No two people are alike, so no two people need the exact same number of calories and nutrients to fuel daily activity. Similarly, the number of vegetables that your children need each day is affected by factors such as age, sex, activity level and total daily calorie consumption. To put it plainly, a 2-year-old child needs far fewer vegetable servings than an 18-year-old. Similarly, an active 16-year-old girl needs more vegetable servings than an inactive 16-year-old girl. Vegetable consumption, like all nutrient consumption, ends up being relative to a child's total nutrient needs. It's this concept that makes vegetable consumption guidelines somewhat nebulous.
Generally speaking, it's best to err on the side of overconsumption in serving your children vegetables. When serving vegetables, it's easiest to think of a serving size in terms of a single measuring cup. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a cup of veggies refers to one measuring cup of raw or cooked vegetables or two measuring cups of raw leafy greens, like lettuce or spinach. Most children need between one and four cups of vegetables each day depending on the factors cited above.
The CDC provides an online tool that makes estimating your children's daily vegetable requirements a breeze. You simply enter your child's age, sex and daily activity into the calculator, and the website will return the estimated number of fruits and vegetables you should provide each day. While you may want to look up the specific suggestions for your child, the following range of vegetable servings are based on males and females with low and high activity levels:
Remember that these are guidelines that may not fit every child or every situation. If you have a highly competitive athlete, you may need to increase her vegetable consumption well beyond the upper limit suggested by the CDC. Similarly, if you have a child who is small for her age, she may not need the number of servings suggested.
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