Help your child thrive this Healthy Eating Month

Making healthier food and drink choices can benefit the health and wellbeing of the whole family. Good nutrition is especially important in infants and children as it provides them with the energy and nutrients they need to stay healthy, and to be able to think clearly, learn and play. The Kids Health Promotion Unit has compiled some helpful tips for ensuring children are given the best possible chance to thrive.

The Five Food Groups

Eating a variety of fresh foods from the Five Food Groups every day will provide optimal nutrition for children and adults alike. It's important to include a variety of food from each of the Five Food Groups to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.

The Five Food Groups are made up of:

  • Vegetables provide vitamins and minerals and help the body’s immune system. These include carrots, celery, potatoes, pumpkin, mushrooms) and legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas.
  • Grains (cereals) provide energy to help your child to think, learn and play. These include rice, pasta, quinoa, muesli, oats, bread, polenta etc.
  • Fruits provide vitamins, minerals and energy. Examples of fruits: oranges, pears, bananas, apples, grapes, kiwi fruit, melon, pineapple etc.
  • Dairy provides calcium for strong bones and teeth. These foods include milk, cheese, yoghurt etc.
  • Lean meats (e.g. fish, chicken, beef, kangaroo meat), as well as eggs, tofu and nuts, provide protein to build strong muscles.

The inclusion of more food from the Five Food Groups can help reduce the risk of conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. 

Foods that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat, should be eaten in small amounts because they have low nutritional value, they can increase the risk of diseases and can cause weight gain. These foods include:

  • lollies and sweets, sugar-sweetened soft-drinks and cordials, energy and sports drinks. Even some fruit juices are high in sugar.
  • potato chips, crisps and savoury snacks
  • cakes, biscuits, pastries, pies, fried foods, pizza, processed meats (sausages, burgers)
  • butter, cream, cooking margarine and some oils (coconut and palm oil)

By limiting foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat, eating the recommended number of serves a day and including daily physical activity, children can lead healthier lives, and maintain a healthy weight.  

School lunchboxes

A healthy, balanced lunchbox will help ensure your child is getting the nutrition and energy they need to grow, learn, and play throughout the school day. 

It should include water to drink and a combination of everyday foods from the Five Food Groups, which not only helps children concentrate well at school – but also makes it easier for them to receive the recommended serves of fruit and vegetables each day.

“Children need a healthy lunchbox to feel energised and concentrate well at school. This helps to make sure they can reach their full potential,” Alicia Grunseit, CHW Dietitian said.

“Routine is key in helping busy parents plan ahead for school lunches. A good time to start preparing lunches is the night before when making dinner, so while you’re cutting the vegetables put some extra aside for the school day.

“Remember - a healthy lunchbox does not have to be elaborate; you can keep it simple.”

Alicia has suggested the following steps to help create those healthy, balanced lunchboxes ahead of a great day at school.

  1. Include a source of protein such as lean meat, tuna egg, cheese, or chicken in your child’s lunch. This will help keep them full throughout the school day.
  2. Always pack some vegetables such as carrot or celery sticks, cucumber slices, either as their Crunch n Sip or in their lunch. This helps your child get closer to achieving their five serves a day.
  3. Try not to pack small, pre-packaged snacks such as a bag of chips. Instead, provide healthier snacks such as yoghurt or fruit.
  4. Kids don’t need juice poppers or cordial at school – water is all they need to drink throughout the day.

Check out this video, created by Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District, for some information and practical tips on how to pack a healthy lunchbox.


Choose Water

When choosing what to drink, remember water is extremely important. Not only does it hydrate the body, it can help children have clearer minds to think and learn.

For children 8 years or younger, 4-5 cups of water is optimal. For adolescents, aim for 6-8 cups.

Serving Sizes 

Calculating serving sizes, and the right number of serves, can be tricky. Not only does the measured amount differ depending on the food, but also the number of serves required to fuel the body varies for toddlers, children, and adolescents.

“Eating enough and of nutritious foods will impact your child’s mood and performance, both academically and physically,” Cara Bronstein, Nutrition Scientist at SCH, said.

“Different aged children, and all people for that matter, require varied amounts of nutrients and energy for their developmental stage to maintain good health. Providing enough food, and of the right portions, helps us reach our optimal functioning. However, even two individuals of the same age may have slightly different requirements, so may need different portion sizes.”

A serve size is a standard amount of food for example:

-       1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear = 1 serve of fruit

-       2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums = 1 serve of fruit

-       1 cup of green leafy or raw salad vegetables = 1 serve of vegetables

-       ½ cup of sweet corn = 1 serve of vegetables

-       1 medium tomato = 1 serve of vegetables

-       1 slice of bread = 1 serve of grain foods

-       ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta, noodles, barley, buckwheat, semolina = 1 serve of grain foods

The Eat for Health website has lots of helpful information on serving sizes for all ages.

You can also use the food calculator found in the Healthy Eating Active Living website to find out more about your serving sizes.

To find out more about healthy eating and healthy living visit our Kids Health Promotion website.