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A guide to nutrition for children

By the time they’re between the ages of three and five years old, your child will have experienced a range of tastes and textures of food. At this age, children are generally quite happy to explore different cuisines as they enjoy the range of flavours (as long as they’re not too spicy) so don’t be afraid to be adventurous.

It’s important to continue to offer a variety of foods to your child and keep in mind that they will be becoming increasingly active. Many parents worry that their children aren’t eating enough but not all children have big appetites. Your child’s appetite may also not remain constant – they’re likely to have weeks where they seem to eat very little followed by periods where they’re eating you out of house and home! If your child is thriving and you don’t have any developmental concerns, this is all completely normal.

A typical day

At this age, your child should be eating the following amounts from each of these food groups every day:

  • Vegetables: 1–1 ½ cups of raw or cooked vegetables. Offer a variety of colours such as red peppers, green broccoli, dark leafy greens, orange sweet potato.
  • Fruit: 1–1 ½ cups of fresh or frozen fruit which can be eaten whole, sliced into a fruit salad or made into smoothies or milkshakes.
  • Grains: 3–5 ounces. Try to look for wholegrains in your bread, cereal and pasta choices.
  • Dairy: 2–2½ cups. Choose whole milk over semi-skimmed as your child needs the fat content. Yoghurts and cheeses can be used in sauces or offered as healthy snacks.
  • Protein: 2–4 ounces. Depending on your dietary choices, offer a variety of meats, poultry, fish, eggs, soy products, beans, peanut butter and unsalted nut butters.

Child nutrition and healthy snacks

Offer two or three small snacks each day to help your child refuel between meals but try to limit the amount of sugary or unhealthy snacks as much as possible.

Healthy snack ideas include fromage frais, small cheese triangles, cheese dippers, mini yoghurts, vegetable crisps, vegetables cut into sticks for dipping into cream cheese, peanut butter spread onto celery or apple, fruit puree, whole fruit and rice cakes.

To prevent the risk of choking, make sure that grapes and cherry tomatoes are always cut in half and bananas are sliced lengthways rather than into discs.

Important extras

Iron and vitamin C are crucial components of your child’s nutrition. Iron-rich foods are best provided alongside good sources of vitamin C as this will aid the absorption of iron. Iron-rich foods include red meat, lentils, fish, tofu, wholegrains and leafy green vegetables.

Getting children involved in cooking

Healthy child nutrition doesn’t just happen at mealtimes. It’s important to involve your child in food preparation to teach them more about a healthy and balanced diet.

1. Pick recipes

Encourage them to select recipes that they’d like to try. You can talk about the ingredients, where they come from and how they’re prepared to help your child become familiar with them.

2. Go shopping

Shop with your child for ingredients. You can turn it into a game by taking a sheet of photos of the ingredients required and having your child match the items as they find them. Let your child weigh the fruit and vegetables – it’s another way for them to take ownership of a part of the process of providing nutritious meals for the family.

3. Set the table

Children love to be given tasks and responsibilities – why not ask your child to help set the table for meals and perhaps even arrange some flowers for the centre of the table? Being involved in all the stages of meal preparation will help them to enjoy mealtimes more because they’ve played an active role in getting that food onto the table.

Here at N Family, we think child nutrition is so important that we have built cookery into our curriculum. Our cooking and baking N Extra helps build an understanding of ingredients, tastes, textures, mathematical concepts, health choices, processes and patience. Our daily menus also provide a wholesome, balanced diet and we use mealtimes as an opportunity to actively teach children about their nutrition.