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Provide perfect portion sizes for healthy kids

How do you help your children get the right amount of nutrition? Use these guidelines from "Real Food for Healthy Kids" to get them on the right track.
/ Source: Epicurious

How do you make sure your children get the nutrition they need? Children need different amounts of food as they grow up, so how do you maintain good portion control while satisfying their hunger? Use these guidelines from “Real Food for Healthy Kids”by Tracey Seaman and to get your kids on the right track.

The United States Department of Agriculture created a food pyramid of daily guidelines for kids. (It's available online at, although the guidelines are only applicable for children age two and up.) Some nutritionists feel the government should have been more strict; for instance, requiring all, not just some, of the grains to be whole grains, insisting on reduced fat when recommending milk and dairy products, and completely restricting sodas and sports drinks, rather than labeling them as drinks to be used occasionally.

Essentially, a child's daily diet should be composed mostly of calories from complex carbohydrates and lean proteins and no more than 20 percent of calories from fat. Here are particulars about each category of food and the specific daily nutritional breakdown for preschoolers, elementary school children, and teenagers all derived from the U.S.D.A. and Institute of Medicine.

Daily foods

Vegetables: Opt for bright and dark veggies. Spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots are great choices. Starchy, whiter foods, such as baking potatoes and corn have lesser nutrients.

Fruits: Choose vitamin-rich fresh fruits, such as strawberries, peaches, mangoes and apples. Fruit juices should be consumed as little as possible. When offering juice, make sure it is 100 percent real fruit juice with no sugar added.

Grains: Use whole or multigrain flours, whole-grain breads, oatmeal, whole-grain low-sugar cereals, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta. Ban white bread and white rice from your house as much as possible.Meats and Beans:
Serve lean proteins every day, such as beef, pork, chicken, fish, beans, tofu, or eggs. When preparing any protein-rich food, opt to serve it steamed, baked or grilled, not fried.Dairy: Serve lean sources of dairy, such as low-fat milk (check with your doctor to determine whether your child should have whole or reduced-fat milk), low-fat yogurt, ricotta, or cheese.Oils: Use healthy oils, such as olive — preferably extra-virgin — safflower and vegetable oils. They provide vitamin E for healthy skin.Fats and sweets:Limit intake of butter, cream, sugary cereals, soda, candy, and the like as much as possible.

Daily requirements: Preschoolers
Generally, preschoolers need about 1, 000 to 1,400 calories per day. For this age group, roughly five or six mini-meals throughout the day are preferable to keep their energy up.

Vegetables: 1 cup

Fruits: 1 cup

Grains: 3 ounces

Meats and beans: 2 to 3 ounces

Dairy: 2 cups

Oils: 3 teaspoons

Fats and sweets:  Limit as much as possible

Daily requirements: Elementary school students
Complex carbohydrates and protein are particularly important for five- to eleven-year-olds, who need roughly from 1,400 to 2,000 calories a day. If they are very active, their calorie intake can be in the upper range and if they are fairly inactive, they should have a little less.

Vegetables: 2 cups

Fruits: 1 1/2 cups

Grains: 5 to 6 ounces

Meats and beans: 5 ounces

Dairy: 3 cups

Oils: 4 teaspoons

Fats and sweets: Limit as much as possible

Daily Requirements: Middle and high-school students
Generally, teenagers need anywhere from 1,600 calories per day to 3,000 calories for very active boys. Often, teenagers need more calcium and protein than they take in.

Vegetables: 3 cups

Fruits: 2 cups

Grains: 6 ounces

Meats and beans: 5 to 6 ounces

Dairy: 3 cups

Oils: 5 to 6 teaspoons

Fats and sweets: Limit as much as possible

Size Matters
The American Dietetic Association (their website, is very handy) provides a handy visual guide to appropriate serving sizes:

Meat: 3 ounces                      Size: Deck of cards or kitchen sponge

Pasta/rice: 1/2 cup                Size:Tennis ball or ice cream scoop

Bread: 1 slice                         Size: CD case

Peanut butter: 2 tablespoons   
Size:Ping-pong ball

Vegetables: 1/2 cup               Size:Light bulb or rounded handful

Cheese: 1 ounce                    Size:Four dice

Dried Fruit: 1 ounce             Size: An egg

Nuts: 1 ounce                      Size: Ping-pong ball

For more ideas on cooking for and with kids, recipes for portable lunches and more, go to Epicurious’ Back-to-School Package.

The preceding is from “ by Tracey Seaman and Tanya Wenman Steel, © 2008, reprinted by permission of William Morrow/An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.