Two Key Nutrition Tips for Kids of All Ages

Determining what to feed your kids

By Gwendolyn Zepeda May 1, 2014

Image: Luke Bott

No parents are immune to worrying about whether their children are eating well. A mom and dad might wonder if their overweight child should be on a diet. Parents whose child is of less-than-average weight wonder if they should be concerned. Even those with children of normal weight are exposed to constant, conflicting advice about what they should buy at the grocery store. Dr. Peter Jung, a pediatrician affiliated with Children's Memorial Hermann, has two tips for moms and dads of all these kids: 

Tip 1: “Growth controls appetite. Appetite does not control growth.”

While it may be tempting to coax your children into eating more with promises that they will grow “big and strong,” genetics plays a much bigger role in just how tall a child will be. Forcing children to eat more or less is not a reliable means of affecting growth.

Calorie requirements for kids under 8 years old can range from one to two thousand per day, depending on the child’s age, sex, and level of physical activity. Healthy pre-teens can consume between 1,400 and 2,600 calories per day. 

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends that parents of overweight children focus on increased exercise as opposed to reduced calorie intake. The American Heart Association suggests that all kids perform at least one hour of physical activity each day. 

Tip 2: “Parents are in charge of the quality of the food. The child is in charge of the quantity of the food.”

Children shouldn’t be forced to eat when they aren’t hungry, nor should they be denied food when they are. Instead of regulating how much food their kids eat, parents should control that food’s nutritional value. Consider offering: 

  • Whole fruits instead of fruit juices;
  • Whole-grain and high-fiber breads and cereals instead of those made with refined grains;
  • Foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars; and
  • A variety of foods that provide balanced amounts of fat, protein, and carbohydrates along with plenty of vitamins and minerals.
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