Health Focus

Childhood Nutrition- Babies to Teens

Nutrition in childhood is crucial through a child’s various stages of development. At each age, they have different needs as they grow and develop. Around 6 months, a baby will start being introduced to solid foods. It is important to introduce a variety of fruits, vegetables, and meats to your child. Start with one food at a time and gradually expand the child’s diet. Once your baby is sitting up and can place their hands or objects to their mouths, introduce finger foods. This promotes independence and allows for tactile exploration that can make meal time more fun. Finger foods should be soft and easy to swallow. Children under the age of 2 should not have their fat restricted. Therefore, whole milk and yogurts are preferred and offer many benefits in brain and spinal development.

Toddlers and preschool children can be finicky about food. This can make meal time stressful for the child and parent. It is important to keep in mind that toddlers grow in spurts which may cause fluctuation in their appetite. One day you may be struggling to get them to eat anything, then another day you may not be able to keep them full. To encourage a healthy regular appetite, keep them on a schedule. Have them eat at their required meal and snack time. If they refuse a meal you cooked but then are asking for junk food, then you know that they are hungry. If they are refusing to eat anything, and have no interest in eating at that moment, refrigerate their meal and offer it to them later. What is important is that you are not supplementing their snacks or food with juice or high sugar and high calorie snacks at their requests. Toddlers can also go through a period of food jags where they only want to eat one thing. This can be frustrating for parents. However, toddlers are developing taste and sensory nerves. Therefore, it is best to be patient and offer a variety of foods as best you can. A good calorie range for kids 2-3 years of age is 1,000 calories.

Grade school is a time where kids will have more independence to choose their foods at school. Encourage them to make good choices by going over the menu options for the next school day. At this age kids will want to be consuming sugary cereals and fun brightly colored foods they see on TV commercials or even what their friends have. Since they will be more curious about food, a good way to get them to eat healthy is to have them help in the process. Have them help you prepare food and let them get their hands on it. Go to the store and pick out one new item in the produce section to try like dragon fruit or kiwi. Something brightly colored that will peak their interests. A good calorie estimate for kids 4-8 is between 1,200 and 1,400.

Pre-teens and Teens will start growing and changing quickly. The same goes for their appetite! If you are a parent to a teen, you probably feel like you cannot keep them full. Calorie and nutrient requirements are going to increase for this age group. It is important that they receive plenty of calcium for their growing bones. Girls may have increased iron needs. It is also important to pay attention to unusual eating behaviors. Teens have a tendency to be more body conscious which sometimes can manifest into eating disorders. Pay attention to your teen and make healthy eating a priority. Just like toddlers, they crave independence. Let them help plan or make a meal for the family. Make family dinners a priority in your home so that you can ensure your child is getting proper nutrition and quality family time. Preteens who range from age 9-13 may consume 1,400-1,600 calories for girls and 1,400-2,000 calories for boys. Teenagers ages 14-18 may need 1,800-2,000 calories for girls and 1,800-2,400 for boys.

Disclaimer: Kids nutritional needs may vary with certain conditions. Always consult your doctor and or Dietitian if you are concerned about your child’s nutritional needs.

Resources: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Childhood-Nutrition.aspx

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Tips-for-Preventing-Food-Hassles.aspx

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Switching-To-Solid-Foods.aspx

Lauren Buenger: Dietetic Intern

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