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Foods and Nutrients Every Growing Child Needs

Medically reviewed by Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD · General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Louise Nichole Logarta · Updated Dec 09, 2022

Foods and Nutrients Every Growing Child Needs

Correct nutrition is crucial for proper child development. Parents need to learn about what nutrients and how much of each a growing child needs so that they can get on the correct nutritional track. After all, children have varying nutritional needs depending on their age, growth and activity level. This entails regularly offering a wide range of foods to your growing child.

Nutrient ABCs

The following is a list of nutrients that a growing child needs for every area of growth and what foods contain them:

  • Vitamin A

This is essential for healthy skin and general growth while also aiding your growing child’s vision and tissue repair. Large quantities of this vitamin can be found in yellow and orange vegetables, dairy products, and liver.

  • Vitamin B

This nutrient allows the body to produce red blood cells and helps facilitate metabolic activities. Meat, poultry, fish, soy, milk, eggs, whole grains, and enriched bread and cereals are rich in vitamin B. 

  • Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps fight off infection and facilitates healing. It also strengthens body tissues, muscles, and skin. Find vitamin C in citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, spinach, and broccoli.

  • Vitamin D 
  • This nutrient is not only in fortified dairy products and fish oils but also can be absorbed by exposure to sunlight. The light stimulates the vitamin to become active, as it occurs naturally in the skin. Morning sunlight works best for vitamin D. Be sure to wear SPF protection if your child is staying out too long in the sun. Vitamin D helps form and maintain strong teeth, bones, and helps absorb minerals.

    • Iron 

    This is especially important for a growing child as they are in a stage of accelerated growth. It helps produce blood and build muscles and can be found in beef, turkey, fish, beans, fortified bread, and cereals, among others. 

    • Calcium 

    Found in low-fat milk, sardines, yogurt, cheese, and some veggies like broccoli, calcium allows the body to develop and maintain healthy bones and teeth. This is a vital nutrient, which if consumed inadequately, can adversely affect growth and development in childhood. It may also be the cause of weak, fragile, and porous bones (osteoporosis) in later life.

    How much healthy food does a growing child need?

    • A growing child needs about 1.5 to 4 ounces of whole grains each day, depending on his or her age.
    • A growing child needs 1 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1 to 2 cups of fruit per day, depending on their age. Fruit juice is acceptable but be sure to check the label to make sure there are no sugar additives.
    • A growing child needs milk in their diet. 2 to 3 cups of milk a day is recommended. Yogurt and cheese are also acceptable.
    • Children need 2 to 6.5 ounces of protein each day, found in chicken, beef, turkey, and fish, as well as nuts, beans, and peas.

    Children with dietary restrictions can also have daily supplements such as over-the-counter vitamins. Follow the instructions on the vitamin container’s label to find out the dosage or consult your child’s physician.

    Physical health is only half the battle when it comes to a growing child’s nourishment. Mental nutrition involves the development of learning, memory, attention, and sensory systems, among other things. 

    Breastfeeding is vital as it is your child’s first food, but as your child grows, the following list mentions only some of the nutrients needed for a healthy brain: 

    • Zinc. This can be found in many types of meat, fish, dairy, and nuts. Among other functions, zinc is important in the production of protein in the brain.
    • Choline. This is found in meat, dairy, eggs, and some veggies. It produces acetylcholine, which is involved in regulating mood and memory.
    • Folate. This is a nutrient that pregnant mothers need, as it is necessary for the development of a child’s nervous system. It is found in the liver, spinach, fortified cereals, and bread, among other sources.
    • Iodine. Iodine deficiencies can cause mental impairment and can easily be prevented by consuming iodized salt, seafood, dairy, and enriched grains.
    • Vitamin B6. This is necessary for brain development and function. It is found in the liver, organ meats, fish, non-citrus fruits, potatoes, and other starchy vegetables.
    • Vitamin B12. This also helps in brain development and function and can be found in meat, fish, dairy, and eggs.
    • Omega-3 fatty acid. This is mostly found in fatty fish and fish oils, and can also be found in foods fortified with omega-3. This helps in brain function and development as well.

    Some families may find it challenging to gain access to foods that have these nutrients. Meat, fish, vegetables, and other food products are expensive and as such, malnutrition is an issue especially in developing countries.

    Child nutrition in the Philippines

    A report by UNICEF last year disclosed that 1 in 3 Filipino children under five years of age is stunted – they are too short for their age. 7% of children, meanwhile, are too thin for their height. Many factors contribute to undernutrition in early childhood, including poor health-seeking behavior, incomplete immunization, poor hygiene, and inadequate quantity and quality of diet.

    Newborn babies are not receiving proper nutrition despite the importance of the first 1,000 days of life to two years. They are surviving, but not thriving. Only a small percentage (about one-third) of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months, while 44% of children between the ages of 6 and 23 months are not eating fruits or vegetables. 59% percent are not eating eggs, dairy, fish,0, or meat. 

    Malnutrition is still a serious public health concern in the Philippines. Stunting is currently considered a major hindrance to normal development and is a clear sign of poor child development. As such, the government has come up with several nutritional programs: RA 11148 (“Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act” or the First 1,000 Days Law) and the Philippine Plan of Action on Nutrition (PPAN) 2017-2022. These are geared toward ending stunting and all types of malnutrition.

    The Food and Nutrition Research Institute – Department of Science and Technology also proposed dietary guidelines back in 2012 in the form of daily nutritional guide pyramids, along with messages regarding exercise as well as personal and environmental hygiene.

    Completing the messages is what is called “Pinggang Pinoy“, or “healthy food plate for Filipinos”. This shows the correct allocation of healthy foods in a given meal.

    The following nutritional guideline messages encompass even adult nutrition, but these are also directed towards nutrition for a growing child as well. Note that these are only some and not all of the guideline’s messages:

    • Include different types of foods in order to absorb all nutrients required by the body.
    • Babies should be exclusively breastfed up to 6 months, while complementary foods are introduced while still breastfeeding for up to 2 years.
    • Prevent diarrhea and other diseases carried by food and water by consuming clean food and water.
    • Prevent against iodine deficiency by consuming iodized salt.
    • Cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by avoiding intake of salt, fried, fatty and sugar-rich foods.
    • Observe proper diet and exercise to sustain good health and prevent obesity.
    • Physical activity, nutritious food options, stress management, avoidance of alcoholic beverages, and smoking can greatly reduce the risk of lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD

    General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

    Written by Louise Nichole Logarta · Updated Dec 09, 2022

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