Nutrition Guidelines for Preschoolers

A, B, C…These are not just building blocks for your child's verbal development but are also types of vitamins he needs to develop his body. And its not just vitamins you should know about. Your child needs other nutrients, too. Find out all about key nutrients and how to use the Food Pyramid to give your children a healthy diet.

The Vitamins Effect

Vitamin A
Vitamin A helps growth, assists the eyes in adjusting to dim and bright lights, keeps skin healthy, and works to prevent infection. A preschooler needs about 400 micrograms of Vitamin A per day. Vitamin A food sources include:

  • Carrots
  • Squash
  • Apricots
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage

Vitamin C
For balanced development, your preschooler needs 25 milligrams of Vitamin C per day. Often taken by those feeling under the weather, Vitamin C does more than just fight off the common cold. It is essential for the structure of bones, cartilage and muscle. It helps the immune system and the absorption of iron. Foods that contain high levels of Vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits (such as oranges)
  • Strawberries
  • Melons
  • Broccoli
  • Bell peppers
  • Papayas
  • Mangos

Vitamin D
Vitamin D aids in bone and tooth formation and helps the heart and nervous system. Your child should consume 5 micrograms of this vitamin on a daily basis. Food sources of Vitamin D include:

  • Oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines)
  • Fortified margarine
  • Dairy products

What About those Minerals?

Calcium is Crucial
It's important that your preschooler gets enough calcium to ensure strong, healthy bones. Childhood is an important time for increasing bone density. A good bone density can help prevent osteoporosis later in life. Between ages 2 and 3, your child needs 500 milligrams of calcium a day. Once he turns 4, his requirement jumps to 800 mg per day.

Calcium in the bloodstream is also vital for a normal heartbeat, blood clotting, and muscle function. Calcium-rich food sources include:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Tofu
  • Canned salmon with edible bones
  • Cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Leafy green vegetables

Some kids are lactose intolerant, meaning that your child's body does not easily digest milk. In such cases, choose low-lactose and lactose-free dairy products. Additionally, lactase drops, which help to break down lactose in milk products, can be added to dairy products.

Power of Protein
Protein helps a child's body to build cells, break down food into energy, fight infection, and carry oxygen. A child between the ages of 4 and 6 needs about 24 grams of protein. Moms can add protein into their children's nutrition by including such foods in their diet:

  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Dairy products

Pillar of Iron
This nutrient is a fuel for a child's growth as well as helps in your child's brain development and function. A child requires 10 to 15 milligrams of iron each day. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in America. In fact, older infants and young children are among the worst affected lot.

Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, irritability, headaches, lack of energy, and tingling in the hands and feet. Significant iron deficiency can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. To avoid iron deficiency in children, parents can go for these dietary additions:

  • Red meats
  • Poultry
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Iron-fortified cereals
  • Leafy green vegetables

Fat, Fiber, and Carbs

Right Facts about Fat
Parents should not go overboard with fat restriction. Fat is a necessary nutrient in a child's diet. It helps provide extra calories and needed nutrients for growing children. Fats are also important in helping the body to properly use some of the other nutrients it needs. Some good fat food sources are:

  • Whole-milk dairy products
  • Cooking oils
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Nuts

But children tend to consume too much dietary fat that can lead to obesity. Instead, parents should see to it that their child's fat intake represent about 30 percent of the child's total caloric intake (about 1800 calories/day). Parents should limit foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol for children over the age of two.

Fiber is Healthy Food
Fiber is your child's tummy friend. It helps in bowel regularity. Studies say that it may also play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer later in life. Children should consume their age plus 5 grams of fiber per day. You can boost your child's fiber intake by adding these healthy foods:

  • Salad
  • Oat or wheat bran
  • Legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans

Carbohydrates is Not a Weighty Issue
While many adults are consumed with ways to cut out carbohydrates from their diet, putting a child on a low-carb diet is a bad idea. Carbohydrates are the body's most important source of energy. They help a child's body to use fat and protein for building and repairing tissue. However, there are various forms of carbs (sugars, starches, and fiber). Children should be eating more of the starches and fibers type of carbohydrates and less of the sugar. An easy way to make sure your child is getting the right type of carbs is by choosing products that are made with whole grains or 100% whole wheat. Up to 60% of a child's total calories (about 1800 calories/day) should come from carbohydrates. Carbohydrate-rich food sources include:

  • Breads
  • Cereals
  • Rice
  • Crackers
  • Pasta
  • Potatoes

Food Guide Pyramid for Healthy Meals

Now that you know the "what" about kids' nutrition, you might be wondering about the "how much" part. Your answer lies in the Food Pyramid designed by the US Department of Agriculture. The food guide pyramid is a guideline to help you and your child eat a healthy diet. According to this pyramid, a child should have the following amounts of various food types to meet his nutritional requirements:

  • 6 servings from the grains group
  • 3 servings from the vegetable group
  • 2 servings from the fruits group
  • 2 servings from the dairy group
  • servings from the meat group
  • Eat less of fats and sweets.

Some Food For Thought

For parents to whom feeding their kids a healthy diet is a daily struggle, here are some ideas for kids' meals with a nutritious punch:

  • Top pizzas with vitamin-packed peppers, low-fat cheese, and use whole-wheat bread as the crust
  • Chopped vegetables and dip or hummus (which also goes with pita chips)
  • Pretzels or popcorn (but go for low-salt or salt free breands)
  • Tortilla chips with bean dip or homemade salsa
  • Whole grain cereals in a bag
  • Use fruits spreads or nut butters to top toasted whole grain breads or crackers
  • Peanut butter on mini-rice cakes
  • Applesauce or fruit cups (make your own so you can avoid sugar-laden syrups)
  • Homemade muffins or cornbread
  • Tofu hot dogs
  • Dairy snacks like yogurt with fresh, frozen, or canned fruit or cheese cubes, slices, or sticks.

Recommended Link
Print off a copy of the Food Pyramid to keep on your fridge so you always know what to serve your child.

For more information on children and nutrition check out our child care videos.