Your child's body is like a car. It's a finely tuned machine, which requires good care so it runs well. There are three main parts of the car's care, or rather three kinds of nutrients that your child needs to have in the foods she eats: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each one has a different job to keep your child's car running.
Eating carbohydrates is like putting gas in your child's car. It'll give her energy fast. Carbohydrates are the body's main source of fuel. Your child's digestive system turns carbohydrates into sugar quickly and easily. That sugar feeds all the cells in her body.
The two bottom layers of the food pyramid (breads and grains, fruits, and vegetables) consist of foods high in carbohydrates. Sugar is also a carbohydrate (as are honey, molasses, syrup, and other sweeteners). Carbohydrate is the food that most influences blood glucose levels. So, tracking the amount of carbohydrates in your child's meals and snacks is one way to plan meals.
Proteins act like the tools a car mechanic uses. They repair and build tissue in your child's body. That helps keep her strong. Proteins can also be used for fuel, but it takes double the time to change proteins to sugar. Your child can get protein in meat, milk, nuts, and some kinds of beans.
Fats are reserve fuel, like keeping an extra gallon of gas in the car trunk for emergencies. They also help your child's body absorb certain vitamins and help the cells send signals to the rest of her body. She doesn't need a lot of fat every day. Fat is basically concentrated energy. It has double the calories of carbohydrates or proteins. Too much can make your child overweight. It can also clog her blood vessels, which is bad for her heart. Fat is found in butter and margarine, oils, most meats, eggs, whole milk, chocolate, and any foods cooked in butter or oil.
Some kinds of fat are better for you than others. For example, it's better to use canola oil than butter in cooking because canola oil is less likely to clog your child's blood vessels. Talk to a dietitian to find out more about different kinds of fats.
Don't Forget About Your Vitamins & Minerals
So you're thinking, "What about vitamins and minerals?" Vitamins and minerals are substances your child's body needs to keep working well. They're mostly in carbohydrate and protein foods. The best way for your child to get all the different vitamins she needs every day is to different kinds of foods, especially different kinds of fruits and vegetables.