Good nutrition is important at all stages of life. Everybody needs the same nutrients, but the necessary amounts vary with age, and diet doesn’t always provide all the nutrients you need from childhood through your adult life.
Infants (0-12 months old)
"Infancy is a stage of rapid growth and development. Most babies double their birth weight by six months, and triple it by 12 months," says Vandana Sheth, RD, a Los Angeles-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Infants can’t consume as many calories as adults, so their diets need to be higher in fat than an older child’s or an adult’s, Sheth says. Fat supplies more than twice the calories of carbohydrate or protein.
Fat also supplies essential fatty acids that foster proper brain development. Breast milk, infant formula, and animal products provide fat and cholesterol, which is necessary for a healthy nervous system.
Babies need vitamin D every day, beginning very early in life to build strong bones and teeth. Keep in mind that breast milk is typically low in vitamin D.
"Babies who drink less than 27 to 32 ounces of infant formula a day or who get a combination of breast milk and infant formula need 400 IU of vitamin D drops daily," says Alanna Levine, MD, a pediatrician in Tappan, N.Y. Talk with your doctor about your baby’s vitamin D requirements.
Babies are born with nearly all the iron they need for the first six months of life. After that, dietary iron needs increase dramatically.
Iron supports an infant’s rapid growth and development. Serve infants iron-fortified products, including infant formula and infant cereal, and iron-rich foods, such as pureed meats. Children can develop iron deficiency as early as nine months, which is when Levine begins testing for low iron.
Toddlers, Preschoolers, and School-Aged Children (1 to 8 years old)
At about 12 months, a child’s growth slows down, so he won’t eat as much now as he did during infancy. Offer full-fat cow’s milk or fortified soy beverages to ensure adequate calories. Toddlers need about 1,400 calories a day.
"You can begin to reduce fat and cholesterol intake around age two, but not before because the brain and nervous system continue to need these nutrients to develop," says Sheth.
Children who are growing normally can begin to have more lower-fat foods at age two, including low-fat (1%) and fat-free milk and yogurt. Children from 2 to 3 years old require at least 16 ounces of milk daily; those from 4 to 8 years old need 20 ounces or more.
Milk provides calcium and vitamin D for growing bones. Everyone between the ages of 1 to 70 years old should get 600 IU of vitamin D daily, about the amount found in five 8-ounce glasses of milk, an amount that may be difficult for young children to consume. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children of all ages who drink less than 32 ounces of vitamin D-added milk daily need vitamin D supplements.