A healthy, varied diet for children

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A healthy, varied diet for children

The table below provides information on particular nutrients that are important to include in your child’s diet - try to encourage your child to eat a variety of these foods in the proportions shown in the Eatwell Guide.

Carbohydrates Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals, oats, couscous and other grains. For energy. Starchy carbohydrates are the best source of energy for your growing child.

Offer a variety of different starchy foods – include wholegrain versions and potatoes with their skins on as they contain more fibre.

Protein Lean meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, pulses, beans and soya products. For growth, maintenance and repair of the body. Your child should eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout or sardines. Oily fish contains long chain omega 3 fatty acids which are important for health (see long chain omega 3 fatty acids below).
Fat

Saturated fat: animal products such as fatty meats, butter, lard, ghee, and dairy products and foods made with these such as cakes, biscuits and pastries.

Unsaturated fats: olive, rapeseed, sunflower and corn oils, oily fish, nuts and seeds.

Some fat is needed in the diet but it needs to be the right type of fat and in the right amount.

Too much saturated fat can increase the risk of your child developing serious health conditions in later life such as heart disease. Replace saturated fats in your child’s diet with unsaturated fats wherever possible.

Calcium

Milk, yogurt, cheese, soya beans, tofu, green leafy vegetables, soya drinks with added calcium, bread and any food made with fortified flour, and fish that contains edible bones.

For healthy bones and teeth.

If your child  is eating well and over 5 years old then encourage them to eat low-fat dairy products as they contain less saturated fat and can provide the same amount (if not more) calcium.

Iron Lean meat, liver, wholegrain cereals, pulses, beans, nuts, sesame seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit and fortified breakfast cereals. For healthy blood and for transporting oxygen around the body.

Iron is especially important for teenage girls as their requirements are higher due to menstrual losses.

Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron from plant sources so having a drink or food containing vitamin C with an iron-rich meal is a good idea, for example a glass of fruit juice with a bowl of iron fortified cereal.

Vitamin A Milk, yogurt, fortified fat spreads, cheese, eggs, and  orange, red and green (leafy) vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers and spinach. For healthy skin and eyes (helps vision in dim light) – it also helps to keep the immune system healthy. Too much vitamin A may be harmful. If you think your child needs a supplement make sure they are age specific and always consult a health professional before you do so.
Vitamin C Citrus fruits, berries, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts and potatoes. For healthy body tissues, for example, skin, gums, bones and teeth, as well as assisting the healing process.

Have a fruit bowl that is accessible to encourage your child to eat fruit.

Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron from plant sources (see iron).

Vitamin D Eggs, oily fish, fortified breakfast cereals, fortified fat spreads and soya drinks with added vitamin D. You can find out how much vitamin D is in foods in our Vital Vitamin D resource. For growth, development and maintenance of bones and teeth – it also helps to keep muscles and the immune system healthy.

The main source of vitamin D is from the action of sunlight on the skin. In the UK the sun is only strong enough to make vitamin D during the summer months (April to October). But remember to be careful and cover up or protect your child's skin with sunscreen if they are out in the sun for long periods to reduce the risk of burning.

Long chain omega 3 fatty acids Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines.

Long chain omega 3’s are essential for normal brain development.

 

Our bodies cannot make this type of fat so it is important we get it from the diet.

Girls should have no more than two portions of oily fish a week (toxins present at low levels in oily fish can build up in the body over time and may be passed onto an unborn baby in a future pregnancy). Boys can have up to four portions of oily fish a week.

Children under the age of 16 years should avoid eating fish such as shark, swordfish or marlin. This is because they may contain mercury which can affect a child's nervous system.

Information reviewed November 2015

Useful resources

Use the Healthy Hydration resource below for useful hints and tips to keep children between 5 and 11 properly hydrated!

Healthy hydration for children aged 5-11

A resource showing healthy hydration options for children aged 5-11.

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Please note that advice provided on our website about nutrition and health is general in nature. We do not provide any personal advice on prevention, treatment and management for patients or their family members.

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