Answered: A Parent’s 5 Most Asked Questions About Their Child’s Nutrition

by Jeannie Versagli, RD

What are some signs that my toddler may need fluids, and what is the best way to hydrate him or her?

Relying on thirst is not the best indicator to identify if a child is well hydrated. Once the symptom of thirst appears, the child is already dehydrated, according to experts. Younger children may not be able to express a thirst sensation, so it is important to develop good hydration habits early on. Did you know that a child’s body is comprised of 70% water compared to an adult’s 50% water content?  

Recognizing some early warning signs that a child may be experiencing dehydration is the best tool in preventing it. Look for the following symptoms:

  • Few or no tears when crying
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Drowsiness, irritability, cranky, tiredness, and or dizziness

If these symptoms are present, begin to offer your child cold water. Water is the best fluid for maintaining fluid balance in the body. The best way to prevent dehydration is to offer your child cool water proactively and throughout the day. With the summer here, be mindful of making sure that your children stay well hydrated. Remember that they are at a higher risk of developing depleted fluids.

What is a healthy diet for children ages 4 through 8?

As our children grow, it is important to foster good eating habits and relationships with foods. Here are some helpful tips and suggestions to incorporate into your daily eating routine.

  • Provide a calm environment for meals. Turn off the TV, cell phones, and tablets and encourage family time.
  • Allow children to let you know when they have had enough to eat. They have internal signals that will let them know when they are full.
  • Provide a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains throughout the day. Food is about experiencing texture, smell, taste, and memories.
  • Teach food safety tips such as washing hands before during and after making a recipe.

Children should be offered the following food groups and amounts for them to meet their nutritional needs. They should consume 1,200 to 1,800 calories a day, depending on their growth and development. Here are guidelines to help parents provide a balanced nutrition program for their children. 

Protein3 to 5 ounces daily
Fruits1 to 1 ½ cups daily
Vegetables1 ½ to 2 ½ cups daily
Whole Grains4 to 6 ounces daily
Dairy2 ½ cups daily

Providing colorful fruits and vegetables throughout the week will ensure that your child has options that are high in antioxidants. Whole grains offer an excellent source of fiber.

How can we help to develop good eating habits for children?

Children are aware of eating behaviors at an exceedingly early age. They are great at observing and interpreting the family’s reaction to eating. The following are recommendations and suggestions to foster healthy eating habits to aid in the growth and development of your child.

  • Allow your children to participate in prepping the food, setting the table, and serving the meal. When they become engaged with the meal, they become part of the experience.
  • Take your children to a farm and have them participate in activities like picking fruits and preparing them when home in a recipe of their choice.
  • Plant a garden with your child.  
  • Do not serve an entire plate of food. A full plate may be overwhelming, and children may refuse to eat. Offer one item at a time of their choice from the meal.  
  • Try roasting vegetables, as this brings out the natural sweetness of vegetables. They make great finger foods, too.
  • Plan to eat meals together. Research indicates that this time with children fosters family unity, enhances academic success, and improves nutrition.
  • Be a role model for your child by regularly eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Avoid simple carbohydrates and sugary foods, such as candies, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and fried breaded foods.
  • Keep your children moving. Staying active helps to build muscles and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Show your child that you enjoy healthy eating; they mimic the behaviors of others around them.

Are there certain foods that influence children’s brain health?

Yes, there are certain foods that improve the health and development of the brain. These brain foods are excellent sources of antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, and fiber. Benefits of adding these foods to the diet include improved memory, improved mental skills/concentration, help in brain cell growth, heightened mood, sharpened mind, and enhanced blood flow to the brain.

Foods that improve brain health

  • Plain greek yogurt
  • Greens such as kale, spinach, and broccoli
  • Fish, particularly tuna and salmon
  • Nuts and seeds, either plain or as butters
  • Oatmeal 
  • Apples and plums
  • Eggs

How do I get my child to eat vegetables? 

Children have very distinguished taste buds. Vegetables have unique flavors and textures, which influences the acceptance of vegetables by kids time and time again. Some individuals may never really enjoy a particular vegetable because of its texture. I have known children that love French fries but will not eat mashed potatoes and vice versa. Children also emulate adult behavior, so if they have seen someone’s displeasure with a particular food, they will pick up on it. Never make eating a battle of the will. Offer food and let your child experience the vegetable as you eat yours. If they are not interested, say ok and let it be. It can often take up to 10 introductions to a new food before they even attempt to try it.

Here are some recipes that you can incorporate into your daily menu planning to help increase high antioxidant vegetables into your child’s nutrition program.

Berry Smoothie  

Makes one serving

  • 1 cup Almond milk
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • A handful of spinach
  • Can add ¼ avocado

Mix the above ingredients into a blender, blend until smooth and serve.

Nutritional information with spinach with avocado 

With spinachWith avocado
Carbs29 grams30 grams
Fat2 grams10 grams
Protein4 grams5 grams
Fiber8 grams10 grams

Peach Smoothie 

Makes one serving

  • 1 cup Almond milk
  • 1 fresh peach cut up
  • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 med whole carrot shredded

Mix the above ingredients into a blender, blend until smooth and serve.

Nutritional Information

Carbs23 grams
Fat2 grams
Protein13 grams
Fiber4 grams

Tomato Sauce with Kidney beans

Makes four 1-cup servings

  • 1-quart tomato sauce
  • 1 cup canned kidney beans

Mix the above ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Place in a saucepan, heat until warm and serve over whole wheat pasta.

Nutritional information of tomato sauce

Carbs29 grams
Fat0 grams
Protein7 grams
Fiber7 grams

Quick snack ideas

  • Peel one medium banana and dip in lemon juice. Place a wooden stick at one end, wrap in saran wrap, and freeze.  
  • Serve cut up cucumbers, carrots, broccoli with hummus.
  • Puree fresh berries. Place in popsicle molds and freeze. Consider adding watermelon and peaches, too.
  • Thaw some frozen peas.
  • Take small tortilla shells and add peanut butter or chicken breast, hummus, avocado, lettuce, and tomato. Roll up and slice into rolls to serve.  

In addition to the above recipes, here is a list of cookbooks for children that you can use to get them engaged in spending time in the kitchen cooking and experimenting with different foods. Let them decide what they may want to try and incorporate that into your dinner meal. Bon Appetit!

  1. Super Foods for Super Kids Cookbook: 50 Delicious (and Secretly Healthy) Recipes Kids Will Love to Make by Noelle Martin MScFN RD 
  2. The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen Kids
  3. Food Network Magazine the Big, Fun Kids Cookbook: 150+ Recipes for Young Chefs by Food Network Magazine and Maile Carpenter

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