In school, we’re taught to eat foods that make us “go, grow, and glow.” It’s an easy way to remember the basic nutrients everyone needs: Go foods supply energy and help us stay active. Grow foods help build muscle and keep bones and teeth strong. Glow foods keep skin, hair, and eyes healthy (giving you that “glow”).

These foods represent the nutrients that are especially important for growing kids. With the increasing problem of childhood obesity caused by poor eating habits, it’s important to find the right balance when it comes to your kids’ nutrition

A Closer Look at Go, Grow, and Glow

Everyone needs the right amount of macronutrients (essential nutrients that the body needs in big doses: carbohydrates, protein, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Here’s a more detailed breakdown of what growing kids in particular need:

Carbohydrates. Carbs are the “go” foods, the fuel that keeps the body moving. When carbs are ingested, the body turns them into glucose and stores it as an energy reserve, ready to be fired up when needed. Anything that isn’t used is stored as fat.

It’s important to eat the good kind of carbs. Go for unprocessed, unrefined carbs: whole-wheat/multi-grain bread, brown rice, starchy vegetables like sweet potato. Most fruits and vegetables are also predominantly made up of carbs. What to avoid? Bad carbs such as chocolates, cookies, and soda. Sure they provide some energy, but they also have a high glycemic index (meaning they cause the blood sugar to spike and then crash) and little (if any) other nutrients.

The amount of carbs your kids need depends on their age and level of activity, but generally, about 50% to 60% of their food intake should come from carbs. Check with your pediatrician for the exact amount.

Protein. This macronutrient is in the “grow” foods. Protein is the building block of muscle and is important for tissue growth and repair—very important for kids who are still getting bigger. Good sources of protein include poultry (limit the fried chicken though—to much saturated fat from all that oil—and instead go for healthier cooking methods like baking and grilling), lean meat, dairy, legumes, nuts, and peanut butter. Avoid processed meat like hotdogs and sausages.

The amount of protein your children need varies greatly depending on their age and gender, so check with your pediatrician. Also ask your doctor about nuts and other foods that typically cause allergies before introducing them into your children’s diet.

Fat. Some parents who are worried about childhood obesity might think about cutting out fat from their kids’ diet, but there are good fats that your children need to maintain a “glow.” Make sure your kids consume monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which contain beneficial fatty acids like omega-3. Good fats help protein do its job, store energy and nutrients (vitamins and minerals), and protect vital organs. Go for healthy oils like olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil, and foods like avocados, nuts, and fatty fish like salmon and sardines.

Iron. In the U.S., the most common nutrient deficiency is iron, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Iron is necessary for healthy blood and a deficiency can lead to delays in the development of cognitive and motor functions in young children. Many of the “grow” foods—poultry, meat—are also rich in iron. Liver as well as dark green, leafy vegetables also have plenty of iron. 

Calcium. This mineral is essential for bones and teeth to grow and develop normally, among other functions. Your children can get calcium from dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt (make sure to go for those that do not have a lot of added sugars), and vegetables like spinach.

Of course vitamins are also vital to children’s diets: Vitamin A helps with their eyesight, Vitamin C boosts their immune system, and Vitamin D contributes to bone health. The good news is if you’re already feeding them a balanced diet with foods in a rainbow of colors, chances are you’re already supplying them with their vitamin needs. Want to give them an added nutrient boost? Talk to your doctor about supplementing with vitamins if needed for your child’s health and nutrition.