Appropriate Diet for Age
Alternate Names : Diet for Age
Nutrition needs and developmental skills change as a child grows. An age-appropriate
diet is one that provides the nutrients a child needs to grow and to develop. It also includes foods that a
child likes and can eat easily.
The Food Guide Pyramid from the
US Department of Agriculture shows the kinds and amounts of foods that are needed to
provide adequate nutrition for children. A healthy diet includes grains, fruit, vegetables, meat and meat
substitutes, and dairy products. Some foods are hard or unsafe for children to eat because their
chewing and swallowing skills are not yet fully developed.
What is the information for this topic?
From birth until four to six months of age, infants rely on the sucking ability with which they are born.
They obtain all their nutrition either from a bottle or from breast-feeding.
Newborn infants feed every two to four hours and eat up to eight times a day or more.
Breast milk provides all the nutrition a newborn infant needs. Man-made
infant formulas are designed to be as much like
breast milk as they can be.
Between four and six months of age, an infant begins to take larger amounts of breast milk or
formula at one time. This means that they may not want to feed as often. Their digestive systems have
developed more fully, so they can eat new foods. An infant who has doubled in weight since birth may be
ready to begin solid foods. The baby should also be able to sit up and have good head support.
Eating from a spoon is a new skill a baby must learn. Until about the age of 12 months, an infant
can manage only small amounts of food with a spoon or fingers. This eating method does not provide a
major source of nutrition. An infant continues to depend on breast-feeding or bottle feeding for most
Rice cereal is usually the first solid food to be given to an infant. It is thought to be the least
likely to cause a food allergy. Infant barley
and oatmeal are other choices. Either strained fruits or strained vegetables can be offered next.
By the time the infant is six to eight months old, strained meats, egg yolks, and small amounts of
dairy foods can be started. At seven to nine months, an infant begins teething and can accept
textures in foods. Once an infant reaches eight to ten months of age, he or she can often tolerate more
foods. These may include wheat products, whole eggs, and larger amounts of dairy products.
Babies begin to use their hands to feed themselves crackers and soft foods. These include
pieces of fruits, vegetables, and tender meats. Crunchy or stringy foods such as nuts, popcorn, or less tender
meats may cause choking. As the ability to eat finger foods and to use a spoon improves, an infant will eat
more solid foods. That means the baby can rely less on breast milk or formula for daily nutrition.
Learning to drink from a cup is a hard and often messy process. By the time they are one
year old, most infants master this skill well enough to wean from a bottle. They may also lose interest in
breast-feeding at this point. New foods should
be started one at a time and at least two or three days apart. This allows the
parent to watch the baby's response to each food.
Providing a toddler with the right diet can be challenging. Children this age want to
practice their new skills by eating with their fingers or trying to use a spoon. Appetite varies widely
due to a slower growth rate. Toddlers are also more aware of their surroundings and often become
distracted. All these things affect what the child is willing to eat at any given meal. There is no longer one
single food that will provide all or most of the child's nutritional needs. A variety of foods is needed for
good health and steady growth.
The right portion size changes with age. One rule of thumb for feeding toddlers is to
offer one tablespoon of each food for every year of age. A child may choose to eat more or less than this
amount. Children should be given whole milk until they are two years old. This is because their developing
nervous systems need the extra fat. From age 2 to 5, 2% milk is OK.
Toddlers often go on what are called food jags.
This means they will eat only one or two foods for several meals or several days at a time. Studies show that most
children still meet their nutritional needs over time. The challenge for parents is to be
patient. It's crucial to offer a variety of healthy foods. It is not a good idea to try to force a child to eat a
food. This approach will only ensure that the food is never a favorite. Parents do not have to
give a favorite food when a child refuses what is first offered. Food refusal at one meal will likely
result in an improved appetite at the next meal or snack time.
Three meals and two to three snacks per day is ideal. Children cannot eat enough in
just three meals to sustain their energy needs so they need between meal snacks. Many parents
think that fruit juice is a good source of nutrition. The fact is, children who drink juice or soda between
meals are often less hungry at mealtime. Children who drink sweetened juices have a much higher risk of
developing childhood obesity.
Choking can be a problem for children under the age of 4. At this age, chewing and swallowing skills
are still developing. Choking is also more likely if they are eating while running and playing. Eating and
drinking should be allowed only when a child is sitting. Common foods that toddlers tend to choke on include:
School-age children need the same types and number of servings of foods in their diet as
preschool children. However, they are able to eat bigger amounts at one time and may eat less often. Most
youngsters who are age 5 and older can safely drink skim milk and still grow well. If they continue to
have high energy needs for growth, they may still need the extra calories that are found in 2% milk.
Food choices are more influenced by peers at school and by what they see on television. Children
are bombarded with commercials for processed foods, such as sweetened breakfast cereals, fast food,
candy, and soda. This gives rise to new concerns. Poor eating habits can lead to
obesity and iron deficiency anemia. Anemia is a
shortage of red blood cells. Children who have developed healthy eating habits are likely to continue to eat
well, despite these influences.