Facts on Healthy Eating for Kids

By Maria Magher
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Good nutrition is essential to good health. At the time of publication, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that one in three children is overweight or obese, which is not only a sign of poor health but also a sign of poor nutrition. By understanding the guidelines for healthy nutrition for kids, parents can lower their children's risk of disease and increase their overall health and well-being.

Daily Guidelines

Though the exact serving sizes change as children grow, the AAP says kids need a diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, some whole grains, some lean meats and small amounts of healthy fats. The AAP recommends that kids age 2 to 3 should eat 1 cup of fruit per day, 2 cups of vegetables, 3 ounces of grains, 2 ounces of meat and beans, and 2 cups of milk. From ages 4 to 8, kids should eat 1.5 cups each of fruits and vegetables, 4 to 5 ounces of grains, 3 to 4 ounces of meat and 2 cups of milk. Girls and boys ages 9 to 18 need different requirements, but they should eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit, 2 to 3 cups of vegetables, 5 to 7 ounces of grains, 5 to 6 ounces of meat or beans, and 3 cups of milk.

Benefits of Healthy Eating

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes many benefits to healthy eating in childhood. For example, the CDC says that a healthy diet is linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Healthy eating in childhood also leads to a lower risk of obesity, osteoporosis, iron deficiency and dental cavities. It can promote optimal physical and neurological development as children grow. It is especially important for kids to eat breakfast and get the recommended daily servings of fruits, vegetables, grains and meats.

Consequences of Poor Diet

The CDC notes that the consequences of a poor diet are in direct contrast to the benefits of healthy eating. When kids don't eat a healthy diet, they are at increased risk of obesity, diabetes and long-term health conditions, such as cancer and heart disease. These risks are increased by eating fast food at least once a week or drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. While exercise may offset some of these risks, such as the risk of obesity, it cannot completely make up for a poor diet.

Eating Habits of Children

Unfortunately, most children do not eat the diet that the AAP recommends. The CDC says that most kids do not eat the recommended amount of fruits, vegetables or grains per day. Instead, many consume much more salt than they should and drink more full-calorie sodas than milk. According to the CDC, most kids get 40 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar and solid fats, such as soda, fruit drinks, dairy and grain desserts, pizza and whole milk.