Nutrition and Your Stage Of Life

Choosing to eat wisely throughout life is one of the most important components of living a healthful lifestyle. Using the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Food Guide Pyramid as standards for your food choices and amounts, you will be well on your way to establishing healthful eating habits for your entire life.

Unfortunately, many people become discouraged by nutrition advice because they mistakenly think they cannot eat their favorite foods. A more positive and encouraging approach is to consider that no food is forbidden.

Good health comes from eating a variety of foods—meats, dairy products, and especially vegetables, fruits, and grains—in sensible amounts.

Keep in mind that your sex, age, weight, and health status are also important considerations when it comes to determining your nutritional needs and maintaining good health throughout life.

In other words, what is nutritionally right for one person may not be the same for you. In the following you will explore several natural transition points during a lifetime which prompt variances in nutritional needs.

These specific times of life, from infancy to preschooler, school-age to adolescence and teen years, to young and then older adulthood, are important to understanding the changes you can expect as you age and the strategies needed to meet your need for specific nutrients and optimal health.


No human being grows more rapidly than an infant. On average, a baby triples his or her weight during the first year and grows taller by 50 percent. A newborn may grow from 7 pounds to 14 pounds in just 6 months, then to 20 or 21 pounds by the end of the first full year.

It is easy to understand why proper nourishment for infants can provide a healthy head start on life. Breast milk contains just the right balance of nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

It also provides the infant with antibodies to fight some common childhood illnesses, and it may be unique in that it decreases the risk of food allergies. Breast milk is also easy for the baby to digest.

Mothers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed can still provide good nourishment to their infants with bottle feeding of commercial formulas.

Careful preparation is required for each feeding, and formulas must be stored safely. As a baby becomes more hungry, it is best to increase the frequency of the breast- or bottle-feedings.

Most nutrition experts recommend that solid food should not be started until after the fourth month. Many suggest waiting until your baby is at least 6 months old.

Although babies may be ready for solid foods in a few weeks or months, the decision to start giving solid foods should be based on a baby's daytime behavior and eating habits and coordinated with a baby's increasing nutritional needs.

Even if solid foods are started, breast milk or formula should continue to be included in a baby’s diet for at least 1 year. A baby's first solid food will probably be cereal. Cereal is a versatile food because it can be mixed very thin for babies just starting on solid foods and can be thickened as babies work on chewing and swallowing.

After cereals, fruits and vegetables are easiest for babies to digest. From 9 months on, babies make a gradual transition into toddlerhood and develop a feeding schedule that mimics the family’s mealtimes.

Sometime after 12 months, babies may be on a schedule of three meals a day with the family and breast milk, formula, or snacks between meals. By 1 year of age, babies may have as many as four to six teeth and be developing a more defined and stronger chewing motion.

With these developments, babies can handle foods of thicker consistency, such as lumpy or chopped foods. Continue offering new solid foods at the rate of one new food a week. One of the most important considerations at this age is offering baby food in a form that is appropriate to the baby's development.

Any solid food should be tender and soft enough to be easily squashed with your fingers. The typical meal for a 1-year-old includes 1 tablespoon from each of the major food groups: milk, meat, vegetables, fruits, breads, and cereal grains.

That menu may translate into a tablespoon of cooked carrots, two bites of rice, a taste of meat, and a couple bites of pear. Try to feed your child at regular intervals while paying attention to cues that may suggest that your child is hungry. Good eating habits begin early.

Preschool Years

As babies become toddlers, they make the transition into eating food the rest of the family eats. The rapid weight gain characterized during the first year levels off during the second, with an average gain of 5 to 6 pounds.

Because a child is not growing at the same rate as during infancy, he or she may not want the same quantities of food that were once enjoyed. Some preschoolers may be uninterested in eating, whereas others seem finicky.

Sometimes preschoolers are reluctant to try new foods or expand their food repertoire beyond three or four favorites. There are several things you can do to help overcome these challenges without forcing a child to eat.

By this time, a child should be eating foods from each of the food groups represented in the Food Guide Pyramid. However, do not expect a preschooler to eat a completely balanced diet every day.

When allowed to choose from a selection of nutritionally sound foods, most children tend to select diets that, over several days, offer the necessary balance. Until age 2, fat should not be limited in a child's diet. Dietary fat and cholesterol are important for an infant's growth.

After age 2, children can begin to consume fats in moderation just as the rest of the family does. This type of diet includes grain foods, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and their substitutes. Keep in mind that every child's energy needs are different.

Thus, snacks are often appropriate for children, especially for smaller preschoolers who cannot eat enough to satisfy their energy needs all at once. Small amounts of various foods eaten frequently over the course of the day as a snack are healthful and normal. However, completely uncontrolled snacking can diminish a child's appetite for meals.