Healthy living

Best food choices for school-aged children

The early school years are a time of rapid learning and slow and steady physical growth.

Children need a variety of foods to meet their nutrient needs. As body size increases so does the amount of food needed.

When children are very active they have higher energy (kilojoule) needs. Appetites usually increase to meet these needs.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (external site) will help you select the type of foods to make the best choices for your child.

Amounts are suggested for children aged 4 to 8 and 9 to 11, but remember the amounts your child eats will vary depending on their appetite, activity levels, individual needs, and body size as they are growing.

Healthy foods children will love

Tempt your kids with these healthy foods:

  • Frozen fruit, such as grapes, banana, pear or rockmelon, make healthy iced snacks, perfect in hot weather.
  • Blend fruit such as strawberries, banana or mango with milk and a spoon of low-fat yoghurt to make a delicious fruit smoothie.
  • Toast bread, muffins or fruit bread topped with ricotta cheese and slices of banana, dust lightly with cinnamon.
  • Cut vegies into bite-sized pieces and serve in a small container so that children can help themselves.
  • Children prefer vegies raw or lightly cooked as in a stir-fry.
  • Add chopped tomato and green capsicum to a can of baked beans. Use as a ‘topper’ on toast or muffins, or a ‘filler’ for baked potatoes or jaffles. Sprinkle with a little grated low-fat cheese.
  • Scrambled vegetables make a great breakfast or tasty snack. Simply add lightly cooked vegetables – leftovers are fine – to lightly beaten eggs. Melt a little polyunsaturated margarine in a pan, add mixture and cook gently over low heat until eggs are firm. Season with pepper and serve on toast.

Tips for school lunches

  • Keep school lunches cool, fresh and safe to eat by using a cool bag or placing a bottle of frozen water in the lunch box.
  • Instead of the same old sandwiches you can expand the variety to include:
    • salads
    • wraps using pita bread or tortillas
    • dips with rolls and cut up vegies.

What drinks are best for children?

Milk is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals

Milk is an important drink for children as it provides calcium needed for their growing bones and teeth. One and a half to 2 serves of diary foods each day are recommended for children 4 to 8. Two and a half to 3 serves of dairy foods each day are recommended for children 9 to 11. If your child does not drink milk, make sure they have yoghurt or cheese. Calcium fortified soy milk is also suitable.

Encourage your child to drink plain water when thirsty

Sweet drinks such as cordials, soft drinks and fruit juice are not recommended and should be limited as:

  • they are all high in sugar and children who have a sugary diet run the risk of tooth decay
  • the extra kilojoules may contribute to unhealthy weight
  • filling up on sweet drinks takes away the appetite for more nutritious foods.

Artificially sweetened drinks are not suitable for children

Fruit juice contains many important vitamins but it lacks the fibre needed to prevent constipation. Limit intake to 125 mL per day. A piece of fresh fruit every day is better for your child than fruit juice.

Got off to a bad start?

Is your child already used to sweet drinks? Start now and break the habit.

  • Be prepared for upsets.
  • Be patient – it may take time.
  • Try watering down the drinks.
  • Ration sweet drinks to once a day only.
  • Don’t buy these drinks.
  • Don’t drink them yourself.

Where to get help

Local community, school or child health nurse

  • See inside your baby's purple All About Me book.
  • Look in the phone directory under child health centres.
  • Visit your nearest child health centre.

Local family doctor

Dietitians Association of Australia

Meerilinga

Raising Children Network

Remember

Your child needs a variety of foods to meet his or her growth and development needs.


Acknowledgements

Child and Adolescent Health Service


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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