Healthy Food

Cheese puffs, chocolate cake, soda pop, and milkshakes- are these the things our little boys and girls are made of?

Do you remember the original Willy Wonka Movie? There is a scene where the winners of the Golden Tickets enter the fantastic world of Willy Wonka’s Factory to find every imaginable and unimaginable candy creation. Even the river is filled with melted chocolate. It is a place that every child’s favorite candy is within reach. But the kids that eat, and eat, and eat every sweet they pass, end up with a problem and are eliminated from the contest. The only boy left is the one with self control who follows the directions.

Now imagine being your child and going through every aisle in a grocery store and seeing all of the colorful and fun looking foods. Wow, I bet it is a bit like seeing all of those treats in Willy Wonka’s factory. A bit overwhelming for most kids at first glance. Who blames them- the colorful, fun shaped, sugary foods are very enticing.

Your child begs for the sugary cereal pops and frosted pop tarts and Sunny D Drink. What is a parent to do? Well we have to teach our kids about healthy food choices and how they affect our bodies. We have to be the adult and make sure we are serving healthy foods and on occasion offer them a reasonable treat.

Here are 10 tips to help you make healthier food choices for your kids and serve them age-appropriate food portions.

  • Serve fresh (or frozen) fruits and vegetables at Every Meal
  • Serve water regularly and limit the amount of milk and juice a child drinks each day
  • Serve wheat or white wheat bread and brown rice or whole wheat pasta instead of White Bread or Rice.
  • Buy healthier versions of the foods your child enjoys or save for an occasional treat. For example they sell strawberry yogurt with Dora and Diego on it with less sugar and no artificial food coloring or they sell organic yogurt- you can switch this out with the yogurt with more sugar and food coloring.
  • Serve healthy and low-fat dips with fruits, vegetables and healthy snacks to encourage kids to eat more healthy foods.
  • Talk to your kids about the benefits of eating healthy foods- it gives your body and mind energy, and helps you grow.
  • Model positive eating habits to your kids- Show them how much you like a certain fruit or veggie or healthy meal.
    • We eat carrots and apples with peanut butter and when I am eating this snack I say, “Mmmm. My carrots and apples will help me make my muscles stronger” And I show them my arm muscle. It gets them excited to show me their muscles and they usually eat the veggie.
    • Another trick or game is to tell them what animal eats that food (ex. Monkeys eat Bananas so I ask, “Can we all pretend we are a monkey and eat a banana?”- kids love to pretend to be animals, so this is a fun way to introduce food and encourage them to eat it)


Quick Guide to Portions:

Your younger child does not need the same amount of food as your older child or as you do. A young child only needs a 1/3 or ½ of a sandwich. Especially if it is being served with a fruit, vegetable and drink to balance out the meal. There is a good rule of thumb you can follow to help you know the appropriate portion to feed your child below. The rule of thumb is to serve your child a Tablespoon per child’s age of each food/food group. So a 3 year old would get approximately 3 Tbs of a vegetable, a fruit, a protein, and a whole grain food to start with.

  • Remember to account for the calories that dips, condiments, peanut butter, and drinks (juice, milk, etc) add to your child’s meal.
  • Ideally each meal should provide 25-30% of your child’s daily calories for 3 main meals and the other 10-25% for 2 healthy snacks and drinks (low fat milk or 100% fruit juice w/ no sugar or sugar substitute added).

How Many Calories Should My Child Be Eating a Day?

  • 2-3 – 1000-1400 calories/day
  • 4-8 – 1400-1600 calories/ day
  • Girls 9-13 – 1600-2000 calories/ day
  • Boys 9-13 – 1800-2200 calories/day
  • Girls 14-18 – 2000 calories/day
  • Boys 14-18 – 2200 calories +/day

To give you an example of the calories in a commonly eaten food let’s look at a whole peanut butter and jelly sandwich:

2 Slices of Whole Wheat Bread- 240 Calories (120 per slice) 2 Tbsp of Natural Peanut Butter- 200 Calories 1 Tbsp of Jelly- 25 Calories Total = 465 Calories for 1 Whole PB & J


As you can see that would be almost ½ of daily calorie intake of a 2-3 year old for 1 sandwich. So it makes more sense to serve a few slices of apple, a few baby carrots and a portion of a sandwich to a young child.

Instead a 2 year old would get a ¼ of sandwich, a 4 year old a ½ a sandwich and an older child would get a whole sandwich.

As the parent, you have to learn to read labels and see how many calories, fat, protein, and fiber you are giving your kids regularly. It does not mean you have to think about it every day; you just want to have a basic understanding of what to serve your kids and how much so you can raise a healthy, fit and happy child. Of course there are plenty of times for the occasional treats, but we need to make that the exception not the norm.

For more information about buying healthier foods for your family click here:

For more information about Healthy Food Portions and Food Choices go to: Portion sizes and school age kids

Printable Portion Size Wallet Card


Published on: February 06, 2009
About the Author
Photo of Kristin Fitch

Kristin's background is in corporate management in the field of Publishing and Site Operations. Kristin worked for a regional news and community site owned by Landmark Communication, Inc for 8 years. Her Masters is in Humanities with an emphasis in writing and she is currently editor of both and She is the mother of three lively boys.

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