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What to Feed Kids Every Day

grains

Gemma Comas

Not everything on your kid's plate has to be a superfood. But children need at least a couple of servings daily from each of the five main food groups: grains, healthy fats, fruits and veggies, dairy, and protein. Find out exactly how much your child needs based on her age, see what counts as a portion, and learn why you should bother.

GRAINS

At least half of your kids' grain servings should be the unrefined type -- like whole wheat or oats -- because they pack more vitamin E, magnesium, and fiber than their processed counterparts. These "whole" grains may also reduce your kids' risk of asthma, diabetes, and, later in life, heart disease. If your family is having trouble making the transition, look for breads and pastas made with a mix of whole and refined grains. Your kids may not notice the difference. Still, it's okay for kids to have regular pasta or white bread sometimes.

HOW MANY SERVINGS EACH DAY

Toddlers (age 2): 3

Preschoolers (ages 3-4): 3-5

School-age Kids (ages 5-8): 5

WHAT'S IN A SERVING

1/2 cup cooked whole-grain pasta

3 cups popcorn (for kids 4 and up)

1/2 cup cooked brown rice

1 6" whole-wheat or corn tortilla

50 whole-grain goldfish crackers

1 cup whole-grain cereal

1 slice whole-grain bread

1 mini whole-grain bagel

1 packet instant oatmeal

Healthy Fats

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All kinds of fats help kids grow, transport vitamins through the body, and provide vitamin E. But the unsaturated type, such as the kind in olive oil and peanuts, protects kids' hearts by keeping their cholesterol level low while the saturated kind (think butter) sends it through the roof. Crazy as it sounds, a government report found that 1 in 5 children has high cholesterol!

HOW MANY SERVINGS EACH DAY

Toddlers (age 2): 1 of oil per day (Nuts and peanut butter are choking hazards for kids under 4.)

Preschoolers (ages 3-4): 1 of oil per day; 1-4 of nuts/seeds per week

School-age Kids (ages 5-8): 1-2 of oil per day; 2-4 of nuts/seeds per week

WHAT'S IN A SERVING

1 Tbs. peanut butter

1/2 medium avocado

1/2 ounce sunflower seeds

1/2 ounce nuts (like 16 peanuts or 12 almonds)

2 Tbs. salad dressing

1 Tbs. olive, canola, peanut, or flaxseed oil

4 large olives, sliced

Fruits and Vegetables

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Ideally, you'll divide the servings fairly equally between the two. But if you have a picky eater, set this minimum goal: at least one serving of dark-green or orange veggies daily. They have unique disease-preventing compounds. And take comfort in the fact that tomato sauce, salsa, and baked fries count toward your child's veggie servings too.

HOW MANY SERVINGS EACH DAY

Toddlers (age 2): 2 (Slice whole fruits, even grapes.)

Preschoolers (ages 3-4): 2-3

School-age Kids (ages 5-8): 2-4

WHAT'S IN A SERVING

1 cup corn

8 large strawberries

32 seedless grapes

1 cup broccoli

1 cup diced cantaloupe

1 cup any fresh fruit or veggie

10 baked fries

12 baby carrots

Dairy and Added Calcium

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If your kid is a milk lover, it'll be no sweat for her to get the 800 milligrams of calcium she needs daily for strong bones and teeth (or just 500mg, if she's between 1 and 3). Otherwise, focus on low-fat yogurt, cheese, and up to 6 ounces of fortified fruit juice. Look for brands that contain vitamin D, which, among many other things, helps kids absorb calcium.

HOW MANY SERVINGS EACH DAY

Toddlers (age 2): 2

Preschoolers (ages 3-4): 2 to 2-1/2

School-age Kids (ages 5-8): 2-1/2

WHAT'S IN A SERVING

1/3 cup shredded cheese

3/4 cup fortified orange juice

1 cup plain yogurt

1 piece string cheese

1 cup milk

1 cup fortified soy milk

1-1/2 ounce part-skim mozzarella or cheddar cheese

Lean Protein

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Protein-rich foods help build and repair every tissue in the body that kids need to grow. They also contain must-have nutrients -- like iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Shop for the leanest meats (such as skinless chicken, turkey, or a cut of beef with "loin" or "round" in its name) to get protein minus the unhealthy fats. At least once a week, kids should also eat fish and beans, which have nutrients that are not found in meat. Look for seafood such as shrimp, cod, and wild salmon that is low in mercury and is sustainably caught.

HOW MANY SERVINGS EACH DAY

Toddlers (age 2): 2

Preschoolers (ages 3-4): 2-5

School-age Kids (ages 5-8): 3-5

WHAT'S IN A SERVING

1/4 cup tofu

1/4 cup kidney beans

6 shrimp

2 Tbs. hummus

1/2 piece grilled chicken

1 egg

1 slice deli meat

1/2 cup black bean soup

1/2 small turkey or beef burger

A Terrific Toddler Menu

Breakfast

1/2 hard-boiled egg

1 piece whole-grain toast

1/2 cup berries

3/4 cup milk

Snack

1 piece string cheese (Slice it to reduce the risk of choking.)

Water

Lunch

1/2 cup mini pasta tossed with 2 tsp. olive oil and 1/2 cup broccoli

3/4 cup milk

Snack

1 small banana (slice it first)

Water

Dinner

1/2 cod filet (sauteed in a little oil)

1/2 cup cooked brown rice

1/2 cup cooked squash

Water

YOU CAN ADD

A 50- to 70-calorie treat like a cookie, ice pop, or mini piece of chocolate

A Day Plan for Preschoolers

Breakfast

Mini whole-grain bagel with 1 Tbs. peanut butter

5 large sliced strawberries

3/4 cup milk

Snack

6 baby carrots and 1/2 cup broccoli with 2 Tbs. low-fat ranch dip

Water

Lunch

Turkey-and-cheese sandwich on whole-grain bread

1/2 cup apple slices

Water

Snack

2 Tbs. hummus

5 whole-grain crackers

Water

Dinner

1/2 small piece (2 ounces) grilled chicken

10 sweet-potato fries

Dinner roll

1/2 cup grapes

3/4 cup milk

YOU CAN ADD

A 50- to 70-calorie treat such as a cookie, ice pop, or mini piece of chocolate

Meals for School Kids

Breakfast

1 cup whole-grain cereal

3/4 cup milk

1 slice cantaloupe

Snack

8 tortilla chips with 1/4 cup each tomato salsa and black beans

Water

Lunch

1-1/2 cups chicken vegetable soup with 5 saltines

1/4 cup raisins

1/2 cup berries

3/4 cup milk

Snack

3 cups oil-popped popcorn sprinkled with 2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese

Water

Dinner

Turkey burger on a roll

1/2 cup green beans with almond slivers and 2 tsp. olive oil

Orange

3/4 cup milk

YOU CAN ADD

A 50- to 70-calorie treat like a cookie, ice pop, or mini piece of chocolate

Originally published in the May 2010 issue of Parents magazine. Updated December 2012