Kid Nutrition Basics for Parents

Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on September 22, 2021

Of course you want good nutrition for your children. And you know that means making sure they're eating a balanced, healthy diet. But when you get nutrition advice from other parents, your pediatrician, and the media, it can be tough to decide which direction to follow.

A good place to begin sorting out the nutrition puzzle is to learn about the basics. Here, we lay out the details on five nutrients that a growing body has to have every day. The payoff? A child with strong bones and teeth, a well-regulated digestive system, oxygen-rich blood, and healthy nutritional habits the child can carry throughout life.


Calcium helps make strong bones and teeth, and this nutrient is most important during the years when bones are growing. Foods that are highest in calcium come from the cow -- low-fat milk, cheeses, and yogurt. But some leafy vegetables and fortified juices are also good sources of calcium. Here are some ways to give your child the calcium they need:

  1. Start their day with a bowl of cold or hot whole-grain cereal topped with skim or low-fat milk and sliced fresh fruit.
  2. Serve low-fat yogurt, smoothies, or cheese after school and between meals for a nourishing calcium-rich snack.
  3. Calcium-fortified juices and cereals are fine non dairy alternatives to help meet your child's daily requirement.

Snack idea.Boost your kids' calcium intake by blending low-fat chocolate milk, a banana, and ice into a delicious smoothie for a quick meal, dessert, or snack.


Grandma called it roughage and everyone, kids included, needs plenty of it each day to keep their digestive system working well. Here’s how to get your kids used to the taste of fiber-rich foods, which they can come to love.

  1. A bowl of high-fiber cereal is a great start to meeting your child's daily needs. Read food labels to find whole-grain cereals that provide 3 grams or more of fiber per serving. Usually, the more sugar in a cereal, the less fiber. Add sweetness to cereal with fresh, canned (unsweetened), or frozen fruit.
  2. Have cut-up whole fruits and veggies on hand to help your child meet the recommended five or more daily servings of fiber. Keep fruit juice to a minimum. Whole fruits and vegetables contain much more fiber and less sugar than most juices.
  3. Beans are loaded with fiber and protein. Drain and rinse canned beans and toss into soups, stews, salads, scrambled eggs and omelets, and salsas.
  4. Prunes are a great source of fiber, eating a few prunes a day will help prevent constipation.

Snack idea. Spread crunchy peanut butter on celery sticks and top with raisins for a kid-favorite "ants on a log" snack.


Every cell in the body is made of protein, which makes this major nutrient essential for healthy growth and development. Protein is found in animal products such as dairy, eggs, seafood, and meats. In somewhat lesser amounts, it is also in beans, nuts, vegetables, and grains. Boost your child’s nutritional intake with these protein-rich food ideas.

  1. Even finicky kids love eggs. French toast, scrambled eggs, pancakes, and omelets are kid-pleasing dishes that contain plenty of protein, iron, and other important nutrients.
  2. Branch out from fish sticks and try salmon dishes that kids will enjoy. Top salmon or other fish fillets with salsa or teriyaki sauce to give your child lean protein along with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  3. Add nuts to cereals, yogurts, or vegetables for added protein, fiber, and healthy unsaturated fats.

Snack idea. Trail mix is a great snack for on-the-go that is also easy to prepare. Throw together a mix of dried fruits such as raisins, bananas, apples, or cranberries, nuts (soy nuts or peanuts), and high-fiber cereal.

Antioxidant Superfoods

Antioxidants help defend the body against harmful substances that can damage the body's cells. Power up your child's diet with foods rich in antioxidants, such as almonds, berries, citrus, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, and bell peppers.

  1. Bring orange wedges, 100% citrus juice, fruit, or nut granola bars to the next sports practice for a refreshing and energizing treat.
  2. Pack school lunches with baby carrots, grape tomatoes, or red bell pepper slices for a fiber- and antioxidant-rich lunch or snack.
  3. Add plenty of antioxidant-rich tomatoes or tomato sauce to pizza, spaghetti, meatloaf, soups, and stews.

Snack idea. Parfaits are beautiful to look at and fun to eat. Make one by layering low-fat yogurt, fresh or frozen blueberries, and toasted almonds into a tall glass.


Children's diets are often lacking in iron, a mineral that carries oxygen in the blood and helps keep kids energized. Boost the iron in your kids' diet with lean meats, eggs, fish, dark leafy greens, beans, dried fruits, and iron-fortified grains.

  1. Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron, so pair eggs with oranges or orange juice.
  2. Serve spinach salads at mealtime, topped with strawberries, dried cranberries, and/or slivered almonds and a light raspberry vinaigrette dressing. The fruit will help the body absorb the iron in the spinach, and kids will love the taste.
  3. When kids refuse a meal, offer iron-fortified cereal topped with low-fat milk or yogurt and fruit as a healthy meal substitute.

Snack idea. Wrap an iron-fortified whole wheat tortilla with sliced turkey, low-fat string cheese, and dried cranberries for a healthy snack.

Show Sources


Duyff, R. American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2002.

Wardlaw, G., Hampl, J., and DiSilvestro. R. Perspectives in Nutrition, 6th ed. McGraw Hill, 2004.

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