Nutrition for children
Nutrition guidelines for children are important to insure they maintain healthy growth.

As a child we're told "candy isn't good for you" or "soda will rot your teeth", but as far as our intake is concerned we were dependant upon adults for guiding us in the ways of proper nutrition. So what happens when we grow into adulthood and are responsible for the nutritional well being of children? Unless we have taken special courses in it, or researched it for our own benefit, we may be at a loss for information when it comes to what we should feed our children.

Again, we still know that "too much candy is bad and soda can rot their teeth", but how do we know that beyond that they are receiving the nutrients necessary for optimum health as they grow? Here we will take a look at dietary guidelines for children, focusing on the ages from 2 through 6, which you should also incorporate into your adult lifestyle.

Children like, and need, variety. Many kids, if they had their way, would eat the same foods all the time, but to get all the nutrients they need for optimum growing conditions they need to eat from all food groups. Just like adults, children should eat along the guidelines of the food pyramid, getting the recommended number of servings daily. The difference for children comes in the sizes of the portions served. The number of recommended servings from each group are as follows.

Bread-cereal-rice-pasta: For children, six servings from this group is sufficient. Grains contain important complex carboydrates. The selections should come in the form of whole grain products, from wheat bread to brown rice, etc. Portion or serving sizes are as follows: 1/2-1 slice of bread, 1 1/2 large or 3 small crackers, 1/3 cup of cooked rice, cereal or pasta, 1/2 cup of cold cereal, 1/2-1 roll, biscuit or muffin, 1/4-1/2 bagel, English muffin, hamburger or hotdog bun. Cakes, pastries, cookies and corn chips should be used sparingly.

Vegetables: Three daily servings from this group are recommended. Vegetables should remain fresh if possible, or cooked to retain a fair amount of freshness and nutrients, as is done by steaming. Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and celery can be chopped fresh and served with a small amount of vegetable dip or ranch dressing. If you serve veggies this way, be sure to count the dip as a fat serving. Portion or serving sizes are 1/3 cup cooked or raw vegetables, 2/3 cup raw leafy greens (leaf lettuce varieties or spinach, for example). When selecting vegetables for your child, go with the darker green and deeper red/orange varieties, such as broccoli and spinach or sweet potatoes. These vegetables are high in their content of vitamins A and C, both of which are essential for growth. Dry beans and peas are also included in this category and one creative way to get your child to eat them is to put them in soups or salads. Fried vegetables and chips should be used sparingly.

Fruits: Two daily servings of fruit are recommended for children, and they, too, should be prepared and eaten fresh. Fruits are rich in many vitamins, namely vitamin C. Fruit flavored drinks do not count as a fruit serving but freshly squeezed juice does. Portion or serving sizes are a small piece of fruit, a small melon wedge, 1/2 cup of fresh fruit, 1/2 cup of fresh fruit juice, 1/3 cup berries, 1/3 cup sliced or cooked fruit, 3 tablespoons of dried fruit. Dried fruit should be served with water to aid in digestion. Fruit pies of fried fruit, such as apples, should be used sparingly.

Milk-yogurt-cheese: Two daily servings are recommended. Dairy products should be low-fat or non-fat, and are essential as a major source of calcium.. Children under two years of age, however, should not be cut down to "no-fat" unless directed by a physician, which would be unlikely. some children over tow, however, need to be limited on their fat intake, so low fat products are recommended. Portion or serving sizes are 1 cup of milk, 8 oz. yogurt, 1 1/2 oz. of natural cheese or 2 oz. of processed cheese. Ice cream and pizza should be used sparingly.

Meat-fish-dried beans-eggs-nuts: Two servings are suggested, totalling 3-4 ounces daily from lean sources. This food group brings the major sources of protein. All food in this category needs to be well cooked, except nuts. Meat served should be lean cuts, with all visible fat trimmed, including removing the skin from poultry. The use of egg yolks should be limited. Meats should be cooked by baking or broiling instead of frying. Portion or serving sizes are 1 oz. of lean meat, poultry or fish, 1 egg, 1/2 cup of cooked dried beans. Remember, the daily intake should be 2 servings which can equal 3-4 ounces. Food to avoid in this category are hot dogs, luncheon meats, bacon/sausage, peanut butter and fried foods.

Fats-oils and sweets can be partaken of on occasion, but more than four of these on a daily basis is not recommended. These items include sour cream, cream cheese, butter, salad dressings and oils, sugar, candy and soft drinks. Even natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup, as well as molasses should be limited. Check packages for portion/serving sizes and deduct about 1/3 of that for a child's portion size.

Spices can be used according to a child's likes and dislikes, but salt should be limited. Selecting fresh foods will automatically limit salt intake, but you can also cut back on salt used in food preparation. Omit salt when cooking and buy low salt items such as unsalted butter. If your children love soup, make your own. Avoid processed foods and pickled foods.

When it comes to beverages avoid sugary drinks. Fresh fruit juice is good, as is lo-fat milk, as long as you consider the number of daily servings your child is intaking. Water is the most important beverage, even for children, and should be encouraged whenever a drink is desired. Children need water for healthy skin and cell function at their young age, as much as adults need it when they get older.

Research has shown that following these dietary guidelines not only helps a child grow up healthy and strong, but it can also increase their mental, as well as physical, performance. The complex carbohydrates found in the grains such as rice, oats, pasta, vegetables and fruits gives them extra fuel. They are also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. The proteins from lean meats such as chicken, turkey and fish, as well as eggs and beans, supply essential amino acids that make up our bodies "building blocks". Even fats are needed in a child's diet to aid the development of the brain, as well as the body. Fats found naturally, such as in nuts or soy products are ideal.

A child's eating pattern can change from day to day. One day they may desire everything in sight, while the next day they don't seem to want anything. As long as they continue with a steady rate of growth there is no need for alarm. If you feel your child is not getting enough of a certain vitamin or mineral, speak to your pediatrician and they may suggest vitamin supplementation. But generally, as they grow, their needs and desires will continue to fluctuate, but by following the above guidelines, you wil be helping the youngster off to a healthy head start in life.