Smart Choices: Eating Healthy at Any Age

At every stage of life, smart food choices fuel good health. You can benefit from following an eating plan that emphasizes food choices appropriate for your age and personal needs.

Every person needs the same nutrients in varying amounts. Age, gender, and activity level all influence nutrient needs.

Everyone should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables; whole-grain breads; moderate amounts of low-fat dairy foods; lean meat, chicken, fish, and legumes; and small amounts of fats, oils, and sugar. Here are suggestions for specific groups:

Tips for children:

  • Eat a healthy breakfast. Breakfast can help children do their best at school and play.

  • Eat more high-fiber foods. Eating a variety of grains, fruits, and vegetables is the best way for children to satisfy their need for complex carbohydrates.

  • Try to avoid snack foods high in sugar, fat, and sodium. Instead, eat healthy snacks, such as popcorn, carrot sticks dipped in fat-free ranch dressing, strips of red, yellow, and green bell peppers, cherries, bananas, celery, cottage cheese, and peanut butter. 

Tips for teenagers:

  • Eat four servings of calcium-rich foods fortified with vitamin D (preferably four eight-ounce glasses of low-fat milk) every day. Teens should consume enough calcium to ensure adequate bone mass for the rest of their lives.

  • Eat breakfast every day. Starting the day with a toasted bagel, fruit, or vitamin D-fortified cereal can improve a teen's performance in school and sports.

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Many teens eat only one or two servings of fruits and vegetables a day, yet at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetables are recommended by the USDA .

Tips for women:

  • Women of childbearing age should choose foods rich in iron. Lean red meat, pinto beans, kidney beans, spinach, whole-grain breads, and iron-enriched cereal, rice, and pasta are good iron sources.

  • Eat plenty of low-fat dairy foods. Building and maintaining strong bones by consuming enough calcium and vitamin D can reduce the risk for osteoporosis. Eat three to four servings daily of calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, broccoli, sardines, and collard greens. Choose dairy and other foods that are fortified with vitamin D when possible.

  • Consume enough folic acid before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects. Foods rich in this B vitamin include oranges, grapefruit, dark-green leafy vegetables, whole-grain and fortified breads and cereals, beans, peas, and peanuts.

Tips for men:

  • Eat the proper amount of protein. Be careful to choose meats low in saturated fat and use portion control. Otherwise weight gain may occur.

  • Eat two to four servings of low-fat dairy foods fortified with vitamin D every day. To ensure proper bone strength, men need to eat food fortified with calcium and calcium-rich dairy products. Other foods such as cereals are also fortified with vitamin D.

  • Make lower-fat choices at fast-food restaurants. Order regular-sized instead of giant-sized burgers, side salads instead of french fries, and grilled or broiled chicken instead of fried chicken.

  • Eat two to three servings of fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.

Tips for older adults:

  • Eat plenty of calcium-rich foods (fortified with vitamin D, if possible), such as low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt, to slow the progression of bone loss.

  • Eat foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified breakfast cereals, or take a vitamin B12 supplement. All adults ages 19 and older need at least 2.4 mcg per day of this vitamin, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.

  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can cause fatigue and affect how medications are processed in the body.

  • Perk up the flavor of foods by adding herbs, spices, and lemon juice to compensate for a diminished sense of taste and smell.