Nutrition Tips

  • Don’t be a "short order cook." Your job is to prepare nutritious meals; the child’s job is to eat it or not. Don’t give in and make something special because you are worried that your child is hungry.
  • Keep offering new foods or disliked foods. It takes some children a long time and a lot of exposures before they discover they actually like certain foods.
  • Serve new foods in small amounts, and give children permission to spit it into a napkin if it is so horrible they just can’t swallow it. When children know they have this option, they are usually more willing to try a new food.

Making Healthy Food Choices

How can you ensure that your child is well nourished? Here are some guiding principles to keep in mind when planning and preparing meals for the family, based on recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:


Your child should consume a variety of foods from the five major food groups that make up the "Food Pyramid." Each food group supplies important nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. These five groups and typical minimum servings are:

  • Vegetables: 3-5 servings per day. A serving may consist of 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, 3/4 cup of vegetable juice, or 1/2 cup of other vegetables, chopped raw or cooked.
  • Fruits: 2-4 servings per day. A serving may consist of 1/2 cup of sliced fruit, 3/4 cup of fruit juice, or a medium-size whole fruit, like an apple, banana or pear.
  • Bread, cereal, or pasta: 6-11 servings per day. Each serving should equal 1 slice of bread, 1/2 cup of rice or pasta, or 1 ounce of cereal.
  • Protein foods: 2-3 servings of 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish per day. A serving in this group may also consist of 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans, one egg or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter for each ounce of lean meat.
  • Dairy products: 2-3 servings per day of 1 cup of low-fat milk or yogurt, or 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese.


Fiber is a carbohydrate component of plant foods that is usually un-digestible. It is found in foods like fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, cereals, brown rice, beans, seeds and nuts. In adults, increased fiber has been linked with a reduction of chronic gastrointestinal problems, including colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis. In children, however, fiber's only proven benefit is its ability to ease constipation—providing bulk that can promote regular frequency of bowel movements, soften the stools, and decrease the time it takes food to travel through the intestines. However, since food preferences and eating habits may be established early in life, and since high-fiber foods contain other nutrients, parents should include these foods in children's daily diets.


Your child requires protein for the proper growth and functioning of his/her body, including building new tissues and producing antibodies that help battle infections. Without essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein), children would be much more susceptible to serious diseases.

Protein-rich plants—such as dried beans and peas (legumes), grains, seeds, and nuts—can be used as valuable sources of protein. Other protein-rich foods include meat, fish, milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs. These animal products contain high-quality protein and a full array of amino acids.

Bear in mind, however, that red meat and shellfish are not only rich in protein and an important source of iron, but are high in fat and/or cholesterol, as well. Thus, your child should consume them only in moderate amounts. Select lean cuts of meat and trim the fat before cooking. Likewise, remove skin from poultry and excess fat from fish before serving.


Humans cannot live without fats. They are a concentrated source of energy, providing essential fatty acids that are necessary for a variety of bodily processes (metabolism, blood clotting, and vitamin absorption).

However, high fat intake—particularly a diet high in saturated fats—can cause problems. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperatures and are found in fatty meats (such as beef, pork, ham, veal and lamb) and many dairy products (whole milk, cheese, and ice cream). They can contribute to the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques and lead to coronary artery disease later in life. A diet rich in saturated fats also can increase blood cholesterol, particularly in people who have inherited a tendency toward high cholesterol levels.

For that reason, after age two, children should be served foods that are lower in fat and saturated fats. Chances are that your child's favorite foods are higher in fat than is desirable. Prudent eating means relying more on low-fat, low-cholesterol foods like poultry, fish and lean meat (broiled, baked, or roasted - not fried), soft margarine (instead of butter), low-fat dairy products, and low-saturated-fat oils from vegetables, while limiting egg consumption.

As a general guideline, fats should make up less than 30 percent of the calories in your child's diet, with no more than about one third or less of those fat calories coming from saturated fat, and the remainder from unsaturated (that is, polyunsaturated or monounsaturated) fats, which are liquid at room temperature and include vegetable oils like corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean and olive. Some parents find the information about various types of fat confusing. In general, oils and fats derived from animal origin are saturated. The simplest place to start is merely to reduce the amount of fatty foods of all types in your family's diet.


Keep your child's sugar consumption at moderate levels. Sugar has plenty of calories, but dietitians often call them empty calories because they have very little additional nutritional value. Even so, many children consume sugar in great quantities, usually at the expense of healthier foods—that is, when youngsters drink sodas, they are usually leaving the milk in the refrigerator; when they eat a brownie, they may be overlooking the bowl of fruit, a good source of complex carbohydrates, on the kitchen table.


Table salt, or sodium chloride, may improve the taste of certain foods. However, researchers have found a relationship between dietary salt and high blood pressure in some individuals and population groups. High blood pressure afflicts about 25 percent of adult Americans and contributes to heart attacks and strokes.

The habit of using extra salt is an acquired one. Thus, as much as possible, serve your child foods low in salt. In the kitchen, minimize the amount of salt you add to food during its preparation, using herbs, spices or lemon juice, instead. Also, take the salt shaker off the dinner table, or at least limit its use by your family.

Because of the preservative properties of salt, processed foods often contain large amounts of it. Salt-rich foods may include processed cheese, instant puddings, canned vegetables, canned soups, hot dogs, cottage cheese, salad dressings, pickles, potato chips and other snacks

Making Healthier Food Choices

Eat more often Eat only occasionally
Baked potato French fries
Low-fat frozen yogurt Ice cream
Baked or grilled chicken Fried chicken
Bagels or English muffins Doughnuts and pastries
Graham crackers, fig bars, vanilla wafers Chocolate Chip cookies
Pretzels, plain popcorn Potato chips

Healthy Snacks for Toddlers

Fresh Fruits Apples, bananas, peaches, nectarines, pears (sliced)
Cherries, grapes, plums (sliced or smashed and pitted)
Orange or grapefruit sections (cut into pieces)
Dried Fruits Apples, apricots, peaches, pears (sliced)
Dates, prunes (pitted, sliced)
Vegetables Carrots, green beans (well cooked, diced)
Steamed cauliflower, broccoli
Yams (cooked and diced)
Peas (mashed for safety; a child can inhale whole peas)
Potatoes (cooked and diced)
Dairy Products Cheese (grated or diced)
Cottage cheese
Yogurt, fresh or frozen
Breads and Cereals Whole wheat bread
Bagel cut into small pieces
Crackers (saltine, graham, whole grain)
Dry cereal
Rice cakes
Meat/Protein Group Fish (canned tuna, salmon, sardines, whitefish)
Peanut butter (smooth, spread thin on bread or cracker)

Snacks to Avoid

Raw vegetables are mostly too difficult for toddlers to manage, and some—carrots, whole cherry tomatoes, whole green beans, celery—are a serious choking hazard for toddlers. But there’s no reason that a toddler shouldn’t enjoy well-cooked vegetables cut into manageable pieces. Big chunks of any food and glob-like spoon-fulls of peanut butter are hazardous and should not be given to children younger than 4 years The same advice is just as important for any types of nuts, peanuts or popcorn, because children aren’t able to grind food and reduce it to a consistency safe for swallowing. Chunks of peanut butter can stick to their palate and end up choking them.

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