Children should include foods from each of the four food groups each day.
Starchy food includes foods such as; pasta, bread, rice, potatoes, cereals, oats and noodles.
These foods contain lots of carbohydrates which the main energy source for the body.
Children need plenty of carbohydrates each day as they need energy for growth and development.
Carbohydrates also contain B vitamins and fibre. In addition, breakfast cereals particularly those aimed at children, are fortified with vitamins and minerals including iron and folic acid
Many children accept carbohydrate foods more readily than foods from other food groups. Optimising the source or quality of the carbohydrate and what is offered alongside it can help to ensure your child gets all the nutrients they need without making mealtimes a battleground.
A balanced diet for a child would include 4-5 servings of starchy foods per day.
These portions should be spread throughout the day by including with each mean and some snacks. Portions will vary according to the age and stage of the child. Mini Mealtimes can provide tailored advice on portion sizes within the app.
One portion of starchy foods:
½ - 1 slice of bread
¼ - ½ pitta bread
3-6 tablespoons breakfast cereal or porridge
2 – 5 tablespoons of cooked pasta, rice, millet or couscous
¼ - ½ bagel
1-2 oatcakes or rice cakes
½ - 1 chapati
1-3 tablespoons mashed potato
½ - 1 scotch pancake
¼ - ½ medium jacket potato
It is ideal to offer children wholegrain varieties of carbohydrates where you can as these contain more nutrients than the more refined carbohydrates. That said, too much fibre can fill children up too quickly and stop them from meeting their energy needs. Try mixing wholegrain rice with white rice or brown pasta with white pasta to balance out their needs.
Tip: Children can easily fill up on carbohydrate foods so offer them alongside other foods and provide them later if they’re still hungry.
Protein is essential for growth and repair in addition to building and maintaining all types of body tissue including muscles.
Food rich in protein include; meat, fish, eggs, dairy foods, nuts (ground nuts or nut butter), beans, lentils, tofu and soya.
In addition to protein, many of these foods are also rich in iron as well as other micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Your child should eat 2-3 servings of these every day and they should be offered at every meal.
One portion of protein:
½ - 1 slice chicken breast or turkey or beef or pork
½ - 1 chicken drumstick
½ - 1 fishcake
1-3 small meatballs
2-4 tablespoons lentils or baked beans or chickpeas, dhal or kidney beans
2-4 tablespoons tofu
1-2 tablespoons ground nuts
2-4 tablespoons cooked minced meat
1-2 fish fingers
1-2 tablespoons hummus
½ - 2 tablespoons prawns
2-3 tablespoons scrambled egg
½ - 1 fried or boiled egg
½ - 1 small fillet of white/oily fish
Nut butter spread on a slice of bread
It is best to try and avoid relying on processed meat as a dietary staple as it can contain too much salt and other compounds which are less positive for your child’s health. Mini Mealtimes offers simple recipes for many children’s favourites.
Higher fibre protein foods such as lentils and pulses can make children feel full very quickly. It is best to balance these foods with lower fibre protein sources like soya, dairy or meat.
This group includes milk, yoghurt, and cheese – both hard cheese and soft cheese including soft cheese triangles. These foods are rich in protein, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and iodine.
Calcium is essential for bone growth and developing and maintaining healthy teeth. The mix of minerals and nutrients in dairy is ideal for bone growth and we know that children who have dairy in their diet grow taller and have stronger bones than those who do not have dairy.
The calcium in dairy is absorbed well by the body. In order to meet the requirements, children should aim to eat three portions daily.
One portion of milk and dairy products:
100ml – 120ml cow’s milk or calcium-fortified dairy-free replacement milk*
1 pot of yoghurt (125g)
1 - 2 small pots fromage frais.
1 cheese triangle
1 cheese ball eg. Babybel
2 – 4 tablespoons grated cheese
2 – 5 tablespoons rice pudding
5 – 7 tablespoons custard
Dairy is a socially contentious issue in some circles but it is important to remember that the best research we have strongly supports the consumption of dairy foods, particularly for children.
There are many nutrients in dairy that are more difficult to find from other food sources and it is usually accepted well, for this reason, milk can provide a useful nutritional ‘safety net’ filling the nutrient gaps for children when they haven’t eaten so well on a particular day.
That said, sometimes, having too much milk before a meal can make children less likely to accept their food. Mini Mealtimes can help you to assess the balance in your child’s intake and work towards optimising their intake.
*Please note: plant-based milk alternatives can be much lower in calories and protein than cow’s milk. In addition, not all of these plant-based drinks are fortified with calcium and other micronutrients. Speak with your HCP before starting your child on one of these drinks as a replacement for milk and other dairy products.
Fruit and Vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals (natural plant compounds) that help to keep your child healthy. Fruit and vegetables do not have to always be in fresh form in order to be counted as frozen, tinned and dried also included.
It is important that you encourage your child to eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. This will mean that they will get the whole range of all the important nutrients these foods provide. We use the term “eat a rainbow” meaning eating all different coloured fruit and vegetables, with a view of eating at least five portions a day:
One portion of fruit and vegetables:
¼ - ½ medium apple, orange, pear, peach or similar sized fruit
¼ - 1 medium banana
150ml of juice diluted with water *
½ - 1 smaller fruit such as plums, satsumas, kiwi fruit, apricot
3 – 8 grapes, cherries or berries
½ - 2 tablespoons of dried fruits such as raisins, prunes or apricots
½ - 2 tablespoons cooked broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, peas, spinach, beans, roasted vegetables
½ - 2 tablespoons sweet potato
Often, children go through periods of being fussy with fruit and vegetables and they may only accept a small number of these foods. Mini mealtimes provides recipes and snack ideas to boost fruit and vegetable intake in ways that children find more acceptable.
Dried fruit and fruit juice are less good for children’s teeth and should ideally be consumed with a meal or followed with milk to neutralise the acid. Dried fruit can easily get stuck in children’s teeth so good brushing is essential.
*limit to once-daily given the high sugar content of juice.
Children need fat in their diet as it provides essential fatty acids which the body cannot produce. It also aids the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin, A, D, K and E. Foods which are good sources of fat include full-fat dairy products, oily fish, avocado, nuts, spreads and some vegetable oils such as rapeseed and olive oil. Cakes, biscuits and fried foods are high in fat but it is important to limit these as they are usually low in other nutrients.
Some fats are much healthier for children than others. Fats which are unsaturated like the fats found in fish, avocado, nuts and olive oil are actively good for us, whereas the fats found in meat and foods like cakes and biscuits (especially packaged cakes and biscuits) are not. The balance of fats in our diet is important so making sure children have plenty of healthy fats and limit the less healthy fats is helpful. Mini Mealtimes can help you to find ways to encourage your child to get the balance right and reassure you that you’re on the right track.