Nutrition in kids: what to include in a growing child’s diet plan?

Written by Divya Gandhi
Published: July 25, 2022
Founder/Owner/Dietitian at Diet and Cure Clinic with 10 Years of experience. Double Diploma from VLCC & IGNOU, BBA from IP University

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After the age of five, a child’s brain enters the full development stage, where proper nutrition in kids and a balanced diet chart become highly significant for the kid’s growth and development. The physical growth of your child kick starts at the age of five. This is the period to decide what foods are good for child growth. A proper diet plan for a growing child must constitute servings from all four healthy food groups – Protein, dairy, fruits & vegetables, and grains.

On the other hand, it is fairly important to limit sugary foods, caffeine intake, low-fiber foods, and salty or fatty foods, for healthy nutrition in kids. 

What Foods Are Good For Child Growth?

Around the age of 12 years, children need more intake of healthy nutrients for their growing years. The amount of mental and physical energy spent by them on various activities increases by this age. Devising a balanced diet chart for 12-years-old and above children ensures appropriate nutrition in kids. 

The entailing list of categories will help you decide what foods are good for your child’s growth:

  1. Proteins  Beans, meat, poultry, eggs, fish, peas, seeds, nuts, soya, cheese, yogurt, milk, and mushrooms; all these are good sources of protein and must be added to the diet plan for growing child. These protein-rich foods are also good sources of vitamin B12, Iron, Zinc and Omega-3 fatty acids. 

Iron and Omega-3 fatty acids present in red meat and oily fish, respectively, are essential for kids’ nutrition, brain development, and learning. Proteins are macronutrients that help in building muscles, cell growth, boosting metabolism, strengthening the immune system, and production of hemoglobin. They are also good sources of energy for growing children. This makes proteins worthy of being a part of a balanced diet chart for 12 years old and above children.

  1. Dairy products – Key dairy foods include milk, cheese and yogurt. They are rich sources of calcium, protein, and vitamin D, A, B1, B2 & B12. These vitamins and minerals sourced from dairy foods play a significant role in proper nutrition in kids. They help in achieving a good bone balance in teenagers. Bone development is one of the most important aspects in a kid’s growing years. 
  1. Fruits & Vegetables – Fruits & vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and water. These nutrients provide energy and good health to growing children, and also help shield them from ailments in later life by strengthening their immune system. A diet chart for a growing child must comprise all types of greens and other veggies and fruits.
  1. Grains – A diet plan for a growing child must include an array of whole grains, which are high in fiber. Like cereals, wheat bread, multigrain bread, rice, oats, corn, quinoa, barley, wheat pasta, or noodles. Grains are another essential element in a balanced diet chart for 12-years-old or above kids. They increase the energy levels of the child and make the energy last longer. 

What Should Parents Avoid In A Diet Chart For A Growing Child?

Deciding ‘what foods are good for child growth and what are not?’ is a prevalent issue for parents. A good diet plan for a growing child must exclude all kinds of junk like:

  • Sugary foods 
  • High-caffeine products 
  • Excessively fatty or salty foods 
  • Low-fiber foods 

In the modern-day, nutrition in kids is mostly compromised with junk or unhealthy food or drinks options in their diet plan. Their daily diet is adulterated with chocolates, biscuits, candies, fried food, instant noodles, etc. These products contain very few healthy ingredients and a lot of artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and saturated fats that are trash for your kid’s system. 

Excessive sugar, refined food or trans-fats in the diet chart of a growing child can hamper their physical development at an early age. However, healthy unsaturated fats like the ones found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and fish are good and necessary for the child’s health.

Balanced Diet Chart For 12-Years-Old & Above Kids

Ideally, kids in their growing years should have four meals throughout the day. They need to maintain their energy levels, and also need essential nutrients for physical and mental growth and development. The quality and quantity of food, both matter equally. A diet plan for a growing child must be full of adequate portions of nutrient-rich food and drinks.

A glimpse at the requirements of daily portions of essential foods to maintain a balanced diet for growing children:

Daily portions for boys

Food group  9-13 years old 14-18 years old
DairyMilk, cheese, yogurt 3 cups 3 cups
Fruits 1.5-2 cups 2-2.5 cups
Vegetables 2-3.5 cups 2-5.4 cups
ProteinMeat, poultry, fish,Beans, eggs, soya 141-184 grams 155-198 grams
GrainsWheat bread, cereals, oats, rice, quinoa, wheat pasta, corn, barley 141- 255 grams 170 – 283 grams

Daily portions for girls

Food group  9-13 years old 14-18 years old
DairyMilk, cheese, yogurt 3 cups 3 cups
Fruits 1.5-2 cups 1.5-2 cups
Vegetables 1.5-3 cups 2-5.3 cups
ProteinMeat, poultry, fish,Beans, eggs, soya 113-170 grams 141-184 grams
GrainsWheat bread, cereals, oats, rice, quinoa, wheat pasta, corn, barley 141- 198 grams 170 – 226 grams

Nutritious Superfoods, To Add To The Diet Plan For Growing Children:

‘Superfood’ is a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. Some of the top-picks for a balanced diet chart for 12- years-old and above, or children in their growing years: 

  1. Eggs everyday

Eggs are extremely good for brain development as they are one of the richest sources of a quintessential nutrient called ‘choline’, that supports the development of the brain. Eggs are also quite high in protein and vitamins. 

  1. Sweet flavorful Berries 

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Blueberries are at the top of almost all the superfood lists, but other berries like strawberries also fall in this category. They are amazing sources of Vitamin C, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Berries help strengthen and boost the immune system.

  1. Smear Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a tasty and healthy source of energy and protein for growing children. It contains monounsaturated fats, which are good for growing kids.

  1. Full-fat Cow’s Milk

A glass of full-fat cow’s milk is a rich source of calcium and phosphorous. Choosing this full-fat option over skimmed varieties is great for bones and muscle development in growing children.

  1. Cheesy food

Cheese aids bone growth with healthy nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, protein and vitamin D present in it.

  1. Fish dish

Oily fish, like tuna or salmon, contains Omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids nudge the development of the brain and nerves. This nutrient is also extremely good for eye health. 

  1. Wholegrain foods

Cereals, brown rice, or wholegrain bread are potentially healthy options as a source of fiber in the diet chart for a growing child.

  1. Lean meat 

Superb source of protein and iron to support brain function and aid the immune system.

  1. Fresh Broccoli

Broccoli is rich in fiber and other nutrients that protect the cells from damage and aid eye health. The abundant fiber in broccoli improves the digestive system.

  1. Beta-carotene-rich Fruits and Veggies

Papaya, carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, and tomato are rich in carotenoids and beta-carotene. These carotenoids get transformed into vitamin A, which is good for skin health, tissue health and vision.

Meal Suggestions For A Healthy Diet Plan For Growing Children

Breakfast Meal options

  • Paneer/cottage cheese wrap or sandwich, a glass of milk, fruit of choice
  • Tomato and cheese sandwich, a glass of milk or fruit juice
  • Poha with veggies, a cup of milk
  • Egg omelette with wholegrain bread, a glass of milk, fruit of choice
  • Cereal with milk and berries

Lunch Meal options

  • Spinach/Palak paneer with chapatti and salad
  • Chicken/Cottage cheese curry with chapatti or rice, curd/raita, and salad
  • Fish curry with rice, and salad
  • Kidney beans/Rajma with paratha/flat bread or rice, salad, a bowl of curd
  • Chicken and veggies or tofu and veggies tacos

Snacks or Mid-meal options

  • Spinach and potato cutlets, almonds, a glass of milk or fruit juice
  • Boiled eggs, a glass of milk or fruit juice
  • Upma with veggies, fruit juice
  • Banana, peanut butter smoothie, a handful of nuts like almonds or pistachios 
  • Chicken salad 

Dinner Meal options

  • Lentil/dal with rice, salad, and curd
  • Mix vegetable dish and dal/lentil with chapatti, and curd
  • Wheat pasta with cheese and veggies, sauce of choice
  • South Indian dosa or idli and sambar, with coconut chutney
  • Chicken curry with rice, salad, Greek yogurt 

Health is the treasure your child would carry all their life with them. A healthy mind and body is the best gift you can give to your child. A deliberate thought every day on what foods are good for child growth should do the trick. A diet plan for growing children must be seasoned with the healthiest nutrient-rich foods.

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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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