Healthy Eating for Kids

Healthy Eating for Kids comes to you with special thanks to Karen Kingham of ‘Eat Well, Live Well with Growing Children: Healthy kids’ recipes and tips’ for providing me with a book with information specifically about kids’ healthy eating guidelines.

What to eat

All of us – including kids - need a variety of foods every day. It’s not rocket science I know!! There are some organisations who provide various recommendations as which food groups should be eaten and how much, but I really don’t think it’s worthwhile to get too bogged down with this.

Breads and Cereals

Breads and cereals (grains) provide kids the carbohydrates they need for energy. We all know kids seem to have boundless amounts of this some times! Grains provide B vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Ensuring the majority of your intake is in the form of wholegrains will optimise the health benefits. These include brown rice, rolled oats, wholegrain breaky cereals, crispbreads and crackers, wholegrain breads & popcorn (no, not smothered with butter or icing sugar though!).

We’ve all heard of low glycaemic index (GI) foods, and these wholegrains are a perfect example. The foods are slower to digest and absorb, ensuring kids feel fuller - and are better fuelled - for longer. A low GI diet is linked with a healthier body weight and a lower risk for chronic adult diseases such as diabetes and heart disease

Fruit and Vegetables

All the research shows that those who eat large amounts of fruit and vegetables live longer and healthier lives than those who eat few. And no, a vitamin/mineral supplement just doesn’t cut it as an alternative!

Fruits and veges are packed with vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, fibre & carbohydrates. Staples to healthy kids' eating

The ‘superstar’ groups of this world are:

Green leafy vegetables and brightly coloured vegetables and fruit: spinach, carrots, oranges, mango, sweet potato, red berries, pumpkin, watermelon, tomatoes & kiwi fruit

Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts (hmmmmm!) & turnips

The onion family: garlic, onions, leeks & chives.

These superstar groups are packed with health protective phytochemicals – plant chemicals that have antioxidant, anticancer or antibacterial qualities


Dairy foods provide protein, fat and carbohydrates, and valuable minerals such as Calcium. Low fat dairy options are recommended as a healthy eating option for all children from the age of two, as this is said to encourage them into healthy eating habits as they grow up.

Meat and alternatives

Lean red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, legumes and nuts are included in this group which supplies iron, zinc and the all important protein for growth. Most children from affluent Western countries get plenty of protein, but at times the sources of this protein may not be of the highest quality due to unhealthy eating choices. Include vitamin C (from citrus, tomatoes, broccoli) with your meal to increase the absorption of iron. This is especially important for vegetarians as the iron in legumes, nuts and seeds is not as well absorbed as that from other protein rich foods.

Iron and zinc are important for many processes including brain development, immune function, growth and repair and sexual development. Insufficient iron may leave children tired and irritable, more susceptible to colds and sickness and makes it hard for them to concentrate.


Not all fats are unhealthy (see Fats and Oils) and small amounts are an important source of energy for children. They are also vital for the absorption for fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K. The aim for all of us is to cut back on the unhealthy saturated and trans fats, and increase our intake of the healthy monounsaturated and omega 3 and 6 polyunsaturated fat

Five ways to a healthier lunchbox

Switch from white to wholemeal, wholegrain or rye bread

Swap juice and flavoured drinks for water. Or mix 100% fruit juice ½ and ½ with water. Freeze drinks in the summer to keep lunches cool

Leave the potato chips out. Instead pack home made popcorn, home made muesli bars etc

Include left-overs from last nights tea. Meatballs, pasta, omelette etc

Opt for fresh fruit salad or dried fruit medley instead of over-sweet fruit bars or roll-ups.

Check out School Lunches and Snacks for ideas on what to include in the lunchbox!

7 tips for a healthy family

Eat together as a family – Children who eat regularly with their families tend to have healthier diets than those who don’t. They also do better at school

Lead by example – Research shows that parents' own eating behaviours and their parenting practices influence the development of children's eating behaviours 1

Eat breakfast - We all need to eat breakfast – to ‘break the fast’ so to speak! Children and adults who skip breakfast are more likely to have weight problems and are unlikely to make up for nutritional shortfalls during the day. Breakfast eaters usually have healthier diets and are more likely to meet their nutritional needs of iron, calcium, B vitamins and fibre than those who don’t

Healthy drinking - Water is THE best drink for children. All children should be encouraged to drink plenty of water every day. Low fat milk is also an occasional healthy drink option as it is high in protein, vitamins and nutrients. It can be drunken plain, turned into a fruit smoothie or lightly flavoured. Although it may surprise some, fruit juice has a similar amount of sugar to soft drinks, which is why I recommend they be mixed 50:50 with water

Eating out and takeaways - Even though the pressure may be on to go to the local fast food chain, a restaurant may be the best chance at getting a healthy meal for your family. Try small or home style burgers with lots of salad; Thai stirfrys, rice and steamed veges; Italian risotto or pasta with tomato-based sauces, minestrone, gelato & Indian vege curries, dhal, chapattis etc etc. I’m sure you get the idea!

Involve everyone – Children are more likely to eat a healthy meal if they have had input into the selection and preparation of the meal

Grow vegetables with your kids - Plant a vegetable patch or if space is at a premium, grow some vegges in pots on the deck. Again, the more involved they are, the more likely they'll eat all the yummy healthy food they've helped grow.

And the other fantastic thing is that you'll be able to grow your garden organically - with no harmful chemicals.

What could be better than that!

1 Birch L & Davison K, 2001, ‘Family environmental factors influencing the developing behavioural controls of food intake and childhood overweight’, Paediatric Clinics of North America, vol. 48, no. 4, pgs 893-907

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