Summer’s here and families are doing more traveling and vacationing, which can mean less planning and a lack of routine. If you find that your schedule is also heating up, it may be more difficult to keep your child’s diet as balanced as you might like. From babies on up to tweens, here’s the dietary advice you need to know.
Nutrition nuisance: Babies need about 11 milligrams of iron per day, but rapid growth rates can put them (even those who are breast-fed) at a heightened risk for deficiency. The problem often goes undetected, but is characterized by very pale skin or whites of eyes, brittle nails, cold hands and feet, and a decreased appetite.
How to fix it: With a little planning, it’s easy to add more iron into your baby’s diet. Iron supplements can help breast-fed babies, while iron-fortified formulas do the trick for formula-fed babies. For babies over seven months who’ve started on solids, serve more pureed meats, like beef, pork, or lamb. Keep in mind: Too much iron can be dangerous, especially for young kids. Before adding more iron to your baby’s diet, talk with her pediatrician to see what is safe.
Ages 2 to 3
Nutrition nuisance: It’s time for your toddler to eat more big kid food, but she isn’t quite yet able to regulate proper portion sizes on her own. That’s because toddlers have not yet acquired the internal fullness radar that lets them know when they’ve had enough, says Samantha Ramsay, Assistant Professor of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Idaho.
How to fix it: Sit with your child during her meals. By doing so, you’ll help her learn how much food is just right, finds new research from Penn State University. How can you tell when she’s had enough? Most experts agree that very little kids need about one tablespoon of food for each year of her age.
Ages 4 to 6
Nutrition nuisance: Begged your preschooler to taste a kale chip, lately? You definitely don’t need us to remind you that little kids can be super picky eaters–but that doesn’t mean you should let her off the hook from trying healthy foods. How can you strike a balance?
How to fix it: Take time to explain to your child what you are cooking or offering instead of simply setting the plate in front of her. Kids are interested in what they are eating, especially if the prep is fun or the presentation is creative. Try serving chopped veggies in a range of colors with dip, or cooking pasta in water that contains a few drops of all-natural food coloring to make colored noodles.
Ages 7 to 9
Nutrition nuisance: Big kids are off to experience their first longer, fun-filled summer days—and need foods to help keep them energized and alert.
How to fix it: A well-rounded breakfast ensures your child will have more energy to stay active during the day, participate in more activities and group interactions, and focus. Try whole-grain cereal or oatmeal with milk; whole wheat toast with peanut butter; or scrambled eggs in a whole wheat tortilla. A cup of fresh summer berries is a delicious, nutrient-rich way to round out the meal.
Ages 10 and up
Nutrition nuisance: Calcium is the word! Since tweens’ and teens’ bone mass is increasing significantly, their calcium requirements are much higher than what’s needed for younger kids. And too little calcium now could spell weak, brittle bones down the road.
How to fix it: Tweens and teens need about 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day, and you probably need to be on the ball to make sure your child gets it all. Four cups of low-fat milk or yogurt a day will help her meet her needs, but there are plenty of non-dairy sources of calcium, too: Try dried fruits (such as raisins, prunes, and figs), tofu, fish (like salmon), sesame seeds, and green leafy vegetables.