What is healthy eating?
Your child needs different nutrients to grow and develop. To get these nutrients, they need to eat a wide variety of fresh, healthy foods from all of the recommended five food groups.
A variety of vegetables helps to protect your child from all kinds of diseases. This is because veggies provide energy, vitamins, antioxidants, fibre and water.
Like vegetables, fruit also provides energy, vitamins, antioxidants, fibre and water.
3. Grains (cereals)
Grains give your child the energy they need to grow, develop and learn.
Healthy options include mostly wholegrain or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, oats, quinoa and barley.
4. Lean meat, fish, poultry and meat alternatives
Lean meat, fish, chicken and vegetarian protein sources – such as eggs, beans (legumes), tofu and nuts – give your child iron, zinc, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids and protein for growth, and brain, nerve and muscle development.
Milk, cheese and yoghurt give your child protein and calcium. Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth. Reduced fat dairy is recommended for children over the age of two, but not for younger children.
How much should your child eat?
Fruit and vegetables
- 2–3 years: 1 serve of fruit and 2½ serves of vegetables every day
- 4–8 years: 1½ serves of fruit and 4½ serves of vegetables every day
- 2–3 years: 4 serves every day
- 4–8 years: 4 serves every day
Lean meats, fish, poultry, egg, tofu, nuts and seeds, and beans/legumes
- 2–3 years: 1 serve every day
- 4–8 years 1½ serves every day
- 2–3 years: 1½ serves every day
- 4–8 years: 1½–2 serves every day
The amount of food your child needs also depends on their gender, height, weight and physical activity levels.
Healthy snacks can help your child to meet their daily nutrition requirements.
Always keep a variety of healthy snacks in the home, such as fruit, vegie sticks with healthy dips such as hummus, natural yoghurt with chopped fruit, and healthy homemade muffins or muesli bars that are low in refined sugars.
Avoid giving your child junk food as snacks, as they’re empty of nutrients.
Foods to limit
‘Discretionary’ or ‘sometimes’ foods are called that because they are not essential for your child’s dietary needs. These foods are usually high in salt, saturated fat and sugar, and low in nutrients. Examples include chips, biscuits, chocolate, cake, ice-cream, meat pies and other pastries, lollies, many fast foods and fried foods.
These foods increase the risk of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. Limit them to special occasions and small amounts.
Food intolerances and allergies
Some children have allergies to intolerances to certain foods – such as dairy, nuts, soy and some grains.
It’s best to see a doctor or an accredited dietician to confirm an intolerance or allergy for your child’s safety, and how to manage it so they don’t miss out on any key nutrients for their growth and development.
Tips for encouraging healthy eating habits
You can encourage your child to eat healthily by:
- making mealtimes happy, fun occasions
- having them eat with the family at the dinner table
- not keeping junk food in the house
- only saving ‘sometimes’ food only for special occasions
- keeping a fruit bowl in a handy place, as an easy snack choice
- teaching them about how foods are grown and where they come from
- making healthy foods fun – for example, by cutting sandwiches, fruit and vegetables into interesting shapes
- getting them to help with cooking and preparing foods, as appropriate for their age
- encouraging them to try new foods, without forcing them
- turning off the TV and computer at mealtimes