The kinds of nutrients your need for healthy growth change over the years. We look at nutrition needs among kids in three age groups with tips for getting them to accept veggies.

Kids grow so fast, but are they growing well?

One day they’re mastering a tricycle and the next, it seems, they’re asking for the car keys. In the years between, the fuel that drives healthy growth also is shifting.

True, the basic food groups that benefit growing bodies may not change a whole lot – veggies, fruits and lean proteins are essential. However, kids will require greater portions of certain nutrients at different youth stages for healthy growth.

From three wheels to two wheels to four, our kids will conquer new challenges and address emerging needs with each year. We’ll be there with them, of course, but it’s our job to ensure they have what’s necessary to stand on their own two feet when they become adults. Central to this is good health.

Let’s look at how the nutritional needs of our growing kids change across three age groups, with guidelines from the Mayo Clinic.

Ages 4 to 8

Girls in this age group should consume 1,200 to 1,800 calories, and boys from 1,200 to 2,000. This should include 1.5 to 2.5 cups of veggies a day.

This is a tough but crucially important age for establishing lifetime eating habits. As much as possible, try to reinforce a healthy diet with your kids. This will condition them to accept more nutritious foods as they mature.

Offer a variety of veggies, making a point continue cycling in ones kids may have rejected earlier. Kids’ tastes change as they mature, and friends and peers are likely to influence them. If the kids routinely resist veggies, then make vegetables the first part of the meal. Kids will be less likely to complain about being full.

Similarly, resist the urge to add salt and sugar to foods. The less kids are accustomed to of these enhancers, the more likely processed foods will taste too sweet or salty later in life.

Ages 9 to 13

In this age group, girls should consume 1,400 to 2,200 calories and boys from 1,600 to 2,600. Girls of this age should eat 1.5 to 3 cups of veggies a day, and boys, 2 to 3.5 cups.

At this stage of growth, kids should accumulate nutrients in preparation for the rapid growth spurts that occur during adolescence. However, girls will experience these spurts before boys, at ages 10 to 11. Boys will more likely enter this stage at ages 11 to 13.

As girls enter their teens and puberty, they’ll need lots of iron, which can be found in spinach and other leafy greens. Boys will require added protein for muscles, found in peas, broccoli, mushrooms and lima beans, among other veggies.

Both boys and girls will need to eat more calcium and vitamin D to accommodate their growing bones. Good veggie sources for calcium include kale, broccoli and collard greens, the latter of which delivers 35 percent of the recommended daily allowance of calcium per cup.

Ages 14 to 18

Girls in this maturing age group should consume 1,800 to 2,400 calories, and boys from 2,000 to 3,200, depending on their growth and activity levels.

We know – WOW! That’s a lot of calories! But a kid’s metabolism is peaking at this age, which will affect his or her appetite. The foods they eat, including veggies, should assist their bodies in turning all those calories into energy.

Avocados, sweet potatoes and mushrooms all carry B-5, which helps our bodies do so. B-5 also produces melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep cycles. Girls should eat 2.5 to 3 cups of veggies a day and boys, 2.5 to 4 cups.

Throughout your kids’ life stages, keep in mind that how you want them to eat tomorrow depends a lot on what they are fed today. Sure, occasional sweets are fine, even good, in a well-balanced diet. However, do not assume your kids’ raging metabolism justifies them eating whatever they want.

Diet, like many activities, can be easily based on routine. This means the eating habits they adopt today will likely carry into their 20s and beyond.

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