If you worry about whether your child is eating enough and whether the amount they eat is normal, you are not alone.
Many parents feel uncertain about what constitutes a normal or recommended food intake for children. This uncertainty can lead to worries that a child is not eating well enough.
Concerns often begin after the first year, when the child may appear to start eating less. Actually, a tapering off in appetite is normal around this time as a child’s growth rate usually slows at this age. Because the child is growing less rapidly, he or she will require less energy, and may eat less.
It is also important to understand that individual children vary considerably in the amount they need to eat.
Another child may appear to eat twice as much as your child, but such comparisons are not very useful and may lead to unnecessary worry. If your child is happy and healthy with lots of energy and is growing at the normal rate, then his or her food intake is probably about right.
Variety is important in a child’s diet. Chidren need a lot of different types of food to get the energy they need to grow, to learn, and to stay healthy. They also need fuel to sustain the boundless energy that makes children such fun.
Children need a range of foods, from each of the four food groups, each day. Let’s look at the food groups and see what is recommended.
|Food Group||Number of serves each day||Example of One Serve|
|Bread & Cereal Group||At least 4 serves for 2-5 year oldsAt least 5 serves for school children||1 medium slice bread or 1 small bread roll or muffin or 2 large or 3 small crackers1/2 cup cooked cereal or 3/4 cup ready to eat breakfast cereal1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta or noodles|
|Fruit & Vegetables||At least 2 vegetable & 2 serves fruit for 2-5 year oldsAt least 3 vegetable & 2 serves fruit for school children||A serving is what fits into the palm of your child’s hand. Could be raw or cooked.|
|Meat, fish, eggs, chicken, dried beans & lentils||At least 1 serving every day for 2-5 year olds & school children||2 slices cooked meat (approx 100 g)3/4 cup mince or casserole 1 egg or 1 medium fillet of fish or 2 drumsticks or 1 chicken leg3/4 cup cooked or canned beans, peas or lentil|
|Dairy products or alternative(eg Soy milk fortified with calcium)||At least 2 – 3 servings each day for 2-5 year olds and school children||250 ml milk1 pottle yoghurt or buttermilk (150 g)40 g (2 slices) hard cheese 200 g cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
2 scoops of ice cream
If a child is very active, then more servings may be needed to give the child the energy they need.
For variety you can make up one serving from a number of part serves. For example you could offer over the day ½ a pottle of yoghurt and one cheese slice to get one of the required dairy serves. Servings in the meat group can also be split over the day – for example 1/3 cup baked beans at noon and say 1 drumstick at dinner time will give the required one serve per day.
Variety is needed from each of the food groups to ensure nutrients are not missing from the child’s diet.
Breads, cereals, fruit and vegetables are important sources of vitamins, minerals, fibre and energy-rich carbohydrates.
The meat group is important for protein, vitamins and minerals, especially iron and zinc.
Dairy products are important sources of protein and calcium.
Remember that children eat small amounts of food at a time. Their eating pattern should include snacks – but do not allow them to fill up on sweet biscuits, cakes, lollies or chippies, as these will dull their appetites for meals.
When offering new foods, offer small amounts and have other familiar foods available at the same time. Children are often suspicious of new foods and you may need to offer them several times before they will be receptive to them.
As a parent it is important that we maintain a relaxed attitude towards food that will not cause our children to develop food -related issues in later life. One way to help youself do this is to take a daily or weekly view of their nutritional needs – this means you will be less likely to get stressed about what they will or won’t eat at a single meal.