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Healthy eating for children

What is healthy eating?
Healthy eating is essential for your child’s good health, growth and development. Healthy eating in childhood means they will have less chance of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some cancers. It will also mean they feel better and enjoy life more.

To stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight, children need to be physically active and eat the right amount of nutrients to balance the energy they use.

The Australian dietary guidelines recommend children should enjoy a wide variety of foods from these 5 food groups:

fruit
vegetables, legumes and beans
grain (cereal) foods, including breads, rice, pasta and noodles, mostly wholegrain or high cereal fibre types
lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
milks, yoghurts, cheeses or alternatives — children under 2 should have full-fat milk, but older children and adolescents should choose mostly reduced-fat varieties
Children should limit their intake of foods that contain saturated fat, added salt or added sugar. They should also be encouraged to choose water to drink.

How much food does my child need?
Children need to eat more as they grow. As a guide, your child should eat these foods every day:

2 to 3 years: 1 serve of fruit; 2½ serves of vegetables; 4 serves of grains; 1 serve of meat/poultry; 1½ serves of dairy
4 to 8 years: 1½ serves of fruit; 4½ serves of vegetables; 4 serves of grains; 1 ½ serves of meat/poultry; 1½ to 2 serves of dairy
9 to 11 years: 2 serves of fruit; 5 serves of vegetables; 4 to 5 serves of grains; 2½ serves of meat/poultry; 2½ to 3 serves of dairy
12 to 13 years: 2 serves of fruit; 5 to 5 ½ serves of vegetables; 5 to 6 serves of grains; 2 ½ serves meat/poultry; 3 ½ serves dairy

How can I encourage healthy eating habits?
Teaching your child how to eat healthily now means they will be more likely to make their own healthy choices as they get older. Here are some tips to encourage healthy eating habits:

Sit together as a family at mealtimes, without any screens.
Make healthy foods fun, for example by cutting fruit or sandwiches into interesting shapes.
Serve a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Learn together about how different foods are grown.
Let your children help with food shopping and preparation.
Try new foods and recipes.
Limit the amount of junk food you keep in the house.
Keep a bowl of fruit handy for snacks.

Which foods should I limit in my child’s diet?
Some foods are not essential in children’s diets. These are called ‘discretionary foods’ and are generally high in kilojoules, saturated fat, added sugars or added salt.

While it’s okay to eat small amounts of discretionary foods occasionally as part of a balanced diet, you should try to limit these foods in your child’s daily diet. Eating large amounts of discretionary foods can lead to children becoming overweight or developing diseases in later life.

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