Food & Nutrition

Children and the Food Pyramid

Children's growing bodies have different nutritional requirements than those of adults. Here are a few ways to adapt the Food Pyramid to meet their needs.

Infants and Toddlers:

  • Seek your doctor's advice about what to feed your infant and toddler. The Food Pyramid is only designed for children aged two and above.

Preschool Children:

  • Use the Food Pyramid, but reduce servings to only two-thirds the typical adult size.
  • Be patient. If your child refuses to eat a food right away, try again a few days later.
  • Make sure they drink at least two cups of milk a day (or the equivalent in cheese, yogurt, etc.).
  • Serve healthy snacks such as whole-grain crackers, vegetable sticks and cut-up fruit. Avoid foods that can cause choking such as popcorn, hot dogs, hard candy, carrot sticks and grapes.*
  • Set a good example. Be active and eat healthy foods.

Elementary Students:

  • Have your elementary-aged child eat at least the lower number of servings from each food group every day.
  • Make items such as pop, candy and cookies occasional treats rather than everyday snacks. It's usually counterproductive to completely forbid them, however.
  • Encourage your children to be active. Many of them gain weight at this time because of their sedentary lifestyle.


  • Give them plenty of dairy foods. Teens who have three serving of milk, yogurt and cheese every day and are physically active are less likely to develop osteoporosis later in life.
  • Encourage teens who are lactose intolerant to drink calcium-fortified fruit juice and soy milk and eat dark-green leafy vegetables and calcium-precipitated tofu.
  • Have teenage boys eat the highest number of suggested servings from each food group. Encourage highly active girls to do the same.
  • Present physical activity as THE alternative to repeated dieting. Encourage teens who do diet to eat low-fat foods from each section of the Food Pyramid rather than cutting out some parts of it all together.


  • Using the Food Pyramid: A Resource for Nutrition Educators
  • Tips for Using the Food Pyramid for Young Children 2 to 6 Years Old

Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Children

AHA Scientific Position
The American Heart Association has dietary recommendations for infants, children and adolescents to promote cardiovascular health:

Start in Infancy:

  • Breast-feeding is ideal nutrition and sufficient to support optimal growth and development for about the first 4–6 months after birth. Try to maintain breast-feeding for 12 months. Transition to other sources of nutrients should begin at about 4–6 months of age to ensure sufficient micronutrients in the diet.
  • Delay introducing 100 percent juice until at least 6 months of age and limit to no more than 4–6 oz/day. Juice should only be fed from a cup.
  • Don't overfeed infants and young children — they can usually self-regulate the amount of calories they need each day. Children shouldn't be forced to finish meals if they aren't hungry as they often vary caloric intake from meal to meal.
  • Introduce healthy foods and keep offering them if they're initially refused. Don't introduce foods without overall nutritional value simply to provide calories.

The American Heart Association recommends this eating pattern for families:

  • Energy (calories) should be adequate to support growth and development and to reach or maintain desirable body weight.
  • Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
  • Keep total fat intake between 30 to 35 percent of calories for children 2 to 3 years of age and between 25 to 35 percent of calories for children and adolescents 4 to 18 years of age, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
  • Choose a variety of foods to get enough carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients.
  • Eat only enough calories to maintain a healthy weight for your height and build.
  • Be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day.
  • Serve whole-grain/high-fiber breads and cereals rather than refined grain products. Look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient on the food label and make at least half your grain servings whole grain. Recommended grain intake ranges from 2 oz./day for a one-year-old to 7 oz./day for a 14–18-year-old boy.
  • Serve a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, while limiting juice intake. Each meal should contain at least 1 fruit or vegetable. Children’s recommended fruit intake ranges from 1 cup/day, between ages 1 and 3, to 2 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy. Recommended vegetable intake ranges from ¾ cup a day at age one to 3 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy.
  • Introduce and regularly serve fish as an entrée. Avoid commercially fried fish.
  • Serve fat-free and low-fat dairy foods. From ages 1–8, children need 2 cups of milk or its equivalent each day. Children ages 9–18 need 3 cups.
  • Don’t overfeed. Estimated calories needed by children range from 900/day for a 1-year-old to 1,800 for a 14–18-year-old girl and 2,200 for a 14–18-year-old boy.

This eating pattern supports a child's normal growth and development. It provides enough total energy and meets or exceeds the recommended daily allowances for all nutrients for children and adolescents, including iron and calcium.