THE NEW FOOD GUIDELINES - What they mean for kids

The new United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2005 dietary guidelines challenge Americans to (1) balance calorie input with energy output, (2) eat a healthy diet, (3) be more active, and (4) practice food safety. The fourth goal is entirely new. In addition, the USDA has raised the bar on the other three.

The 2005 guidelines leave little to the imagination. Indeed, they go so far as to outline which types of vegetables and how many of each you and your children should eat each week.

For parents, the guidelines are a wake-up call. Obesity has grown to epidemic levels among America’s youth. Today, twice as many children and three times as many adolescents are obese compared to 20 years ago. For a healthy diet, parents should choose nutrient-dense foods for their children —fruit, vegetables and whole grains. A child’s age, sex and activity level determine the servings in each category.

• Toddlers ages 2 to 3 need 2 fruits, 3 vegetables, 4 grains, 3 ounces of lean meat/beans, 17 grams of oil, and 2 cups of fat-free or lowfat milk. The total fat intake for this age should be around 30 to 35 percent.

• Children ages 4 to 13 require 3 fruits, 4 vegetables, 5 grains, 5 ounces of lean meat/beans, 22 grams of oil, and 3 cups of fat-free milk or lowfat dairy products.

• In adolescence, males’ caloric needs jump, requiring at least 400 more calories than girls per day. For girls, the servings are 4 fruits, 5 vegetables, 6 grains, 5.5 ounces lean meat/beans, 27 grams of oil, and 3 cups of lowfat dairy. Boys need to add 1 vegetable, 2 grains, 1 ounce of meat/beans, and 4 grams of oil.

Variety is the key for all children. Make each fruit and vegetable a different color. Toddlers, for instance, might eat kale, carrots and red peppers one day; broccoli, sweet potatoes and cauliflower the next. The same goes for fruit: one day serve strawberries, an orange and kiwi, and the next day offer blueberries, an apple and cantaloupe. The Nutrition Twins, Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D., and Lyssie Lakatos, R.D., in private practice in New York City, suggest trying a new fruit or vegetable weekly.

For grains, at least half of the servings should be whole grain. This includes whole wheat pasta, whole grain bread, unprocessed bran cereal and oatmeal. If you are not sure, look at the food label. The ingredients should be minimally processed. Choose whole wheat or unbleached flour over processed flour. And look at the number of grams of fiber per serving. The less processed a food, the more of its natural fiber stays intact. Three grams per serving is the minimum.

There are three specific recommendations for protein. First, move from animal to alternate sources, such as beans, nuts and seeds. Soybeans, chickpeas, black beans and kidney beans are nutritional powerhouses containing protein and fiber. Second, choose lean animal proteins such as fish and lean poultry. Select white meat over dark meat chicken, and make it skinless. Third, protein, such as fish and nuts, along with vegetable oils, will be the main providers of fat.

As for exercise, 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week is recommended. You think to yourself that should be easy, my kids never sit still. Fidgeting does not constitute moderate intensity activity. Rather, running, climbing, dancing, skating, and fast walking qualify.

If your child’s diet and exercise don’t look like this, start small. Make a minor change, such as adding vegetables to main dishes or switching higher fiber bread for white bread weekly. Other suggestions are to include your children in menu planning and meal preparation and find rewards other than food and TV. For more suggestions, go to the USDA’s website:

NOTE: The current USDA guidelines are for children over 2 years old. For babies, Gerber has published Start Healthy Feeding Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers. These guidelines address such issues as iron, ‘order of introduction’ of new foods, and use (or misuse) of food as a reward. The guidelines can be downloaded at