Nutrition for School-Age Children

Between the ages of 6 to 12 years, school-age children have a gradual rate of growth and need frequent nutritious snacks and meals throughout the day. During this stage, most children have outgrown “picky eating” and have developed consistent likes, dislikes, and food habits.

You may notice that your child’s friends, family and the media begin to influence their food choices. Many kids at this age show an increased interest in eating foods outside of the home, such as restaurant foods and packaged snacks.

Children also spend more time at school or in extracurriculars than they did as preschoolers, meaning that they are beginning to make some food choices on their own.

A concern of parents with this age group is whether their children are eating healthy while they are at school. It is common for children to come back with lunch boxes that are still partially full or to skip lunch at school altogether.

It is helpful to keep in mind that up to a third of a child’s intake at this age is through snacks. Sometimes, that means they will eat smaller portions during mealtimes.

Healthy Eating Tips

As a parent, you have the important job of selecting healthy foods for your child. Although they will choose what to eat when they are away, try to focus on nutrient-dense items that include fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains to optimize nutrition. Here are some helpful tips for balanced meals:

  • Aim to serve 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit and 1 ½ to 2 cups of vegetables per day for children aged 6 to 8 years. Older or more active kids, ages 9 to 12 years, should aim for 2 to 2 1/2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 1/2 cups of vegetables every day.
  • Make sure to offer a variety of lean proteins, dairy and heart-healthy fats with meals.
  • Choose whole grains like whole wheat products over refined grains like white bread and pasta as often as possible.
  • Try to limit processed snacks or beverages in the home like chips, pastries, candy and soda.
  • Seeing parents practicing healthy eating habits continues to be important for kids at this age so make sure you are setting a good example by eating healthy meals.