Key points

  • Children from 5 to 12 years grow very rapidly and can be very active. A diet providing adequate energy and nutrients is essential for children at this stage.
  • School children should eat a healthy, varied diet based on the Eatwell Guide and this should be combined with regular physical activity in order to maintain a healthy body weight.
  • It is recommended that children and young people should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each day.
  • It is important to teach children about dental hygiene to keep their teeth healthy and strong.
  • New food-based and nutrient-based standards have been set to make school lunches healthier. Parents can also refer to guidelines to prepare healthier packed lunches for their children.

Energy and nutrient requirements

At age 5 years, children are growing quickly and often become even more active when they start school, They need an adequate intake of energy and a diet that provides all the nutrients needed for growth and development. By this age all children should be consuming a varied and balanced diet that is in line with the Eatwell Guide.

Appetite and capacity for food among 5 year olds are sometimes small, so it is particularly important for such children to have a nutrient-dense diet that includes healthy snacks to ensure nutrient requirements are met. The eating habits of most 5 year olds will have been shaped largely by those of their family but, as they get older, they will begin to accumulate different experiences that may shape their food preferences and dietary patterns, either positively or negatively. Key among these will be the habits and preferences of their friends at school and those with whom they socialise. But increasingly many other influences will begin to take hold, including habits and preferences associated with role models. A basic understanding of the principles of healthy eating can help them to make sensible choices.

All children should be encouraged to choose a variety of foods from each of the four major food groups depicted in the Eatwell Guide, in order to achieve a healthy, varied diet. A few special considerations are discussed on the next page.