How To Ensure Great Pediatric Nutrition, From Cradle To Dorm

A quick rundown of the nutrients your child needs at every age and stage.

Birth-One Year: The major source of a baby’s nutrition is breast milk or formula, with solid food being introduced generally in the second half of the first year. Supplemental vitamin D may be needed, so check with your pediatrician, who can also help determine if your baby is getting enough to eat. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies triple their birth weight by their first birthday.

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Toddler-Pre-K: Children this age can be finicky, but if you offer a variety of high-quality, healthy options, they generally wind up with a balanced diet. Proteins are particularly important for growth, with good sources including lean meats, beans, and nuts and nut butters (provided there’s no nut allergy). “Fats are very important, too, especially for brain development and vitamin D absorption,” says Deborah Mollo, MD, a pediatrician with Mount Kisco Medical Group.

Ages 6-10: At this age, kids need a good mix of proteins, complex carbohydrates, calcium, and fats. Dairy products and dark, leafy greens supply calcium, while good sources of fats include avocado and olive oil. Some parents worry about calories, but holding back on food at this age can make kids cranky and lethargic, and can stunt growth. Says Eva To, a registered dietician/nutritionist in White Plains, “It’s better to push activity than to restrict calories.” 

Ages 11 and up: Kids grow rapidly once they hit puberty, so their calorie needs increase dramatically. “It seems they’re hungry all the time,” says Deborah Tesler, MD, of Westchester Health Soundview Pediatrics. Adolescents need protein for growth and calcium for strong bones—plus, if they play sports, they need additional calories from complex carbohydrates to provide extra energy. In addition, girls who’ve begun menstruating need iron, which can come from lean red meats, dried fruits, and beans.

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