With so much for them to learn and explore, it’s crucial four-year-old kids get plenty of quality fuel for their growing bodies and brains.
But with experts predicting 65 percent of Australian children will be overweight or obese by 2020, it’s important parents are mindful of what goes into their little dynamos.
Here’s how to navigate the healthy eating guidelines to easily make sure your kids have the best sustenance to take on each day.
The guidelines in a nutshell
The aim of the kids’ nutrition game is to get lots of variety of the core food groups, including vegetables, whole grains, fruit, dairy and lean meats, while limiting intake of foods high in added fat, salt or sugar – aka “sometimes” food.
“Kids need a range of vitamins and minerals so that they grow well and have got enough energy to get through the day, and that comes from eating a wide variety of nutritious foods,” explains Margaret Hays, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitian’s Association of Australia.
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Ideally, four to eight-year-olds have 4.5 serves of vegetables, four serves of grains, 1.5 serves of fruit, 1.5 serves of meat, fish, legumes or eggs and two serves of dairy.
“I’d be looking at trying to keep ‘sometimes’ foods to once or twice a week,” Hays says.
Be aware of portion distortion
In the world of up-sized meal deals and king size chocolate bars, it’s easy to lose tabs on what an appropriate serving size is.
Kids’ serving sizes are roughly half the recommended adult serving size. Here’s what you’re looking at:
Grains: one slice of bread, half a cup of cooked rice or pasta, two thirds a cup of high fibre cereal
Veggies: one cup of raw leafy greens, half a cup of cooked green or orange vegetables, half a cup of lentils, legumes or corn, half a medium potato, one medium tomato
Fruit: one medium-sized piece (eg. apple, banana or orange), two small pieces (kiwi fruit, etc), one cup of diced or canned fruit with no added sugar
Dairy: A cup of milk, three quarters cup of yoghurt or two slices of cheese.
Meat or alternatives: 65g steak, 80g chicken, 100g fish, two large eggs or one cup of baked beans
How much to offer
A good rule of thumb is to divide your child’s lunch and dinner plate into thirds, with a third being carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potato), a third protein (meat, fish, legumes) and a third vegetables.
“If you follow this plate for lunch and dinner, you’d be pretty well there [for meeting dietary recommendations],” Hays says.
Of course, you’ll find kids want different amounts on different days.
“I think it’s the parents’ responsibility to be setting the schedule, and if they’re not hungry, then they can refuse to eat it,” Hays says.
“Some kids just get so engrossed in what they’re doing that they won’t eat at all [but] you don’t need them going a long time without food.”
On top of main meals, Hays says parents need to offer snacks so kids keep their energy up.
“To get their calories in for the day, they need to eat a little bit often,” Hays says.
“It might be fruit and yoghurt or cheese and crackers or some ham and baby tomatoes or dip with veggie sticks. A small smoothie or milky drink can also be good.”
Follow your kids’ cues
Sometimes your kids will seem ravenous, other times they might be less interested in food.
“Kids have growth spurts and eat a lot then their food intakes reduce when they don’t need it,” Hays points out.
“Try to go with the flow. One week they might have a thing on fruit, the next week they might have a thing on veggies. Try not to have any hard and fast rules and mix things up so it’s not boring and steadfast.”