Young children learn by copying. So parents can show, by their own example, what healthy eating is.
Children under five
These children are growing rapidly yet still have small stomachs. They need 2-3 planned nutritious snacks in addition to their 3 meals. Offer a variety of foods from the first four nutritious food groups (see food combining).
Whole/ full fat milk and milk products provide more vitamin A for their immune system so there is no need to change to semi-skimmed milk from 2 years if your child is eating and growing really well.
Use a mixture of some high fibre foods and some low fibre foods e.g. wholemeal and white bread, rather than only high fibre foods.
Young children need plenty of high iron foods. The best sources are red meat, pork and dark poultry meat. Some iron is also found in oily fish -sardines, mackerel and salmon. Pulses, beans, egg yolks, fruit and vegetables contain small amounts.
Do not give tea to young children, as it reduces iron absorption.
Children over five
Children over five years, like adults, should aim for a balance of the five food groups (see food combining) with plenty of variety within each group. Low salt and fat intakes are recommended. Each meal should be based on starchy foods and include fruit and vegetables.
To lower fat intake:
Keeping salt intake down:
Encouraging fruit and vegetables:
Milk and water are the best drinks for children as they do not damage teeth.
Fruit juices are high sugar drinks and are acidic which can damage tooth enamel when offered between meals. If you offer them dilute them well – about 1 in 6-10 and only offer at meal times.
Sugary, fizzy drinks and squashes are also acidic and give calories but virtually no nutrients. Given frequently between meals they cause tooth decay.
Meals and routines
Children’s appetites vary from day to day depending on how they feel and how active they are so keep an open mind on how much they will eat. Let them decide.
Always offer two courses at lunch and supper – a savoury course and a pudding. This gives 2 opportunities for children to eat nutritious foods.
Children eat better when there is a routine of three meals with one or two nutritious snacks each day. Do not allow grazing on food throughout the day. It is important for children to feel hungry before a meal and then learn that feeling of having had enough and not needing any more. More nutritional advice.