriate for the child’s age and size.

American Heart Association (AHA) Nutrition Research

The American Heart Association (AHA) cites good nutrition as a significant contributor to the delay and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Obesity is a major factor in the cardiovascular disease epidemic now facing the U.S. Because the atherosclerotic process (plaque build-up in the arteries) begins in youth, starting a consistently nutritious diet from infancy reduces the risk of heart disease, which typically culminates later in life. Research shows that as children grow, the percentages of those who consume fruits and vegetables on a daily basis decline. On a given day, one-third of 19-24-month-olds consume no fruit, while 60% consume baked desserts.

AHA research reports adverse trends that have recently arisen in the diets of older children:

  • Reduction in the consumption of a regular breakfast
  • Increase in the consumption of nutrient-poor foods, fried foods, sugar, and sweetened beverages.
  • Increase in the consumption of foods prepared outside of the home.
  • Increase in the percentage of daily calories from snacks.
  • Increases in portion sizes per meal.
  • Decrease in consumption of dairy products and high-fiber fruits and vegetables.
  • Increase in the consumption of potatoes, with fried potatoes being the highest percentage of vegetables consumed.
poor nutrition children

These trends have resulted in many children consuming well below the recommended daily values of essential nutrients during adolescence, while sodium intake exceeds recommended levels.

Changes in the eating patterns of adolescents have contributed to:

  • Excessive consumption of fat, trans-fats, saturated fat, and sugars.
  • Insufficient consumption of vitamins A, D, and C, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, and folic acid.
healthy foods for kids

AHA recommendations for children ages 2 and older include:

  • Balancing calorie intake with physical activity (60 minutes daily).
  • Using nonfat or low-fat dairy products.
  • Eating vegetables and fruits daily, while limiting juice intake (4-6 ounces per day for 1-6 year olds and 8-12 ounces for 7-18 year olds).
  • Eating baked or broiled fish regularly.
  • Use vegetable oils and margarine low in trans-fat and saturated fat rather than butter or animal fats.
    Eating whole grain cereals and breads.
  • Limiting sugary foods and beverages.
  • Reducing salt, especially from processed foods.
  • Using recommended portion sizes found on food labels.
  • Removing poultry skin before eating.
  • Limiting sauces high in calories, such as Alfredo, hollandaise, and cheesy and creamy sauces.
  • Using lean cuts of meat.
  • Being intentional about serving foods with high nutritional value, while limiting calorie-dense food and drinks with minimal nutritional content, is a key ingredient to a balanced diet.

Nutrient-dense options include:

  • Dairy: Low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, cheeses, and fortified soy products.
  • Grains: Whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, quinoa, popcorn, and brown or wild rice.
  • Protein: Seafood, poultry, lean meat, beans, peas, eggs, soy products, and unsalted seeds and nuts.
  • Vegetables: Dark green, red, or orange vegetables, beans, and peas. Use a variety of fresh, canned, and frozen.
  • Fruit: Use a variety of fresh, canned, frozen, and dried fruit. Serve 100% juices and limit juice portions.

Because children generally have multiple nourishment sources outside of the home, education is an important factor in helping your child learn how to make good nutritional choices. Starting a healthy eating lifestyle at an early age will ensure that your child maintains optimal nutrition for a lifetime. Strategies for improving nutrition and eating habits while creating healthy lifestyles in children include:

  • Limiting snacks during sedentary behavior.
  • Limiting sedentary behavior to no more than 1-2 hours per day.
  • Having a regular meal time, during which parents can role model good eating habits, as well as interact with children socially.
  • Teaching children about food and nutrition, such as while cooking meals or grocery shopping.
  • Participating in regular physical activity with your child.
  • Conveying nutritional preferences to caregivers.

Dietary Supplements – Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamin and mineral supplements might help you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients if you don’t eat a balanced diet. However, supplements can’t take the place of foods that are important for a healthy diet. Read more about the good and bad of dietary supplements.

If you would like more information about gastrointestinal (GI) digestive disorders and nutrition in children, please contact Dr. Mona Dave’s Frisco Office.