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Feeding Your Child and Teen

What do I need to know about feeding my preschooler and school-aged child?
Kids this age should basically follow the same principles of a healthy diet that adults should follow. They should eat a variety of foods from all the food groups. It's especially important at this age that you set a good example for your children with your food choices and your attitude toward food.

How can I make sure my teen is getting good nutrition?
As your child grows up, you have less and less control over what they eat. We can only help our kids develop good eating habits early on, and hope that they will stay with them. When your teen eats at home, take advantage of that time to get wholesome food into his or her body. Mealtime continues to be an important family time, so keep the television off while you're eating.

Here are some useful resources for your teen:

How do I know if my child is getting enough to eat and growing properly?
Is your child following their growth curve? The percentile your child falls into is not so important. Instead, look for steady growth that follows the curve. If you have questions or concerns about your child's growth chart, ask their doctor or nurse practitioner.

What if I'm concerned about my child's or teen's weight being too low or too high?
Read YourChild: Obesity and Overweight and Eating Disorders for information and resources relating to overweight and underweight concerns. Also see Your Child's Weight for a short discussion of these issues. Talk to your child's health care provider about your concerns.

How can we make family meals work in our busy family?
Hard to find time for home-cooked meals for those family meals? Believe it or not, fast food may not actually save you time or money. Try batch-cooking—also called cooking once a month—and freezing.  
Here are some more tips and tools for making family meals work:

How much milk or juice should kids drink?
If your child doesn't seem to want to eat food, but drinks lots of milk and juice, they may be filling up on calories from these liquids. After age two, most kids should switch to reduced fat milk (skim or 1% milk fat). Even kid's arteries can clog up if they eat (or drink) too much saturated fat. Talk to your pediatrician about how much milk your child should be drinking.

Juice is not as nutritious as fresh whole fruit. If your child drinks juice, read the label carefully, and make sure it is 100% fruit juice. A yummy alternative to juice is a fruit smoothie made with whole fruit and yogurt in the blender.

Here are the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines on giving juice to kids:

To reduce the amount of milk or juice your child takes in, try diluting your child's milk or juice with water, and each day gradually adding more water until your child is drinking plain water to quench their thirst. This will help them make the change little by little.

What about soda pop?
That brings us to soda pop. And of course, children should not drink soda pop or other sweetened drinks as a daily beverage. Soda pop fills you up with either empty calories or artificial sweeteners, and often contains caffeine.  Soda pop-sippers need to know that it's also terrible for your teeth to have acidic, sugary liquid passing over them all day long.  If your family likes these drinks, save them for an occasional, special treat. Water should be your main thirst-quencher. Keep filtered water, 100% fruit juice, and skim milk or soy milk in your refrigerator instead of soda pop. Encourage your teenaged kids to avoid soda pop. Drinking lots of soda pop has been linked to increased risk of bone loss because it replaces healthy beverages in the diet, and may interfere with calcium absorption. It is critical to get enough calcium from birth through adolescence.picky eater

What about picky eaters?
A picky eater can drive you nuts. How do you know if you need to worry? Again, as long as your child has energy and is healthy and growing, they are probably getting enough food. If you are concerned, check with their doctor. Find out some tips for when there's a picky eater at home.

imageFind out more: Listen to a podcast interview with UMHS pediatrician Dr. Julie Lumeng about Picky Eaters: Turning 'Yuck' into 'Yum' .

Is snacking okay?
Snacks are great if your kid eats healthy snack foods. Think of snacks as mini-meals, and use them to get more grains, fruits, and vegetables into your child's diet. Keep healthy snacks ready and available to your kids. Bring healthy snacks with you on outings, instead of relying on fast food. Here are some ideas for healthy, no-cook, kid-friendly snacks:

What if my kid won't eat meat or is a vegetarian?
A vegetarian diet can be very safe and healthy for your child. But you may need to remind your child that being a vegetarian doesn't necessarily make them healthy (they may gravitate away from hamburgers to pop and French fries)! You and your child should learn to eat a variety of foods especially grains and legumes (beans) for protein, and not lean too heavily on cheese and eggs, which are higher in fat and cholesterol. Having a vegetarian in the family provides a great opportunity for everyone to learn more about nutrition and find some creative new ways to eat well.

What books should I read to help my child develop healthy eating habits?
How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much, by Ellyn Satter.
This is a book all parents should read, whether their children have eating problems or not. It applies to kids from birth through the teen years. The advice in this book can start your child off with a healthy relationship with food that will last a lifetime.

Ending the Food Fight: Guide Your Child to a Healthy Weight in a Fast Food/Fake Food World, by David Ludwig.
A nine-week program with all the tools you need to help your kids develop healthy eating habits.

What are some other feeding and nutrition resources?

Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, RN. Reviewed by Julie Lumeng, MD.

Updated June 2011

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U-M Health System Related Sites:
U-M Pediatrics
U-M C.S. Mott Children's Hospital

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