March 13, 2015
As your children grow, their nutritional needs will change. Your pediatrician likely keeps you updated on how many servings of fruits and veggies your little ones should be getting and if there are any holes in their diets, but it will often fall to you to ensure that your kids are eating right. That's why it's important to stay informed about nutritional requirements for each age.
However, it can be tricky to interpret dietary guidelines. Just how much is one serving of vegetables? What does 1,500 milligrams of sodium look like? Here are some guidelines that will help you better understand the nutritional needs of your kids.
Basics of nutritional recommendations
When you were in school, you probably learned your nutrition through the "food pyramid." A few things have changed since the grain group was at the bottom and sweets were at the top. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion explains nutritional guidelines in terms of MyPlate. There are still five basic food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.
One of the biggest concerns for many families is getting enough fruits and vegetables each day. The American Heart Association explains that children between 1 and 3 should eat 1 cup of fruit and 3/4 cup of veggies every day. You don't necessarily have to get out a measuring cup to portion out your family's produce. Some examples of 1 cup of fruits and vegetables include:
Use these fruits as mid-afternoon snacks for your little ones. The veggies can be a great side dish for your main entree of chicken, fish or another protein-packed food.
Vitamin and mineral intake
The five food groups provide a basic overview of proper nutrition. However, you might be wondering whether your kids are getting enough calcium, iron, vitamin C or other nutrients. If you start to research these recommended intakes, you may quickly become overwhelmed with all the numbers.
The good news is that if you're following MyPlate recommendations, your kids are probably set when it comes to basic vitamin and mineral intake. These guides are designed to optimize nutrient intake through a balanced diet. However, you can always speak with your pediatrician if you have concerns about a particular vitamin or mineral.
"80% of children consume too much sodium."
Don't forget about sugar and salt
Some families get into poor eating habits because they eat foods that contain lots of added sugar and salt. Even if your kids get plenty of veggies, you can offset those positive choices by letting them indulge in too many sweets. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that 80 percent of children between ages 1 and 3 consume too much sodium every day.
The agency recommends that toddlers in this age range have no more than 1,500 milligrams of salt each day. That's about 1/2 teaspoon. Be sure to check food labels for sodium levels, as many processed snacks have lots of unhealthy salt.
Reading nutrition labels
One easy way to improve your understanding of nutrition is to start reading the food labels on the different products you buy. There are a couple of important pieces of information you should note before buying a food.
Start by looking at the serving size. If the recommended serving is three crackers, your kids may end up overindulging by eating a dozen. You should also pay attention to levels of saturated and trans fats, which should be avoided as much as possible. Another area to be wary of is the sugar and sodium per serving.
Down at the bottom of the food label, you'll find nutrient information. It's always better to choose foods that have a variety of vitamins and minerals in each serving. Otherwise, you'll be feeding your family empty calories, which have little to no nutritional value.