The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults and children enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods every day from the five food groups.
Children develop their attitudes to food at an early age, and it’s important for parents to model healthy eating habits and an appreciation for fresh, nutritious foods.
How to develop healthy eating habits
Encourage your children to participate in food shopping, meal planning and cooking whenever possible. There’s a far greater chance kids will eat healthy meals that they feel they have been involved in selecting or preparing.
Rather than trying to squeeze all five food groups into every meal, it can be useful to consider the whole day’s eating patterns. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating includes an easy to refer to printable graphic that shows a broad selection of options within each food group and their ideal proportion within a daily diet.
Vegetables & legumes
Don’t just eat the rainbow, chase it too. As different coloured vegetables have distinct nutrients and health benefits, it’s important to eat a broad range of vegetables.
A weekly shop at the local fruit and veg shop, a Saturday morning trip to the farmers’ markets, a berry-picking expedition or a weekend drive with a detour to a farm gate produce stall are all family-oriented ways to encourage an appreciation of fresh, seasonal vegetables.
If you’ve still got a staunch vegetable resister on your hands you may need to revert to the time-honoured tradition of hiding vegetables and legumes. Family-friendly dinners like lasagne and pasta bakes are easy go-to options for veggie loading. Frittata or burger patties are also child-friendly options that will easily accommodate hidden veggies.
An example serve of vegetables or legumes is half a cup of cooked broccoli or half a cup of cooked, dried or canned beans, peas or lentils. According to the Guidelines, a two year old needs two and a half serves from this group daily, whereas a five year old requires four and a half and a 10 year old needs five serves a day.
Because of its higher natural sugar content, fruit should be eaten in smaller quantities than vegetables. Fruit is rich in vitamins and antioxidants, and the rainbow principle also applies here.
A serve of fruit is equivalent to a medium banana or two small apricots. The Guidelines recommend one serve of fruit per day for two year olds, one and a half for five year olds, and two serves of fruit a day for 10 year olds.
Grain or cereal foods should be multigrain, or high fibre varieties where possible. The Guidelines indicate that grains should be eaten in similar quantities to vegetables. Most children are happy to eat grain foods and these foods tend to form meal-time staples. Toast or low-sugar cereals are low preparation breakfast basics. Multigrain sandwiches, rolls, wraps or crackers are pack-ahead lunch box- friendly options. Pasta, quinoa, polenta, noodles or couscous make endlessly adaptable dinner basics.
A serve of grain is equivalent to a slice of bread or half a cup of cooked rice or noodles. The Guidelines state that two and five year olds needs four serves of grains a day, and that 10 year olds require approximately five serves of grains daily.
Low or reduced fat milk, yoghurt and cheese are recommended for children aged two years and over. Low-sugar yoghurt is a healthy and portable snack choice. Kids might enjoy adding their own fruit to some plain Greek yoghurt. Yoghurt is a particularly good dairy choice as it contains healthy bacteria that are beneficial to gut health.
A serve of dairy is equivalent to three quarters of a cup of yoghurt or two slices of cheese. The Guidelines state that a two year old needs one and a half serves of dairy, a five year old needs approximately two serves, and that a 10 year old requires around three serves of dairy a day.
Meat & nuts
This group is rich in protein, and includes the useful and effortless egg for filling breakfasts and quick easy dinners. A boiled egg or a small handful of unsalted nuts makes an easy and portable or lunchbox snack option.
A serve of meat or nuts is 65 grams of cooked meat such as chicken, two large eggs, or half a cup of cooked or canned legumes or beans such as lentils or chick peas. The Guidelines state that two year olds require one serve from this group per day, five year olds requires one and a half, and 10 year olds require two and a half serves daily.
More information about the types and quantities of foods to eat for health and wellbeing is available at Eat for Health, including detailed guidelines on healthy eating for children.