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Feeding > Feeding Your School Aged Child

Feeding Your School Aged Child

School-aged children (ages 6 to 12) have a consistent but slow rate of growth and usually eat four to five times a day (including snacks). They should have either a fruit or vegetable and a small amount of protein offered at each meal and snack. Many food habits, likes, and dislikes are established during this time. Family, friends, and the media influence their food choices and eating habits. School-age children are often willing to eat a wider variety of foods than their younger siblings. Eating healthy after-school snacks is important as these snacks may contribute up to one-third of the total calorie intake for the day. School-age children are able to help with meal preparation, which has been shown to increase the likelihood they'll try new foods.

Teach kids and teens to watch portion sizes as well as what they eat. The following guidelines will help them make good food choices. In addition to healthy foods, it is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that all children take a daily vitamin with Vitamin D and iron.

See also MyPlate.

Each day you should eat:

  • 6-11 servings of whole grain breads, cereal, pasta and rice (6 oz.)
  • 3-5 servings of vegetables
  • 4 servings of fruit or fruit juice (Choose fruit more often than juice. Be sure your juice is 100% juice and children over 7 years of age should drink no more than 8 ounce of juice per day.)
  • 3-4 servings of low fat milk, yogurt or cheese (3 cups)
  • 2-3 servings of fish, chicken, turkey, lean meat, dry beans, nuts and eggs (5.5 oz.)
  • Use margarine, butter, oil, and sweets in small amounts (6 tsp.)
  • For those on a vegetarian diet, learn more about healthy vegetarian guidelines.
Fruits, vegetables and grains are important because they give you lots of energy, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Try to eat a variety of these foods every day.

Building healthy bones

During adolescence, your bones are also growing and getting stronger. If your diet is poor, your bones will not be able to reach their peak size. Your bones need enough calcium, Vitamin D and other minerals to grow well. If you don't get enough of these nutrients during adolescence, your bones may not be as strong as you grow older.

Calcium is found mostly in milk and dairy products. You should get about 1300 milligrams of calcium each day from your diet. By eating 4 servings of these foods each day you will get most of the calcium you need. If you can't eat at least 4 servings of these foods, ask your dietitian or doctor about calcium supplements.

Sources of calcium

Choose low fat or non-fat products:
  • Milk (low-fat, skim, or lacto-free)
  • Low fat yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Pudding
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Milkshakes
  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate milk
  • Canned salmon
  • Greens (1 cup)
  • Cheese pizza
  • Hot cocoa (made with milk)
  • Calcium fortified orange juice
  • Fortified soy milk

300 - 350 milligrams of calcium each

  • 1 cup milk, fat free or 1% (8 oz.) or Lact-Aid milk
  • 1 8 oz. container of yogurt with fruit
  • 1 cup or 8 oz. calcium rich orange juice with Vitamin D

200 - 250 milligrams of calcium each

  • 1 cup frozen low-fat yogurt (brands vary)
  • 1 6 oz. container low-fat yogurt with fruit
  • 1 slice (1 oz.) Swiss cheese
  • 1 slice (1 oz.) cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup "Total" cereal (read labels for other brands)
  • 3 oz. Tofu (varies with brand)
  • 2 oz. sardines
  • 3/4 cup cooked collard greens
  • 1/2 cup low-fat Cottage cheese
  • 1 cereal bar (read labels, some have less!)

50-100 milligrams of calcium each

  • 1/4 cup canned salmon
  • 1/2 cup cooked kale or bok choy
  • 1/2 cup cooked soybeans
  • 1/2 cup regular cottage cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese
  • orange
Those who can't drink milk or eat dairy products can still eat the foods listed above in bold print. If you are unable to eat about 1200 milligrams of calcium each day on a regular basis, you could consider taking a calcium supplement. Tums (or other brand chewable tablets) are a safe, well- absorbed and inexpensive source of calcium. Other supplements containing calcium carbonate, calcium citrate or calcium gluconate are also good. The calcium in your diet plus your supplement should equal 1300 milligrams a day. A supplement with both calcium and Vitamin D is preferred for better absorption. 

Vitamin D and bone health

Vitamin D is necessary for your body to absorb the calcium needed by your bones. It is found in milk, eggs and some fish, or is activated by sunlight shining on your skin.

If you do not drink 33 ounces of milk a day (which isn't safe), chances are you are not getting enough Vitamin D in your diet. To get enough Vitamin D from the sun, you must expose your bare face and arms to the sun for 10-15 minutes three times a week. Sunscreen will block the sun from activating Vitamin D, so it is best to get this sunlight in the mornings or evenings.

During the winter months, the sun is not strong enough, so you will need to drink enough milk or take a Vitamin D supplement of 400 IU each day. This can be found in multi-vitamins, Vitamin D supplements alone, or in fish oil.

The importance of exercise

Exercising and eating a well balanced diet will also promote good bone health. Exercise can strengthen bone, especially weight bearing activities such as walking, playing basketball and strength training. This includes most exercises except swimming and cycling.

A balanced diet keeps bones strong

Eating whole grain foods, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seafood, which contain other bone strengthening nutrients, may also help. Drinks containing caffeine or phosphoric acid (like carbonated drinks) are not good choices because they cause your body to lose calcium. Eating a good diet with plenty of calcium and Vitamin D will help you have healthy bones for a long time to come.

Water is another important part of a good diet. Drink at least 8 to 10 cups (8 oz.) of water each day. If you play sports or are very active, you will need more, especially if you are exercising in hot weather.

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