The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people age 2 years and older follow a healthy eating pattern.
This healthy eating pattern includes:
-A variety of fruits and vegetables
-Fat-free and low-fat dairy products
-A variety of protein foods
*limit calories from solid fats, added sugars, and reduce sodium.
When you think about MyPlate, formerly MyPyramid, the initial thought is that these are guidelines for adolescents and adults. However, the same organization that created these guidelines states that these patterns should begin at age 2. Unfortunately, it is quite uncommon for children to begin eating a balanced, healthy diet. It seems that a healthy diet is not generally considered until potential health issues begin to arise. As we talked about last week, beginning a healthy diet at a young age will encourage a healthy diet and lifestyle as a preference into adolescence and adulthood.
If it is important to begin this healthy diet pattern at age two, how are the children in America stacking up to the guidelines?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
• Between 2001 and 2010, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among children and adolescents decreased, but still accounts for 10% of total caloric intake.
• Between 2003 and 2010, total fruit intake and whole fruit intake among children and adolescents increased. However, most youth still do not meet fruit and vegetable recommendations.
• Empty calories from added sugars and solid fats contribute to 40% of daily calories for children and adolescents age 2–18 years—affecting the overall quality of their diets.
• Approximately half of these empty calories come from six sources: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza, and whole milk.
• Most youth do not consume the recommended amount of total water.
Breastmilk or formula will provide almost all the nutrients a baby needs during their first year of life. At around 6 months babies begin to be introduced to baby appropriate foods like strained fruits and vegetables, pureed meats, and iron-fortified infant cereal. Under the age of two a healthy amount of fat is essential for continued development of the brain and nerves. And remember, the Dietary Guidelines do not start applying to babies under the age of two.
Toddlers & Preschoolers
You’ll notice the toddler and preschooler’s appetites may vary greatly from day to day. This is because they grow in spurts. This may result in eating a lot one day and not a lot the next day, this is normal, but focusing on a healthy balanced diet is important to ensure they are getting the nutrients they need.
Calcium is an important nutrient during this stage of life for the growth of your toddler’s bones. If your toddler or preschooler is lactose intolerant or has a milk allergy there are other calcium rich options. Lactose free or soy milk for those with lactose intolerance. Food options include tofu, sardines, calcium fortified orange juice, and oatmeal.
Fiber is also important during this phase. At this stage children prefer starchy, bland foods like chicken nuggets and fries. Encourage whole grains and beans for additional fiber in addition to fruits and vegetables. Fiber will help prevent constipation in your toddler or preschooler.
This stage includes those children in elementary school, not quite pre-teens in Junior High. Sugar, fat, and sodium may begin to increase during this stage because they have access to these types of foods when they are away from the home. An increase in calories from these types of foods can lead to weight gain and other potential health problems.
Preteens & Teens
An increase in calories is essential during this stage of life with the onset of puberty and many bodily changes. Teens and preteens also begin to be more physically active during this time, also increasing their caloric needs. Unfortunately, the increase in calories may come from calorie dense foods as opposed to nutrient dense foods. Fast food and junk food consumption may increase during this stage due to convenience and access.
Exactly how many calories should your child be taking in during each stage? This graph depicts the USDA’s recommendations.
*This blog provides general information and discussion about supplements, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker.
*Many areas of nutrition tend to elicit controversy. As with most health topics there are varying opinions and research.