Nutrients are what give us energy, help us grow, and keep our hearts beating and our body systems running efficiently. It's important for kids to eat a variety of foods from these six groups of nutrients.
Carolyn Land Williams, M.Ed., R.D.

Because children are constantly growing, consuming a nutrient-rich diet is essential. There are six groups of nutrients:

Carbohydrates

  • The body’s main source of energy and fuel
  • Found in grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and dairy foods, as well as added sugars
  • Include fiber that keeps our digestive systems running smoothly

Proteins

  • Essential for building and maintaining the body
  • Found in meats, seafood, beans, nuts, and dairy foods

Fats

  • Vital for keeping skin, hair, and nails healthy and for absorbing vitamins
  • Some body fat is needed to protect organs and to insulate the body

Vitamins

  • Each food has a unique assortment of vitamins
  • Grains and protein foods are rich in B vitamins; fortified dairy foods are rich in vitamin D; vegetables and fruits are rich in vitamin A and C; plant oils and nuts are rich in vitamin E

Minerals

  • Each food has its own assortment of minerals
  • Two important minerals for growing kids are iron (found in protein foods, whole grains, and some vegetables) and calcium (found in dairy foods and some vegetables)

Water

  • Makes up more than half of our body weight and must be replaced daily

Nutrients and the Food Groups
Each food that kids eat gives them a different assortment of the six nutrients listed above, which is why it’s so important for them to eat a variety of foods. The USDA has placed foods into groups because they have similar nutrients. For example, foods in the milk group, such as yogurt, cheese, and milk, are all good sources of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Eating foods from each group every day provides most of the nutrients that kids need.