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Helping your child eat healthy

Published on 05/07/16

Lucy Jones, consultant dietitian, shares her top tips on childhood nutrition and good family eating.

Helping your child eat well and learn about healthy food is a crucial part of parenting, but sometimes it’s tricky to figure out what (and how much) they should eat. We’ve spoken to Lucy Jones, consultant dietitian, for her top tips on childhood nutrition and good family eating.

Parents get a lot of confusing information about nutrition, especially online. What are the most basic, essential things to know about helping a child eat well?

The new National Eat Well Guide should form the base of healthy eating for all children over the age of 5 (working towards it gradually from age 2 for younger children). It only came out a few weeks ago, so if you haven’t seen it yet, here it is:

It shows us that most of their food intake should be made up from vegetables, fruits, wholegrain carbohydrates and smaller portions of meat, fish and dairy. Most children still consume far too much sugar – around 15% of their energy is coming from sugar rather than the recommended 5%, so this is one area we really need to tackle. The best way to do this is to avoid sugary drinks and limit treats like sweets, desserts, chocolate, flavoured milkshakes, ice cream etc to once or twice a week.

Most of us still don’t eat enough of the good stuff either, like fruits, vegetables and fibre, so finding ways to incorporate more of these is really important. Average intake of fruit and vegetables for children aged 11 to 18 years is only 3 portions per day for boys and 2.7 portions per day for girls, and only 10% of boys and 7% of girls in this age group meet the “5-a-day” recommendation. Aim to include fruits, veg or salad with every meal and if your kids don’t like brown rice or pasta, try doing a 50/50 mix as a compromise. This will still really help to improve their fibre intake.

Our national diet survey also shows us that many children and young people don’t get enough essential minerals in their diet such as iron, calcium and zinc so try to make sure that you offer regular servings of nutritious foods like fish, white meat, lean red meat (unprocessed), beans and pulses, nuts and seeds and green leafy veg.

It’s important to remember that children have higher energy requirements for their size compared to adults, and often benefit from eating more little and often. 3 small meals and 1-2 snacks often works well and allows a good variety of foods to be offered at different times.


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