Early Childhood Nutrition: What Children Need for Optimal Physical Development

Childhood obesity is growing in America and the leading cause is directly linked to the food our kids eat. Here are a few food facts for kids and what you need to know about each age group to make sure they’re getting the nutrition they need. 

Babies (ages 0-1 year)

For the first six months of their lives, babies live on milk. This can be breastmilk, formula, or a combination of the two. It provides every nutrient a baby needs. In some extreme cases, there might be a need for additional nutrients, but this should only be a concern if diagnosed by a pediatrician.

After six months, babies can start to process solid foods. This should be simplified foods that are easy to digest and process. Starting with infant cereal, strained fruits, vegetables, and pureed meats is perfect. During this period, look for foods that are enriched or fortified with iron and zinc.

When you start adding solid foods to your baby’s diet, there are two major things to which you need to pay attention. Be sure to watch the amount of fat in the food you feed your baby and the frequency of your baby’s meals. Overly fatty meals and snacks are just as unhealthy for a baby as they are for adults, if not more so. With limited motor skills, they don’t have the energy needed to burn the calories that are contained in fatty foods. 

It is also important to start healthy eating habits with a child. This means that although your child might be fussy or crying, food is not the only way to soothe them. It might seem easy to hand them a snack or a bottle because they are crying, but this can lead to over-feeding and can be the start of an unhealthy habit of equating food with comfort.

Toddlers and Preschoolers (ages 2-4)

As kids start growing, their growth spurts and appetites grow with them. There will be days where they can’t get enough of their favorite food; they’ll eat it by the pound, and the next day, they’ll hate it. While this fluctuation in their appetite and diet is normal, this can be frustrating to deal with as a parent, especially when you’re trying to balance their nutrition. 

An important part of nutrition for preschoolers is calcium. Dairy products like milk and cheese are the best places to add calcium to your child’s diet. Adding cheese sticks for snacks and a cup of milk with dinner can be just enough for their calcium needs. If you have a kid that is milk allergic or lactose-intolerant, there are other options. Look for lactose-free milk, soy milk, or calcium-fortified orange juices as a milk replacement in their diet. 

Fiber is another important focus when it comes to your preschooler’s nutrition. With their picky appetites, they lean towards a starchy bland diet (noodles, rice, fries, etc.), but this can lead to constipation, and no one wants to deal with a toddler going through potty training who can’t poop. Fresh fruits and vegetables are great for both the fiber they provide as well as their vitamins and minerals.

Grade School (ages 5+)

At this age, protein is a priority as their muscles are developing, and it can sometimes be tricky to get enough protein in their diet. Protein requirements for children of this age is around 3-5 ounces every day. This can be found in seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts. 

Avoid Added Sugars

Parents should be on the lookout for added sugars. There are natural sugars in things like fruit and milk, but they do not pose the same risk as added sugars. 

Added sugars can include things like brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, honey, and others. These add extra calories to food without providing essential nutrients for childhood development and can lead to childhood diabetes and other health problems. Look for these added sugars in drinks like soda and sports drinks, dairy desserts like puddings, and even in some bread and other grain-based foods.

The best ways to reduce added sugar in your child’s diet is to reduce or even eliminate sugary drinks, serve more vegetables and fruits, pack snacks ahead of time to avoid unhealthy snacking, and to cook at home. When you cook at home, it allows you to pay closer attention to which ingredients are included in the food you cook and can make sure additional sweeteners aren’t added. This can be tough for some families because it takes time to cook at home, but it can be helpful for both you and your kids to eat more freshly prepared food.

Stay Healthy with SwimJim

Another important part of your kid’s health is not only what they eat, but how they exercise. Swimming is a lifelong skill that gives your kids the ability to get a full-body workout while also improving their cardiovascular health and flexibility. Contact SwimJim to learn more about a healthy lifestyle for your entire family.