How to Build Healthy Meals for Children
What is the Key to a Healthy Meal?
Creating a healthy meal that your child will love should be stress-free! According to the USDA, the key to creating an easy, balanced meal is focusing on whole grains, protein, fruits, and vegetables, and dairy or fortified soy alternatives. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends the following tips for children and adolescence (ages 2-18).
- Limiting sodium
- Limiting added sugars
- Limiting saturated fats
- Increasing calcium
- Increasing vitamin D
- Increasing dietary fiber
Eating whole foods consistently promotes health in children and sets the foundation for a healthy dietary pattern in adulthood. Start by focusing on whole foods over processed foods. Implementing this habit is a great way to build a healthy dietary pattern. For example, switch out fruit snacks for real fruits such as an apple or banana.
How to Build a Balanced Meal
MyPlate, a nutritional guide by the USDA, was made to help people be more informed on how to build a healthy meal. This guide was “created to be used in various settings and adaptable to meeting personal preferences, cultural foodways, traditions, and budget needs.”
The MyPlate graphic (shown above) breaks down each food group and the recommended portion sizes. To discover what the right amounts are for you, go to https://www.myplate.gov. If you struggle to build a healthy meal, choose an item from each food group listed below, and try using the MyPlate Plan.
- Choose fruits that are fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruits and 100% fruit juices: for example, apples, Asian pears, bananas, berries (e.g., blackberries, blueberries, currants, huckleberries, kiwifruit, mulberries, raspberries, and strawberries); citrus fruit (e.g., calamondin, grapefruit, lemons, limes, oranges, and pomelos); cherries, dates, figs, grapes, guava, jackfruit, lychee, mangoes, melons (e.g., cantaloupe, casaba, honeydew, and watermelon); nectarines, papaya, peaches, pears, persimmons, pineapple, plums, pomegranates, raisins, rhubarb, sapote, and soursop.
- Dark-Green Vegetables: All fresh, frozen, and canned dark-green leafy vegetables and broccoli, cooked or raw: for example, amaranth leaves, bok choy, broccoli, chamnamul, chard, collards, kale, mustard greens, poke greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, taro leaves, turnip greens, and watercress.
- Red and Orange Vegetables: All fresh, frozen, and canned red and orange vegetables or juice, cooked or raw: for example, calabaza, carrots, red or orange bell peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, 100% tomato juice, and winter squash.
- Beans, Peas, Lentils: All cooked from dry or canned beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils: for example, black beans, black-eyed peas, bayo beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), edamame, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, mung beans, pigeon peas, pinto beans, and split peas. Does not include green beans or green peas.
- Starchy Vegetables: All fresh, frozen, and canned starchy vegetables: for example, breadfruit, burdock root, cassava, corn, jicama, lotus root, lima beans, plantains, white potatoes, salsify, taro root (dasheen or yautia), water chestnuts, yam, and yucca.
- Other Vegetables: All other fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables, cooked or raw: for example, asparagus, avocado, bamboo shoots, beets, bitter melon, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (green, red, napa, savoy), cactus pads (nopales), cauliflower, celery, chayote (mirliton), cucumber, eggplant, green beans, kohlrabi, luffa, mushrooms, okra, onions, radish, rutabaga, seaweed, snow peas, summer squash, tomatillos, and turnips.
- Choose all whole-grain products and whole grains used as ingredients: for example, amaranth, barley (not pearled), brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oats, popcorn, quinoa, dark rye, whole-grain cornmeal, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat chapati, whole-grain cereals and crackers, and wild rice.
- Meats, Poultry, Eggs: Meats include beef, goat, lamb,
pork, and game meat (e.g., bison, moose, elk, deer). Poultry includes chicken, Cornish hens, duck, game birds (e.g., ostrich, pheasant, and quail), goose, and turkey. Organ meats include chitterlings, giblets, gizzard, liver, sweetbreads, tongue, and tripe. Eggs include chicken eggs and other birds’ eggs. Meats and poultry should be lean or low-fat.
- Seafood: Seafood examples that are lower in methylmercury include: anchovy, black sea bass, catfish, clams, cod, crab, crawfish, flounder, haddock, hake, herring, lobster, mullet, oyster, perch, pollock, salmon, sardine, scallop, shrimp, sole, squid, tilapia, freshwater trout, light tuna, and whiting.
- Nuts, Seeds, Soy Products: Nuts and seeds include all nuts (tree nuts and peanuts), nut butters, seeds (e.g., chia, flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower), and seed butters (e.g., sesame or tahini and sunflower). Soy includes tofu, tempeh, and products made from soy flour, soy protein isolate, and soy concentrate. Nuts should be unsalted.
Dairy and Fortified Soy Alternatives
- All fluid, dry, or evaporated milk, including lactose-free and lactose-reduced products and fortified soy beverages (soy milk), buttermilk, yogurt, kefir, frozen yogurt, dairy desserts, and cheeses. Most choices should be fat-free or low-fat. Cream, sour cream, and cream cheese are not included due to their low calcium content.