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What is healthy food for kids?
Healthy food for preschoolers includes a wide variety of fresh foods from the five healthy food groups:
- grain foods
- reduced-fat dairy
Each food group has different nutrients, which your child's body needs to grow and work properly. That's why we need to eat a range of foods from across all five food groups.
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegies give your child energy, vitamins, anti-oxidants, fibre and water. They help protect your child against diseases later in life, including diseases like heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
Encourage your child to choose fruit and vegetables at every meal and for snacks. This includes fruit and vegies of different colours, textures and tastes, both fresh and cooked.
Wash fruit to remove dirt or chemicals, and leave the skin on, because the skin contains nutrients too.
If your child seems to be 'fussy' about eating fruit and vegies, it doesn't mean she'll never like them. Did you know that if your child sees you eating a wide range of vegetables and fruit, she's more likely to try them too?
Grain foods include bread, pasta, noodles, breakfast cereals, couscous, rice, corn, quinoa, polenta, oats and barley. These foods give your child the energy he needs to grow, develop and learn.
Grain foods with a low glycaemic index, like wholegrain pasta and breads, will give your child longer-lasting energy and keep her feeling fuller for longer.
Milk and other dairy foods
Key dairy foods are milk, cheese and yoghurt. These foods are high in protein and calcium. Try to offer your child different kinds of dairy each day - for example, drinks of milk, cheese slices or bowls of yoghurt.
Once your child is two years old, he can start having reduced-fat dairy products.
Protein-rich foods include lean meat, fish, chicken, eggs, beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu and nuts. These foods are important for your child's growth and muscle development.
These foods also contain other useful vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. Iron and omega-3 fatty acids from red meat and oily fish are particularly important for your child's brain development and learning.
Try to include a few different food groups at every meal and snack. Have a look at our illustrated dietary guidelines for children 2-3 years and our illustrated dietary guidelines for children 4-8 years for more information about daily food portions and recommendations. You can also speak to a dietitian if you have concerns about your child's eating.
Healthy drinks: water
Water is the healthiest drink for children. It's also the cheapest. Most tap water is fortified with fluoride for strong teeth too.
Foods and drinks to avoid
Your child should avoid 'sometimes' foods. These foods include fast food and junk food like hot chips, potato chips, dim sims, pies, burgers and takeaway pizza. They also include cakes, chocolate, lollies, biscuits, doughnuts and pastries.
These foods are high in salt, saturated fat and sugar, and low in fibre and nutrients. Eating too much of these foods can increase the risk of childhood obesity and conditions like type-2 diabetes.
Your child should also avoid sweet drinks like fruit juice, cordials, sports drinks, flavoured waters, soft drinks and flavoured milks. Sweet drinks are high in sugar and low in nutrients. They can cause weight gain, obesity and tooth decay. These drinks fill your child up and can make her less hungry for healthy meals. And if children start on these drinks when they're young, it can kick off an unhealthy lifelong habit.
Foods and drinks with caffeine aren't recommended for children, because caffeine stops the body from absorbing calcium well. Caffeine is also a stimulant, which means it gives children artificial energy. These foods and drinks include coffee, tea, energy drinks and chocolate.
Healthy alternatives for snacks and desserts
It's fine to offer your child snacks, but try to make sure they're healthy - for example, thinly sliced carrot with dips like hommus, guacamole or tzatziki.
The same goes for dessert at the end of a meal. Sliced fruit or yoghurt is the healthiest option. If you want to serve something special, try homemade banana bread. Save the seriously sweet stuff, like cakes and chocolate, for special occasions like birthdays.
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating says that both children and adults should avoid or limit sometimes foods. It's best to save these foods for special occasions.