Healthy Eating for Kids and Teens (page 2)

By — Helpguide
Updated on Nov 11, 2014


Babies grow faster than at any other stage of life, tripling their birth weight by their first birthday. This time also sets the stage for many later eating patterns and emotional relationship with food, so it is important to pay attention to both what and how you feed your baby. Whether you breast-feed or bottle-feed your infant, holding, cuddling and soft, gentle sounds and expressions are an important part of the feeding process, as they engage both mother and baby in secure attachment (see Helpguide’s Parenting: Attachment, Bonding, and Reactive Attachment Disorder).


In the first year of life, breast milk is the ideal food. Check with a nurse practitioner or La Leche League for useful tips to make breast-feeding a successful and easy process. Moms who need to be away from their babies can use a breast pump to express and store milk in the refrigerator or freezer, for Dad or other caretaker to bottle-feed the infant. A sick baby or one with many allergies will often do much better with breast-milk than formula. If you are unable to produce enough milk, ask your pediatrician about breast-milk donations (see references and resources for Milk Bank locations).


If breastfeeding is not an option, infant formula contains virtually the same mix of protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, minerals and calories that your baby needs to grow at this crucial stage of development. If you choose to bottle-feed:

  • Be sure to use sterile bottles, clean water, and follow instructions on amount of formula.
  • Do not dilute formula, or your baby will not be getting adequate nutrition.
  • To avoid bottle tooth decay , be sure to remove the bottle when feeding is complete. If your baby falls asleep with the bottle, natural sugars in the milk can cause decay in new or forming teeth.
  • For the same reason, don’t let your toddler carry around a bottle of milk, juice, or any other liquid besides water while playing.
  • Avoid introducing cow’s milk until after one year old, if at all (some children are allergic to cow’s milk and do better with goat’s milk, or soy or rice milk).

Weaning your baby

Current wisdom says breastfeeding for the first year of life confers numerous health benefits to your child. Beyond that, it's all right to continue for as long as you and your child feel comfortable. Bottle-fed babies can begin to transition to a “sippy-cup” when they are able to hold and manage the container. Healthy eating habits over a lifetime can develop by introducing new experiences as signs of maturity and exciting development, and will make it easier for your child to let go of baby things being held for emotional support.

Introducing solid foods

At 4 to 6 months of age, when your baby has learned to sit up, control head movement and swallow food rather than pushing it out, it's time to begin adding solid foods to baby's diet.

  • Start slowly: just one or two spoonfuls of food in the beginning.
  • Introduce one new food at a time. Add another new food after four or five days. Waiting allows the baby to get used to new flavors and allows you to identify any problem foods easily if allergic reactions occur.
  • Begin with rice cereals. Rice is less likely than other grains to cause an allergic reaction. Mix it with breast milk or infant formula to provide a good balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat and to serve as a good source of iron.
  • Hold the baby during feeding. Babies need to be reassured that this new experience is safe.

Toddlers and young children

For children ages one to five, the following is a general guideline. (Always consult your pediatrician for special dietary considerations, such as food allergies, or if you are raising your child as a vegetarian).

  • Fruits and vegetables. Two servings each per day. These may be given as snacks, such as apple or carrot slices. Also try slipping in veggies in the form of soups.
  • Whole grains. Four daily servings. Can include buckwheat pancakes or multigrain toast for breakfast, a sandwich on wheat bread for lunch and brown rice or another whole grain as part of the evening meal.
  • Milk and dairy. Three servings, or one pint of whole milk per day. Cheeses, yogurt and milk puddings are useful alternatives.
  • Protein. Two servings a day. Encourage your child to try a variety of foods from this category, such as turkey, eggs, fish, chicken, lamb, baked beans, lentils. NOTE: Nuts, although an excellent source of protein, are not a good choice for children under five due to the risk of choking.

What constitutes a "serving"? Here are some examples:

  • 1 or 2 small cooked broccoli spears
  • 5 to 7 cooked baby carrots
  • 1/3 to 1⁄2 cup of melon
  • 5 to 7 strawberries
  • 1 cup (8 fl. oz.) yogurt or milk
  • 1/3 to 1⁄2 cup of brown rice or mashed potatoes
  • 1⁄4 cup ground meat such as turkey
  • 1 or 2 chicken drumsticks

Additional vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin C and iron, are sometimes recommended for young children. Check with your child's doctor to be certain your child's diet is adequately meeting the recommended nutritional needs for this age group.

What is a healthy diet for school-age children?

By the time children enter secondary school, their diet more closely resembles the new food guide pyramid for adults. For kids aged 5-12, the key word is variety. Creative serving ideas (see Fruits and Vegetables section) will go a long way towards maintaining the healthy eating habits established in the first years of life.

Typical minimum servings are:

  • Vegetables: Three to five servings per day. A serving might be one cup of raw leafy vegetables, 3/4 cup of vegetable juice, or 1/2 cup of other vegetables, raw or cooked.
  • Fruits: Two to four 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, such as an apple, banana or pear.
  • Whole grains: Six to 11 servings per day. Each serving should equal one slice of bread, 1/2 cup of rice or 1 ounce of cereal.
  • Protein: Two to three 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: Two to three servings per day of 1 cup of low-fat milk or yogurt, or 11/2 ounces of natural cheese.
  • Zinc: A new study indicates that 20mg of zinc five times a week may improve memory and school performance, especially in boys. Good sources of zinc are oysters, beef, pork, liver, dried beans and peas, whole grains, fortified cereals, nuts, milk, cocoa and poultry.

What are the special needs of adolescents?

This is growth spurt time: kids gain about 20% of adult height and 50% of adult weight during adolescence. Most boys double their lean body mass between the ages of 10 and 17. Because growth and change is so rapid during this period, the requirements for all nutrients increase. This is especially true of calcium and iron.

Eating habits, however, are pretty well set by now, and if your child's choices are less than ideal, it's a challenging time for a course correction; teens have other priorities. The best way to make teen dietary changes is by presenting information about short-term consequences that they can relate to: appearance, athletic ability, popularity and enjoyment of life, because these are more important to most teens than long-term health. For example:

Calcium will help you grow taller during your growth spurt. It also makes you measurably stronger. Iron will help you do better on tests and stay up later without being as tired. Carrots will make you a better driver, and will make me more comfortable lending you my car, and so on.

When you do speak of long-term consequences, link them to the things that teens care about—particularly body image. For instance, “Have you ever seen old men and women that are bent over when they walk? Have you seen old men and women that are strong and active? One of the biggest differences was how much calcium they got every day when they were your age..." It's a fine line between teaching and preaching, but will pay big health dividends down the line.

Dr. Greene, child health expert

Ways to increase teen calcium intake include:

  • Eating more yogurt, dark-green vegetables (collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, kale), cheese, milk, pudding, sesame seeds, tofu, bok choy (Chinese cabbage), canned non-boneless salmon and sardines, and cottage cheese.
  • Cutting back on soda consumption, which leeches calcium from bones. Teenage girls, who often guzzle soda in an effort to avoid food and stay thin, are four times as likely as boys their age to break a bone.
  • Calcium supplements.
View Full Article
Add your own comment
DIY Worksheets
Make puzzles and printables that are educational, personal, and fun!
Matching Lists
Quickly create fun match-up worksheets using your own words.
Word Searches
Use your own word lists to create and print custom word searches.
Crossword Puzzles
Make custom crossword puzzles using your own words and clues.