Healthy eating banner for young children

Energy and nutrient requirements remain high as your child continues to grow and develop.  Their non-stop active lifestyle is an energy zapper so ensure they eat 3 meals a day with regular healthy snacks.

Children of this age, begin to take some responsibility for what they eat – they know what they like and what they don’t.  Keep giving them new foods to try and give them lots of variety as this will provide the nutrients they need to grow and stay active. Try to involve your child in the food preparation and keep meal times a happy occasion, sitting down together. Their meals should be based on the four main food groups – starchy carbohydrates, fruit & vegetables, protein and dairy.

Starchy carbohydrates

This food group includes foods such as bread, breakfast cereals, potatoes, pasta, rice and oats. These foods provide children with energy as well as providing B vitamins and fibre.  Try to include one of these foods at each meal time.  If possible, include wholemeal varieties.  For example, wholemeal bread or even ‘best of both’ bread, brown rice or wholemeal pasta. 

Ensure your child eats breakfast.  Numerous studies have shown that children perform better at school when they have eaten breakfast.  Breakfast cereals are a quick and easy breakfast.  Try to pick ones which are not sweetened and do not add any extra sugar. 

Fruit & vegetables

Fruit and vegetables provide many valuable nutrients, important to a growing child.  Try to encourage your child to eat at least 5 portions a day.  A portion is the amount they can fit in the palm of their hand.  Eating a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables provides a variety of nutrients. Remember, fresh, frozen, canned and dried all count towards 5 A DAY.  Fruit juices and dried fruit are high in natural sugars which can cause tooth decay.  It is best to consume these with a main meal and not to snack on them too often, in order to reduce the risk of tooth decay.

Encourage your children to eat a ‘rainbow’ each day, that is eat different coloured fruits and vegetables. It is normal for children to turn their noses up at many vegetables and even fruit, but keep introducing different ones to them in small portions.  As they grow used to seeing them and to seeing you eat them, they are more likely to try them themselves.  Click here for some easy ways to get 5 A DAY into your child’s diet.

New research suggests that just combining a food with a sauce or dip that a child likes will make them more likely to eat the food, even without the extra sauce.  For example, in the study they served broccoli with cream cheese to entice children to eat it.  When they later served the broccoli without the cream cheese the children were more likely to eat it.  So how about cauliflower cheese for tea this evening, followed by fruit kebabs with a chocolate sauce for dipping.

There are also cunning ways you can sneak vegetables into your child’s diet.

Make a soup with as many vegetables you can cram in and blend.  A delicious soup that the whole family can enjoy and the kids none the wiser at what’s in it!  Top tip: to make it creamy add lots of sweetcorn and blend for a rich, creamy soup without the cream.

If you make your own pizzas, whether that's with fresh or frozen dough or using frozen bases, then you can easily hide a few extra vegetables in the tomato sauce.  Carrots and red peppers blend effortlessly into tomato puree for a rich tangy sauce.  Top tip: don’t forget to let your children decorate their pizzas with a variety of sliced vegetables.

A tomato sauce to accompany pasta can have many other vegetables in it, either chopped finely or blended.  Carrots, red peppers and onions cleverly disappear into any tomato based sauce.

Milk & Dairy

Milk and dairy products such as yogurts, cheese and fromage frais provide your child with a great source of calcium which is important for growing bones.  They also provide fat, protein and other nutrients such as zinc and vitamin A.  Children should consume around 3 small portions of dairy a day.

Meat, fish, eggs, beans & other non-dairy sources of protein

These foods provide protein which is important for growth as well as iron, vitamin D, zinc and B vitamins.  Oily fish is also a source of omega 3 fats which are useful for brain development in children.

Of course meat and fish are the most obvious proteins, but there are plenty of other good sources.  Eggs, beans, lentils, pulses, tofu and meat substitutes like soya mince are alternatives to meat.  Meat is a good choice for providing iron, but if your child does not eat meat or you wish them to have some meat free days, then eggs, lentils and green vegetables provide some iron also.  Top tip: If you feed these to your child with a glass of orange juice, the vitamin C will help them absorb more of the iron.

Foods high in fat and/or sugar

Foods like biscuits, cakes and pastries can be included in a balanced diet, but it is important to restrict the frequency these are consumed.  Try these alternative snack ideas.

Breadsticks, cucumber batons or carrot sticks with reduced fat cream cheese as a dip

Small stick of cheese

Oatcake with peanut butter

Sliced grapes

Rice cakes

Mini apple

Scotch pancake with blueberries

Small yogurt

Toasted pitta bread with houmous


Mini bagel with reduced fat cream cheese

Cracker with cashew nut butter

Get cooking with your child!

If you can involve your child in preparing a meal then they are more likely to eat it – fact!  It could be as simple as washing the vegetables or slicing banana.  Below are some ideas of how to involve your child in mealtime preparation (and hopefully, eating more of the meal you’ve made together!)

Cracking eggs for a hearty omelette

Cutting soft fruit (use a plastic knife) 

Buttering the bread

Adding some grated cheese to a bowl of soup

Decorating a pizza base with a happy face made out of tomatoes, pepper slices and sweetcorn

Mashing potatoes (transfer potatoes to a cool saucepan or bowl to mash to prevent any burns)

As your child gets older and more confident you can give them more jobs to help you with your food preparation, including peeling vegetables, grating cheese or cutting fruit and vegetables.

Here are a handful of recipes you could try with your child.

Steam-baked teriyaki-style salmon

Chicken and leek patchwork pie

Banana and chocolate energy bars

Chocolate macaroons

Blueberry drop scones

Strawberries and sponge drops

Frozen berry yogurt

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie with sweet potato mash

Cheesy chicken dippers

Home-made chicken nuggets in a crunchy flax and corn coating

Quinoa beef burgers

Spinach and salad onion beef burgers

Remember to sit down and eat with your child.  It can be so easy to sit them in front of the TV, but do encourage them to sit with you at a table to eat meals.  You can teach them about the food they are eating and the great news is that studies have shown that children who sit down and eat with their family, have a 12% lower risk of being obese.