Before I became a nutritionist, I used to think differently about kids’ diet and feeding strategies.

I was stressed about how much or whether my kids were eating, serving their favorite calcium-rich dairy foods at every occasion and short-order cooking on a regular basis.

As a result, I was “blessed” with a typical picky eater who taught me a lot about the intricacies of child feeding in additional to my formal nutrition education.

So now I use every opportunity to share with the parents I work with how to avoid the mistakes I made once myself.

At the bottom of the post  is a breakdown of the basics of your child’s nutrition from 2 to 8.

But before you start crunching the numbers I would like to highlight a few important things I wish I knew before my first daughter was born:

  1. When assessing nutritional quality of your child’s diet, look at a few days or a whole week, instead of just one day. Children tend to favor different food groups on different days, so one day she may eat pounds of pasta, next day it can be fruit, and the day after protein-rich foods and some vegetables.
  2. As the amount of snack foods and juice goes up, interest in whole fruits and vegetables tends to plummet. American Academy of Pediatric recommends no juice for babies under 12 months, only 4 to 6 oz per day  for kids ages 1 to 6 and up to 12 oz per day for older children.
  3. Two cups of milk cover 100% protein needs of 2-3 year olds and 85% of protein needs of for 4-8 year olds
  4. Two cups of milk covers 100% calcium needs of 2-3 year olds and 68% of calcium needs of 4-8 year olds.
  5. Most of picky eaters are very likely to meet or exceed calorie and protein requirements for the day. Offering them unhealthy foods or fixing something special so they’ll eat something reinforces the picky eating behavior.
  6. Using the division of responsibility in feeding is crucial for both short and long term nutritional goals.

Calories:

 2-3 year olds need about 1000 calories a day
4-8 year olds need 1200-1400 calories a day

Important Foods – serve them every day (but do not worry if your kids do not eat everything/or anything):

Food group 2-3 year old 4-8 year old Equivalent
Grains (cereal, bread, pasta) – make at least ½ of them whole. 3 oz 5oz One cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal can be considered as 1 ounce equivalent.
Meat or beans 2oz 4oz One ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce equivalent.
Dairy  2 servings 3 servings A serving of dairy is 8 oz milk, 8oz of yogurt, 1.5 cup ricotta cheese, 2 cups cottage cheese or 1.5 oz of hard cheese.
Vegetables – offer some green vegetables every day 1 cup 1.5 cup  
Fruits – choose a variety of colors 1 cup 1.5 cup  
Oils – focus on plant oils and fatty fish 3 teaspoons 5 teaspoons  

References:

Fruit Juice and Your Child’s Diet. American Academy of Pediatrics. www.healthychildren.org

www.choosemyplate.gov

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