Food & Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Kids! (2024)

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As a parent or caregiver, I know you want nothing but the best for your children. That includes ensuring they eat healthily and get all the nutrients they need to thrive. But with so much conflicting information, it can be hard to know what foods your kids should be eating and in what amounts.

That’s why I turned to the experts: pediatric cardiologist Christina Fink, MD, and pediatric dietitian Diana Schnee, MS, RD, CSP, LD. According to Dr. Fink, “what we eat is foundational for our bodies,” and it’s especially important for kids to eat the right types of food in the right proportions.

In their discussion, Dr. Fink and Ms. Schnee cover important nutritional guidelines for kids of all ages, including recommended serving and portion sizes. So if you are looking for reliable advice on how to feed your kids in a way that promotes their health and well-being, you’ve come to the right place.

Here’re Food & Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Kids:

Here're Food & Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Kids Review-Itis
Here’re Food & Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Kids

It’s important to remember that the five major food groups offer various nutrients essential for children’s growth and development. Pediatric cardiologist Christina Fink, MD, emphasizes the need for these nutrients in the proper proportions.

Rather than obsessing over the number of servings for each food group, Dr. Fink suggests prioritizing balance when it comes to meals and snacks. By striving for balanced meals throughout the day, you can help ensure your child gets the nutrients they need.

So, what exactly does a balanced plate look like? As per the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate tool, it consists of:

  • Half produce (fruits & veggies)
  •  One-quarter protein.
  •  One-quarter starch.
  •  A serving of dairy on the side.

If you’re looking for more personalized recommendations for your child, the MyPlate tool can be helpful. However, as a general guide, here’s a breakdown of how much of each food group children should consume each day and suggested portion sizes based on their age group.


Vegetables Review-Itis

Parents have been urging their kids to eat their vegetables for generations, and with good reason. According to pediatric dietitian Diana Schnee, “half of your child’s plate should be vegetables & fruits” in order to provide them with essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins.

So just how many vegetables should your child be eating each day? Here’re some guidelines to keep in mind when it comes to veggie consumption for kids.

Ages 12 to 23 months: 2/3 to 1 cup per day.
Ages 2 to 4 years:1 to 2 cups per day.
 Ages 5 to 8 years: 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups per day.
 Ages 9 to 13 years: 1 1/2 to 3 cups per day for girls & 2 – 3, 1/2 cups per day for boys.
 Ages 14 to 18 years:2 1/2 to 3 cups per day for girls & 2, 1/2 – 4 cups per day for boys.

If your child isn’t a big fan of vegetables, try experimenting with different types, textures, and preparations to see what they like. You can use the MyPlate tool to determine what qualifies as one cup of veggies – for instance, two medium carrots, one large sweet potato, or two stalks of celery. These small adjustments can make a big difference in your child’s health and well-being.


Fruit Review-Itis

In order to provide your child with a well-rounded diet, fruits, and vegetables should make up approximately half of their plate. But just how much fruit should your child be eating each day? Here’re some general guidelines to keep in mind.

Ages 12 to 23 months: 1/2 to 1 cup per day.
 Ages 2 to 4 years: 1 to 1 1/2 cups per day.
 Ages 5 to 8 years: 1 to 2 cups per day.
 Ages 9 to 13 years: 1 1/2 to 2 cups per day.
 Ages 14 to 18 years: 1 1/2 to 2 cups per day for girls & 1, 1/2 – 2 cups per day for boys.

The MyPlate tool can be a great resource for understanding how much fruit counts as one cup. For instance, one large banana, 22 grapes, or a small wedge of watermelon all count as one cup of fruit.

While fruit is a delicious and nutritious way to satisfy a sweet tooth, it’s important to be mindful of added sugars. Fruit juice, in particular, can be a sneaky source of added sugar, so it’s important to stick to 100% fruit juice and limit your child’s intake as much as possible.

As pediatric cardiologist Dr. Christina Fink notes, “You get more & more nutrition out of eating the fruit directly. Really, kids should mostly be drinking milk & water.” By making small adjustments to your child’s diet and encouraging them to drink water and milk instead of sugary drinks, you can help them develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.


Grains Review-Itis

According to pediatric dietitian Diana Schnee, grains are an important source of carbohydrates and starches that kids need for proper growth and development. If you’re trying to choose healthy carbs for your kids, opting for whole grains over white bread is best. Whole grains require more time for the body to digest and provide more nutrients than their refined counterparts.

Ages 12 to 23 months: 1 3/4 to 3 oz. per day.
 Ages 2 to 4 years: 3 to 5 oz. per day.
 Ages 5 to 8 years: 4 to 6 oz. per day.
 Ages 9 to 13 years: 5 to 7 oz. per day for girls & 5 to 9, oz. per day for boys.
 Ages 14 to 18 years: 5 to 8 oz. per day for girls & 6 to 10 oz. per day for boys.

If you’re wondering what constitutes an ounce of grains, there are several options. One regular slice of bread, and half of an English muffin, a 6-inch flour tortilla, or half a cup of rice all count as one ounce of grains. For additional serving amounts, you can refer to MyPlate.


Protein Review-Itis

“Protein is essential for proper growth and development, but as Dr. Fink cautions, too much protein can put stress on kids’ livers & kidneys and increase their risk of dehydration. Most Americans people eat the right amount of protein in their diet, so it’s not a major concern. Here’s a breakdown of how much protein your child should be getting each day:”

Ages 12 to 23 months: 2 oz. per day.
Ages 2–4 years:2 to 5 oz. per day.
Ages 5 to 8 years: 3 to 5 1/2 oz. per day.
Ages 9 to 13 years:4 to 6 oz. per day for girls & 5 to 6 1/2 oz. for boys.
Ages 14 to 18 years: 5 to 6 1/2 oz. per day for girls & 5 1/2 to 7 oz. per day for boys.

MyPlate is a useful tool to determine what qualifies as one ounce of different protein sources, such as an egg, a slice of deli meat, one tablespoon of nut butter, or half a cup of cooked beans. It’s important to note that children with lower weight, those following a vegetarian or vegan diet, or those with a confirmed deficiency may require more protein than the recommended amount.

However. It is crucial not to overdo it Too much protein can strain the body, so it’s important to take it in moderation in a child’s liver and kidneys and increase the risk of dehydration. Dr. Fink explains that most Americans consume adequate protein in their diet.


Dairy Review-Itis

As kids grow, they require calcium for healthy bone growth, and dairy products such as milk and cheese are a good source. However, it should be remembered that moderation is key. Drinking less milk can result in overconsumption of nutrients and displace other important foods. For kids, three cups of milk per day is the recommended limit.

As nutritionist Schnee explains, consuming more than the recommended amount of calcium doesn’t offer additional benefits. Also, it’s best to switch to low-fat milk to lower fat intake after the toddler years.

Here’s how much dairy your child should consume:

Ages 12 to 23 months:1 2/3 to 2 cups per day.
Ages 2 to 4 years:2 to 2 1/2 cups per day.
Ages 5 to 8 years:2 1/2 cups per day.
Ages 9 to 13 years:3 cups per day.
Ages 14 to 18 years: 3 cups per day.

When it comes to dairy, one cup is equivalent to different amounts of specific products, such as 1/3 cup of shredded cheese, and a 1/2 pint milk container, or one small yogurt. If you’re planning your child’s meals, MyPlate offers other equivalents to make it easier for you to provide them with the recommended amount of dairy.

Limit kids’ sugar

Limit kids’ sugar Review-Itis
Limit kids’ sugar

It’s important to talk about sugar in any conversation about nutrition, even though it’s not one of the five food groups.

Eating Too much sugar can affect children’s moods, activity levels, and hyperactivity. It also puts them at a risk for insulin resistance, prediabetes, & Type 2 diabetes. Therefore the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two don’t have any added sugar at all. Kids who are two years or older should consume at most 25 grams or six teaspoons of added sugar each day.

According to Dr. Fink, it’s crucial to avoid excess sugar. While natural sugars in fruits and vegetables are okay, added or extra sugars should be avoided. Instead, choose products without added sugars or consume those sparingly.

When checking food labels, opt for products with little to no added sugar when possible. Food labels now list added sugars separately, which makes them easy to spot.

Teach kids healthy eating habits:

Teach kids healthy eating habits. Review-Itis
Teach kids healthy eating habits.

Serving nutritious meals to your children is crucial to maintaining their well-being. However, providing them with the appropriate knowledge to sustain a healthy diet is equally vital as they age.

“Begin educating your kids on making healthy food choices and try to set a good example for them,” recommends Schnee. This entails:

  • Modeling healthy eating behaviors.
  •  Eating balanced, nutritious meals as a family.
  •  Having healthy foods available at home so they’re easily accessible.
  • Encouraging snacks like fruit, veggies, and Greek yogurt over candy and chips.

When it comes to nutrition, instilling healthy eating habits in your children early on is crucial for their well-being both in the present and the future. Not only will this help them maintain a healthy weight and avoid diet-related diseases, but it can also foster a positive relationship with food that will benefit them throughout their lives.


Providing healthy foods for kids is a vital aspect of their growth and development. By following the recommended guidelines and incorporating a variety of nutrient-dense foods into their diet, parents can ensure their children receive the necessary vitamins and minerals for optimal health.

Additionally, educating children on the importance of making good food choices and being a positive role model can set them up for a healthy relationship with food for years to come. By focusing on whole foods, limiting added sugars and processed foods, and monitoring portion sizes, parents can help their children establish healthy eating habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.

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