How to Raise a Healthy Eater (in a Junk-Food World)

Portion Primer

According to the latest recommendations from the USDA, kids ages 2 to 3 should have a total of one cup of vegetables a day; kids ages 4 to 8 should have 1 1/2 cups; and kids 9 to 12 need 2 to 2 1/2 cups. Here's what that might look like on their plates.

Ages 2-3

Daily serving: 1 cup
Lunch: 1/2 cup green beans
Dinner: 1/2 cup mashed potatoes

Ages 4-8

Daily serving: 1 1/2 cups
Lunch: 1/2 cup broccoli florets with low-fat ranch dressing
Snack: 2 Ants on a Log (6-inch celery stalks filled with peanut butter and topped with raisins)
Dinner: 1/2 cup corn

Ages 9-12

Daily serving: 2 to 2 1/2 cups
Lunch: 6 raw baby carrots
Snack: 1 red pepper cut into strips
Dinner: Baked sweet-potato fries (using 1/2 potato) and 1 cup green salad

Question: If my child eats a lot of fruit, does it matter that she doesn't eat a lot of vegetables?

Yes. It's true that she'll get a lot of the same nutrients in either fruit or vegetables -- and many kids prefer the sweet taste of fruit to the savory flavor of vegetables. But it's important to focus on veggies now too, because what she eats as a kid may determine her diet when she gets older. "Eating vegetables is a learned habit, and habits are hard to change, even as an adult," says Dr. Gerbstadt. Plus, some vegetables definitely trump fruit when it comes to certain vitamins. For instance, spinach is particularly rich in folate, and sweet potatoes and carrots boast huge amounts of vitamin A -- nearly 10 times as much as cantaloupe.

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