By Leonie Smith – Registered Nutritionist
Offering your child a variety of foods from the 5 food groups provides your child’s body with a whole range of nutrients. This promotes good health by lowering the risk of illness, supports growth & development and fosters good eating habits.
When you offer a variety of foods from each food group you keep meals and snacks interesting. This provides your children with lots of exposures to different textures, colours and tastes. Having a lot of positive exposures to different foods encourages children to try new foods and they get used to seeing a variety of foods served each day.
The 5 food groups – why kids bodies need them & how much should they be
Mostly wholegrain & high fibre options including: wheat, oats, corn, barley, rye, quinoa, couscous, pasta, noodles, polenta.
Grain foods provide energy, protein, fibre and a wide range of vitamins and minerals. 2-5yr olds need around 4 serves per day. Eating wholegrains helps keep tummies full and gives children a longer lasting energy.
Tip: If your child is used to eating a more processed white bread, you could start introducing wholegrain bread by making a sandwich with half white half wholegrain bread.
Including: fresh, canned, frozen & dried fruit. The more colours you can offer your child the better.
Each different coloured fruit contains different vitamins & minerals. Fruit also contains fibre which is great for regular bowel movements. 2-5yr olds need 1-1.5 serves per day. Try to choose some fruit with the skin on such as pears, apple slices and grapes (cut in half lengthways to avoid choking).
Canned & dried options are also great. Try to choose canned fruit in natural juice not syrup & keep dried fruit portions to a child’s handful size.
Including: fresh, canned & frozen vegetables. Like fruit, different coloured vegetables contain fibre, vitamins & minerals so my tip is eat the rainbow!
You could ask your child if they can make a rainbow on their plate with different coloured fruit & vegetables. 2-5yr olds need 2.5-4.5 serves per day. Canned & frozen veg have all the nutrients that fresh do (sometimes more!) & serving different types introduces your child to different
textures & tastes.
Milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives.
This group contains calcium which is really important for bone growth & development in children. 2-5yr olds should aim for 1.5-2 serves per day. These foods also contain protein, iodine and other important vitamins and minerals.
If you choose to not consume dairy from cows milk due to allergy, intolerance or ethical reasons be sure to choose calcium fortified products or alternatives. These include soy milk with added calcium, tofu with added calcium or canned salmon with bones. Smoothies are a great and fun way to have milk, yoghurt & fruit all together!
Lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts & seeds, legumes/beans.
This food group provides protein for muscle development & growth as well as many essential vitamins & minerals. 2-5yr olds need 1-1.5 serves per day. There are so many options of protein rich foods. Having a small amount with each meal across the day with help keep your kids full between meals & snacks.
Tip: a fun way to eat chickpeas is to roast them in the oven with a little olive oil until they are crunchy.
One question that comes up with parents often is HOW do I start serving my children foods from the 5 food groups? If they are used to eating a lot of ‘junk foods’ it can be tricky to change.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Role Modelling, if you want your kids to eat it you will have to as well. Kids learn to eat from their parents/carers so modelling the way you want them to eat is essential.
- Buy a new food at the supermarket & try a recipe using it.
- Ask kids to choose something from the fruit & veg section when you go shopping.
- Get your kids in the kitchen when preparing meals. Washing veggies, sorting ingredients, smelling different ingredients, chopping cucumbers (you can buy kid safe knives so they don’t cut themselves).
- Plant some cherry tomatoes or snow peas in the backyard together & watch them grow.
- Serve foods differently to stimulate their senses. Use different bowls/plates, cut food into different shapes, have a picnic together instead of at the usual dinner table.
- Change one thing at a time, don’t overwhelm your child by changing everything at once.
Enjoy exploring new foods with your kids! There is so much variety in the 5 food groups that you will be able to have fun & be curious about new food with your kids. They will love spending that time with you. And the bonus is you know their growth, development and eating habits are being supported at the same time.
For more tips on feeding your children, find Leonie here: