Thursday, May 7, 2009

Food: What Children Need Each Day

I read an alarming article today about the specific nutrient requirements for small children. Based on the new MyPyramid for Preschoolers, the daily food requirements for three-year-olds are significantly beyond what my own 5-year-old is currently getting. Here is the breakdown:

1,400 calories a day (more if the child is active and plays sports)

No more than 170 calories of "fun" foods: Anything such as sweets, chips, juice, sweetened yogurt, and all "snack" foods that do not contain whole grains, such as animal crackers, pretzels, etc.

4 teaspoons of healthy oils: Olive oil, canola oil, avocado. Peanut butter would also qualify, providing that it is not Jiff or Skippy or any other variety that is made with hydrogenated oils.

5 ounces of whole grains: 100% whole grain breads or pasta, crackers or oatmeal. "Kid" cereals, even those without sugar (like Rice Krispies) are not considered to be whole grain.

1.5 cups of vegetables: Varied colors, such as orange, red, yellow and green.

1.5 cups of fruit: Choose whole fruit instead of juice, use fresh whenever possible, avoid dried fruits (even raisins)

2 cups of milk: Low fat cheese and plain yogurt (unsweetened) are also good dairy options.

4 ounces of meat/beans: Consider chicken, seafood, eggs and nuts.

These are the guidelines for 3-year-old children and are considered an absolute minimum for children over three. Shocking? It was to me, too. Rest assured, my son Ben, who is five, is definitely falling short in at least two of the above categories and far exceeding the recommendations for daily "fun" foods. We could stand a little progress in the vegetable and protein areas, for starters and I could definitely back off on offering a juice box each day after school.

I always think that it's a good idea to give our kids healthy eating tips from a young age. It took me 30 years to figure out how to eat well, but I've always been appreciative to my mother for at least taking the time and effort to ensure that I was eating a variety of foods from a young age.

Recently, I began to give Ben multivitamins from Trader Joe's. They sell a decent "gummy style" children's vitamin that is given twice a day. Ben thinks that he is getting a gummy treat at breakfast and dinner and I'm feeling better about his nutrient intake. It's a win-win! Now, as for the vegetables...

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