by Stephanie Greunke, RD and Whole Mamas Program Manager.
This information applies to kids without special needs, medical conditions, or situations where a more individualized or therapeutic-diet applies.The information in this post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. As always, please speak with your child’s pediatrician or dietitian about their health and nutrition needs before making any changes.For more FAQ posts, click here. Have a question for our team? Click here to e-mail us.
The Good News
Kids thrive on the same food that adults do. Healthy fats, proteins, veggies and fruit fulfill their nutrient needs and promote healthy eating for life. If you’re eating a Whole30-inspired diet, putting real food first, and balancing your meals according to the meal planning template—your little one’s plate should look similar to yours, just on a smaller scale! (Unless, of course, they’re going through a growth spurt…they may be eating a TON!)
This is good news since we don’t have time to be short-order chefs, making multiple customized meals for everyone. If you’re working on building healthy mealtime habits, take it one step at a time. Changing mealtime dynamics takes time and patience, and often comes with meltdowns. Be patient with the process and know that your little one(s) will learn to love veggies, protein, and healthy fats with time and creativity.
What Kids Need
You may find your little one gravitating towards more carbohydrates than you eat—and that’s okay! Their growing bodies have a lot more flexibility when it comes to carbohydrate intake and they often thrive on a diet containing more whole food-based carbohydrates. So if it seems like some days they can’t get enough fruit, like my boys, they’re right on track!
I’ll discuss more about specific macronutrients below; however, please don’t stress about counting grams or weighing/measuring food. That’s not necessary with kids, especially if you’re feeding them a diet rich in whole foods. They’re great at regulating how much they need to eat, which is really interesting to observe. You may notice your little one eating more some days and less others. You may notice them eating more protein on certain days and feeling satisfied with just carbs others. Watch, listen, and allow them to explore what feels best, just like you’d do on a Whole30, during reintroduction, and while you’re navigating your Food Freedom.
Here are some daily averages, according to the National Institutes of Health. This is simply average recommendations and amounts may need to be adjusted to fit your child’s unique needs!
Age 1-3 = 1,000-1,400
Ages 4-8 = 1,200 – 2,000
6-12 months = 11 grams/day
1-3 years = 13 grams/day, 5-20% of calories
4-8 years = 19 grams/day, 10-30% of calories
Adults (for comparison) = 10-35% of calories
6-12 months = 30 grams/day
1-3 years = around 40-60 grams/day, 30-40% of calories
4-8 years = around 45-65 grams/day, 25-35% of calories
Adults (for comparison) = around 45-78 grams/day, 20-35% of calories
6-12 months = 95 grams/day
1-3 years = around 130 grams/day, 45-65% of calories
4-8 years = around 130 grams/day, 45-65% of calories
Adults (for comparison) = around 225-325 grams/day, 45-65% of calories
I’m sharing the above to highlight a few features:
- While I believe there’s likely a lot of flexibility with protein intake, the set RDA shows a level that’s realistic to meet. I work with a lot of moms who are nervous about their little one consuming enough protein, but to meet this intake, a 1-3 year old requires about 2-3 oz of animal protein, which may be the amount they eat a one meal! Note: this amount may not be enough to meet iron (and other nutrients like zinc, B-vitamins, selenium) needs, so if your little one is refusing iron-rich animal protein like beef, it’s a good idea to work with your pediatrician to ensure sufficiency via blood testing. This is something that’s often done around the 1-year visit, but you can always request additional checks
- A child’s requirement for fat is much higher than some mamas think. While there’s a wide variability in accepted macronutrient percentages for adults, government guidelines suggest a higher percentage of fat for infants and toddlers when compared to adults. This speaks to the importance of healthy fat for your little one’s growing brain and overall development.
- The recommended carbohydrate intake (~130 grams/day) may be more than what you’re currently giving your little one. As long as they’re thriving and consuming nutrient-dense healthy fat and protein, that may be perfectly fine. My little ones thrive on a higher-fat diet and often don’t reach 130 grams of carbs a day. On the other hand, your little one may be reaching or exceeding this. As I mentioned, unless your child is navigating a medical condition, we don’t need to be too concerned about carbohydrates, especially if the diet is balanced in protein and fat and the majority of the carbohydrates are coming from whole food sources.
How I Balance My Kids’ Plates
When my kids are eating meals at home, I use the three containers in their placemats to signify the three things I always offer at meals:
- Healthy protein: poultry, fish, beef, eggs, pork, deli meat/sausages (Healthier vegetarian sources include: beans, lentils, and organic soy such as tempeh, natto, tofu, and edamame)
- Produce: fruits, veggies
- Healthy fat: avocado, coconut products (milk, unsweetened flakes, butter, cream, yogurt), Primal Kitchen dressings, nuts/seeds (when developmentally appropriate), sliced olives, egg yolks, grass-fed butter/ghee, full-fat cow’s/sheep’s/goat’s yogurt and cheese (if tolerated/personal preference)
For snacks, they’re often served fruit with nut butter (adding healthy fat to the fruit helps keep their energy and mood more stable), guacamole cups and homemade plantain chips, Applegate hot dogs, trail mix, and the occasional RXbar or jerky (if we’re on-the-go).
Here are a few examples of what I serve my almost two and four-year-olds. You’ll notice a generous portion of fat, protein, and veggies in each of these meals. They’ll sometimes receive gluten-free grains or legumes, as I like to aim for variety and they seem to tolerate these options well. You can use these examples for ideas, but please don’t compare how your kids eat or what you’re currently doing for mealtime with what our family does. We’re all on our own path, and children thrive on a variety of diets based on cultural traditions, religious preferences, and parents’ food philosophies.
- Almond flour coated mahi mahi bites, baked yam with melted butter and red pepper slices with Primal Kitchens ranch
- Spaghetti squash with grass-fed beef marinara and avocado slices
- Snack: Paleo museli
In future blogs we’ll be sharing more recipe ideas, how to navigate “picky eating” and food battles, modifying diet for special needs, and more! If you have an idea, would like to share your story or contribute content related to your area of expertise, please reach out to us on Instagram or by email.
Header photo: Tong Nguyen van
Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer and prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice, RockYourHormones.com.