Simple Steps To Evaluate Your Child's Nutrition

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Most parents worry at some time or another whether their children are getting the proper nutrients from their diet. Children are notoriously picky eaters. It is often difficult if not impossible to gauge whether your child is eating well when he or she insists on eating nothing but grilled cheese for a week.

The US Dept. Of Agriculture has established a children’s food pyramid to help parents decide what foods their children should be eating. The food pyramid focuses on children from ages two to six years old. By and large, most children’s diets by this time resemble adult diets. Your child should eat three meals every day with two snacks between meals.

Promoting Healthy Habits At Home
Children often model their parent’s behaviors. Because of this it is important we encourage children to eat a variety of healthy, nourishing foods. If children are constantly exposed to fruits, vegetables and whole grains they are much more likely to select these items over less nutritious substitutes like sweets or cake. It is also important you limit the amount of saturated fat and salt in your children’s diet.

One of the challenges parents have is deciding just how much their child should eat. To help out we have broken down appropriate servings for children aged 2-6 below, based on the food pyramid. Keep in mind that all children are unique and different. This list is by no means comprehensive, and it is important you consult with your child’s pediatrician regarding your child’s unique nutritional needs.

    1. Whole grains – One serving of grains includes a single slice of bread, ½ cup rice or pasta, ½ cup hot cereal or one ounce of cold breakfast cereal. Children should get five to six servings from the grain group every day.

    2. Vegetables – Children should eat 3-4 servings of vegetables every day. One serving is roughly equivalent to ½ cup chopped vegetables.

    3. Fruit – Fruit provide many valuable antioxidants including vitamin C. Children should eat at least 2 servings of fruit every day. A serving of fruit can include ¾ cup juice or ½ cup of fresh fruit.

    4. Dairy – Your child should get at least 2 servings of dairy as well every day. I cup of milk, cottage cheese or yogurt makes up a single serving.

    5. Meats/Protein – Your child should eat 2-3 ounces of lean protein every day or roughly ½ cup of beans or meat substitute.

Are Low Fat Diets OK For Children?
Children should not eat a low fat diet. However, their dietary intake of fat should not exceed 30% of their diet. You should work on providing your child healthy, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. Natural fats including those that come from avocados, seeds and nut butters are healthier than artificial or hydrogenated fats.

What to Do When Your Child Refuses To Eat
Children are picky eaters. Even the best eater will decide at some point or another they don’t want to eat. Don’t worry too much. Picky eating is just one way children learn to assert themselves as individuals. Your baby may seem young at four or five, but even then children have a growing sense of independence they express in any way they can. As long as your child maintains a steady weight and is growing reasonably well, you probably don’t have too much to worry about it if he or she occasionally prefers grilled cheese over all other food selections.

If you want to encourage your child to try a wide variety of foods, offer your child some choices. For example, you can ask your child whether he or she would prefer green beans or carrots with their dinner. This will allow your child to assert his or her independence without sacrificing their nutrition.

When Picky Eating Is A Problem
Refusal to eat may be a sign of a development or physical problem if your child is between seven and 10 months old. Most infants start showing interest in solids roughly at the age of six months. Some children will refuse initially but usually by seven months most babies are taking some solids. You might talk with your doctor if your child still does not seem interested in solids after this point. There are many reasons your baby might refuse food, including gastro esophageal reflux, neuromuscular problems or other gastrointestinal problems. Your child’s pediatrician can rule out any of these problems and help you devise strategies for nourishing your infant.