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Nutrition for Growing Bodies

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN

Published: July 01, 2021

Reviewed: February 23, 2023

Nutrition for Growing Bodies
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Children and teens need the right fuel for growing, learning and developing. This means plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nonfat or low-fat dairy, and lean protein foods to provide them with the nutrients they need. The secret to feeding a healthy family is to serve delicious nutrient-rich foods at every meal and snack.

Here are some quick and easy ways to serve children high-octane choices from every food group, morning, noon and night.

Whole-Grain Foods

Whole grains pack a variety of nutrients, including dietary fiber, B-vitamins, and their carbohydrate provides fuel for young bodies to grow and keep active.

In recent years, there has been a surge of new grain products on grocery shelves. With so many options, it's hard to know which ones to pick. Choose items that list whole grains as the first ingredient on the label. Offer kids items like whole-grain hot or cold cereals for breakfast, kid-friendly "white" whole-wheat bread for sandwiches, crunchy whole-grain crackers for snacks and whole-grain pastas for dinner. To add variety, try quick-fix whole grains such as quinoa, whole-wheat couscous and quick-cooking brown rice on their own or mixed with other foods.

Fruits and Vegetables

You can’t go wrong with fruits and vegetables: fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice. Fruits and vegetables provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, like vitamins A, C, potassium, and dietary fiber.

For kids and adults alike, eating more fruits and vegetables at every meal is important for health. At breakfast, enjoy fresh or frozen berries on cereal or in a smoothie, slices of melon, a glass of 100% juice, or veggies mixed into eggs; at lunch, serve crunchy baby carrots or sliced apples; for dinner, put brightly colored vegetables (broccoli, corn, sliced peppers, frozen peas or leafy green salad) at the center of every plate. Juice is a delicious way to get valuable nutrients; but it can’t replace the benefits of eating whole fruits and vegetables, so get at least half of fruit choices from whole fruit.

Low-fat Dairy Foods

Dairy foods provide protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus – all of which are important nutrients for kids. Although, most young people in America are not getting enough calcium or potassium. Fortunately, it's easy to consume the three daily dairy servings to get the nutrients that children and teens need. There are many nutrient-rich, low-fat dairy products to choose from: an 8-ounce glass of low-fat milk with breakfast, lunch and dinner; fat-free or low-fat yogurt parfaits for breakfast or an after-school snack; or string cheese for an on-the-go energy snack. Non-dairy sources of these nutrients include fortified soy milk, soy yogurt and calcium-set tofu.

Lean Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Beans or Nuts

Whether it's growing muscles or active brains, in addition to the protein in these foods, this group provides iron, zinc and B-vitamins - nutrients crucial for children. Getting enough protein at every meal and snack helps with extending satiety (feeling comfortably satisfied after eating).

While most kids eat plenty of protein at lunch and dinner, they don't necessarily get the protein they need at breakfast or snacks. Options like eggs, yogurt and breakfast burritos work well in the morning. For snacks, nuts, peanut butter or other nut butters, hummus or other bean dips are great options

"Feeding children high-quality nutrition for a growing body doesn't need to be stressful; aim to include a variety of choices from most food groups at breakfast, lunch and dinner."

Kristen Smith, MS, RD, LD

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson

Kristen Smith

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