By Raising Children Network
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Mum and daughter making salad together
By eating a range of different healthy foods, your child can get the best possible nutrition for growth, development and learning. When children learn about and eat good food from an early age, they can develop healthy habits for life.

You can read this article in a selection of languages other than English.

What is good food?

Good food means a wide variety of fresh foods from the main food groups – fruit, vegetables, grains, lean meats, fish, poultry and dairy.

Each food group provides different nutrients. That’s why we need to eat a range of foods from across all the food groups.

The good food groups

Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables help protect your child’s body against all kinds of diseases. This is because fruit and vegies provide energy, vitamins, antioxidants, fibre and water.

Children aged 4-8 years need to eat at least 1½ pieces of fruit and 4½ serves of vegetables every day.

Instead of giving your child full serves of vegetables, you could consider including several smaller serves of vegetables for more variety. For example, you could offer your child 1 cup of green leafy vegies; ½ cup of broccoli, carrots or peas; ½ medium potato and 1 medium tomato.

Eating different-coloured fruits and vegetables is a great way for your child to get a good range of nutrients.

It can be really difficult if your child is ‘fussy’ with fruit and vegies – many kids don’t eat enough of these foods. In fact, one survey found that only 5% of kids eat the recommended amount. For ideas and information, you could have a look at our article on getting your child to eat vegetables.

Starchy foods and grains
Starchy foods and grains give your child the energy she needs to grow, develop and learn. These foods include cereals, breads, rice, pasta and noodles. It’s a good idea to offer them at every meal.

Starchy foods with a low glycaemic index, such as pasta and wholegrain bread, will give your child long-lasting energy.

Lean meats, fish and poultry, and meat alternatives
Lean meat, fish, chicken and meat alternatives such as eggs, beans (legumes), tofu and nuts give your child iron, zinc, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids and protein for growth and muscle development.

Iron and omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important for your child’s brain development and learning.

Milk and other dairy products
Milk, cheese and yoghurt are high in protein and calcium, which helps build strong bones and teeth.

When your child is a baby, breastmilk or formula is the best milk until he’s 12 months old. After that, he can start drinking full-fat cow’s milk before switching to low-fat milk after he turns two.

To get enough calcium, children aged:

  • 2-3 years need  serves of dairy a day
  • 4-8 years need 1½-2 serves of dairy a day
  • 9-13 years need 2½-3½ serves of dairy a day
  • over 13 years need 3½ serves of dairy a day.

A serve of dairy can be one cup of milk, two slices (40 gm) of cheese or a 200 gm tub of yoghurt.

Water is the best drink for your child.

Sweet drinks – which include fruit juice, cordials, sports drinks, flavoured waters, soft drinks and flavoured milks – can fill your child up with sugar. This might mean she won’t want to eat her meals.

Drinking sweet drinks can also contribute to weight gain and obesity and tooth decay. If kids start on these drinks when they’re young, it can kick off a lifelong habit.

‘Sometimes’ foods

‘Sometimes’ foods include chips, chocolates, lollies, cakes, pastries, muesli bars, soft drinks, juices and takeaway foods – basically anything that’s high in sugar, salt and/or fat, and low in nutrition.

It can be easy to eat too many ‘sometimes’ foods. The important thing is to a find a balance for your child. If you choose sometimes foods for your child, try to make sure he eats them only sometimes and in small amounts.

Babies: starting on healthy food

Going from drinking breastmilk or formula to eating family meals takes time, and starting your baby on solids is the first step.

Many parents start their children off with some rice cereal at about six months or so. From this, you can move on to mashed vegies, fruit and meat, and toast fingers. By about eight months, many babies are ready for some cheese or yoghurt. By 12 months, your baby can try most healthy foods your family is eating.

Healthy food and eating for toddlers

Lots of parents describe their toddlers as ‘fussy’ with food. This can make mealtimes stressful, especially if you’re worried your toddler isn’t eating enough.

Your toddler might seem to eat less than when she was a baby, which is because she’s growing more slowly. But she still needs regular meals and snacks – three meals and several snacks every day. If your toddler isn’t eating, it can help to remember that you decide what your child eats, and she decides how much.

You can offer lots of variety from the main food groups, but try to limit ‘sometimes’ foods as much as you can.

It’s also a good idea to avoid bottles for your toddler. Using a bottle is associated with iron deficiency anaemia and could be linked to a higher risk of overweight and obesity.

For at-a-glance information on your toddler’s nutrition needs, check out our illustrated dietary guide for children aged 2-3 years. And our Healthy Food video guide for toddlers has tips to get your child into healthy eating.

Healthy food and eating for preschoolers

Your preschooler needs lots of energy for play and learning. A good breakfast is important – it helps your child get a good start to his daily nutrition needs.

Your child might still be a fussy eater at this age. If she’s not keen on trying new foods, you could get her to help you with choosing and preparing healthy family meals. When children have a say in their food, they’re more likely to eat it.

Video How to tell if your child is eating enough

In this short video, parents talk about how they know whether their children are eating enough food. They talk about how children’s appetites and food intake go up and down all the time. They suggest looking at what your child eats over two weeks instead of in one day or one meal.

For more information on your preschooler’s nutrition needs, check out our illustrated dietary guide for children aged 4-8 years. And our Healthy Food video guide for preschoolers has tips to get your child into healthy eating.

Healthy food and eating for school-age children

At this age, your child might have a busy social life, his own pocket money to spend and some definite preferences when it comes to food. He’ll also be influenced by friends and trends, so it’s a great time to reinforce messages about healthy foods.

For example, you can explain to your child that a healthy breakfast can help her concentrate on schoolwork and have lots of energy for the day.

Sharing healthy meals and snacks with your school-age child can encourage him to eat nutritious food and to develop a regular eating routine.

When you’re packing your child’s lunch box, healthy variety is the way to go. You might include vegies, fruit, a dairy food, meat or egg, starchy food (bread, roll, pita, or flat bread) and water.

For easy-to-understand information on school-age nutrition, check out our illustrated dietary guide for children aged 4-8 years. And our Healthy Food video guide for school-age kids has tips to get your child into healthy eating.

Healthy food and eating for teenagers

Your adolescent child will explore her increasing independence through her food choices. She’ll also experience lots of new pressures in her life. All of this makes healthy family meals and role-modelling important during this time.

Get more information about serving up the right amount of healthy food for children in this age group:

Video Nutrition and eating well

In this short video, parents and teenagers separately discuss their views on nutrition and eating well, including school lunch boxes, takeaway food, and being vegetarian.


Good food choices at any age

You’re a big part of helping your child choose nutritious foods at every age and stage. Some of the best – and most enjoyable – ways to set and reinforce healthy eating habits include the following:

  • Involve your child in meal-planning and preparation.
  • Enjoy meals together as a family regularly – every night if possible.
  • Try to have a bowl of fruit or vegie sticks available for snacking.
  • Increase variety whenever possible and keep offering good foods.
  • Stock your pantry and fridge with lots of healthy, nutritious options, and leave the sometimes food on the supermarket shelves.

Languages other than English

  • Last updated or reviewed 11-11-2014