Nutrition And Life Stages When Your Nutritional Needs Change

Nutritional needs change throughout our lifespan, and though the food pyramid guidelines offer helpful general advice, each life stage presents a unique additional set of nutritional requirements.

Nutrition for Newborn Babies

Babies younger than two are unable to make nutritional decisions on their own, but they are capable of indicating hunger and fullness, and they will also demonstrate signs when they are ready to begin adding complementary solid foods to their diet of breast milk or formula. Such signs include:

  • Grabbing for solid foods (showing both ability and desire)
  • Keeping solid food in the mouth, instead of pushing it out with the tongue
  • Making chewing motions.

Decisions about nutrition for newborn babies should account for their growing brains and bodies, the gradual development of their swallowing reflex and the potential for allergic reactions.

Nutrition for Toddlers

Toddlers are able to chew and swallow, and they are also capable of selecting from a variety of foods made available to them. Control and independence are important issues for toddlers, and much of their early development in this area takes place at the table.

Nutrition for School-Aged Children

School-aged children are presented, often for the first time, with nutritional options outside of the home. Decisions about lunch, the influence of peers, the availability of unhealthy snacks, pickiness and food jags–during which a child will only eat one food, meal after meal–are common nutritional challenges parents face during this chapter of child rearing.

Teenagers’ Nutrition

A teenager’s nutrition and food intake become increasingly subject to personal decisions. Peer groups, athletics and busy schedules all place demands on a rapidly growing teenage body. Teenage girls, in particular, have nutritional requirements for minerals–such as calcium–that are not always met.

The teenage years are often the last point at which parents are able to exert control over the nutritional options presented to a child. It is during this life stage that teens learn to navigate nutritional choices–as well as social and emotional approaches to food–on their own.

Nutrition in College

College students often find themselves on unlimited meal plans at a time when schedules are unstructured, stress levels are high and teenage metabolisms are slowing down. Eating habits in college are often driven by social influences, and healthy and unhealthy habits formed in college tend to lay a path that continues throughout a college student’s adult life.

Nutrition for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers

Babies in utero and expectant mothers both have unique nutritional needs. It’s the mother’s responsibility to take both her and her baby’s nutritional needs into account as she selects foods to eat during her pregnancy.

Since mothers who decide to breastfeed are encouraged to do so for at least six months, a mother’s food intake directly affects her child during a very significant time in the child’s development.

Elderly Nutrition

Older people have changing metabolisms and often experience a loss of bone density as they age. Age-related health conditions can also influence nutritional needs. At some point, many older people begin to rely on others to make some or all of their nutritional decisions, which can provide challenges for both the elderly person and the caregiver.


American Dietetic Association (ADA). (2010). Nutrition for life. Retrieved August 16, 2010, from (2010). Is my baby ready for solid foods? Retrieved August 19, 2010, from (2009). Life stages. Retrieved August 16, 2010, from

USDA National Agricultural Library. (2010). Consumer corner. Retrieved August 16, 2010, from