Eating a variety of healthy foods will give your child nutrition for growth, development and learning. Learning about and eating good food from an early age will help your child develop healthy habits for life.
What is healthy food?
Healthy food includes a wide variety of fresh foods from the four food groups – vegetables and fruit, grain products, milk and alternatives, and meat and alternatives.
Each food group provides different nutrients. That’s why we need to eat a variety of foods from across all the food groups.
Vegetables and Fruit
Vegetables and fruit help protect your child’s body against all kinds of diseases. This is because vegetables and fruit provide energy, vitamins, antioxidants, fibre and water.
Children aged 4-8 years should eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruit every day. For good health, offer at least one dark green and one orange vegetable to your child every day. Encourage your child to try small amounts, but don’t get upset if they refuse it. Eventually, they will try it, so keep offering various vegetables and fruit from time to time. Choosing different-coloured vegetables and fruit is a great way to get a good range of nutrients.
Grains give your child the energy she needs to grow, develop and learn. These foods include whole grain cereals, breads, rice, pasta and noodles. It’s a good idea to offer them at every meal and choose foods that are whole grains and lower in fat, sugar and salt.
Starchy foods such as pasta and wholegrain bread will give your child long-lasting energy.
Milk and alternatives
Milk, cheese and yogurt are high in protein, calcium and vitamin D, which help build strong bones and teeth.
To get enough calcium, children aged:
- 4-8 years need two servings a day
- 9-13 years need 3-4 servings a day
A serving of dairy can be one cup of milk, 50g of cheese or a 175g (3/4 cup) of yogurt.
Meats and alternatives
Lean meat, fish, chicken and meat alternatives such as eggs, beans (legumes), tofu, and nuts and seeds give your child iron, zinc, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids and protein for growth and muscle development.
Iron and omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important for your child’s brain development and learning. Look for omega-3 fatty acids in foods such as fatty fish, flaxseeds and walnuts.
Water is the best drink for your child.
Sugary drinks – which include fruit juice, pop, sports drinks, energy drinks, vitamin and flavoured waters, and flavoured milks – can fill your child up with sugar. This might mean she won’t want to eat her meals. These drinks can also contribute to weight gain and tooth decay. If kids start on sugary drinks when they’re young, it can kick off a lifelong habit.
Kids are growing fast and developing every day. Limit foods like cookies, candy, chips, chocolates, pastries, and soft drinks. These foods are high in sugar, fat, and/or salt and are low in the nutrition they need.
Encourage healthy food choices
At this age, your child might have a busy social life, some pocket money to spend and some preferences when it comes to food. She’ll also be influenced by friends and trends, so it’s a great time to reinforce messages about healthy foods.
For example, you can explain to your child that a healthy breakfast can help him concentrate on his schoolwork and have lots of energy for the day.
Sharing healthy meals and snacks with your school-age child can encourage her to eat nutritious food and to develop a regular eating routine.
When you’re packing your child’s lunch box, healthy variety is the way to go. You might include vegetables, fruit, yogurt or cheese, meat or egg, whole grains (bread, roll, pita, or flat bread) and water.
You’re a big part of helping your child choose nutritious foods at every age and stage. Some of the best – and most enjoyable – ways to set and reinforce healthy eating habits include the following:
- Involve your child in meal-planning and preparation.
- Enjoy meals together as a family regularly – every night if possible.
- Try to have a bowl of fruit or a vegetable tray available for snacking.
- Increase variety whenever possible and keep offering healthy options.
- Stock your pantry and fridge with lots of healthy, nutritious options that are quick and easy to prepare.
© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.
Resources & Links:
Government of Canada: Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide
HealthLinkBC: Healthy Eating for Schools and Communities
HealthLink BC: Healthy Eating: Helping Your Child Learn Healthy Eating Habits
HealthLink BC: Things That Influence Food Choices