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School-Aged Child Nutrition

Nutrition: School-Age

Helpful feeding information for your school-age child

School-age children (ages 6 to 12) need healthy foods and nutritious snacks. They have a steady but slow rate of growth and usually eat 4 to 5 times a day (with snacks). Many food habits, likes, and dislikes are set during this time. Family, friends, and the media (chiefly TV) effect their food choices and eating habits. School-age children are often willing to eat a wider variety of foods than their younger siblings. Eating healthy after-school snacks is important, too, as these snacks may contribute up to one-fourth of the total calorie intake for the day. School-age children can also help with meal prep.

Choose My Plate icon

Helpful mealtime hints for school-age children

These are some helpful mealtime hints:

  • Always serve breakfast, even if it has to be "on the run." Some ideas for a quick, healthy breakfast include:

    • Fruit

    • Milk

    • Bagel

    • Cheese toast

    • Cereal

    • Peanut butter sandwich

  • Take advantage of big appetites after school by serving healthy snacks, such as:

    • Fruit

    • Vegetables and dip

    • Yogurt

    • Turkey or chicken sandwich

    • Cheese and crackers

    • Milk and cereal

  • Set good examples for eating habits.

  • Let children help with meal planning and preparation.

  • Serve meals at the table, instead of in front of the TV, to avoid distractions.

Healthy food choices

The MyPlate icon is a guideline to help you and your child eat a healthy diet. MyPlate can help you and your child eat a variety of foods while encouraging the right amount of calories and fat.

The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have prepared the plate to guide parents in choosing foods for children age 2 and older.

The MyPlate icon is divided into 5 food group categories, emphasizing the nutritional intake of the following:

  • Grains. Foods that are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain are grain products. Examples include whole-wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal. Aim for mostly whole-grains.

  • Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of colorful vegetables, including dark green, red, and orange vegetables, legumes (peas and beans), and starchy vegetables.

  • Fruits. Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut up, or pureed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children age 7 to 18 should limit juice to 8 ounces or 1 cup of juice per day. 

  • Dairy. Milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Focus on fat-free or low-fat products, as well as those that are high in calcium.

  • Protein. Go lean on protein. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein routine. Choose more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.

Oils are not a food group, yet some, like nut oils, have vital nutrients and can be included in the diet. Animal fats are solid fats and should be avoided.

Exercise and everyday physical activity should also be included with a healthy dietary plan.

Nutrition and activity tips

Here are tips to follow:

  • Try to control when and where food is eaten by your children by providing regular daily meal times. Include social interaction and demonstrate healthy eating behaviors.

  • Involve children in picking and preparing foods. Teach them to make healthy choices by giving them a chance to choose healthy foods.

  • Select foods with these nutrients possible: calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. Select foods with these nutrients when possible.

  • Most Americans need to cut the number of calories they consume. When it comes to weight control, calories do count. Controlling portion sizes and eating nonprocessed foods helps limit calorie intake and increase nutrients.

  • Parents are encouraged to provide recommended serving sizes for children.

  • Parents are encouraged to limit children’s screen time to less than 2 hours daily. Instead, encourage activities that call for more movement.

  • Children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days for good health and fitness and for healthy weight during growth.

  • To prevent dehydration, encourage children to drink fluid regularly during physical activity and to drink several glasses of water or other fluid after the physical activity is completed.

To find more information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 and to determine the appropriate dietary recommendations for your child’s age, sex, and physical activity level, visit the Online Resources page for the links to the ChooseMyPlate.gov and 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines sites. Please note that the MyPlate plan is designed for people older than age 2 who do not have chronic health conditions.

Always talk with your child’s healthcare provider about his or her healthy diet and exercise needs.

Reviewed Date: 06-01-2017

School-Aged Child Nutrition

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.