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Healthy Eating For Children
Ages 1-6
Changes in Growth Patterns
Your child has just gone through a large growth spurt in his/her first year of life where their weight tripled. In the next 5 to 6 years, their weight will only increase 5 – 6 pounds per year. Their growth will slow, and their food intake will change accordingly. Do not be alarmed if your child is not eating as much as before or does not seem to be hungry at times. It is crucial at this stage that you do not overfeed your child which could lead to childhood obesity. If your child is within the healthy weight range (check height-weight charts), he is eating enough for his growth requirements. If you have any concerns, check with your doctor or paediatrician.

Children often develop irregular eating patterns during this stage. They may become bored with their usual foods or may want the same food every day. Between the ages of 1 and 6, children are usually less interested in food than in exploring their world. Young children will not comfortably conform to an adult three meal-a-day pattern. They may want small amounts of food or snacks frequently throughout the day. They may eat one meal, e.g. breakfast, and reject other formal meals. Don't be upset or view it as a challenge to your parental authority. It is frequently a normal pattern for the child that the parents should feel comfortable with and accommodate. Appetite decreases until the growth spurt that comes with puberty.

Like adults, children need to eat a variety of foods from different food groups to get all the nutrients necessary for growth and good health. In addition, young children are influenced by their parents' eating habits. If you feast on fried foods and have sweet tooth, or if your idea of a vegetable is ketchup, then don't be surprised if your child does the same. You can help develop healthy eating habits by keeping on hand a wide variety of foods in the forms your child prefers. Kids generally prefer foods with milder flavour, in particular vegetables. So they may prefer cooked carrot to cabbage or plain salad to marinated salad. They may prefer dairy products more than you do, so offer them milk, yoghurt or cheese (children need about two servings of high calcium foods per day: one cup of milk, two ounces of sliced cheese, or 1 tub of yoghurt is equivalent to one serving).

Because heart disease can start in childhood, children 2 years and older should start eating a lower fat diet--lean meats, poultry, fish, less fried foods, chocolate, and desserts--along with the rest of the family. But this does not mean putting a preschooler on a low-calorie diet. Health experts recommend that children wait until the age of two to start on low-fat dairy products. Always get professional advice before putting a child on any type of special diet. If you think your child is overweight, talk to your pediatrician. Like adults, children's calorie needs vary widely, depending on height, weight and individual activity levels:
  • The average 1-year-old needs about 1000 calories a day
  • The average 3-year-old needs about 1300 calories a day
  • By age 7, a child needs approximately 1800 calories a day.
Refer to the Recommended Dietary Allowances for more detailed breakdown of nutrient needs.

Children in this age bracket can be picky eaters. If your child plays with her food or refuses to eat more than a mouthful, take the food away and let her leave the table. You probably do not have to worry as long as your child is gaining weight and growing properly. All you can do is have a wide variety of healthy foods on hand and keep offering them, even after they are refused (children do change their minds).

If your child consistently refuses a particular food, try it in a different form, or offer a substitute within the same food group. For instance, if your child refuses cooked carrots, try raw carrot sticks or cooked sweet potato. Keep in mind that fresh fruit contains many of the same nutrients as vegetables and can be used as a substitute, if necessary. If your child does not drink plain milk, try milk with a little cocoa or make a fruit smoothie with milk and yoghurt.

It helps to keep your child on a regular eating schedule. Avoid too many quick snacks, so there is enough time to build up an appetite between meals. On the other hand, young children may need to eat 5 or 6 small meals instead of three big ones, since they can eat only so much at each meal. Well-rounded, nutritious snacks, such as a bowl of noodle soup, or crackers with peanut butter can be served as a mini-meal.

School-Age Children
Latent Development
The school-aged child from age 6 until the onset of puberty experiences a slow rate of growth and only gradual changes in body size and dimensions. The slow rate of growth during this period of "latent growth" results in a slow decline in food requirements per pound of body weight. Nevertheless, nutrients are being laid down to fuel the impending increase in growth during adolescence. The quality and completeness of the diet remain as critical as ever to the nutritional health and well being of the child. A satisfactory diet must include the appropriate amount of calories and nutrients.

All the known nutrients are supplied by a daily diet that is varied and reflects selections from each of the food groups:
Food Group Serving size No. servings
Grains Group ½ cup or 1 slice 6 servings
Fruit 1/2 cup 2 servings
Vegetables 1/2 cup 3 servings
Milk Group 1 cup 2 servings
Meat Group 2-3 oz. 2 servings
Food habits, patterns, practices and preferences evolve during childhood. One way to set your children on a lifetime track of healthy eating is to make meal preparation a team effort. Let kids in this age group help with grocery shopping, meal planning and food preparation. Learn to read the Nutrition Information Panel and ingredient list on food packages with your child. Be patient, recognize that distractions will occur, and be flexible in your approach. The body requires an appropriate balance of calories and nutrients. Certain snack foods like apples & cheese, peanut butter and crackers, and yoghurt can given in place of more traditional meals occasionally. Also, understand that there is an increase in interest and participation in other activities that will compete with meal times and your child's interest in eating.

Breakfast is still the most important meal because it provides the fuel children need for school and play during the early part of the day. It breaks the fast of the sleep hours and prepares the child for the learning period at school. Children who eat breakfast are more alert, energetic and creative, and they perform better in school than children who skip the meal. To make mornings less hectic, set out breakfast bowls, cups, utensils and cereal boxes the night before. If your child do not want to sit down to breakfast, have quick, portable breakfast foods available, such as cereal bars, cheese bread, fresh fruit, and juice boxes (make sure it is 100% unsweetened fruit juice) and milk cartons with straws or have juice/milk containers ready to go.

Lunches and munchies are also important to kids in this age group. Pack a lunch for them if they will not be home or guide them on what to choose at the school cafeteria. Growing children also need the extra calories that snacks provide. Some suggestions:
  • Hot soup in a wide-mouth thermos is a welcome treat on a cold day;
  • Include a salad or vegetable sticks with their meal;
  • Make sandwiches with whole-wheat bread and use less butter/margarine;
  • Encourage them to add fresh fruits and vegetables to their meal. For instance, add sliced tomato or cucumber to a sandwich or have an apple or peach with their meal.
  • Set a good nutritional example when you make your own lunch.
  • Stock the refrigerator with healthy snacks, such as milk, fresh fruit, low-fat yoghurts and 100% juices; stock the cupboard with soda crackers, low sugar biscuits and pretzels.
Dinners can be the most trying meal, since many kids have an after-school snack. In this age group, never overload the plate or force children to eat if they are not hungry. Also, if you know your child dislikes the meal you plan to serve, serve at least one food she likes and try to involve her in food preparation. Food is more fun to eat if the child helped cook or shop for it.

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