Changing diets for 1- to 8-year-olds
SALINA – After passing the 1-year-old mark, children’s environments play a bigger role in eating patterns as diets alter. Tonya Swim, Cherokee Nation clinical dietitian, said as children reach “school age” well-rounded meals are important for muscle and brain growth.1 to 5 years
Swim said children between 1 and 2 years old eat because of hunger, and at this time their palates change. Around the 2-year-old mark, Swim said children’s appetites “slow down.”
“Parents may be concerned at that age that their child’s not eating, but that’s just a normal part of the life stage at that point,” she said.
Swim said when children hit the 3- to 4-year-old mark their environments becomes “bigger” influences on their eating patterns.
“The only difference is around age 3 or 4 is whenever the environment that the child is in starts to become a bigger influence on their eating patterns rather than that hunger cue,” she said. “That’s where setting a good example for children around that age (is important) because they’re going to want to eat what we eat.”5 to 8 years
In this age group, which Swim said is “school age,” the focus is ensuring children eat nutritious snacks as their calories increase. “They’re going to need a little more calories than the 1- to 5-year-olds, and then the calories kind of bump up again at the next range.”
Swim said breakfast is important for children’s diets as it helps their bodies and brains gain energy to “focus.”
“Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day for school-aged children. That’s what gives their body and their brain the energy to focus. So we want to encourage a nutritious breakfast for school-aged kids,” she said. “That’s going to be a whole grain. It’s going to be a lean protein, an egg, breakfast ham. Those are some lean proteins that we would like to encourage them to have.”
She said it’s important to also have well-rounded meals and snacks.
“It’s making sure that those whole grains are at every meal. It’s making sure that they have a variety of fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks, the low-fat dairy so that they get their calcium, their potassium, magnesium. An 8-ounce serving of low fat milk at meals is good. String cheese, yogurt parfaits, those can be good snack ideas,” she said.Extra tips
Don’t use food for praise or punishment, and establish set meal and snack times.
“We don’t want to use food for praise or punishment because that can start to develop a negative relationship with food,” Swim said. “Establishing set times for meals and snacks can be very important. Especially family meal times, that’s really important for helping to develop social skills.’
Children may start to develop “picky” eating habits. Introduce new foods in small portions at the beginning of meals.
“Don’t give up just because the kid says, ‘I don’t like it.’ We don’t want to give up. We want to keep trying every few days or every week. Try not to bribe them with other foods,” Swim said. “Then again being that good example, tasting the new food yourself.”
Physical activity is also important at these ages, she said. “We need to balance the calories that are going in our bodies with the calories that we expend through exercise to help maintain a healthy weight.”
Swim said if parents or guardians have concerns they should contact their pediatricians.