Raising a Healthy Eater

Tips for Feeding School-Age Children

Good nutrition during the school-age years is key to helping children grow, feel good and do their best. Besides nourishing their growing bodies, healthful eating supplies the energy children need each day for school, activities and fun. During grade school years, 6 to 12 year olds begin learning to make food choices on their own. Parents and caregivers play a vital role in helping children develop healthful eating and active living habits to last a lifetime.

Mealtime Know How

You can create an environment for your child that encourages healthful eating with these practical guidelines.

  • Be a good role model: Children learn habits for healthful eating and active living by watching others. Parents and other caregivers are a child's most influential teachers.
  • Make a variety of nourishing and appropriate foods available: Then let your child practice deciding what to eat and how much. When children listen to their own body cues, they learn to eat appropriate amounts of food to satisfy their hunger.
  • Set a routine for eating: Try to establish a time and place for eating, and eat meals as a family whenever possible. Keep the focus on meals and snacks rather than eating while watching television, playing video games or working on a computer.
  • Respect your child's appetite and food preferences: Your child's rate of growth will vary during these years, and so will his or her appetite. Food preferences may also change as your child develops new tastes. And remember, there is no single "must eat" food. Don't engage in power struggles or use food as a reward or punishment.
  • Involve your child in planning meals and snacks: Children are more likely to eat foods that they help plan, choose or prepare. This is an opportunity for children to try new foods and develop cooking skills too.
  • Keep mealtimes relaxed: This is an ideal time for family conversation and bonding.

Breakfast Basics

Breakfast feeds a child's body and brain - helping to provide the energy and stamina a child needs to pay attention in class, get schoolwork done and participate in physical activities. Breakfast eaters are also more likely to meet their daily needs for important nutrients like calcium and iron. Serve up at least three of the four food groups in the morning to start the day off right.

Smart Snacking

When planned for and chosen carefully, snacks can be a "nutrition opportunity" for your school-age child. Snacks keep kids fueled between meals and help to prevent overeating at mealtime. They can help fill in nutrient gaps and contribute up to one-fourth of the calories and nutrients your child needs each day. For those who are active in sports or lessons, a nutritious snack helps keep them alert and promotes endurance and optimal performance. To help ensure each snack is filled with healthy, nutritious choices, choose at least 2 of the 4 food groups at each snacking occasion.

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