Centre for Community Child Health

Nutrition in childhood

  • Grow & Thrive nutrition in childhood

    In the first eight years of life children do a lot of learning about food and eating. It’s the time when they establish the foundations for a lifetime of good health. In your role as an early childhood educator or teacher you play an important part in shaping children’s understanding of nutrition for life.

    Benefits of good nutrition

    Good nutrition helps children to:

    • get all the energy, minerals, vitamins and fibre they need for health, growth and development
    • reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some cancers
    • feel better, enjoy life more and live longer.

    Also in this edition

    Promoting nutrition:

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    The five food groups

    Eating the recommended amounts from the five food groups helps children to get all the nutrients they need for health, growth and development.
    The five food groups are:
    1. Vegetables
    2. Fruit
    3. Grain foods (e.g. bread, pasta and rice)
    4. Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives
    5. Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes.

    Eating the recommended amounts from food groups

    Achieving a balanced daily diet is tricky, especially when information about the ‘best foods’ seems to change every week! The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is a great food selection guide that visually represents the proportion of the five food groups to eat every day.

    It’s also handy to think of foods that we should eat ‘most of the time’, ‘moderately’, and only ‘sometimes’. These simple categories can make it easier to guide children, their families and your setting or school towards better nutrition.
     Eat most of the time
    Fruits and vegetables of different types and colours

    Grain foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties like bread, rice, pasta, cereal, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
    Why? A diet high in wholegrains and colourful plant foods is protective against many diseases, including certain cancers.
    Eat moderately 
    Milk, cheese, yoghurt and calcium-fortified soymilk and/or their alternatives. Aim for mostly reduced-fat after the age of two.

    Lean meat and poultry like chicken (without skin)


    Legumes (e.g. peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas)

    Tofu and tempeh


    Nuts and seeds
    Why? These foods are great sources of protein, which helps to build strong muscles and also recover from injury. Some of these foods contain minerals like calcium in dairy foods (for strong bones) and iron in lean meats (for energy).
    Eat only sometimes
    Foods containing saturated fat, added salt and added sugars such as:


    Sweet biscuits


    Lollies and chocolate

    Cake or muffins

    Commercial burgers, hot chips and other fried foods

    Cream and butter

    Meat pies and other pastries

    Sugar-sweetened cordials, soft drinks and sports drinks—drink lots of water instead

    Processed meats and sausages

    Why? These foods are really just ‘extras’ and best left for celebrations like birthday parties. They don’t provide many nutrients like vitamins, minerals or fibre.

    They contain lots of added sugar, added salt and saturated fat.

    Serving sizes

    The amount of food children need from the five food groups depends on their:
    • age
    • gender
    • height
    • weight
    • physical activity levels. 
    This Australian Dietary Guidelines brochure can help to guide the families that you work with on serving sizes and choosing a variety of foods from each food group.

    Helping children to learn about nutrition

    Teachers and early childhood educators help children to develop healthy eating habits. Read these articles for more information:

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