3 Small Changes That Will Improve Kids’ Nutrition

by | Updated: March 28th, 2019 | Read time: 4 minutes

Parents have a lot of questions and concerns. Will my kids excel in school? Will they make the sports team they’ve been practicing so hard to get on? Will they feel confident in a new grade or new school? Unfortunately, the answers will only unfold as the school year goes on. But one thing you never want to second-guess is your kids’ nutrition patterns. By keeping them on the honor roll of healthy eating, they’ll be ahead of the curve.

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Adequate calories for kids

First, you may want to consider your how much food your kids need on a daily basis. Every child is different and requires different calorie and nutrient needs. The following table provides information on the average estimated calorie needs for children based on age, gender and activity level. This table was created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and provides recommendations that are estimations, rounded to the nearest 200 calories. It is important to note that a child’s nutritional needs may vary due to their growth pattern, medical conditions, frame size and activity level.

Take a look at the table below for guidance.

Activity level Sedentary Moderately active Active Sedentary Moderately active Active
Age (years)
2 1,000 1,000 1,000 1,000 1,000 1,000
3 1,200 1,400 1,400 1,000 1,200 1,400
4 1,200 1,400 1,600 1,200 1,400 1,400
5 1,200 1,400 1,600 1,200 1,400 1,600
6 1,400 1,600 1,800 1,200 1,400 1,600
7 1,400 1,600 1,800 1,200 1,600 1,800
8 1,400 1,600 2,000 1,400 1,600 1,800
9 1,600 1,800 2,000 1,400 1,600 1,800
10 1,600 1,800 2,200 1,400 1,800 2,000
11 1,800 2,000 2,200 1,600 1,800 2,000
12 1,800 2,200 2,400 1,600 2,000 2,200
13 2,000 2,200 2,600 1,600 2,000 2,200
14 2,000 2,400 2,800 1,800 2,000 2,400
15 2,200 2,600 3,000 1,800 2,000 2,400
16 2,400 2,800 3,200 1,800 2,000 2,400
17 2,400 2,800 3,200 1,800 2,000 2,400
18 2,400 2,800 3,200 1,800 2,000 2,400

**Table from the USDA & USDHHS. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 

Creating healthy habits for life

When it comes to your children’s health, the most important factor to focus on is creating habits that will carry over for a lifetime. Believe it or not, small changes can make a huge impact on your kids’ nutrition and overall outlook on life. These three small changes are a good starting point:

1. Replace junk food with fruits and vegetables.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Since most kids prefer the sweet taste of fruits over vegetables, start by swapping one junk food item with a piece of fruit. Once you have succeeded with the fruit, try a veggie swap, progressing as gradually as needed. Patience and persistence is key! It can often take up to 15 attempts before a child is willing to accept a new food. In everything you do, try to make it fun! Let your child pick out a new fruit or vegetable to taste test while you’re grocery shopping. This provides your child with a sense of independence and helps them take charge of their health.

As you may well know, some kids struggle more than others with accepting change. If this is the case, you can sneak fruits and vegetables into your child’s favorite foods. For example, use cauliflower to make rice, add minced mushrooms to ground beef or create a delicious and nutrient-dense dessert with avocado brownies. These easy swaps can help your child acquire new tastes without the trouble of trying new foods.

2. Make meals fun with MyPlate

Myplate is a method of eating that helps ensure children (and adults) receive the nutrients they need to function at their highest level. MyPlate is a tool that can be used to help create variety in your child’s diet in a fun and colorful way. Use these guidelines to help children learn their food groups, as well as how to prepare well-balanced meals. Eating balanced meals with a variety of colors will help ensure there’s a good mix of nutrients in your kids’ nutrition habits. You can find MyPlate resources at Choosemyplate.gov, including activities to help your child learn to love healthy eating!

3. Lead by example and include the whole family

Kids often learn by example. They grow up wanting to be just like their parents. Take advantage of this time (while it lasts) by making healthy choices in all aspects of your life. You can influence your kids’ nutrition habits without them even knowing by doing something as simple as selecting a crunchy vegetable snack over a bag of chips or eating meals on a plate, at a table.

In fact, research as shown that kids who eat five or more meals together with their family have a greater chance of being a healthy weight. Plus, dining together helps create positive relationships with family members, increases self-esteem and can help kids perform better in school. To support your kids’ mental and physical health, make an effort to cook family dinners together instead of ordering takeout or calling for pizza delivery. Get all the kiddos involved in the cooking process, so it’s a complete family affair – and no one feels left out!