Healthy Habits. Strong Foundations.

Good nutrition is important at every stage of life, but especially during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood.  Healthy eating in childhood is essential for proper growth and development and helps prevent negative health conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure. Research shows that poor nutrition during childhood increases the chance of anemia, and limits memory development and a child’s ability to learn.  Find out how you can build healthy habits and a strong foundation for your family with these nutrition tips for every stage of infancy and childhood.

This project was funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant.

Nutrition for Prenatal through 2 Years

Prenatal Nutrition

During pregnancy it is important that you get the right nutrients and energy needed to keep you and your growing baby healthy. Physical activity is also just as important when you’re pregnant as at any other time of life.

The First Year

Your new baby’s nutritional needs are greater than at any other time in their life. Feeding your infant provides more than just good nutrition, though. It also allows you to hold your newborn close, cuddle, and make eye contact. These are relaxing and enjoyable moments for you both, bringing you closer together.

Nutrition Tips for One Year Olds

After your child’s first birthday, you’ll probably notice a sharp drop in his or her appetite. Maybe your child is suddenly turning his or her head away after just a few bites and/or is resisting coming to the table at mealtimes. Despite this behavior and increased activity, there’s a good reason for the change. Your child’s growth rate has slowed; he or she really doesn’t require as much food now.

Nutrition Tips for Two Year Olds

Your two-year-old should be eating three healthy meals a day, plus one or two snacks. He or she can eat the same food as the rest of the family. With his or her improved language and social skills, your child can become an active participant at mealtimes if given the chance to eat with everyone else.

Offering a variety of foods and leaving the choices up to your child will eventually allow him or her to eat a balanced diet on his or her own. Toddlers also like to feed themselves, so whenever possible, offer your child finger foods instead of cooked ones that require a fork or spoon to eat.

Nutrition for Three Year Olds

Three year olds have very specific food preferences. Some preferences may vary from day to day. They may ask for a certain food for several days in a row, and then insist that they don’t like it anymore. Offer nutritious food choices at every meal and let your child make the decision of how much to eat. Your child may not eat the exact amounts suggested every day. Try to balance the amounts over a few days or week.

Nutrition for Preschool Age (3-5 Years)

Healthy eating is important at every age. Offer preschoolers a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy or fortified soy alternatives. When deciding on foods and beverages, choose options that are full of nutrients and limited in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Start with these tips:

Model healthy behaviors.Preschoolers tend to copy what parents or caregivers do at the table. If you eat your veggies, they’ll eat their veggies. And, it’s good for both of you.

Think about their drinks. Sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas and fruit drinks are sources of added sugars that are often high in calories. Beverages with no added sugars like water, unsweetened fat-free or low-fat milk (including low-lactose or lactose-free options), or fortified soy beverages should be the primary choice for children.

Prevent choking.Encourage children to sit at a table for meals and snacks and not wander around carrying food. Avoid serving foods that are hard to swallow or cut them into small pieces, about ½ inch.

Practice food safety. Encourage hand washing after using the bathroom, before and after eating, after playing with pets or whenever they are dirty. Ensure that foods containing seafood, meat, poultry or eggs are cooked to the recommended safe minimal internal temperature.

Try new foods. Involve your kids in online and in-store grocery shopping and let them pick a new fruit or vegetable. This can help improve their interest in trying new things.

Get kids involved. Preschoolers can help at mealtimes by washing produce, tearing lettuce, stirring mixes, scooping ingredients, or setting the table.

Offer choices. Like adults, preschoolers like to have a say in what they eat. “A pear or an apple?” “Whole wheat toast or some crackers?” You offer the healthy options, but they get to choose.

Grade School Nutrition

Nutrition is important to normal growth processes, and it is important that children of grade school age con­sume a well-balanced diet. Your child’s need for calories rises during times of rapid growth, gradually increasing as they move through middle childhood into puberty.

As the middle years progress, children’s total energy needs will increase and their food intake will rise, especially as they approach puberty.

Between ages seven and ten, both boys and girls consume about 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, although caloric needs vary considerably even under normal circumstances.

During times of rapid growth, children will probably require more total calories and nutrients than at any other period in their lives.

Calcium intake is important to encourage bone growth and protein in key for building body tissue.

Your child should consume a variety of foods from the five major food groups. Each food group supplies important nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.