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Kids’ Nutrition Tips: How to Encourage Healthy Eating for Your Children

Learn about childhood nutrition for kids 0-19, with a specific focus on the most important macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals kids need in each age range.

February 15, 2022

Kids’ Nutrition Tips: How to Encourage Healthy Eating for Your Children

Learn about childhood nutrition for kids 0-19, with a specific focus on the most important macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals kids need in each age range.

February 15, 2022

Kids’ Nutrition Tips: How to Encourage Healthy Eating for Your Children

Learn about childhood nutrition for kids 0-19, with a specific focus on the most important macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals kids need in each age range.

February 15, 2022

A mountain of evidence shows that children do better in school when they are well fed and not distracted by hunger pangs. Parents, teachers, and childcare workers are all familiar with the power of a good snack.

Research also shows that kids’ nutrition can make a difference in their performance. The body and brain need a variety of nutrients to perform at their peak. Greasy chips, candy, and sugar-laden soda aren’t going to cut it.

But getting kids to eat healthy is a perennial parental challenge, especially when their favorite food changes on seemingly a weekly basis. So, let’s dive in. What is nutrition for kids, why is it important, and how exactly do you promote a healthy diet for kids who cry at the mention of vegetables? Here’s everything to know about healthy eating for kids.

Understanding childhood nutrition

A preschool child who wouldn’t let anything green near her lips. A middle-school student whose idea of vegetables was romaine lettuce. A high school teen who lives on kale smoothies. Would you believe us if we said they were all the same person?

That’s how diverse a child’s palate and preferences can be as they grow into adulthood. And kids’ nutritional needs are changing right along with their preferences, says Holiday Zanetti, a Nutrilite™ senior research scientist and clinical investigator.

“That’s why teaching children early on about nutrition and health is so important,” Holiday said. “While calories, vitamins, and minerals vary depending on life stage, gender, activity level and growth spurts, the quality of the diet should be consistently wholesome and balanced.”

In the big picture, that means lots of fresh fruits and vegetables from all color categories to ensure a variety of plant nutrients. It also means whole grains, lean proteins, and sweets and treats in moderation.

But as children grow and develop, it’s good to focus on some additional nutritional needs, too. Holiday offers some recommendations to ensure your kids are ready to learn.

What does healthy eating look like for toddlers, preschoolers?

From ages 1 to 5, growth spurts largely drive a child’s appetite, Holiday said. Whether they appear to eat their weight each day or hardly anything at all, it’s good to emphasize calcium and vitamin D for strong teeth and bones.

“If children are lactose-intolerant or not big milk drinkers, there are alternatives,” she said. “These include lactose-free milk, soy or almond milks, sardines, tofu, yogurt, and low- or no-sugar cereals.”

And don’t forget fiber. “Parents and caregivers often forget about the benefits of fiber and including it in the diet even at an early age,” Holiday said. “It promotes a healthy gut and prevents constipation. Fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are good starts to getting enough fiber.”

Healthy eating guidelines for toddlers, preschoolers

So, what does healthy eating look like for toddlers and preschoolers? The United States Department of Health recommends the following:

 Calories Fruit Vegetables Grains Protein
Toddlers (1-2 years old)  800-1000 ½ to 1 cup 2/3 to 1 cup 1 ½ to 2 oz 2 oz
 Preschoolers (3-5 years old) 

1400 (males) or

1200-1400 (females)

 1 to 2 cups 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups 4 to 6 oz 3 to 5 ½ oz

What does healthy eating look like for kids 6-11?

For children ages 6-11, the school cafeteria will expose children to a variety of food options across the nutritional spectrum. They will see the kid with the perfectly packed hummus and carrot sticks each day right alongside the one eating cold pizza and potato chips with a packaged snack cake for dessert.

This is where the phrases “families are different” and “everything in moderation” come in handy while you continue to steer your child toward healthy eating that will fuel their bodies for academics, play, and sports.

“Good sources of protein, whether from animal sources, legumes, eggs, milk, cheese, nuts, and plain Greek yogurt are key to building a strong foundation,” Holiday said. “The body also needs healthy carbohydrates – limited sugar and increased fiber – and healthy fats.”

Healthy eating guidelines for kids 6-11?

Not sure how many servings of fruits or protein your child should be consuming every day? Assuming your child is moderately active, the right healthy diet for kids depends on their gender and age. The U.S. Department of Health recommends on average:

 CaloriesFruit Vegetables Grains Protein 
Kids (Male)  1600-2000 ½ to 2 cups 2 to 3 ½ cups 3 to 4 ½ oz 5 to 6 ½ oz
 Kids (Female) 1400-1800 ½ to 2 cups 1 ½ to 3 cups 2 ½ to 3 ½ oz 4 to 6 oz

What does healthy eating look like for teenagers?

Your kid’s nutrition really matters as they move into their later childhood and start to experience growth spurts. Kids ages 12-19 need the right fuel to help support the transformation of their gangly frames into adult-like bodies. It also becomes even more of a challenge as young people juggle studying, sports, jobs, and other afterschool activities.

“Some adolescents may begin using fast food and junk foods to meet these additional caloric needs,” Holiday said. “But those have little nutritional value and should be limited.”

Other teens may go to the other extreme and limit calories of any kind while striving for their ideal body image. That also limits their nutrition, Holiday said.

“Parents or caregivers should be aware of changes in their child’s food habits and choices and guide them accordingly,” she said.

Puberty is prime time for the development of bone mass in males and females, so foods rich in calcium and vitamin D should be consumed regularly, Holiday said. Fiber and macronutrients remain important, too, while complex carbohydrates should be the primary energy source. (That means whole grains and brown rice, not the simple, sweet-tasting processed concoctions that make up many teen diets.)

This is also the time when kids’ nutrition and requirements start to differ for males and females, Holiday said. “Depending on activity level and growth, boys generally need slightly more calories and protein than girls at this stage, while females will need more iron to account for what is lost during menstruation.”

Healthy eating guidelines for teens

Teens are notorious for having a big appetite, but for a good reason – they’re developing in many ways during this time. So, what’s the best diet for kids in their teenage years? Assuming they’re moderately active, the U.S. Department of Health recommends:

 Calories Fruit VegetablesGrains Protein 
 Teens (Male) 2200-2800 2 to 2 ½ cups 2 ½ to 4 cups 3 to 5 oz 5 ½ to 7 oz
 Teens (Female) 2000 ½ to 2 cups 2 ½ to 3 cups 3 to 4 oz 5 to 6 ½ oz

Filling the gaps in your kids’ nutrition

Focusing on healthy eating habits that include colorful fruits and vegetables is the best way for children and teens to get the vitamins, minerals, and plant nutrients they need each day. But sometimes, it’s a struggle just to get them to the bus stop on time.

Want to know one of our best nutrition tips? Help fill the gaps in their diet with supplements. Amway offers several Nutrilite™ Kids products formulated for children, like Nutrilite™ Kids Multivitamin Gummy. Supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet, but they can provide some peace of mind.