Healthy eating can look very different for everyone in your family. Each age group requires unique nutritional needs that should be met through the foods and drinks you consume. “Just like you can’t burn calories in your fifties as you did in your twenties, children can’t eat like adults.” Learning what healthy eating looks like at each stage of life is key for a long healthy life.
What is healthy eating like for infants and toddlers?
Infants and toddlers will eat to their appetite. During this period, nutrients critical for brain development and growth should be priority, with no room for added sugars. Human milk has immunologic properties that support infants’ needs except for iron, zinc, and vitamin D. Breastfed infants should receive 400 IU of vitamin D supplementation per day soon after birth. When human milk is not available, infant formulas labeled “with iron” is necessary.
After six months, introduce nutrient-dense complementary foods (e.g., meats, seafood, beans and infant cereals), and potentially allergenic foods (e.g., peanuts, egg, cow milk products, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish, fish, and soy), one at a time. Introducing foods that contain peanuts during the first year of life reduces the risk that an infant will develop a food allergy to peanuts.
What does healthy eating entail for children and adolescents?
Children and adolescents includes ages 2 through 18. This is a transitional phase, from absolute reliance on others for food choices, to more autonomous food selections outside of the home. Calorie and nutrient needs are based on age, height, weight and physical activity. This is perhaps the most influential habit-forming stage of life. Parents should role model healthy eating habits to encourage children and adolescents to do the same.
Children and adolescents should consume the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetable and vegetable subgroups, whole grains, dairy products, protein foods including seafood every day. Beverages that contain no added sugars should be the primary choice for everyone (e.g. water and unsweetened fat-free or low-fat milk, and 100% juice within recommended amounts).
What are healthy eating habits for adults?
Adults age 19 through 59 are more independent and self-reliant for food choices. Adopting healthier lifestyles, if not before, during this stage can positively influence your quality of life in later years. As calorie needs decline with the natural metabolic changes that occur after age 30, you can eat more nutrient-dense foods, meet the recommended intakes for calcium, fiber and vitamin D, and try reducing consumption of added sugars, saturated fats, and table salt or salty foods.
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Pregnant and lactating women should take into account their health and that of the growing child when making food choices. Consuming 8 to 12 ounces per week of seafood low in methylmercury is recommended to promote cognitive development in young children. Choline-containing foods (eg. eggs, meats, beans, peas, lentils) are needed to support the growth of the child’s brain and spinal cord. Pregnant and lactating women should avoid alcohol consumption.
Older adults include those 60 and older. During this life stage, natural changes in bone and muscle mass are more likely, and there is an increased risk for chronic diseases. Adopting a healthy eating pattern that works for you along with an active lifestyle are very important to support healthy aging. Meeting protein, fiber, calcium, potassium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and hydration needs are top on the list for this age group.
There are many benefits to eating well, from disease prevention to overall health and wellness. That’s why Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and Nicklaus Children’s Hospital Foundation
have partnered with Kohl’s Cares on a program called #GiveMe5 to encourage children and families throughout the community to stay active and eat their five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Our partnership brings healthy eating tips and recipes to kids in local schools and to families at various community events throughout the year. For more information, please visit our #GiveMe5 page