In an age where nutrition education is rampant among parents, and information is literally free, it is quite odd that some children are exceedingly malnourished in America. This, of course, does not mean underfed - but rather kids may not be eating the foods that their bodies need to grow and develop properly. Education, awareness and parent modeling stands as the best approach for change when considering the health of the next generation. Children need to learn and appreciate food for what it is. They can’t do this if they have no idea what, or how much, they are supposed to put into their bodies.
A serving size for a child is usually half that of an adult. More specifically, a great rule of thumb for many kids is that each serving size of a food group should be about the size of their palm. Grains and protein should take up nearly half of a child’s plate, whereas fruits, vegetables, and dairy products take up the other half. So, what specifically should children be eating on a daily basis?
- Grains: As for grains, children of all ages should be given whole grains whenever possible, and they should take up a little more than ¼ of their plate at each meal. Whole grain breads, cereals, pastas, and rice are a great source of carbohydrates which fuel the body and brain.
- Protein: Meats and/or beans need to take up a little less than ¼ of their plate. Priority should be given to lean meats which should be baked, broiled, or grilled – never fried. Protein is essential for muscle strength and development.
- Dairy: A serving of low fat milk, yogurt or cheese is a great source of calcium as well as protein and other essential vitamins.
- Fruits: Fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruit has unlimited varieties and combinations. If kids are drinking juice, it should be 100% juice, and only once in a while as juices do not contain nutrients that whole fruits contain.
- Vegetables: Children need to eat a variety of colorful veggies, including those in the dreaded dark green category. Vegetables are essential for the human body as they contain a vast array of vitamins and minerals.
Children love their snacks. However, too often they are found with a bag of chips or a soda to satisfy their appetite. Snack time should be used to fill in the gaps in their daily consumption. Instead, parents and kids both fall victim to thinking that this can be a time for rewarding oneself. Snacks should not be filled with meaningless, empty calories, but rather be used as a means of fueling the body between meals.