Published on 2011-05-13 by Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
This was one of the great questions asked by someone in my son Eli’s 3rd grade class during during March’s National Nutrition Month. Here are my responses to this question and several others. Hope any of you parents out there will these will find this helpful when talking to your kids about nutrition.
How much nutrition do you need each day? EVERYONE HAS DIFFERENT NUTRITIONAL NEEDS BASED ON THEIR AGE, HEIGHT, WEIGHT, AND GENES (GENES ARE IN YOUR BODY AND THEY MAKE YOU WHO YOU ARE; THEY’RE THINGS YOU’RE BORN WITH THAT COME FROM YOUR PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS). MOST 5 TO 12 YEAR OLD KIDS NEED ABOUT 1,200 TO 1,800 CALORIES A DAY TO GET MOST IF NOT ALL THE NUTRIENTS THEY NEED.
How do you know which foods have good nutrition and which ones don’t? THE FOODS THAT HAVE THE MOST NUTRITION ARE THE LOWEST FAT, LOWEST SUGAR OPTIONS IN THESE CATEGORIES: FRUIT, VEGETABLES, GRAINS, LOW FAT DAIRY FOODS, PROTEIN FOODS, AND OILS. FOR EXAMPLE, IN THE FRUIT CATEGORY, AN APPLE IS A BETTER CHOICE THAN SWEETENED APPLE SAUCE, APPLE JUICE, OR DRIED FRUIT LIKE RAISINS. ALL OF THESE ARE HEALTHFUL-BUT YOU WANT TO CHOOSE APPLE SAUCE AND DRIED FRUIT THAT HAS NO ADDED SUGAR. ALSO, AN APPLE HAS LOTS OF FIBER AND APPLE JUICE DOESN’T—AND THAT’S THE REASON WHY APPLE JUICE ISN’T AS FILLING AS AN APPLE.
What are healthy foods other than fruits and vegetables? OTHER HEALTHFUL FOODS INCLUDE LEAN PROTEIN FOODS (EGGS, LEAN MEATS AND SKINLESS, WHITE MEAT POULTRY, BEANS AND PEAS, NUTS AND SEEDS AND NUT BUTTERS, AND OILS LIKE CANOLA AND OLIVE OIL.
How many meals should you have in a day? ALL KIDS SHOULD HAVE AT LEAST 3 MEALS AND 1 OR 2 HEALTHFUL SNACKS EACH DAY. SKIPPING MEALS IS A NO NO BECAUSE YOU WON’T HAVE ENERGY AND YOU’LL END UP EATING TOO MUCH THE NEXT TIME YOU EAT.
How many calories should a kid have per day? 5 TO 12 YEAR OLDS SHOULD HAVE ABOUT 1,200 TO 1,800 CALORIES PER DAY. MORE ACTIVE AND BIGGER KIDS CAN AFFORD TO HAVE MORE CALORIES THAN LESS ACTIVE, SMALLER KIDS. EVERY PERSON IS DIFFERENT. IF YOU’RE GROWING CONSISTENTLY ON GROWTH CHARTS (WHEN YOU GO TO YOUR YEARLY CHECK UP, YOU CAN ASK YOUR PEDIATRICIAN IF YOU ARE), THEN YOU’RE PROBABLY GETTING ENOUGH CALORIES TO HELP YOU GROW WELL AND TO STAY AT A HEALTHY BODY WEIGHT.
How many calories are in popcorn? How often should you have it? 1 CUP OF POPCORN—AIR POPPED—HAS ABOUT 30 CALORIES; OIL-POPPED OR MOVIE THEATER AND EVEN SOME MICROWAVE POPCORN CAN HAVE ABOUT 60 CALORIES PER CUP. YOU CAN HAVE UNSALTED AIR-POPPED POPCORN OR POPCORN MADE WITH A LITTLE CANOLA OR VEGETABLE OIL AS A SNACK OFTEN (3 CUPS OF POPCORN = ONE PORTION OF WHOLE GRAINS).
What should you have more of, fruits or vegetables? FRUITS AND VEGETABLES ARE BOTH IMPORTANT TO EAT, BUT I USUALLY RECOMMEND THAT KIDS EAT MORE VEGETABLES THAN FRUIT. I RECOMMEND YOU HAVE A LITTLE BIT OF VEGETABLES AT LUNCH AND AT DINNER, AND TRY TO HAVE SOME AS PART OF YOUR SNACKS AFTER SCHOOL (FOR EXAMPLE, RAW CARROTS, PEPPERS, AND CELERY STICKS/STRIPS OR OTHER RAW VEGGIES LIKE BROCCOLI OR CAULOFLOWER.) YOU CAN ALSO HAVE SOME LOW SODIUM VEGETABLE JUICE IF YOU LIKE THAT, THOUGH STICK TO NO MORE THAN 1 TO 1 CUP. YOU CAN ALSO HAVE SOME HUMMUS OR OTHER BEAN DIP AS PART OF A SNACK (YOU CAN HAVE IT ON A WHOLE WHEAT PITA, TOASTED, ON WHOLE GRAIN CRACKERS OR A RICE CAKE). HUMMUS AND BEAN DIP COUNT AS VEGETABLES (AND ALSO COUNT AS PROTEIN FOODS).
Should you have unlimited fruits? EVEN THOUGH FRUITS ARE WONDERFUL—THEY HAVE FIBER AND TONS OF NUTRIENTS, THEY STILL HAVE CALORIES. SO IT’S A GOOD IDEA TO HAVE ABOUT 1 TO 1.5 CUPS OF FRUIT A DAY (THAT’S LIKE 1 BANANA AND 1 CUP BERRIES). IF YOU HAVE UNLIMITED FRUITS—EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE HEALTHFUL—YOU WON’T LEAVE ENOUGH ROOM FOR ALL THE OTHER HEALTHY FOODS IN YOUR DIET. AND YOU MIGHT GET MORE CALORIES THAN YOUR BODY NEEDS TO BE HEALTHY AND STRONG.
How much vegetables do you need each day? MOST KIDS AGED 5 TO 12 SHOULD AIM FOR ABOUT 1.5 TO 2 CUPS A DAY OF VEGETABLES.
Is an Avocado a fruit or vegetable? AN AVOCADO COUNTS AS A FRUIT AND AS OIL. A FRUIT IS THE OVARY OF A FLOWER. ALL FRUITS—LIKE AVOCADO AND TOMATOES—CONTAIN SEEDS OF FLOWERING PLANTS. BUT UNLIKE MOST OTHER FRUITS, AVOCADO ALSO CONTAINS HEALTHY MONOUNSATURATED FATS.
What vegetable is the healthiest? THERE’S NO REAL “HEALTHIEST VEGETABLE”—ALL OF THEM PACK IN LOTS OF KEY NUTRIENTS YOUR BODY NEEDS. BUT I BELIEVE BEANS ARE AMAZING VEGETABLES BECAUSE THEY’RE THE ONLY FOODS THAT CONTAIN BOTH COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES (THEY KEY FUEL FOR OUR BRAINS AND CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM) AS WELL AS PROTEIN (OUR BODIES NEED PROTEIN TO GROW AND FIX MUSCLES AND HAVE SO MANY OTHER IMPORTANT JOBS IN OUR BODIES (OUR BODIES ARE MADE UP OF A LOT OF PROTEINS!)
Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? JUST LIKE AVOCADO, IT’S A FRUIT!
Which food group is Gatorade in? IT’S NOT REALLY IN A FOOD GROUP! IT’S MADE OF WATER AND SUGAR. THE CALORIES COUNT AS “EXTRA CALORIES,” AND KIDS CAN HAVE ABOUT 120 TO 160 EXTRA CALORIES A DAY FROM ADDED SUGARS (SUCH AS SODA, CANDY, GATORADE, FRUIT PUNCH, COOKIES, CAKE, CHOCOLATE AND OTHER SIMILAR FOODS) AND SOLID FATS (BUTTER, SOUR CREAM, CREAM SAUCES AND THINGS LIKE THAT.)
How much sugar do gummy bears have? 11 GUMMY BEARS HAVE ABOUT 100 CALORIES AND 15 GRAMS OF SUGAR. THAT’S ABOUT HALF THE ADDED SUGAR KIDS SHOULD HAVE IN AN ENTIRE DAY!
What food group is chocolate in? CHOCOLATE IS NOT IN ANY FOOD GROUP! IT COUNTS AS “EXTRA CALORIES” (BEYOND THE CALORIES YOU’LL FIND IN FOODS FROM THE HEALTHY FOOD GROUPS) AND HAS FEW NUTRIENTS. KIDS CAN AFFORD ABOUT 120 TO 160 “EXTRA CALORIES” FROM SWEETS AND TREATS EACH DAY. ONE REGULAR SIZED CHOCOLATE BAR (LIKE A HERSHEY BAR) HAS ABOUT 210 CALORIES.
How many times a day or week should you have sweets? I ENCOURAGE MY SONS TO HAVE UP TO ONE A DAY (AND I TRY TO DO THE SAME). WE TRY TO KEEP OUR PORTIONS TO NO MORE THAN ABOUT 100-150 CALORIES A DAY. SOME FAMILIES LIKE TO SAVE TREATS FOR ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK OR FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS. I THINK THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO KEEP TREATS SMALL (2 OR 3 SMALL COOKIES, ONE SMALL DONUT, 1 BAG OF CANDY, ONE SODA, ONE SMALL CHOCOLATE BAR) AND TO MAKE SURE YOU EAT ALL THE HEALTHY FRUITS, VEGETABLES, AND OTHER FOODS YOUR BODY NEEDS TO GROW WELL EACH AND EVERY DAY.
How much oil should I have per day –a lot or a little? THINGS LIKE OLIVE OIL AND CANOLA OIL, MAYONNAISE, AND OILY SALAD DRESSINGS COUNT AS “OILS.” A GOOD RULE OF THUMB IS 3.5 TO 5 TEASPOONS A DAY. 1 TEASPOON OF OIL EQUALS: 1 TEASPOON OF OLIVE OIL OR CANOLA OIL OR OTHER VEGETABLE OIL OR MAYONNAISE; 1 TABLESPOON OF LIGHT OR LOW FAT MAYONNAISE; 2 TABLESPOONS LOW FAT SALAD DRESSING. AVOCADO, NUTS AND SEEDS, NUT BUTTERS AND OLIVES ALSO COUNT AS SOME OILS.
What category is ice cream in? ICE CREAM COUNTS A LITTLE BIT AS DAIRY/MILK BECAUSE HAS SOME CALCIUM FROM THE MILK, BUT IT MOSTLY COUNTS AS “EXTRA CALORIES” –IT HAS LOTS OF FAT AND ADDED SUGAR.
Are eggs for breakfast good for you? EGGS ARE TERRIFIC! THEY CONTAIN PROTEIN TO FILL YOU UP, AND THEY HAVE A LITTLE VITAMIN D (THAT HELPS YOUR BODY ABSORB CALCIUM). EGGS DO CONTAIN CHOLESTEROL, FAT, AND SATURATED FAT, SO YOU DON’T WANT TO HAVE MORE THAN 1 EGG A DAY OR ABOUT 7 EGGS A WEEK. THAT INCLUDES EGGS USED TO MAKE FOODS (LIKE CAKE, MUFFINS ETC) AND EGGS THAT YOU’LL EAT FOR BREAKFAST.
Is homemade French toast good for you? IT DOES CONTAIN EGG, AND IF YOU USE WHOLE WHEAT BREAD, IT CAN ALSO GIVE YOU HEALTHY WHOLE GRAINS. BUT JUST BE CAREFUL NOT TO PUT TOO MUCH BUTTER AND SYRUP ON IT!
If you eat a sandwich for lunch should you have any more grain for the rest of the day? IF YOU HAVE WHOLE GRAIN BREAD (LIKE WHOLE WHEAT BREAD), THEN YOU SHOULD HAVE AT LEAST ONE MORE WHOLE GRAIN (3 CUPS POPCORN, 5 SMALL WHOLE GRAIN CRACKERS LIKE TRISCUITS®, 1 CUP BROWN OR WILD RICE OR WHOLE WHEAT PASTA. MOST KIDS CAN HAVE UP TO 4 OR 5 GRAINS A DAY.
Which is better for you sardines or tuna? THEY’RE BOTH GREAT FOR YOU, BUT SARDINES HAVE MORE HEALTHY OMEGA 3 FATS AND LESS MERCURY THAN TUNA. MY BEST ADVICE IS TO MIX UP THE TYPES OF FISH YOU EAT SO THAT YOU GET ALL THE BENEFITS WHILE LIMITING THINGS LIKE MERCURY (WHICH WE WANT TO LIMIT IN OUR DIETS). MOST KIDS WHO EAT TUNA SHOULD AIM FOR NO MORE THAN 6 OUNCES A WEEK.
How much meat should you have in one day? MEAT IS PART OF THE “PROTEIN” GROUP. KIDS SHOULD AIM FOR 3 TO 5 OUNCES A DAY OF FOODS IN THE PROTEIN GROUP. 1 OUNCE EQUALS 1 OUNCE BEEF/POULTRY/FISH, 1 EGG, 1 OUNCE NUTS OR SEEDS, 1 TABLESPOON PEANUT BUTTER, 1 CUP BEANS (BEANS ALSO COUNT AS VEGETABLES).
Can eating badly make you die earlier? EATING WELL AND HAVING JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF FOOD–NOT TOO MUCH AND NOT TOO LITTLE CAN HELP YOU BE HEALTHIER, FEEL BETTER, AND HELP PREVENT DISEASES AND HEALTH PROBLEMS THAT PREVENT YOU FROM DOING THINGS YOU WANT TO DO IN LIFE. YOUR BODY NEEDS TO BE TAKEN CARE OF AND FUELED PROPERLY JUST LIKE THE ENGINE OF A CAR– YOU HAVE TO PUT IN THE HIGHEST QUALITY FUEL TO GET THE BEST PERFORMANCE. IF YOU EAT WELL AND STAY ACTIVE, YOU’LL HAVE A BETTER CHANCE OF LIVING A LONG AND HEALTHY LIFE.
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