As we age, our nutritional needs change. Older adults require less fat and calories while a teen’s body demands additional caloric intake to keep up with increased growth during puberty. Scheduling annual wellness visits with your healthcare provider can help family members of all ages get the nutritional information they need. Proper nutrition can reduce your risk of chronic illness, help you maintain a physically active lifestyle, and minimize the risk of sport-related injuries.
Toddlers: Help your picky eater develop healthy habits by promoting self-feeding. Toddlers know when they are hungry or full, so pay close attention to those cues signaling they’ve had enough, such as fussiness or pushing away their plate. Try to incorporate fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables into every meal, and combine preferred foods with new food offerings or menu items that your child would rather not eat. Multiple exposures to different food groups will help your child expand her palate. According to the USDA, two-year-olds should consume a balanced diet of approximately 1,000 calories per day, including 1 cup of fruit and vegetables each, 3 ounces of grains (equivalent of one slice of bread, or ½ cup pasta, cereal, or rice), 2 ounces of protein (equivalent of 1 egg or 1 Tablespoon of peanut butter), and 2 cups of milk. If your child doesn’t like milk, yogurt and cheese can help them reach their daily dairy requirements.
Kids: Your child’s nutritional needs will fluctuate between 1,000 calories to 1,600 calories per day based on activity level, gender, and age. ChooseMyPlate.gov offers a comprehensive chart to help you determine the nutritional needs for your family. Pack snacks like whole fruit, veggies with low-fat dip, celery with peanut butter, or raisins to ensure your child gets bursts of nutrition throughout the day.
Early Adolescence and Teens: The onset of puberty typically begins between the ages of ten and twelve. During this time, you might find that your child is always hungry. Don’t panic if you’re always finding the cupboards bare; your teen needs extra calories to keep up with all the changes going on in their body—especially if they’re physically active. During this time, girls require approximately 2,200 calories per day, while boys need an average of 2,800. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that complex carbohydrates (whole grain pasta, quinoa, sweet potato, lentils, etc.) make up 50% to 60% of caloric intake, while dietary fats (which help aid the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K) make up no more than 30% of a diet. Protein is an essential component of a teen’s diet, but according to the AAP, most teens consume 50% more protein than needed in the form of meat, eggs, and cheese.
Adult: As we age, it’s important to choose a diet low in sodium, saturated fats, and sugar. Filling up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein will help to decrease your risk of hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Breastfeeding moms and moms-to-be have special nutritional needs.
Older Adults: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that older adults add three servings of vitamin D-fortified milk or yogurt to your daily meal plan. Vitamin D and calcium play a vital role in maintaining bone health. Engaging in weight-bearing exercises like walking can help to combat the progression of decreased bone health, osteoporosis, and osteopenia. When combined with a low-sodium diet, potassium-rich foods (like spinach, baked potatoes, white beans, and baked acorn squash) can reduce the risk of high blood pressure. If you’re taking medications, read “5 Common Food-Drug Interactions,” and steer clear of foods that might have adverse effects.