Childhood is an essential time in life for learning and growth. Parents often make food and drink choices for their kids, so it is helpful to know credible nutrition advice for children.
Using the MyPlate model is a fantastic way to ensure your child has healthy options from each food group and a balanced plate at mealtime. The plate includes protein foods, fruits, vegetables, grains, and a side of dairy.
Here are tips to build a balanced plate:
- Include a variety of protein sources like fish, chicken, eggs, and beans
- Focus on whole fruit choices rather than fruit juices
- Offer different colored vegetables for a balanced nutrient profile
- Make half of the grains whole grains with whole wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal
- Choose dairy options such as yogurt, cheese, and milk
This might sound like a standard adult meal plan, but children have unique needs when it comes to what they should drink. Plain water and cow’s milk are the best beverages for children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 12-24 months drink 16-24 ounces of whole milk daily. Children ages 2-5 years should drink 16-20 ounces of low-fat or skim milk. Cow’s milk is an important part of a child’s diet because it promotes brain development, growth, and strong bones.
The brain develops rapidly between 1 and 2 years of age. This is when the higher fat content in whole milk is essential for cells in the brain to form properly. Regular intake of lower fat milk after toddlerhood has been associated with an increase in teenage height. Research has also shown that children who do not drink milk are at higher risk of bone fractures before puberty.
For more specific advice about food and nutrition, consult your child’s doctor or a registered dietitian.
Dr. John P. Licata is a board-certified pediatrician in his third year of clinical practice at Levine Children’s Charlotte Pediatrics in Charlotte, NC. He grew up in Alpharetta, GA, then pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry at the University of Georgia. He received his medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia and completed a pediatric residency at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, NC. He specializes in newborn care, early childhood development, ADHD, and mental health disorders. Outside of work, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Ashley, and their Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Dash, especially taking walks by the Catawba River. His favorite hobby is playing golf, and he likes to read in his free time.