Tag Archive for: child and teen nutrition

Good nutrition is the backbone of any healthy lifestyle. Without satisfying necessary caloric and nutritional needs, your body can’t keep you thriving. This includes everything from basic functions—like breaking down and removing waste and protecting itself against toxins—to growth, development, and maintaining energy levels. But what exactly is “good nutrition”?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. As your body grows, changes, and develops, so do your nutritional needs. Though the basics of nutrition stay the same throughout life, your nutritional needs will vary depending on your physical activity levels, lifestyle habits, and age. This article will focus on that last one: nutrition by age.

As your body changes from infancy to adulthood—and everything in between—it requires slightly different nutrients to optimize growth, development, and function. And some of these nutrients might not be what you’d expect! So take a closer look at some of the surprising nutritional needs for each age group.

Newborn Nutrition: 0-12 Months

Whether you decide to feed your newborn breastmilk, formula, or a combination of the two, your baby’s nutritional needs should be a top priority. In their first year of life, most babies more than double their weight. That’s a lot of growth—not to mention the brain development that occurs during this time period. All these changes in babies’ bodies require the proper fuel.

From birth until about six months, it’s recommended to feed your baby exclusively breast milk or newborn formula. This will help them acquire the fats, proteins, and other nutrients they need. If your infant is breastfeeding, their nutrients come from the person feeding them. For this reason, it’s important for that individual to stay on top of their own nutrition and supplement their diet with the nutrients their baby needs. So what exactly are those nutrients?

You’re probably familiar with the more common staples of infant nutrition—calcium to support bone strength and growth, for example—but let’s take a look at some of the less talked about nutritional needs of infants.

  • Folate: The less-known vitamins and minerals are an often-overlooked aspect of nutrition. This is the case with folate, aka vitamin B9, which plays a vital role in cell division. And that’s one of the key processes behind infant growth and development.
    To ensure your infant has appropriate amounts of folate in their diet, check their formula for the levels of vitamin B9. Or, if you’re breastfeeding your child, eat plenty of folate-rich foods, such as leafy greens and legumes.
  • Zinc: No single nutrient is more important than the rest. That being said, if you were asked to name a nutrient as MVP of your diet, zinc would be a strong contender. The mineral helps maintain a healthy immune system, supports cellular growth and repair, and helps optimize DNA creation—all of which are important at any stage of life, but are especially vital for infants.
    Babies born prematurely often have zinc deficiencies, which is a problem because they need zinc to catch up on their growth. When breastfeeding, be sure to stock up on zinc rich foods—nuts are a great, calorie-dense option!

Early Childhood: From Toddlers to Preteens

Growth and development don’t stop after infancy. From the terrible twos up through adolescence, the body continues to undergo rapid changes. It’s a formative time, and not just for an individual’s personality. Proper nutrition during these periods of change set the stage for a healthy adulthood. So what are some key nutritional needs for children and preteens?

  • Fats: Pop nutrition has given fats a bad reputation. But not all fats are bad. In fact, some fats are a crucial part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. This is especially true when it comes to children’s nutrition.
    When people talk about fat in food, they typically mean: saturated fats or trans fats. Children should eat saturated fats, or fats that come from meat, dairy, and eggs, in moderation. And trans fats, which are created when some foods are processed, should be avoided as much as possible.
    But what about the good fats—the ones that can provide children with energy, support overall health, and help them process other nutrients? These fats are found in foods like olives, nuts, and seafood. And these beneficial forms should make up most of the fat in a child’s diet.
  • Sodium: When it comes to sodium, the problem most children face is not too little of it in their diet, but far too much. Fast food is a frequent meal in many households. And understandably so: it’s quick, affordable, and picky eaters may actually eat it. But these foods also contain lots of sodium.
    The recommended daily value for sodium changes with age. Young children—up until age four—only need about 1,500 mg of sodium per day, while preteens should take in up to 2,200 mg. According to a 2011 survey, 90% of children in the U.S. exceeded the recommended daily value for sodium, with average daily intake coming in at a whopping 3,256 mg per day. That’s more than 1,000 mg higher than the recommended value.
    So what’s the big deal? In moderation, sodium is a vital part of a healthy diet. It helps nerves function, plays a role in muscle function, and helps the body maintain proper fluid balances. Too much sodium, however, can lead to blood pressure issues.

Adolescence: Nutrition During the Teenage Years

Parenting teenagers can be a challenge (to say the least). It’s a period marked by mental, emotional, and physical changes—all of which can be difficult to handle individually. Put these changes together, and you have the perfect storm. If there’s one thing teenagers need, though, it’s the space to exercise and explore their independence. And this might include choosing more of the foods they eat.

That being said, good nutrition should still be a priority. Adolescence is, after all, a period of change. And when the body changes, it requires fuel. Teens are likely familiar with the basics of their nutritional needs but might need some additional guidance when it comes to specific nutrients. The list below outlines a few of the unsung heroes of teen nutrition.

  • Iron: You’ve maybe heard that iron-deficiency can lead to anemia—a condition that can lead to extreme fatigue. But maintaining energy levels isn’t all iron is good for. High iron intake is also crucial during periods of rapid growth—teenage growth spurts, for instance.
    Monitoring your iron intake as a teen is especially important if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Meat, poultry, and fish are some of the most common sources of iron—if you don’t eat any of these foods, you’ll need to be extra diligent about eating other high-iron foods, such as beans, broccoli, and spinach.
  • Sleep: This one is, admittedly, not a nutrient. But it is an often overlooked element of teen health. When it comes to adolescent growth and development, a well-balanced diet is only one piece of the puzzle—and sleep is the other. Sleep can help your immune system stay strong, helps support your brain and body to grow and develop, and can optimize mood and emotion regulation. As a teenager, you should sleep 8-10 hours a night. It might seem like a lot, but it’s worth it!
    Getting enough sleep isn’t simply a matter of getting in bed at a reasonable time. A variety of other factors affect sleep including ambient noise, blue light exposure, and even diet. While there is no single nutrient that will solve your sleep problems, a well-balanced diet has been shown to support quality sleep. In this case, well balanced means supplying your body with enough magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, C, D, E, and K. (Not sure where to find these nutrients? Take a look at this vitamin guide and essential mineral overview for a quick crash course!)

Nutrition Later in Life

If there’s one guarantee in life, it’s that you’re not getting any younger. And as you age, you might notice your body experiencing a little wear and tear. To a certain extent, this is inevitable. With the right diet and healthy lifestyle choices, however, you can help keep your body running smoothly well past 60.

They say that prevention is the best medicine—and by paying attention to your nutritional needs as you age, you can help keep yourself feeling good. You’ve probably heard that calcium is crucial for maintaining bone strength later in life, but that’s not all is needed at this stage of life. So let’s take a look at some of the less talked about nutrients.

  • Magnesium: Calcium gets all the credit when it comes to supporting bone strength, but magnesium also plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy, strong bones. Additionally, it helps both the heart and immune system continue to function properly.
    As you get older, your body absorbs magnesium less efficiently. This means you need more of this important in your diet to actually get the necessary amount. What’s more, many medications also affect magnesium absorption—so be sure to ask your doctor about any side effects!
  • Water: Everybody needs to drink water. That never changes because healthy hydration is an important aspect of nutrition and a healthy life. However, some studies indicate that your body requires more water as you age. The effects of dehydration can also lead to more serious health consequences for older individuals. Fortunately, the remedy for dehydration is simple: just drink more water.
    To ensure you are staying properly hydrated, look at your urine. It might not be the most pleasant part of your day, but it’s a simple way to check your hydration levels. If your urine is dark and cloudy or bright yellow, you likely aren’t drinking enough water. (There is an exception to remember with urine color. Even well hydrated individuals taking high dosages of vitamin C and B vitamins can have very bright yellow urine.) Typically, your urine should be somewhere between pale yellow to clear.

Nutrition by Age

As you age, your body grows, develops, and changes in countless ways. This probably isn’t news to you. Navigating these changes can be tough but properly satisfying your body’s nutritional needs at each stage of life can help optimize the aging process. And no matter your age, it’s never too late to start caring about nutrition. So, with what your read above as a guide, take charge of your health one nutrient at a time!

Little girl refuse to eat

Little girl refuse to eat

Whether it’s your food preferences, a picky spouse, or a child that will eat anything but a vegetable, you’ve probably had to deal with a picky eater in one form or another. This can range from a minor inconvenience to a major annoyance. But can picky eating also be a health concern?

Nutrition, after all, is a fundamental aspect of health no matter your age. And a key part of nutrition is eating a well-rounded diet. But is it possible to eat a balanced, nutritious diet as a picky eater?

The short answer—it depends. Read on to puzzle out the long answer and find tips for how to deal with picky eaters, and—whether it’s yourself, your child, or your partner—how to provide the nutrients they need.

What is Picky Eating and What Creates Picky Eaters

Picky eating looks a little bit different for everyone. There are a number of eating preferences that can be described as pickiness and each of these can range in intensity. But if you distilled the variety of picky eater experiences into one, single definition, you’d end up with something like this: picky eating is the avoidance of specific foods, textures, flavors, or other elements of food and eating.

When it comes to picky eating, most people have the same question: how can I get my picky eater to be, well, not picky? But before you start thinking about solutions for how to deal with picky eaters, it’s important to understand the underlying causes of picky eating.

Not all picky eaters are the same. Some avoid certain foods simply because they dislike the taste, while others’ aversion is based on texture. Some have a visceral reaction—gagging, spitting, or inability to swallow—to the foods they avoid, while others simply prefer not to eat certain items. The severity of an individual’s aversion to specific foods—as well as their reaction to those foods—can help you identify the underlying cause of their pickiness.

In some cases, picky eating can be attributed to neophobia (the fear or dislike of new and unfamiliar experiences). New foods can introduce you to a wide array of new experiences— flavors, textures, smells, etc. This multifaceted experience is part of what makes eating enjoyable and exciting. But for some, these new sensations can be intimidating.

Familiar foods are comforting and predictable. And some people want their eating experiences to be just that: comforting and predictable. While there’s no single identified cause for food-related neophobia, some studies suggest it is an inherited trait. That means if your parents are neophobes, there’s a good chance you will be, too.

There is also a link between picky eaters and being introduced to different foods later in childhood. Basically, the longer a toddler settles into the routine of only eating a set assortment of foods, the more likely they are to develop picky eating habits. If they aren’t exposed to tart foods early on, for example, they may develop an aversion to tart foods.

If a picky eater experiences bodily reactions, such as gagging or spitting, to certain foods, their pickiness may be the result of sensory food aversion. Individuals with sensory food aversion experience heightened sensory input from certain aspects of their food. This could be temperature, texture, taste, or smell. And because of this heightened sensory input, eating these foods can be overwhelming and unpleasant.

Is Picky Eating Unhealthy?

Picky eating can be frustrating for everyone involved. But for many parents, that frustration is rooted in concern. Eating a well-balanced diet is a crucial part of living a healthy lifestyle. And in many cases, picky eating stands in the way of a well-balanced diet. In short, it can start to impact nutrition.

This leads many parents to the same question: just how bad is picky eating for my child’s health? While the effects of picky eating on nutrition vary from person to person, there are common trends that parents should note.

One of the most common effects of picky eating in children is difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. For extremely picky eaters, especially those with sensory food aversion, eating can easily become a chore. There just aren’t many foods picky eaters like, and so they don’t eat as much as they need to. While being underweight isn’t always a health risk, it   can indicate malnutrition—meaning a child isn’t getting the nutrients they need to support the body’s growth and development.

Oddly enough, picky eating can also have the opposite effect on your child’s weight. Because picky eaters tend to avoid fruits and vegetables, their diets often consist primarily of carbs—especially refined carbohydrates—and processed foods. And, when eaten in high quantities, both of these food types can lead to weight gain. Once again, this is an indication that your child isn’t acquiring the nutrients they need.

Put simply, children (and any picky eater adults, for that matter) should eat a variety of whole foods, including fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Unfortunately, these are typically the foods picky eaters avoid most. Without fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meat, and whole grains, it is difficult to get the appropriate amounts of fiber, protein, and vitamins a child’s growing body needs.

Strategies for How to Deal with Picky Eaters

So your suspicions have been confirmed: picky eating isn’t exactly healthy and is certainly not ideal. What’s next? Fortunately, picky eaters don’t have to be picky for life. There are a variety of strategies you can use to help a picky eater broaden their tastes—it’s just a matter of choosing the right strategy for the situation.

Studies suggest many food aversions can be overcome with repeated exposure. This means a picky eater may come to enjoy a food they avoid if they try it enough times. Say your child hates tomatoes—if you offer them tomatoes enough times, in a variety of forms, they may eventually come to enjoy them. If you’ve heard the term “acquired taste,” the same principle applies here. It’s just a matter of helping your child acquire a taste for certain foods.

Children respond to modeling. If you don’t eat your veggies, there’s a good chance your child won’t either. Don’t prepare separate meals for you and your child—sit down and eat the same food together. Show your picky eaters that you enjoy the tricky foods. Additionally, preparing food in a variety of ways can help a child branch out to new foods. If they hate raw carrots, try steaming them. (Worried about how this will affect the nutrient content of your food? Read up on the effects of cooking on vegetables!)

6 Tips to Make Feeding Your Fussy Eater Easier

If you’re looking for a variety of simple, actionable items to try to get your child to eat, look no further. Give these six tips a try!

  1. Give your child options: As children grow and develop, their sense of autonomy grows, too. This means kids may want more say in what foods they eat. Obviously a four-year-old boy shouldn’t have full control of his diet, but you can indulge his budding sense of autonomy by providing options. If you’re struggling to get your kids to eat carrots, it might not be about the carrots. It might be about the children’s sense of autonomy and control. Instead of forcing them to eat a carrot, provide two healthy options and ask which they’d prefer. Sometimes a question as simple as “Do you want carrots or green beans tonight?” can solve the problem.
  2. Don’t prepare separate meals: As mentioned above, children look up to their parents for modeled behavior. Don’t give in if your child sees a meal you’ve prepared and demands something else. Sit down to eat the meal together. As they watch you eat and enjoy the food, your picky eaters might decide to do the same. Again, be sure to allow for choices within the meal—peas vs. broccoli, for example—but don’t simply let kids opt out and choose a different meal entirely.
  3. Establish and maintain routines: Children thrive in an environment with established routines—and mealtime is no exception. A lot of picky eating can be attributed to children avoiding the unfamiliar. Trying new foods and branching out is stressful enough for young children, so try to make the rest of their eating experience predictable and consistent. Set aside blocks of time each day specifically for meals. Be consistent in when and where you and your children eat.
  4. Be patient and don’t force it: If your child refuses to eat broccoli, they probably won’t wake up one day and miraculously love it. Acquiring the taste will take time and repeated exposure. This might mean your child chews up a piece of broccoli only to spit it out—and there’s nothing wrong with that! Give picky eaters time to adjust to new foods and keep giving them opportunities to try the different items.
  5. Mix it up: While repeated exposure is one way to help a child eat a food, this doesn’t mean you should only prepare that food until they like it. If your child hates raw bell peppers, for example, don’t try to feed them raw bell peppers every night. Remember, their aversion might be rooted in texture. Mix up your preparation and try grilling or sauteing. And, let’s be honest, bell peppers aren’t the only healthy food out there. Don’t be afraid to give it a break and serve your child other nutritious foods—maybe carrots, broccoli, or green beans.
  6. Give feeding therapy a try: If you have an extremely picky eater or a child with sensory food aversion, feeding therapy is also an option to consider. Feeding therapy is especially helpful for children with strong bodily aversions to food—in other words, kids who gag, cough, spit, or choke when eating foods they don’t like. Although it shouldn’t be your first solution, feeding therapy can be a great way to help your child enjoy eating when all else fails.
family with children

family with children

Childhood and adolescence are among the most important stages of any person’s life. And while this probably isn’t news to you, it bears repeating. The amount of growth and development the body experiences during these periods of time are astounding. Simply put, the body changes during childhood and adolescence—a lot.

During childhood and adolescence, it can even seem like the body is constantly in flux. The changes come so rapidly that it may be difficult to monitor your child’s health—both physical and mental. Whether you’re a parent searching for facts and tips about your child’s health or a teen looking to read up on your health, you’ve come to the right place! After all, what better place to start than the basics?

The list below breaks down some of the most important (and interesting) facts about childhood and adolescent health.

1. A fast metabolism doesn’t mean you can forget about nutrition:

Adults often bemoan the fact that metabolism slows with age. That is, the body becomes less quick and efficient at breaking food down and turning it into energy the older it gets. So while children and teens can—and often do—scarf down four bowls of pasta without immediate consequences, that same amount of food might have lasting effects on an adult (and their waistline).

This fact leads many people to believe children, especially teenagers, can eat just about anything while maintaining their health. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly true. Children and teenagers can eat a lot of food, but that’s because the body is doing a lot of growing. That means it requires a lot of energy. And to provide it with the energy it needs, good nutrition is key.

The fundamentals of good nutrition stay the same from childhood to adulthood: you should strive to eat a well-balanced diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based fats, and quality, lean protein.

2. Teens and children should steer clear of adult beverages—and not just alcohol:

It goes without saying, children and teens shouldn’t drink alcohol. While the brain is still developing, alcohol consumption can have lasting, negative consequences. That being said, alcoholic beverages aren’t the only drinks to keep away from teens.

As of 2014, the CDC reported that 73 percent of children consume caffeine daily. While children under the age of 12 should avoid consuming caffeine altogether, teens can drink small amounts of caffeine without impacting their health. Here’s the problem: the amount of caffeine teens take in depends on what they’re drinking. And energy drinks are popular among teenagers.

Teens 14-17 years old are advised to consume no more than 100 milligrams (mg) of caffeine each day—roughly one strong cup of coffee. Some energy drinks contain triple that amount of caffeine in one can. And many teens are drinking multiple energy drinks a day. You don’t have to be good at math to know that is way, way over the recommended limit.

So why does this matter? Children and teens are physically smaller than adults, so they feel the effects of caffeine much more strongly than, say, most people working office jobs. What’s more, teens’ brains are still developing and maturing. Caffeine can also disrupt teenagers’ sleep cycles—and sleep is a crucial time for brain development. In extreme cases, excessive caffeine intake can even put teens’ hearts at risk.

3. Sleep is a vital aspect of teen health and wellness:

Ask nearly anyone how much sleep you should get, and they’ll likely give you the same answer: eight hours. And while eight hours is a good guideline for adults, the recommended amount of sleep for healthy teenagers is between eight and 10 hours.

Between the demands of school, work, friendships, and other relationships, it can be hard for teenagers to prioritize sleep. But here’s why it’s important: Sleep plays an important role in pretty much every neurological process and function—memory, risk assessment, processing sensory input, you name it. And as a teen, your brain is still developing and making neural connections. Sleeping enough is crucial to allow those connections to be made.

4. Sunscreen is no joke:

While sunburns may seem like no big deal in the moment, they can have lasting impacts on your health. Excessive sun exposure—whether it’s frequent sunburns, extreme sunburns, or even too much tanning—can lead to premature aging of the skin. This means seeing wrinkles younger in life, and, in some cases, increased risk for skin issues.

This doesn’t mean staying out of the sun entirely. You can still go to the beach, swimming pool, or take a long walk on a sunny day—just be sure to wear sunscreen. And not just any sunscreen. The higher the SPF rating, the better.

As a guideline, 15 SPF is appropriate for daily wear, but for extended periods of sun exposure, you should aim to wear 30 SPF sunscreen or higher. And don’t forget to reapply every two hours, as needed!

5. Take care of your ears:

No, seriously. Ear health may seem like a strange topic to talk about, but it’s no joke. And it’s one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of adolescent health. With the proliferation of affordable smartphones, earbuds, mp3 players, and headphones, virtually everyone can listen to music anywhere.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But here’s the problem: teens and children (and even adults) often don’t understand the risks of listening to loud music for prolonged periods of time. And, as a result, many teens listen to music at dangerously high volumes. Blasting music through your headphones or earbuds will damage the cells in your cochlea, increasing your risk for hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). So take care of your ears while you’re young—future you will be grateful!

6. Teens should exercise regularly:

When it comes to adult health, consistent exercise is one of the most oft-cited aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Similarly, exercise is a vital element of teen health.

You’ve probably come across a variety of suggestions for how much exercise teens should do: 30 minutes daily, 30 minutes six times a week, 60 minutes three times a week—you get the idea. If you average out these various suggestions, here’s the bottom line: teens should get somewhere between 180 and 210 minutes of exercise each week. This could be swimming, cycling, going to dance practice, walking the dog—it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are revving your heart rate up.

While regular exercise will help keep your body healthy, the benefits aren’t purely physical. Regular exercise can help teens with mood regulation, alleviate stress, and get better sleep. All good important aspects of adolescent health.

7. Dental health is health, too:

As a teen, it’s easy to feel invincible. Your body bounces back from most injuries and your brain hasn’t fully developed its risk-assessment abilities. This combo can lead teens to make some, well, rash decisions. It can be hard to see the big picture.

When it comes to dental health, however, it’s all about the big picture. Once your baby teeth fall out, you have one set to last the rest of your life— so it’s important to take care of them. Ask adults what they wish they’d done differently in their teens and twenties, and many will give the same answer: they wish they’d taken better care of their teeth.

Dental health doesn’t have to be complicated, but it requires consistency. Be sure to brush and floss at least every night and you’ll keep your oral health thriving for the years to come.

8. It’s never too early to prioritize mental health:

One of the most common misconceptions about mental health is that only adults suffer from these kinds of issues. While early adulthood is a very common time for many mental health challenges to emerge, anyone, no matter their age, can experience change in mental health. In fact, one in about five teens has a diagnosed mental health disorder.

So what does this mean for you? Whether you experience mental health challenges or not, it’s never too early to prioritize your mental health. For teens, this might mean taking a break from social media, seeing a therapist, and, in some cases, taking medication prescribed by your healthcare provider. It’s all about finding what works for you and not waiting until adulthood hits to address any issues.