Nutrition

A child aged between 2 – 5 is an active one, being on the move constantly and growing rapidly, so your children’s meals need to include a variety of foods in order to meet their nutritional requirements.
Foods your growing child should be eating need to be filled with nutrients such as carbohydrates, fibre, protein, fat, minerals and vitamins, as these essential nutrients contain energy (in the form of kilojoules) that helps fuel their active and growing bodies.

Children in this age group are encouraged to:

  • Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruit.
  • Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain.
  • Include lean meat, fish, poultry and /or alternatives such as nuts or legumes.
  • Include reduced fat milks, yoghurts, cheeses and or alternatives.
  • Choose water as a drink.

Care should be taken to:

  • Limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake.
  • Choose foods low in salt.
  • Consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars.

Calcium
Dairy products provide valuable protein, and vitamins A and B (thiamine, niacin and riboflavin). Calcium and these important nutrients can be found in milk, cheese, yogurt and custards. Reduced fat dairy foods are not suitable for young children under 2 years because of their high-energy needs, but reduced fat varieties should be encouraged for older children and adolescents when the diet has diversified. Low or reduced fat dairy products have similar protein, calcium and vitamin values to ‘full fat’ equivalents. 
Children who do not eat dairy products (e.g. vegans or those with diagnosed lactose intolerance) will need to obtain calcium from a non-dairy source. Non-dairy foods that contain useful amounts of calcium include: leafy green vegetables; wholegrain cereals and breads; canned fish (eaten with bones); legumes (e.g. kidney beans, chick peas, lentils); calcium-fortified soy products; and calcium-fortified breakfast cereals and juice.

Iron
Children who have low intakes of iron are often tired, lack concentration and suffer more from infection. 
Red meat is the best source of iron as well as also being a good source of protein and zinc. Other meats like chicken and fish also contain iron but not as much as red meat. Iron can also be found in leafy green vegetables, legumes and iron-enriched breakfast cereals but it is not as well absorbed as the iron found in meat. 
Adding a glass of fruit juice or other foods rich in vitamin C (such as tomato, broccoli or capsicum) to a meal will increase the amount of iron the body absorbs. In contrast, tea, coffee and unprocessed bran can inhibit the absorption of iron.

Fibre
Fibre is important for a healthy digestive system. Children may have constipation if there is not enough fibre in their diet there are two main types of fibre: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fibre is found in wholegrain breads and cereals, and soluble fibre in fruit and vegetables. Baked beans and other legumes have both types of fibre. We need both types of fibre for efficient digestion, so eating a variety of wholegrain cereals and fruits and vegetables is recommended. 
It is best to get fibre from these natural food sources. Be wary of giving your child manufactured fibre supplements, as this can affect the body’s ability to absorb minerals like calcium, iron and zinc. 
Drinking plenty of water is important for a number of reasons including helping the body handle a higher intake of cereal fibre.

Sugar
Sugar is found in most foods, naturally and added. Children, who eat sweet sugary foods rather than more nutritious foods may not be getting adequate levels of many essential nutrients, may have increased tooth decay and develop bad eating habits. 
Soft drinks and fruit juices are packed with sugar, and children should avoid or limit their consumption. Water should be the main drink for your child and encouraged at all times, or milk is another healthier option. Choose from a wide variety of more nutritious and filling carbohydrate fresh foods, which can provide energy with the added benefit of protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre, rather than sugar ladened processed foods.
Fruit juices have similar sugar content to soft drinks. Half a cup of juice is equal to 1 serve of fruit. It is better to give your child whole fruit, which has the added benefit of more fibre and a higher nutritional value.

Source: Australian Government Department of Health

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