4 to 6 year olds

Energy and nutrient requirements remain high as your child continues to grow and develop. If you have established good eating habits at home then these can be more easily maintained. By providing a healthy well- balanced, varied diet, including lots of fruit and vegetables you will ensure good nutrition.

What your 4-6 year old needs

Daily energy and nutrient requirements for 4 to 6 year olds:

  Energy (EAR)* Protein (RNI)** Calcium (RNI)** Iron (RNI)** Total Fat Sat Fat Salt
Boys 1715 calories 19.7g 450mg 6.1mg 66.7g 21.0g 3.0g
Girls 1545 calories 14.5g 450mg 6.1mg 60.1g 18.9g 3.0g

*EAR - Estimated Average Requirement
**RNI - Reference Nutrient Intake


Energy is provided in a young child's diet from a variety of foods. Starchy carbohydrate foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes, yams, rice, chapattis and sweet potatoes should form the basis of each meal. As a guide, about a third of the diet should be made up of starchy foods as they provide long lasting energy as well as fibre which is important for avoiding constipation. Offer starchy carbohydrates such as toast, crumpets, scotch pancakes, or a small sandwich with fruit or raw vegetables for after school snacks.


Children require fat to maintain healthy skin and nerve function. Too much fat is not good but neither is too little – it is the type of fat that's really important. Limit foods containing saturated fats such as butter, cream, biscuits, pastries, fatty meats and confectionery to occasional treats. Fat should be provided by foods such as milk, cheese, yogurts, lean meat and oil-rich fish. Choose margarine and reduced fat spreads labelled high in mono-unsaturates or polyunsaturates and use vegetable oils such as rapeseed or olive oil for cooking. Essential fatty acids are provided from vegetable oils, seeds, grains and oily fish. Try to include at least one portion of oily fish, eg mackerel, salmon, sardines or pilchards each week, plus white fish too.

Avoiding unhealthy fats

  • Bake or grill foods rather than fry
  • Use lower fat alternatives
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and trim away excess fat
  • Keep cakes, crisps, biscuits and confectionery as treats
  • Remove the skin from chicken and turkey portions

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Vitamin D

Vitamin D works with calcium to make bones stronger. Most of the vitamin D we need is made in the body by the action of sunlight on our skin, but dietary sources include eggs, oily fish and fortified margarines.

Make the most of dairy products

  • Use milk on cereals, in puddings and sauces
  • Make milkshakes and smoothies with milk and fruit
  • Have milk-based drinks such as hot chocolate at bedtime
  • Add cheese to jacket potatoes, mashed potato and pasta
  • Cheese spreads and portions can be used on toast, crumpets, muffins or lunch boxes
  • Serve yogurt and fromage frais as a pudding or snack


Iron is vitally important for healthy blood. Iron deficiency anaemia is associated with frequent infections, tiredness, poor growth, poor weight gain and low moods. Red meat and oily fish are the best sources of iron for a young child. Beans and lentils, whole grain cereals, leafy green vegetables, dried fruit, sunflower seeds and foods fortified with iron are also good sources. Iron from plant foods is not absorbed as easily by the body as iron from meat but is easier to absorb if it is eaten with foods containing vitamin C, eg fruit and vegetables. A glass of diluted fruit juice with a meal also helps iron absorption. Children following vegetarian and vegan diets should have a plentiful supply of foods containing iron, eg whole grain cereals, pulses, leafy green vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals and dried fruit.

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Fruit and vegetables

Children should have at least five portions of fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruit and vegetables each day. Offering a wide range of different types and ‘eating a rainbow' of different colours will provide the nutrients a young child needs. Potatoes do not count towards five-a-day and fruit juice counts only as one portion, regardless of how much is drunk.

Include more fruit and veg in your child’s diet

  • Offer fruit and veg as snacks between meals
  • Put raw vegetable sticks in your child’s packed lunch
  • Use strawberries, bananas, raspberries and blackcurrants to make milkshakes and smoothies
  • Add vegetables to soup, casseroles, shepherds pie, use as toppings for pizza and in pasta dishes
  • Add sweetcorn, peppers, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, avocado and celery to sandwich fillings
  • Raisins, apricots and prunes are a good addition to a packed lunch
  • Add fruit to yogurt and breakfast cereals


A child aged between four and six years should have no more than 3g of salt a day. Sodium occurs naturally in many foods and there is no need to add salt to your child's food either in cooking or at the table. Salt can be present in large amounts in processed foods so check food labels carefully for the salt content and avoid salty foods such as crisps as an everyday snack.

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Sugar occurs naturally in fruit and vegetables and in milk. Snack foods such as biscuits, cakes, chocolate and sweets are high in added sugars and should only be eaten as a treat. Fruit juices provide important vitamin C but serve them diluted as they are high in natural sugars and try to keep this to mealtimes. Encourage your child to drink water and milk in between meals and avoid sweet fizzy drinks that are high in added sugars. Also encourage good dental hygiene especially after eating sweetened foods and before going to bed.

Make packed lunches more interesting

Encourage your children to have as much variety as possible:

Sandwich fillings:

  • Cream cheese with sliced fruit
  • Tuna and sweetcorn mixed with reduced fat mayonnaise
  • Chopped hard boiled egg with salad cream
  • Peanut butter with jam
  • Houmous with grapes

Different breads:

  • Mini finger rolls
  • Pitta bread
  • Bagels
  • Wraps
  • Hot cross buns

For more information

For further advice visit the Government's Eat Well website
www.eatwell.gov.uk (This link opens a new window).

For details of The Dairy Council’s school milk campaign go to www.milk.co.uk (This link opens a new window).

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