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9 Must-Eat Nutrients for Your Child

Every parent has heard that children should be eating a "balanced diet." But a balance of what? Here are the nine nutrients that every child should be getting on a daily basis:

1. Protein

Protein helps a child's body build cells, break down food into energy, fight infection, and carry oxygen. Foods that contain high levels of protein include:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Dairy products

2. Carbohydrates

While the latest diet trend is to "cut the carbs," carbohydrates are actually the body's most important source of energy. They help a child's body to use fat and protein for building and repairing tissue. Carbohydrates come in several different forms (sugars, starches, and fiber), but kids should be eating more of the starches and fibers and less of the sugar. Foods that contain high levels of carbohydrates include:

  • Breads
  • Cereals
  • Rice
  • Crackers
  • Pasta
  • Potatoes

3. Fats

Fats are a great source of energy for kids and are easily stored in a child's body. They are also important in helping the body to properly use some of the other nutrients it needs. Foods that contain high levels of fats include:

  • Whole-milk dairy products
  • Cooking oils
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Nuts

4. Calcium

Calcium is essential in helping to build a child's healthy bones and teeth. It's also important for blood clotting and for nerve, muscle, and heart function. Foods that contain high levels of calcium include:

  • Milk
  • Cheeses
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • Egg yolks
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Tofu

5. Iron

Iron is necessary for a child to build healthy blood that carries oxygen to cells all over the body. Foods that contain high levels of iron include:

  • Red meats
  • Liver
  • Poultry
  • Shellfish
  • Whole grains
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Iron-fortified cereals

6. Folate

Folate, necessary for soon-to-be moms, is also very important for kids. One of the B vitamins, folate is necessary for healthy growth and development of a child's cells. Lack of this vitamin can cause anemia. Foods that contain high levels of folate include:

  • Whole-grain cereals
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Black or kidney beans
  • Brussels sprouts

7. Fiber

Fiber helps produce bowel regularity in a child. It can also play a role in reducing the chances of heart disease and cancer later in life. Foods that contain high levels of fiber include:

  • Whole-grain cereals
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Kidney beans
  • Seeds
  • Nuts

8. Vitamin A

Vitamin A serves a variety of purposes in kids and adults. It helps growth, assists the eyes in adjusting to dim and bright lights, keeps skin healthy, and works to prevent infection. Foods that contain high levels of Vitamin A include:

  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash
  • Apricots
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Fish oils
  • Egg yolks

9. Vitamin C

Vitamin C does more than just fighting off the common cold. It also holds the body's cells together, strengthens the walls of blood vessels, helps the body heal wounds, and is important for building strong bones and teeth. Foods that contain high levels of Vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits (such as oranges)
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Melons
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Spinach
  • Papayas
  • Mangos

Sources: The Nemours Foundation; National Network for Child Care; Meals That Heal for Babies, Toddlers, and Children (Pocket Books, 1996); U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.