Is there a difference between the nutritional needs of a toddler versus a teenager? Should you be changing the food you are buying or the meals you are making once your children get older? How do you know they are getting the vitamins their growing bodies need?
The fact is we all need variety in our diet, including fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and protein, so we can get the important vitamins like A, B, C, D, E, Omega 3s and calcium; the difference is how much we need at different stages in our life. As children grow their dietary requirements will change.
Fruits and Vegetables
According to Health Canada, toddlers need a healthy start with 4 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Growing children need to increase that to 5 servings. Tweens need 6 servings and teenagers need 7 to 8 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins A, B, C, E and K all of which help build strong bones, teeth, build immune systems, repair red blood cells, and helps their bodies absorb iron.
Give children a variety of fruit options – a healthy shake in the morning with berries, a container of cubed melon and grapes in the afternoon, and fruit kebobs for dessert. Add vegetable fun into snack time by cutting them into shapes, offering with a dip and include vegetables in every dinner, as a side and added to soups and sauces by pureeing.
Health Canada recommends starting toddlers with 3 servings a day of grains a day. Growing children need to increase that to 4 servings. Tweens need 6 servings and teenagers need 6 to 7 servings of grains every day.
Grains provide a range of B vitamins, which are essential to help your body turn food into energy and forming healthy red blood cells as well as providing fiber to keep their digestive systems functioning properly.
Start your children off with the healthiest grains possible; choose 100% whole wheat when you introduce noodles and bread to your babies, make your own healthy muffins with whole wheat flour, oats or quinoa for your toddlers, and teach your older children the benefits of choosing whole grain over enriched foods
Milk and Alternatives
Toddlers and growing children need a healthy start with 2 servings of milk or milk alternatives a day while tweens and teenagers need 3 to 4 servings according to Health Canada.
Milk provides much of our Vitamin D, which surprisingly, is not found in fruits and vegetables. It’s also a good source of B12, vitamins A, K and calcium. These nutrients work together to help your body build strong bones and teeth, encourage cell growth and increase your immunity.
Choose yogurt, cheese, milk or soy milk that is lower in fat but still provides adequate amounts of calcium. Use milk products in place of water to thicken sauces or thin soups for added nutrients.
Meat and Alternatives
Health Canada guidelines recommend giving toddlers and growing children a healthy start with 1 serving a day of meat and alternatives. Tweens increase that to 1 to 2 servings and teenagers need 2 to 3 servings of meat and alternatives every day.
Meat provides our bodies with protein and vitamins A, B, B12, D, K and Omega 3s, which are essentials to our bones, teeth, immune system, cell growth, regulating nervous system, strengthening cardio, vision, brain health and energy levels.
Include many types of meat and alternatives in their diets, such a beans, tofu, lean meat, and ensure they are eating fish at least twice a week to get enough Omega 3s.
Children tend to go through stages of picky eating and may love broccoli one day and refuse to have it on their plate the next. Providing a wide variety of healthy choices and meals throughout the week for your growing children is the best way to ensure they get the vitamins they need. Then consider supplementing if they are not reaching the daily recommended intake for important vitamins, like vitamin D and Omega 3s, which can be difficult to get enough of in diet alone.
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