Finding the perfect amount of calories for each meal is tricky, and likely to result in discouragement. Instead, focus on providing healthy meals throughout the day, with the majority of calories served at breakfast and lunch. Schedule a morning and afternoon snack for children, as well. Children have small stomachs and can rarely meet their nutritional needs through three meals each day. Healthy snacks fill in the gaps.
The perfect amount of calories varies depending on an individual's sex, age and activity level. In general, though, young children need between 1,000 and 1,400 calories each day. Teens and young adults need 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day and adults need 1,800 to 2,800 calories daily. Talk with your doctor to determine the daily caloric intake you need for optimal health.
Plan to have your children eat at least two-thirds of their daily caloric intake before 4 p.m. for weight loss and maximum health benefits. Start with a filling breakfast to fuel their metabolism and prepare a healthy mid-morning snack. Serve a hearty lunch, followed by an afternoon snack and a light dinner with plenty of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid snacking after dinner.
What your children eat is as important as when they eat it. Plan a balanced diet of vegetables, whole grains, fruit and moderate amounts of meat and dairy products. Limit sweets and fatty processed foods as occasional treats and encourage your children to engage in exercise daily. Stock your home with convenient, healthful foods, such as whole-grain pasta, frozen vegetables and fruits, canned beans, nuts and lean meats.
Do not attempt to limit a child's caloric intake, but focus instead on providing nutrient-dense foods. Many children do not get enough calcium for their growing bones. Serve at least two to three cups of milk to children daily, or provide equivalent dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese. Insist that children eat a good breakfast, even if it's just a fruit smoothie with some yogurt for protein and calcium.
- Clemson University Cooperative Extension; Healthy Eating Habits for Children; J.G. Hunter, et al.; September, 2005
- University of Florida IFAS Extension; My Pyramid Plan for Daily Food; Glenda Warren; 2009
- Colorado State University Extension; Feeding Young Children
- USDA Food and Nutrition Service: Why Breakfast?
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