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Healthy eating from toddlers to teenagers


WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Your 1 to 3 year old

Toddlers are growing rapidly so need a high energy diet. Full-fat milk, meat and eggs, as well as high fibre foods like wholemeal pasta and rice are a good source of nutrients.

Fibre is important for a child's digestion and to help avoid constipation. However, too much fibre can reduce the amount of minerals they absorb.

Top tip: Make eating fruit and veg fun by creating funny face shapes on the plate. If your kids are fussy, try grating vegetables into pasta sauce or mashing them with potatoes.

Your 4 to 6 year old

Eating habits can become more challenging at this stage, so make mealtimes family occasions and get your kids involved. Children are still growing rapidly and are increasingly active, so need plenty of calories and protein. Meat, dairy products like milk and cottage cheese and oily fish all contain ‘good’ fats and are great for healthy skin and nerve functions. Stock up on oily fish like tuna, salmon and mackerel, as they’re a great source of omega-3. Children under 16 years should avoid shark, swordfish or marlin because mercury in these fish can affect a child's nervous system. The NHS advises we have at least one portion of oily fish a week, but for children, boys should not have  more than four portions a week, and girls should not have more than two portions a week.

Top tip: Swap sugar-laden snacks like cakes and crisps for fresh fruit or oatcakes with cream cheese to provide lasting energy.

Your 7 to 10 year old

Children tend to be going through their growth spurts, which can mean your child’s energy requirements and appetite increase phenomenally. Boys are rapidly growing muscle tissue, while girls start laying down more fat. To fuel their appetite, offer slow-release carbohydrates like brown pasta and wholemeal toast. Ensure your child is still having at least five servings of fruit and veg a day so that they’re getting a variety of micronutrients like vitamin A, which promotes good vision and healthy skin. Sweet potato is a good source of vitamin A, and easy to use on its own or in many tasty recipes. Even fussy eaters may like sweet potatoes because they’re sweet.

Top tip: Research has shown that eating breakfast improves concentration, so don’t let them go to school on an empty stomach - a smoothie or yoghurt is better than nothing. Plus, make sure they’re drinking around six glasses of fluid a day, as dehydration can impair concentration.

Your 11 to 15 year old

With the onset of puberty, a nutritious diet is more important than ever. A balanced diet that includes meat, fish, eggs and wholegrain cereals is likely to meet their requirements, but if you are concerned, consider giving an age-appropriate multivitamin. To support your child’s huge increase in bone density, add extra calcium to their diet by giving them around a pint and a half of semi-skimmed milk a day. At least 40% of the adult bone mass is laid down in adolescence. To boost calcium intake for a fussy eater, look for recipes containing milk, such as French toast or wholegrain pancakes.

Top tip: Children shouldn’t be put on a diet unless advised by a doctor or dietitian, but if you’re concerned about your teenager’s weight, focus on keeping their weight stable while their height catches up. Opt for low-fat snacks and fresh fruit, and encourage them to take up a physical activity like dancing or football. If you have any concerns, seek medical advice.

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Reviewed on February 21, 2016

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