A balanced diet of nutritious food is the key to a child's healthy growth and development. No one food or food group will suddenly add inches to an aspiring basketball player. Human growth depends on different organs and processes working together. A balanced diet of grains, fruits, vegetables, and proteins such, as milk, eggs, and meats, provides essential nutrients to all parts of the body so that every inch and pound gained is a healthy inch and pound.
1. Breads and Grain Products
Carbohydrates provide the energy kids need to grow and thrive. The Mayo Clinic recommends that about 60 percent of the calories children consume each day should come from carbohydrates found in whole-grain breads, pasta, waffles ,and cereals, both hot and cold. Grain-based foods that have undergone the least amount of processing and refining deliver the highest levels of nutrition to children. It's almost impossible to go wrong with oatmeal, although the instant varieties have high amounts of added sugar. Other foods -- such as kidney and garbanzo beans, lentils, and peas -- are also carbohydrate-rich choices. Many kid-friendly fresh fruits, such as apples, blueberries, pears, and bananas, are also good sources of carbohydrates.
2. Foods with Iron
Iron plays an important role in growth by carrying oxygen in the blood to cells throughout the body. Children who do not receive enough iron in their diet suffer from slow physical growth, delayed cognitive development and anemia. Nutritionists recommend 10 to 15 mg of iron a day, but foods with some of the richest iron content, such as liver, clams, and prunes, are not always favorites among children. Luckily, parents have other choices. Protein-rich meats and poultry, spinach, sweet potatoes, string beans, and fruits such as watermelon, strawberries, and raisins are also good sources of iron. Many cereals and breads are fortified with iron, but parents should check the labels to be sure.
3. Foods with Calcium
Growing children need 800 to 1,300 mg of calcium a day to develop strong bones and teeth and a healthy central nervous system. For generations, milk has been the main source of calcium and protein for children. Three glasses of milk along with other dairy foods, such as cheese and yogurt, provide the recommended daily allowance of calcium. But many children either don't like milk or have trouble digesting it. Nutritionists suggest trying low-fat or no-fat dairy products before abandoning these valuable foods. For children who can't drink milk, calcium-fortified orange juices, cereals, breads, and pastas and non-dairy foods, such as spinach, celery, sesame seeds, and blackstrap molasses, are good choices.
4. Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals that help children grow. Carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes and lettuce are good sources of vitamin A, a nutrient that's essential to growing bones and developing eyes. Fresh oranges, strawberries, pineapples, fruit juices, bell peppers, tomatoes and broccoli are packed with vitamin C, which builds a developing child's resistance to infections and fuels the body's ability to heal. Lettuce, spinach, corn and broccoli are natural sources of B vitamins that are required for the production of DNA in growing children. Fruits and vegetables also provide natural fiber that helps children digest foods and absorb nutrients.
- Kid's Health: Your Child's Growth
- Children's Hospital Colorado: Learning About Carbohydrates
- Centers for Disease Control: Iron and Iron Deficiency
- National Institutes of Health: Milk Matters
- Kaboose: 10 Essential Vitamins and Minerals Kids Often Miss
- Mayo Clinic: Nutrition for Kids: Guideline for a healthy Diet
- Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images