How Much Do Kids Need To Eat?

| Posted On Mar 31, 2011 | By:

With childhood obesity on the rise in America, it has become increasingly important for parents and children to be aware of how much food to eat at meals and snacks. The USDA Food Guide Pyramid recommends a variety of foods from each of the five food groups every day. The five food groups (and some examples) are:

 (Note that the tip of the Pyramid includes fats and sweets, and their intake should be limited.)

 Serving sizes do vary among the five food groups:

An easy way to be sure you get the right amounts of the five food groups at meal time, called “balance,” is to divide the plate in such a way that ½ of the plate is covered with crunchy vegetables such as carrots, green beans or broccoli, while only ¼ of the plate is covered with starches such as rice, pasta, and starchy vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, and other “mushy” vegetables. Beans such as kidney are also included in the starch category (they are higher in calories, so their intake needs to be limited.)  The final ¼ of the plate should consist of lean meats, fish, poultry or other protein sources. If the meal is vegetarian and beans are the protein source, they can be moved to this quarter of the plate instead of the starches.

Here is a great poster from specifically designed for elementary aged children whose needs are lower. With this age group, usually the biggest challenge is getting them to eat their fruits or veggies. Here are some fun ideas that can help you ensure their needs are met:

Do you have younger children with have adolescent or teenaged brothers or sisters who think they can eat the same portion sizes? Younger school-aged children have slower growth rates, and for this reason they should have less actual hunger. They also have smaller stomachs, which should limit hunger as well.

If they do begin to increase portions because they see their faster-growing teen siblings eating larger portions, some general nutrition tips may solve the problem.  Explain to them that their siblings’ energy needs are much larger (1½ to 2 times more) than their own, and for this reason, portions should be commensurate (i.e., larger for the teenagers, smaller for them). One easy way to help them to understand portion sizes is to use the palm of their hand as a guide. The meat portions at lunch and dinner should be the size of their palm (hand minus the fingers) and starch portions should also be that size.  If pasta or another starch is the main meal, its portion can be doubled to two palms of the hand. Finally, half of the plate should come from the crunchy vegetables.

Here’s a super-tasty recipe that’s easily made and easily liked by everyone in your family!

Jicama and Asian Pear Salad

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Number of Servings: 6

2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
2 cups julienne-sliced jicama
2 cored and chopped Asian pears
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup white wine vinaigrette
¼ cup apple cider or juice (for dressing)
¼ tsp Chinese five-spice powder or ground allspice

Directions: In a bowl, toss the shredded lettuce, jicama, Asian pears and golden raisins until combined. For dressing, whisk together the salad dressing, apple cider or juice, and five-spice powder or allspice until well mixed. Drizzle over salad and toss well. Serve immediately.

Julie Seed, MEd, RD, LDN has been a nutritionist for 15 years.  She worked at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates for 4 years in Nephrology as a nutritionist, and then returned in December 2010 with the Nutrition Department.  Her clinical interests are pediatric and adult weight management, diabetes management, adolescent and adult eating disorders, women’s health, and sport nutrition.

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