The USDA food guide also known as ‘MyPlate,’ or ‘My Pyramid’ offers advice for the best possible nutrition for your child. Kids can be picky eaters. Here’s how to respond to those needs while giving them the best diet for their health.
The Food Pyramid for Kids: The Parents Guide
What your child eats won’t just determine their weight but could influence how they grow. In the first year alone, an infant’s birth weight typically triples. Toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 years gain about 0.4 inches in height per month, and preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5 years gain about 2.75 inches per year. Your child needs great nutrition to grow, and develop their body and brain. Understanding great nutrition through the food pyramid and MyPlate will help you to give your child the best possible diet.
The challenge is that kids can be very picky eaters. You offer them milk, they ask for pop, you bring out the salad and they demand pizza. And that’s just the beginning! To negotiate these daily challenges, the food pyramid for kids was developed. It explains the basic principles that should guide any child’s diet.
What the Food Pyramid is?
A food pyramid is basically a chart that explains the core principles of any healthy diet. Food pyramids have been around for the past forty years, but as our understanding of nutrition has changed, so too have they, evolving into better guides to eating. Food pyramids are used by governments around the world, including Germany, Sri Lanka and Japan.
The United States developed its first food pyramid in 1992. It was divided into six horizontal sections, each with a different food category. The pyramid is used because it provides a graphic demonstration of how important a food group is and how much you should eat. Foods at the bottom, the widest section, are those that you should eat the most, such as bread, cereal, rice and pasta. At the very top are those foods that you should use sparingly, such as fats, oils and sweets. And in betw
een are vegetables and fruits, dairy, meats and fish.
In an effort to restructure food nutrition guidelines, the USDA rolled out its new MyPlate program in June 2011. MyPlate is based on similar nutritional principles except, it is divided into four slightly different sized quadrants, with fruits and vegetables taking up half the space, and grains and protein making up the other half. The vegetables and grains portions are the largest of the four.
How is the food pyramid different for kids?
Essentially, it’s not. The principles for the food pyramid are the same for kids and adults. But how to get the same nutrition for kids can be difficult. Kids can be picky eaters. They may want to eat at their friend’s houses whose parents don’t mind if their kids eat nothing but pizza and pop.
And so, the USDA makes recommendations about how to make sure you follow the pyramid when kids are picky eaters or only want, for example, to eat vegetables that are white. Kids often like to eat snacks in small quantities rather than big meals. By switching to whole grain crackers or chips, or giving them cut up bits of fruit or cheese as snacks rather than chocolate, you can tailor to your child’s desires, while still providing excellent nutrition for their growth and development.
What food to eat for each level, and how much?
First level (bottom) – this level is for the grains or food made from grains. This food group is particularly important because kids are more active and they need nutritious sources of energy. For kids, it’s important that you make at least half of your grains – e.g. crackers, rice, pastas, breads, cereals – whole grain. Choose 100 % whole-wheat bread, whole corn tortillas, bagels or English muffins, brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole wheat bulgur.
Second Level – the next level is divided into two groups, the vegetable group and the fruits group. Between the two, the vegetables have been given more space, and ideally eaten in higher quantities.
2a. Vegetables –Vegetables are great sources of vitamins and minerals and contain important dietary fiber. However, it is common for preschoolers to dislike them. To get around this, encourage your child to try them and try eating them yourself. Or cut or slice the vegetables into smaller pieces so the kids can eat them with their fingers and have an easier time in swallowing them. It would also be more appetizing for kids if vegetables are mixed together are presented in a colorful manner. Any vegetable is great for kids although they might not like the ones with strong taste.
2b. Fruits – like vegetables, including fruits in the kid’s diet is important to give them the balanced diet that they need. Fruits contain vitamins and minerals that are helpful to anyone. They may be fresh, canned – in juice not syrup –, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed. Fruit juice does not contain the fiber that is in whole or cut up fruits, so serve no more than ½ cup to 3/4 cup of juice a day. Unlike vegetables, it will be easier for a parent to feed their kids’ fruits because most fruits are sweet. Fruits are very good for kid’s dessert or snacks.
Third level – the third level are the main proteins. Meats, poultry, milk, yogurt, cheese, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts are all considered part of the meat protein group.
3a. Milk –milk is an excellent way to provide protein, vitamins, minerals and calcium to your child. Kids that are two years and older can drink low-fat and fat-free milk. These provide the same amount of calcium and vitamin D as whole milk or 2% milk, but less saturated fat and calories. Milk contains calcium that can make the bones stronger and grow faster. Some alternatives to milk are cheese and other dairy products.
3b. Meat – The meat group includes pork, beef, poultry, eggs, dry beans and fish. As for adults, it’s better if kids eat lean proteins, such as turkey, chicken and fish rather than processed meats such as hams and hotdogs. Lean proteins are low in saturated and trans fats. Although kids rarely have problems with cholesterol, the foods that kids eat when they are young shapes their tastes and eating habits as adults.
Fourth Level –the fourth level is the extras. These are foods that add calories but no vitamins and minerals. And they include solid fats and sweets. Examples include fries, ice cream, pop, cookies, potato chips, jams and jellies. While kids can have these all those foods in small quantities, it’s important that they don’t fill up on them so they still have room to eat the nutritional food that they need. If your child wants these foods, try switching to similar but more healthy alternatives. For example, chose plain yogurt and fruit, rather than sweetened yogurt, or cottage cheese rather than regular hard cheese.
The USDA recommended kid’s food guide, also known as ‘My Pyramid’ or ‘MyPlate’ offers smart advice on how to make sure your child gets the right nutrition. While your child may be a picky eater, there are many ways to respond to their needs while still ensuring he or she gets the best possible nutrition. Switch to whole grains, and make sure that snacks include things like cut pieces of fruits rather than chocolate or chips. The foods that are eaten early in life will shape your child’s tastes and eating habits for the rest of their life.