By Carleton Rivers, RD, LD
From preschool-aged children to adolescents, proper nutrition continues to be a necessity for physical growth and development. This is also an important time to build on healthy habits that can continue into adulthood. With each age group, a caregiver will encounter new challenges that test their knowledge of nutrition, as well as their problem-solving ability. This article will provide the basic information that a parent or caregiver will need to encourage healthful eating behaviors in their child or adolescent.
Chicken Pasta Salad
Allow the child to choose what ingredients they would like to use. Have the child combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix. This is a great lunch that can be prepared in advance and taken to school. Serving sizes will depend on the age of the child.
Between the ages of 4 and 5, a child continues to improve fine and oral motor skills, as well as explore his or her increasing independence. If you have a picky eater in your household, try these simple tips to drum up some excitement about mealtime.
- Include the child in menu planning, grocery shopping and food preparation as much as possible.
- Assign age-appropriate kitchen activities like cracking eggs, setting the table, or loading the dishwasher.
- Provide the child with two or three healthy food choices and allow them to serve themselves.
- Use foods with a variety of colors, textures and shapes that can be arranged into fun pictures on a plate.
A child might be more likely to eat what’s on their plate if they are given the opportunity to choose what to eat. It is important to encourage a child to try at least one bite of something new at mealtime; however, negative behavior can result from tricking, bribing, or forcing a child to eat. A child should learn early on that healthy eating can be fun. High calorie, low nutrient-dense foods should be limited to special occasions and should not replace nutritious foods. Examples of special occasion foods include sugar sweetened beverages, candy, cookies, and other types of junk food. Parents and caregivers should provide a balanced diet each day that incorporates all of the food groups in appropriate serving sizes (1 serving size = ¼ of an adult serving size). These guidelines will help to ensure optimal nutrition status in the preschool-age child.
By the time children are in school, their ability to self-manage food intake should be evolving by listening to their own internal cues for hunger and fullness. When a child is able to self-manage his or her food intake, there is an increased likelihood of success in weight management throughout adulthood. The caregiver can help reinforce this type of healthy behavior by acting as a positive role model. This is also a perfect time to start teaching children about the importance of food and nutrition. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides computer games, activity sheets, videos and songs that teach children about eating healthy. They also provide kid-approved recipes and information sheets for parents and educators. All of these resources are located on their ChooseMyPlate.gov website (http://myplate.gov/kids/index.html).
Parenting styles have also been shown to impact a child’s weight status and health outcomes. The type of parenting style that facilitates the healthiest eating behaviors is one in which parents set boundaries but still respect the child’s opinions while also being sensitive to their needs. An increased risk for becoming overweight has been linked to parenting styles that are either emotionally uninvolved with low expectations for the child’s self-control or include restrictive feeding practices. It is important for parents to remember that they are the ones that have control over choosing and buying foods for the home. Offering nutritious food choices for meals and snacks is a great way to encourage a child to take control over what they eat while educating them on appropriate options. Other positive ways to encourage healthy eating behaviors include providing a distraction-free eating environment (no television or telephones), providing adequate time to finish a meal, refraining from using food as a reward or punishment, and using nonjudgmental behaviors when approaching mealtime problems. When designing a diet for a school-aged child, be sure to include a variety of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. To determine the appropriate portion sizes, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov at http://myplate.gov/food-groups/.
Adolescence marks the beginning of significant physical and cognitive changes, as well as increased independence. The adolescent will need even more nutrients and energy then they did as a child to support their full growth potential. It is important that a parent or caregiver be aware of possible influences and activities that may jeopardize the adolescent’s nutritional status. For instance, special considerations should be taken for those participating in vigorous activities or sports. An emphasis should be placed on improving performance through a well-balanced diet rather than supplements and nutritional aids. Other situations that pose a nutritional threat include eating disorders, teen pregnancy, and substance abuse.
Once a person has reached the onset of puberty, separate nutrition recommendations should be followed for boys and girls. To determine how much of each food group is needed per day, visit http://myplate.gov/food-groups/. The specific nutrients that have shown to be lacking in the diets of this age group are vitamins A and E, folate, iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium.
Check out the Kids Korner Nutrition video for the month on Quick and Healthy Lunches!
- Adolescents. Pediatric Nutrition Care Manual. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014.
- Choose a Food Group. United States Department of Agriculture. http://myplate.gov/food-groups/. Accessed February 18, 2014.
- MyPlate Kids’ Place. United States Department of Agriculture. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/kids/index.html. Accessed February 18, 2014.
- Preschool Children. Pediatric Nutrition Care Manual. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014.
- School-Age Children. Pediatric Nutrition Care Manual. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014.