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Healthy Diets Overview

Eating healthy is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It is something that should be taught to children at a young age. These are some general guidelines for helping your child eat healthy. It is important to discuss your child's diet with your child's healthcare provider before making any dietary changes or placing your child on a diet:

  • Eat 3 meals a day, with healthy snacks in-between.

  • Increase fiber in the diet and decrease the use of salt.

  • Drink water. Try to avoid drinks and juices that are high in sugar.

  • Children under the age of 2 need fats in their diet to help with the growth of their nervous system. Don't put your child on a low-fat diet without talking to your child's healthcare provider.

  • Eat balanced meals.

  • When cooking for your child, try to bake, grill, or broil instead of frying.

  • Decrease your child's sugar intake.

  • Eat fruit or vegetables for a snack.

  • Decrease the use of butter and heavy gravies.

  • Eat more lean chicken, fish, and beans for protein.

Choose My Plate icon

Making healthy food choices

The MyPlate icon is a guideline to help you and your child eat a healthy diet. MyPlate can help you and your child eat a variety of foods while encouraging the right amount of calories and fat.

The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have prepared the following food plates to guide parents in selecting foods for children 2 years and older.

The MyPlate icon is divided into 5 food group categories, emphasizing the nutritional intake of the following:

  • Grains. Foods that are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain are grain products. Examples include whole-wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal. Aim for mostly whole-grains.

  • Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red, and orange vegetables, legumes (peas and beans), and starchy vegetables.

  • Fruits. Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend infants should not have any juice before 12 months of age without a doctor's approval. They also recommend children 1 to 3 have no more than 4 ounces of juice per day. For children 4 to 6, limit juice to 4 to 6 ounces of juice per day. For children 7 to 18, limit juice to 8 ounces (1 cup) of juice per day. 

  • Dairy. Milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Focus on fat-free or low-fat products, as well as those that are high in calcium.

  • Protein. Go lean on protein. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein routine. Choose more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.

Oils are not a food group, yet some, like nut oils, have vital nutrients and can be included in the diet. Others, like animal fats, are solid and should be avoided.

Exercise and everyday physical activity should also be included with a healthy dietary plan.

Nutrition and activity tips

Here are some tips to follow:

  • Try to control when and where food is eaten by your children. Provide regular daily meal times with social interaction and demonstration of healthy eating behaviors.

  • Involve children in choosing and preparing foods and teach them to make healthy choices by letting them choose foods based on their nutritional value.

  • Select foods with these nutrients when possible: vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. 

  • Most Americans need to cut the number of calories they consume. When it comes to weight control, calories do count. Controlling portion sizes and eating nonprocessed foods helps limit calorie intake and increase nutrients.

  • Parents are encouraged to serve recommended serving sizes for children.

  • Parents are encouraged to limit children’s screen use to less than 2 hours daily. Instead encourage activities that call for more movement.

  • Children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days for good health and fitness and healthy weight during growth.

  • To prevent dehydration, encourage children to drink fluid regularly during physical activity and drink several glasses of water or other fluid after the physical activity is completed.

To find more information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 and to determine the appropriate dietary recommendations for your child’s age, sex, and physical activity level, visit MyPlate.gov and 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines. Please note that the MyPlate plan is designed for people over the age of 2 who do not have chronic health conditions.

Always talk with your child’s healthcare provider regarding his or her healthy diet and exercise requirements.

Online Medical Reviewer: Horowitz, Diane, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Wilkins, Joanna, RD, CD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2017
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