Food Pyramid for Kids: What Nutrients Support a Child's Growth
  /   Dr. John Snow

Food Pyramid for Kids: What Nutrients Support a Child's Growth

The food pyramid is the iconic symbol of how much of what foods we should be eating. You probably remember learning the food pyramid in school. All the bread and pasta formed the pyramid’s foundation, with fats and sweets taking up the small triangle at the top. 

Some of this advice still applies today, but we live in a different world. We understand more about nutrition and how nutritional needs shift according to a wide variety of variables. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture has shifted its way of thinking from a general food pyramid to a “MyPlate.” 

MyPlate calculates how many servings of what types of food people should be consuming in a day. These amounts will be different for every adult based on their height, weight, gender, age, and level of activity. However, the recommendations for children are similar across the board.

Children all have one thing in common: their bodies are transforming at all times. They’re growing and developing, and they’ll continue to do so until they reach their twenties. Providing them with the proper support for their health and well-rounded nutrition will assist their bodies throughout this process. 

The Importance of Childhood Nutrition

About 20% of school-aged children in the United States are classified as obese. Children in the United States are more likely to be overly nourished than undernourished, which typically leads to weight gain and can also lead to health-related consequences of weight gain. 

For a child to be healthy, they need to be nourished properly. This means that they have the right amount of food from the right food groups daily. They’re ingesting the right vitamins and minerals they need for their growth and development. They aren’t indulging in unhealthy sweet treats nutritionally empty snacks daily. Prolonged malnutrition or unmanaged obesity can create serious health consequences that will permanently change the course of a child’s life. 

While genetic factors and pre-existing health conditions cannot necessarily be avoided or overridden, it’s essential to carefully manage your child’s nutrition to the best of your ability. Keeping your childrens’ plates balanced and providing them with key nutrients will allow them to be healthy kids. Eventually, through adopting these habits over the long term, they will grow to be healthy adults. 

The Public School System Doesn’t Provide Adequate Nutrition

You may remember several years back when the world was stirred up into a frenzy over the supposed declaration of pizza as a vegetable in school cafeterias. While this isn’t exactly what happened, it’s indicative of a larger problem. 

An eighth of a cup of tomato paste used on a pizza was classified as a serving of vegetables, even though it was not anywhere near the actual definition for a serving of vegetables. It was a convenient interpretation used to make an unhealthy, inexpensive school lunch lazily fit within the nutritional guidelines. This is a pattern that tends to repeat itself.

It isn’t that the school system doesn’t care about your children and is dead set on feeding them trash. The problem is that the school system operates on limited funding, and it’s very difficult to feed 56 million children fresh, healthy food while still seeing to the financial requirements of every area of their education. This requires a lot of creative thinking, even if it includes calling pizza ingredients a full serving of vegetables. 

The moral of the story: the school system is having a tough time, and you cannot rely on this stressed system that’s been stressed thin to meet all of your child’s important nutritional needs. It may be a better idea to send a packed lunch or to send some healthy snacks to be used in place of cafeteria sides. The school is trying, but your child’s nutrition is ultimately your responsibility. 

Supporting a Child’s Growth Through Diet

The USDA currently recommends that a child’s plate be composed of 30% grain, 30% vegetables, 20% protein, and 20% fruit. In addition, a small side of dairy (like a glass of milk or cup of yogurt) is used to round out the nutritional profile of the plate.

The way these foods are prepared and the kind of foods used to fill those slots is of the utmost importance. Fried chicken nuggets are not the best occupation of the protein portion of the plate. White bread, fruit cocktail, and ice cream don’t adequately fit the bill.

The quality of the nutrition is even more important than the quality of the nutrition. Added sugar is nutritionally valueless and doesn’t have a place on the ingredients list in any part of a healthy diet. This doesn’t mean your child shouldn’t have a slice of cake at a friend’s birthday party or enjoy a cookie from the homemade batch you prepared together. It simply means that a few foods with added sugar a week is better than a few foods with added sugar a day

When serving your child grain, always opt for whole grain. Whole wheat bread, oatmeal prepared without added sugar, brown rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat pitas or tortillas are easy and fiber-rich swaps for refined grains. 

What About Vitamins, Minerals, and Micronutrients?

All vitamins are essential for everyone, but there are a few that children especially need. Vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin (vitamin B2), folate, vitamin D, calcium, manganese, zinc, and iodine. If there are few things your child refuses to eat, you’re lucky. Kids are notoriously choosy, and most parents find it quite challenging to get their children to accept healthy foods that provide key benefits to their growth and development. 

Many of these things are found in leafy greens, broccoli, seafood and oily fish, seaweed, carrots, and dairy products. Unfortunately, children tend to have an aversion to many of these foods. As a result, children in plant-based households may not be able to consume these foods. This creates a bit of a dilemma.

You may want to consider adding a multivitamin to your child’s routine if your lifestyle eliminates certain food groups or if your child won’t eat a significant amount of the foods they need to meet their daily requirements through their diet. Hiya makes a high-quality dairy-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, sugar-free, and vegan multivitamin designed by doctors to help children meet their daily requirements even if they don’t clear their plates. 

Overcoming Picky Eating Habits

Many parents try their best to meet their child’s nutritional needs but will make many concessions along the way. Of course, the right solution is to make sure your child is fed. This sometimes may lead to less healthy meals, and a less healthy meal is better than no meal at all when a stubborn, picky eater won’t pick up the fork.

The key is to make the concessions in the right places. Never lie to your children about food or understate the value of nutrition. Instead, teach them new ways to look at food and inform them of both tasty and healthy options. 

Avoid frying foods, preparing them with unnecessary oils, covering them in sauces, or providing excessive condiments. This can be tricky in households where kids are most interested in foods they can dip. Repurposing the side of dairy can help save this situation. A little melted low-fat cheese or a cup of yogurt-based dip can increase the chances that your child will finish their fruits or vegetables while simultaneously sneaking in an important component of the meal.

If your child doesn’t eat oatmeal unless it’s been sweetened, sweeten it with a combination of fresh fruit and monk fruit sweetener. It can still taste good and feel indulgent without being weighed down by refined table sugar. You can deliver what your child wants without sacrificing the nutritional quality of a meal.

The Takeaway

It’s normal for parents to experience some level of stress over the nutritional needs of their children. Parenting is hard work, and children have not yet developed to the point of understanding what’s in their best interest. Patience, an open dialog about the importance of nutrition, and the help of a children’s multivitamin like Hiya can make things a little easier. 

Sources:

MyPlate Kids | My Plate.gov

Childhood Obesity Facts | CDC

Malnutrition | Hopkins Medicine

Back to Basics: All About MyPlate Food Groups | USDA

No, Congress Did Not Declare Pizza a Vegetable | The Washington Post 

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