Making healthy food choices for children isn't always as easy as it seems. While many have gotten the idea that a healthy diet means all organic and low fat foods, the truth is that the growing body of a preschooler doesn't have the same dietary needs as that of an adult. Following the Food Guide Pyramid for Kids entails making sure young children get enough of the basic food groups without skipping over those discretionary calories, and the occasional treat, too.
More than the four basic food groups
Raised on the four basic food groups model, parents might be curious about the new food pyramid and what it means for their children. The ideas are still the same - moderation and a focus on fruits and vegetables, grains, protein and dairy - but the pyramid offers more details about where individuals should be getting the bulk of their daily calories. A big component of the preschool model, for instance, includes a focus on staying active as a way of promoting youth health.
What parents should know
Dietary choices for children and adults shouldn't be identical. Not only do preschoolers require less calories overall, but also parents need to remember that the sources of these calories are important for growing children. Daily sources of grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein and discretionary calories (oils, sweets and fat) are all essential components of growing children's diets.
According to Preschool Rock's Food Guide Pyramid for Preschoolers, children ages 2-5 should be eating 1 to 1 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables, 3-5 ounces of grains, 2-4 ounces of protein, 2 cups of dairy and a few teaspoons of oil a day. It also mentions the importance of so-called discretionary calories: calories that are just there for fun and include sweets and nonhealthy snacks. These shouldn't take the place of foods in the rest of the pyramid, but do play a role in a healthy and well-balanced preschooler's diet.
Where parents should be careful with the food guide pyramid
One of the most important things that parents should know about the Food Guide Pyramid for Preschoolers is that it is just that: a guide. Set realistic expectations for yourself and for your children. Not every day will be a perfect measure of what your children eat and how they take in their calories. Young children will have growth spurts, food preferences, and go through stages of disliking certain foods or entire food groups. Discuss these things with your children's pediatrician if you are concerned that their diet isn't as balanced as it should be, but remember that no one eats perfectly all the time.
Letting your child occasionally choose a cookie over an apple will not send them down a spiral toward childhood obesity. Help your children, even young children, make good food choices by offering them a varied menu on a daily basis. Look at the big picture and not just at one day when assessing your preschooler's eating habits. In addition, don't forget the active child component when thinking about what your child had to eat in any given day.
The Food Guide Pyramid is a great resource for parents of healthy children. However, it's important for you to remember that if you suspect your child is overweight or making bad food choices already, you may want to consult your doctor. Fad diets and restricting calories are not the best choices for children, and your doctor or a nutritionist can help you plan a healthy menu. There's a place for the Food Guide Pyramid in the plan, but it should be monitored by your child's primary care physician.
The Food Guide for Preschoolers is an excellent jumping-off point for you if you have concerns about what and how much your children should be eating. But don't beat yourself up about the occasional trip to McDonald's or Burger King. Instead, strive for a healthy and balanced diet, let your children listen to their bodies, and work with your pediatrician if you have concerns.
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