What is healthy food for kids?

Healthy food for school-age children includes a wide variety of fresh foods from the five food groups:

  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • grain foods
  • reduced-fat dairy
  • protein.

Each food group has different nutrients, which your child’s body needs to grow and work properly. That’s why we need to eat a range of foods from across all five food groups.

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegies give your child energy, vitamins, anti-oxidantsfibre and water. They help protect your child against diseases later in life, including diseases like heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

Encourage your child to choose fruit and vegetables at every meal and for snacks. This includes fruit and vegies of different colours, textures and tastes, both fresh and cooked.

Wash fruit to remove dirt or chemicals, and leave the skin on, because the skin contains nutrients too.

If your child seems to be ‘fussy’ about eating fruit and vegies, it doesn’t mean he’ll never like them. Did you know that if your child sees you eating a wide range of vegetables and fruit, he’s more likely to try them too?

Grain foods

Grain foods include bread, pasta, noodles, breakfast cereals, couscous, rice, corn, quinoa, polenta, oats and barley. These foods give your child the energy she needs to grow, develop and learn.

Grain foods with a low glycaemic index, like wholegrain pasta and breads, will give your child longer-lasting energy and keep him feeling fuller for longer.

Reduced-fat dairy foods

Key dairy foods are milk, cheese and yoghurt. These foods are high in protein and calcium, which helps to build strong bones and teeth. Try to offer your child different kinds of dairy each day – for example, drinks of milk, cheese slices or bowls of yoghurt.

Children aged over two years should have reduced-fat dairy products.

Protein

Protein-rich foods include lean meat, fish, chicken, eggs, beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu and nuts. These foods are important for your child’s growth and muscle development.

These foods also contain other useful vitamins and minerals like ironzincvitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. Iron and omega-3 fatty acids from red meat and oily fish are particularly important for your child’s brain development and learning.

Try to include a few different food groups at every meal and snack. Have a look at our illustrated dietary guidelines for children aged 4-8 years for more information about daily food portions and recommendations. You can also speak to a dietitian if you have concerns about your child’s eating.

Healthy drinks: water

Water is the healthiest drink for children over 12 months. It’s also the cheapest. Most tap water is fortified with fluoride for strong teeth too.

Foods and drinks to avoid

Your child should avoid ‘sometimes’ foods. These foods include fast food and junk food like hot chips, potato chips, dim sims, pies, burgers and takeaway pizza. They also include cakes, chocolate, lollies, biscuits, doughnuts and pastries.

These foods are high in salt, saturated fat and sugar, and low in fibre and nutrients. Eating too much of these foods can increase the risk of childhood obesity and conditions like type-2 diabetes.

Your child should also avoid sweet drinks like fruit juice, cordials, sports drinks, flavoured waters, soft drinks and flavoured milks. Sweet drinks are high in sugar and low in nutrients. They can cause weight gain, obesity and tooth decay. These drinks fill your child up and can make her less hungry for healthy meals. And if children start on these drinks when they’re young, it can kick off an unhealthy lifelong habit.

Foods and drinks with caffeine aren’t recommended for children, because caffeine stops the body from absorbing calcium well. Caffeine is also a stimulant, which means it gives children artificial energy. These foods and drinks include coffee, tea, energy drinks and chocolate.

Healthy alternatives for snacks and desserts
Encourage your child to choose snacks from the healthy food groups. This can include things like nuts, cheese, low-fat yoghurt and fresh fruit or vegetables – for example, carrot and celery sticks.

The same goes for dessert at the end of a meal. Sliced fruit or yoghurt is the healthiest option. If you want to serve something special, try homemade banana bread. Save the seriously sweet stuff, like cakes and chocolate, for special occasions like birthdays.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating says that both children and adults should avoid or limit sometimes foods. It’s best to save these foods for special occasions.