Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Parenting

Font Size

Older Tots Ignore Food Pyramid

Food Group Guidelines Among Things Children Don't Pay Attention to as They Gain Independence

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 1, 2006 - This may come as no surprise to parents, but a new study shows that the older children get, the more likely they are to ignore dietary guidelines, like the government's Food Guide Pyramid.

The study showed young children aged 2 to 3 were much more likely to have well-balanced diets reflecting national dietary recommendations than those 4 to 8 years old.

Editor's Note: Food Pyramid Replaced

In June 2011, the USDA replaced the food pyramid with a new plate icon.

For example, although older children eat more than younger ones, the number of servings of fruit actually decreased with age. Meanwhile, the number of servings of dark-green vegetables, like spinach and broccoli, and deep-yellow vegetables, failed to increase with age.

University of Alabama researchers, including Linda Knol, Phd, RD, say the finding reflects a common tendency among older children and adolescents to abandon healthier eating habits as they become more independent and have more freedom to choose their own snack foods.

But they say small increases -- as little as a serving or two a day -- in the amount of fruits and vegetables children eat could lead to substantial improvements in the quality of children's diets.

Small Changes May Help

In the study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers measured adherence to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food guide recommendations by studying the food diaries of nearly 7,000 children aged 2 to 8.

The guide divides foods into several groups and subgroups and recommends the number of servings from all groups as children get older and their daily calorie needs increase. The recommendations are below:

 2-3 years4-8 years (Boys)4-8 years (Girls)
Total daily calories1,0001,4001,200
Whole grains1.52.52.0
Other grains1.52.52.0
Vegetables (cups/day)
Dark green (cups/week)
Deep yellow (cups/week)
Starchy (cups/week)
Other (cups/week)
Meat and beans(ounces/day)

Recommended Amounts

Researchers say adherence to these recommendations decreased significantly with increasing age among both boys and girls for many food groups, including whole grains, total vegetables, deep-yellow vegetables, starchy vegetables, total fruits, and meats and beans.

They also say the results suggest even small increases in the amount of fruit and vegetables eaten by the older children would dramatically improve their diets.

In addition, substituting dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables for starchy vegetables, and whole grains for refined ones would significantly improve the diets of both age groups.

Today on WebMD

Girl holding up card with BMI written
Is your child at a healthy weight?
toddler climbing
What happens in your child’s second year.
father and son with laundry basket
Get your kids to help around the house.
boy frowning at brocolli
Tips for dealing with mealtime mayhem
mother and daughter talking
child brushing his teeth
Sipping hot tea
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
rl with friends
tissue box
Child with adhd