Children who eat the right amount of nutritious foods and are sufficiently active lay the foundations for a healthy life and enjoy lower risks of long-term health problems. Childhood is a critical period for growth and development. It is essential that foods supply the energy (kilojoules), protein, vitamins and minerals that are needed. Health and nutrition problems often start in childhood. It is estimated that almost one in four Australian children are overweight or obese1 and many already show risk factors for disease such as high blood cholesterol levels.
Breast is best for baby and mother
Breast milk is best for babies and provides ideal nutrition. Good maternal nutrition is important for the preparation and maintenance of breastfeeding.*
Which foods should children eat?
It is recommended that solids can be introduced to infants from around 6 months of age. Different foods and textures are introduced slowly until the age of one, when the child should be able to eat a variety of family foods. If there are any concerns about allergy or any eating problems, this should be discussed this with your doctor, Infant Health nurse or Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD).
A variety of foods will provide the range of nutrients required and encourage long term, good eating habits. Children need guidance about food, because balanced choices are not instinctive.
How much should they eat?
The appetites of younger children often vary, but this is generally no cause for concern. Children need enough to satisfy hunger and ensure optimal growth and often eat accordingly. Appetite can increase dramatically during growth spurts and this is when healthy snacks are very important. If you worried they are not eating enough, don’t offer ‘treats’, instead visit your doctor or dietitian who will be able to assess if your child’s growth rate is satisfactory.
Enjoy A WideVariety of Nutritious Foods:
- Encourage children to taste new foods, even if they don’t eat it all. Remember they learn by example, and you might find them mirroring your eating habits and attitudes
- A range of different foods are important to balance nutrient intake
- Include foods rich in iron and calcium
- Between meal snacks are important for active children. Fruit smoothies and yoghurt are a great way to add extra calcium to a child’s diet
- Always offer plenty of water, limit juice and any sweetened drinks
Physical Activity Is ImportantToo!
- Daily physical activity is important for fitness, strong bones, self-esteem, fun and maintaining a healthy body weight
- For strong bones encourage daily weight-bearing activities like ball games and running. Take them with you when you walk the dog!
- Active parents are very strong role models for encouraging activity in children
- Try to limit television and computer games to approximately 30 minutes per day
Include plenty of breads and cereals, vegetables and fruits
- These foods are major contributors of energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals important for growing bodies. Nutritious snack foods include fresh fruit, English muffins, muesli bars, homemade popcorn, vegetable
- Sticks and dips, or a bowl of cereal
Check labels for fat and salt (sodium) content
- Compare different brands by looking at the per 100g column in the Nutrition Information Panel – go for the lowest salt and saturated fat
- Look for foods containing healthy fats – mono- unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats rather than foods high in saturated fats
- Don’t add extra salt to foods
This fact sheet contains general information. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific advice for your personal situation.
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* Breast milk is best for babies and provides ideal nutrition. Good maternal nutrition is important for the preparation and maintenance of breastfeeding. Introducing partial bottle feeding could negatively affect breastfeeding and reversing a decision not to breastfeed is difficult. Professional advice should be followed on infant feeding. Infant formula should be prepared and used exactly as directed or it could pose a health hazard. The preparation requirements and weekly cost of providing infant formula until 12 months of age should be considered before making a decision to formula feed.
Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing Get Up & Grow Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Early Childhood (2009) accessed April 2011. www.health.gov.au/../gug-cooking-for-children-full.pdf (pdf, 1.4 Mb)
Overweight and Obesity in Australia: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing accessed April 2011 www.health.gov.au/internet/healthyactive/../overweight-obesity
Dietitians Association of Australia Easy Family Eating for Healthy Kids accessed March 2011 www.daa.asn.au/files/../Healthy_Eating_Booklet_Nov07.pdf (pdf, 265 Kb)
NHMRC Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia 2003 accessed March 2011 www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/file/publications/synopses/n34.pdf (pdf, 1.5 Mb)
O’Connor HT & Eden B D (Eds) Nutrition and Physical Activity for Australian Children, Medical Journal of Australia, 7 August 2000, Volume 173, Supplement