How much does my child need to eat?

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A multi-ethnic group of elementary age children are sitting together at a table eating their healthy snack full of apples, carrots, and celery.

Children’s bodies go through rapid growth and development over the years, and what they eat really does make a difference. Feeding them a well-balanced healthy diet is one of the best things you can do to help them grow and develop properly to ensure they maintain good health.

The nutritional requirements of children  are constantly changing and vary depending on their age and stage. As children grow and start to become more active the amount of food they eat will start to increase and therefore, their portion sizes are going to increase!

It is important to offer children a variety of foods from each of the four food groups in order to meet their energy and nutrient requirements:

  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Breads and cereals
  • Milk and milk products
  • Lean meat and meat alternatives

The table below shows the recommend number of serves for children per day and serving size examples for each food group:

NutritionBelow are examples of how to get 2-3 servings of milk and milk products: ½ cup of milk at breakfast time

  • ½ pottle of yoghurt at morning snack
  • 1 slice of cheese at afternoon snack
  • ½ cup of milk at dinner time

So what might a typical day look like?

Breakfast:

  1. Cooked oats with milk and chopped banana/berries
  2. Wholegrain cereal with milk and peaches
  3. Toast with avocado and a yoghurt
  4. Boiled egg with toast soldiersToasts with tahini sauce and sliced avocado

Lunch:

  1. Cheesy courgette or corn fritters
  2. Vegetable frittata
  3. Scrambled eggs with toast and cherry tomatoes
  4. Toasted cheese sandwich with carrot sticks
  5. Wraps/sandwiches with tuna/egg/cheese and salad
  6. Sushi with extra veggies e.g. a raw carrot

Offer a serving or fruit, and possibly a yoghurt or glass of milk, with or after lunch.

VegetablesDinner:

Ideally offer the same food as the rest of the family (as long as it  is something that is balanced and healthy), and remember – it is best to offer food with minimal added salt.

Lean meat, chicken or fish with vegetables, such as: peas, carrot, broccoli and mashed kumara, potato, or rice/pasta/quinoa.

E.g.

  1. Salmon cakes (made with potato or kumara) with salad or vegetables
  1. Home-made meatballs (add grated vegetables to the mix) with brown rice or whole meal spaghetti and extra vegetables on the side
  1. Chicken and vegetable pasta bake with salad/vegetables

Along with these meals, choose 1-2 healthy snacks (depending on the needs of your child).

Snack ideas for kids

  • Fruit and vegetables – cut into fun shapes
  • Yoghurt
  • Home-made mini vegetable or fruit muffins
  • Wholegrain crackers with cheese or avocado
  • Plain popcorn
  • Vegetable sticks with cottage cheese
  • Pita bread with hummus or a yoghurt based dip
  • Whole meal or fruit toast with peanut butter
  • Grapes and cubes of cheese

More helpful tips!

  • Water and milk are the best fluid choices for children. Blue top milk is recommended for children under 2 years, and reduced fat milk is suitable for when they are over two . Sugary drinks and fruit juices are best to be avoided.
  • Snacks should be considered “mini meals” and not replace main meals. They aren’t about indulging in sweet treats. Treats really need to be for special occasions only, rather than every day foods.
  • Children don’t need special food, they can have the same as you provided that it is healthy, an appropriate portion size and without too much salt.
  • Allow your child to identify their own feelings of hunger and fullness, as having too much control over how much your child eats can cause them to lose touch with their own appetite.
  • During childhood, it is important to establish healthy eating behaviours and habits, as these can influence behaviours later in life. Parents and caregivers need to be healthy eating role models for their children, as children can develop habits by watching when and what you eat.

Best of luck!

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