Good nutrition is important at any age, but especially during childhood when the body is growing and developing. By understanding the caloric and nutritional needs of a 6-year-old, parents have a better chance of ensuring their child gets the nutrition needed for health now, as well as later in life.
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Girls age 6 need 1,200 to 1,800 calories a day; boys need 1,400 to 2,000. Where in this range a particular child’s requirements fall is dependent on the child’s activity level. Many children eat more calories than they burn thanks to more hours spent watching TV or on the computer than in active play. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the number of overweight kids between ages 6 and 11 more than doubled in the past 20 years.
Children need balanced nutrition for optimal growth and development. The United States Department of Agriculture has established recommended dietary allowances for each food group. The RDA for grains for 6-year-olds is 4 to 5 ounces daily with at least half being whole grains. Six-year-olds need 1 1/2 cups each of vegetables and fruit, 2 cups of dairy and 3 to 4 ounces from the meat and beans group daily. They need 4 teaspoons of oils per day, but much of the RDA for oil can be found in other foods, such as nuts or nut butter.
The largest source of sugar in a child’s diet isn’t cookies or candy -- it's beverages. Harvard University says fruit juice contains as much sugar and calories as soda. The acid in juice and carbonation in soda also erodes tooth enamel, so limit both and see that the child brushes his teeth after snacks and meals. Encourage kids to drink water by mixing a small amount of juice with it. Another healthy drink is a smoothie made with fresh fruit, milk and yogurt.
The number of U.S. children with high cholesterol has risen dramatically, putting them at risk for future cardiovascular disease. Control your child’s intake of saturated fat by limiting fast food. Use vegetable oils when frying or prepare food by baking, grilling or steaming. Limit red meat and serve fish, lean poultry and low-fat dairy products. If your child has been used to whole milk, mix skim and whole at first until his taste adjusts.
You may have to be creative to ensure a picky eater gets balanced nutrients. If she prefers white bread, blend whole grain flour with white when baking muffins, biscuits or cookies. Add barley or brown rice to soups and casseroles; use whole-grain crumbs in meatloaf. Children love fruit and french fries, but many balk at most vegetables. Try adding chopped veggies to spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, soups and casseroles. Keep raw carrots and celery in the refrigerator for snacking and use only nutritious lettuces, such as romaine, in salads. Above all, set a good example by eating healthy yourself.