Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the preschooler who wouldn’t let anything green near her lips, the middle-schooler whose only vegetable was romaine lettuce and the high-schooler who lives on kale smoothies can all be the same person.
But that is how diverse a child’s palate and preferences can be as they grow into adulthood. And their nutritional needs are changing right along with their preferences, says Holiday Zanetti, a senior research scientist and clinical investigator for Nutrilite.
“That’s why teaching children early on about nutrition and health is so important,” Holiday said. “While calories, vitamins and minerals vary depending on life stage, gender, activity level and growth spurts, the quality of the diet should be consistently wholesome and balanced.”
In the big picture, that means lots of fresh fruits and vegetables – five to nine servings per day, according to the World Health Organization. Make sure they’re from all color categories to ensure a variety of phytonutrients. Add to that whole grains, lean proteins and sweets and treats in moderation.
But as children grow and develop, it’s good to focus on some additional nutritional needs, too.
Toddlers and preschoolers (1-5 years)
From ages 1 to 5, growth spurts largely drive a child’s appetite, Holiday said. Whether they appear to eat their own weight each day or hardly anything at all, it’s good to emphasize calcium and vitamin D for strong teeth and bones.
“If children are lactose-intolerant or not big milk drinkers, there are alternatives,” she said. “These include, lactose-free milk, soy or almond milks, sardines, tofu, yogurt, and low- or no-sugar cereals.”
And don’t forget fiber. “Parents and caregivers often forget about the benefits of fiber and including it in the diet even at an early age,” Holiday said. “It promotes a healthy gut and prevents constipation. Fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grains are good starts to getting enough fiber.”
School days (6-11 years)
The school cafeteria will expose children to a variety of food options across the nutritional spectrum. They will see the kid with the perfectly packed hummus and carrot sticks each day right alongside the one eating cold pizza and potato chips with a packaged snack cake for dessert.
This is where the phrases “Families are different,” and “Everything in moderation” come in handy while you continue to steer your child toward healthy choices that will fuel their bodies for academics, play and sports.
“Good sources of protein, whether from animal sources, legumes, eggs, milk, cheese, nuts and plain Greek yogurt are key to building a strong foundation,” Holiday said. “The body also needs healthy carbohydrates – limited sugar and increased fiber – and healthy fats.”
Tweens and teens (12-19)
Healthy eating remains important to give teens the fuel they need to accommodate the transformation of their gangly frames into adult-like bodies. It also becomes even more of a challenge as young people juggle studying, sports, jobs and other afterschool activities.
“Some adolescents may begin using fast food and junk foods to meet these additional caloric needs,” Holiday said. “But those have little nutritional value and should be limited.”
Other teens may go to the other extreme and limit calories of any kind while striving for their ideal body image. That also limits their nutrition, Holiday said.
“Parents or caregivers should be aware of changes in their child’s food habits and choices and guide them accordingly,” she said.
Puberty is prime time for the development of bone mass in males and females, so foods rich in calcium and vitamin D should be consumed regularly, Holiday said. Fiber and macronutrients remain important, too, while complex carbohydrates should be the primary energy source. (That means whole grains and brown rice, not the simple, sweet-tasting processed concoctions that make up many teen diets.)
This is also the time when calorie and nutrition needs start to differ for males and females, Holiday said. “Depending on activity level and growth, boys generally need slightly more calories and protein than girls at this stage, while females will need more iron to account for what is loss during menstruation.”
Filling the gaps
Focusing on a healthy diet loaded with colorful fruits and vegetables is the best way for children and teens to get the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients they need each day. But sometimes it’s a struggle just to get them to the bus stop on time.
Consider help filling the nutritional gaps with nutritional supplements. Amway offers several Nutrilite products designed specifically for kids, including NutriliteTM Kids Chewable Daily and NutriliteTM Kids Chewable Concentrated Fruits and Vegetables.
Supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet, but they can provide some peace of mind!