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Healthy Food Plan for Children from Pediatricians (mine!)

Healthy Meal Ideas for Families

A Plan for Healthy Lifestyle Choices and Weight-Control in Children From My Pediatrician

  • We do not want to severely restrict food intake in children — they need sufficient calories for good growth and development; rather, we want to change eating and lifestyle habits to promote better long-term health.
  • We usually don’t want young children to lose weight, but stay around the same weight or just gain a little while they grow in height, thus “slimming down” over time.  Some older children and adolescents may benefit from weight loss, but this should be done gradually, not rapidly through fad diets or other extreme measures.
  • Try not to contribute to an unhealthy body image in your child.  Don’t criticize your child for being overweight — society and the media already tell our children that the super-skinny model is the ideal model type; we know this is not realistic or healthy for most young people.  Help your child understand that changes toward healthier lifestyle and eating habits are being made to help him or her live a healthier life, not to meet some unrealistic body image.
  • It is virtually impossible to make substantial changes in a child’s lifestyle and eating habits without changing the habits of the entire family.  Everyone in the family must be “on board” with the plan or it will likely fail.


EncourageWater (drink as much as you like, Low-Fat Milk (2% is more satiating than 1%), zero-calorie drinks like flavored water, Crystal Light, Fruit2O and many others are OK if your child refuses plain water, Drinkable Low Fat yogurt makes a great snack.

AvoidSodas (DO NOT BUY THEM!),  sugar-filled drinks ( like fruit punch, lemonade, and sweetened ice tea), sports drinks (high in sugar and generally should be avoided), juices (loaded with sugar, even orange juice!  You may be surprised to see juice on this list as many parents and grandparents think juice is healthy because it has vitamins in it.  In face, juice is loaded with sugar; a 6-ounce juice box has the equivalent of 15 sugar cubes in it!  And healthy children have no problem getting sufficient vitamins from a balanced diet.  either cut out juice all together or limit it to about 6 ounces per day.  If your child is used to drinking a lot of juice and you’re worried she won’t drink enough fluids without it, dilute 4-6 ounces of juice in 20 of water and use that throughout the day to wean her off juice).


Fruits and Vegetables: 5 or more servings a day; a serving is about 1/2 cup.  Fruit roll-ups do not count!

Grains/Carbohydrates: Whole Grains! and you can tell by fiber content (more is better).  Whole Grain Carbs:  whole wheat or whole-grain breads, bagels, crackers, English muffins, waffles, cereals.  Oatmeal.  Whole wheat or whole grain/high protein pasta.  Brown or “wild” rice.  Popcorn!  (WHITE is bad:  white breads, crackers, English muffins, waffles, cereals, especially kids’ cereals, white rice, regular pasta/noodles.  A portion size is the size of your child’s fist, or one slice of bread, or 1/3 cup of cooked cereal like oatmeal, 1/2 cup of rice or pasta, or 1 cup of cold cereal.

4-8 yrs boys and girls:  5 ounces a day; 9-13 yrs boys and girls:  6 ounces a day; 14-18 yrs girls:  9 ounces a day; 14-18 yrs boys:   6 ounces a day.

“Good” Kids’ Cereals include:  oatmeal, Cheerios (plain!), multi-bran Chex, Oatmeal Squares, Raisin Bran, Shredded Wheat, Wheetabix, Puffins.  Look for “Whole Grain” and at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.

Protein:  Good sources of lean protein include beans, soy products, fish, lean meats like skinless chicken, pork with fat trimmed off, low-fat or non-fat dairy.  Red meats contain a lot protein but also a lot of unhealthy fat so eat red meat sparingly and only in small quantities.  Try to limit red meat to once a week.  TRY TO EAT FISH ONCE A WEEK OR MORE!

1 one ounce serving of protein is 1 ounce of meat or fish, 1/4 cup cooked dry beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or a small handful of seeds or nuts.

4-8 yrs boys and girls:  4 ounces a day; 9-13 yrs girls:  5 ounces a day; 9-13 yrs boys:  5 1/2 ounces a day; 14-18 yrs girls:  5 1/2 ounces a day; 14-18 yrs boys:   6 1/2 ounces a day.

Fats and Oils:  Healthy fats and oils include fish oils, oils from nuts, canola and olive oil.  Unhealthy fats and oils include red meats, lard, Crisco, butter, and Trans-fats found in a lot of prepared foods and junk foods.  AVOID TRANS-FATS!  For spreading on bread products, use a margarine that contains no trans-fat instead of butter.

Dairy Products:  Dairy products provide calcium and vitamin D.  1 or 2% milk, non-fat yogurt and non-fat drinkable yogurt are good sources of dairy.

Junk Food Advice:  We all eat some “junk foods” such as candy, cakes, cookies, ice cream, potato chips, etc.  Denying your child all sweets is unrealistic and may make her/him crave them even more!  Rather than trying to eliminate all “junk foods,” try to limit them to a healthy amount using the following tips:

  • Don’t stock “junk foods” in the house.  Too tempting!  Have fresh fruit on the table at all meals and snacks instead.
  • Limit portion size of “junk foods.”  Single size serving versus a bag of chips.
  • Do not use sweets as reward.
  • Limit fast food to not more than twice a month!

Combine healthy choices in nutrition with daily physical activity:  1 hour of physical activity a day and no more than 1 hour of screen time a day! “:  for more information about healthy eating and physical activity.  the official growth chart for children.  Print them out and track yourself.  a website for children about healthy lifestyle choices, focused on nutrition, physical activity and safety.  Designed for kids ages 9-13.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. A great thorough review! Thanks!

    Now time to rein in some of our bad habits. It is funny how our children ate whatever we gave them to a certain age. Positive rewards work with my son. So, we are going to start rewarding him when he meets his fruit and veggie requirement for the day. He is very on board with this so hopefully it will work!

    Not having the junk food in the house works with us adults as well!

    • To Expat Doctor Mom,
      I agree with you that not having junk food in the house helps, but it’s harder than you’d think. Some always seems to sneak in when I take my kids with me to the grocery store!

  2. Agreed! It is funny how they “sneak” in.

  3. PS. I missed the margarine… I don’t use it as it is too processed. We use small amounts of really butter if needed. Same goes for lowfat items (aside from low fat milk)more processing to produce.

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