Healthy Food Choices: 6 to 12 Years

As your child grows, continue to emphasize the main food groups, and strive to find choices from each group that your child enjoys. By the age of 5 or 6, a child can tell you pretty clearly what she likes and what she might be hungry for. Try to accommodate your child's tastes as much as possible, as long as the choices are within reason. Boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 10 require about 1,800 to 2,400 calories each day. This number rises considerably as children head into puberty. Girls begin to require about 200 calories per day more between the ages of 10 and 12. Boys start to need about 500 calories per day more after age 12. These additional calories and nutrients help fuel the incredible growth that occurs during adolescence.

Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta (6-11 servings)

Examples of servings:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • ½ bagel
  • ¾ cup ready-to-eat cereal
  • ½ cup cooked cereal
  • ½ cup cooked pasta or rice
  • 5-6 whole-grain crackers

Other good choices: cornbread, English muffins, reduced-fat muffins, low-salt, low-fat popcorn

Vegetables (3-5 servings)

Examples of servings:

  • ¼ - ½ cup cooked vegetables
  • ½ - 1 cup raw vegetables

Good choices: asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, corn, green and red peppers, green beans, lettuce and other greens, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, vegetable juices, zucchini

Fruit (2-4 servings)

Examples of servings:

  • 1 piece of fruit
  • ½ cup canned fruit
  • ½ cup juice

Good choices: apples, applesauce, apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, fruit cocktail, 100% fruit juices, grapefruit, kiwifruit, nectarines, oranges, peaches, plums, strawberries, watermelon

Dairy products (3 or 4 servings)

Examples of servings:

  • ¾ - 1 cup low-fat or nonfat milk
  • 1 - 1 ½ ounces low-fat or reduced-fat cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat or nonfat yogurt

Other good choices: low-fat cottage cheese, ice milk, frozen yogurt, pudding

Meat, fish, poultry, and legumes (2 or 3 servings)

Examples of servings:

  • 2 - 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, fish, or tofu
  • 1 egg, ½ cup cooked dry beans, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter counts as 1 ounce of lean meat

Other good choices: shellfish, dried peas, lentils, reduced-fat cold cuts

Facts on Fat and Fiber

Hopefully you've already reduced the fat in your child's diet. Although an adequate amount of dietary fat is crucial to development in very young children, dietary fat should begin to be reduced after age 2 or 3 to contribute only about 30% of the total calories for the day. Here are some ways to cut back:

  • Switch from whole milk to fat-free or nonfat (skim) milk or low-fat or light (1%) milk.
  • Serve more fish and poultry, and cut back on red meat.
  • Remove the skin from poultry, and trim fat from meats.
  • Reduce butter and margarine use.
  • Use low-fat cooking methods, such as baking, broiling, grilling, poaching, and steaming.
  • Serve fiber-rich foods, including whole-grain breads, cereals, dried peas and beans, fruits, and vegetables.

Fiber is an important nutritional component for children this age. Dietary fiber may play a role in reducing the chances of developing heart disease and cancer later in life. If you provide the suggested servings of fruits and vegetables each day and serve whole-grain breads and cereals, you'll be well on the way toward ensuring your child gets enough dietary fiber.

The recommendation is to add 5 to your child's age to figure out how many grams of fiber she should be consuming each day. You can boost fiber intake by serving fresh salad with your meals, adding oat or wheat bran to any baked goods you make, and offering legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans at least once a week. Fiber intake should be increased gradually, though, since excessive fiber can cause painful bloating and gas. Don't forget to have your child drink plenty of water each day as well, since this can help reduce the chances of fiber-related intestinal discomfort. Be aware that excessive fiber intake can interfere with the body's absorption of crucial vitamins and minerals.

Calcium Counts

While calcium becomes even more important as puberty begins, it is important that school-age children get adequate amounts of dietary calcium to help ensure strong, healthy bones. Children ages 4 to 8 require 800 milligrams of calcium daily, while children ages 9 to 18 require 1,300 milligrams daily. You can meet these requirements by offering your children calcium-rich foods such as:

  • fat-free or nonfat (skim) milk or low-fat or light (1%) milk
  • low-fat or nonfat yogurt
  • low-fat or reduced-fat cheese
  • tofu
  • calcium-fortified fruit juices
  • ice cream and frozen yogurt (occasionally)

Taming the Sweet Tooth

Almost everyone has a sweet tooth, and that attraction to sweets makes it difficult to keep children from choosing candy, cookies, and cakes over healthier fare. You can't do much to take the sweet tooth out of the kid, but you can help control your child's access to sweets by keeping these foods out of your pantry. Children who feast on sugary foods wind up with little appetite for better food choices, so let sweets be a "once-in-a-while" snack. This way you'll help your child develop a taste for other foods. Brush up on ways to sweeten the taste of foods without adding processed sugar. Fruit juices, unsweetened applesauce, and prune purees can be used in place of fats and sugars in many recipes. While you're at it, ditch the caffeine as well. Caffeine doesn't belong in a child's diet. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it can interfere with your child's concentration and ability to sleep well. Avoid soft drinks and iced tea, since these beverages can contain large quantities of caffeine.

Nutritional Supplements

Many healthy children who eat a variety of good foods do not need supplements. Even the pickiest eater, given good food choices, will probably get what is needed over the course of a few days or a week. Check with your pediatrician if you're not sure that your child's diet provides the necessary nutrients.

Some parents choose to give their child supplements. In some cases, such as special dietary practices and certain medical conditions, a child's doctor may suggest a vitamin supplement. In either case, be sure to check labels for proper doses and appropriate amounts. If you have concerns or questions about the use of vitamin or mineral supplements, check with your doctor. He or she may also recommend a fluoride supplement for your child if you are using a nonfluoridated water supply. Be sure to store supplements well out of your child's reach; excessive amounts of some supplements can poison a child.

© Copyright 1998 American Medical Association