Healthy Eating

Eating a healthy balanced diet consisting of a variety of different foods will help children to keep well, have plenty of energy and their bodies receive all the nutrients they need as they grow.

The Eatwell Guide

The Eatwell Guide has now replaced the Eatwell Plate and applies to most people regardless of weight, dietary restrictions/ preferences or ethnic origin. It now includes information on drinking and some foods high in fats and/or sugar have been put outside the purple group to illustrate they are not needed for health.

The Eatwell guide doesn’t apply to children under 2 because they have different nutritional needs. Between the ages of 2 and 5, children should gradually move to eating the same foods as the rest of the family, in the proportions shown on the Eatwell Guide. Children should be encouraged to eat lots of foods from the largest two food groups. Anyone with special dietary requirements or medical needs might want to check with a registered dietitian on how to adapt the Eatwell Guide to meet their individual needs.

Eatwell Kids

What nutrients will children get from each food group and how much should they have each day?

Fruit and Vegetables (green group)

  • Gives children vitamins, antioxidants and fibre. Vitamins and antioxidants help protect children from colds and flu and prevents vitamin deficiency. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables can prevent heart disease and cancer in later life.
  • Should make up just over a third of a child’s daily food intake
  • Children should be aiming to eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day. A portion is what fits into the palm of their hand.
  • Choose from fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced.
  • Remember, 150ml glass of fruit juice or smoothie counts as a maximum of one portion a day.

Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates (yellow group)

  • Gives children energy, fibre, B vitamins. The energy is slow releasing which means that children will have energy for a longer period of time after they have eaten the food
  • Should make up just over a third of a child’s daily food intake.
  • Children should be aiming to eat between 3-5 portions of starchy carbohydrates however this does depend on how active a child is in their day as this is where they get most of their energy from. A portion includes:-

             1 Weetabix biscuit

             3 tablespoons of breakfast cereal

             2 egg sized potatoes

             1 slice of bread (medium thickness)

             1 crumpet

             2 heaped tablespoons of plain boiled rice

             3 heaped tablespoons of plain boiled pasta

             3 heaped tablespoons of cooked egg noodle

             ½ bagel

  • Children’s  meals should be based around starchy carbohydrate foods:

-       have wholegrain breakfast cereal (Weetabix, porridge);

-       have a sandwich for lunch;

-       have potatoes, pasta or rice as a base for their evening meal.

  • Encouraging children to enjoy wholegrain varieties from this food group such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice, or simply leave the skins on potatoes, will give them extra fibre, vitamins and minerals in their diet.

Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins  (pink group)

  • Gives children protein, iron, B vitamins and minerals. Protein helps the growth and repair of children’s muscles, iron maintains healthy blood and oily fish is a great source of omega 3 which is good for their brain.
  • The food group includes animal protein (meat, fish, eggs) and vegetable protein (beans, lentils, nuts)
  • Children should be aiming to eat 1-2 portions from this food group (4-6yrs require 19.7gm of protein per day, 7-10yrs 28.3gm per day (British Nutrition Foundation 2015)). A portion of vegetable protein is what fits into a cupped hand, whereas animal protein is how much covers the palm of their hand.
  • Beans, peas and lentils (pulses) are good alternatives to meat because they’re naturally very low in fat, and they’re high in fibre, protein and vitamins and minerals.
  • Grilling meat and fish instead of frying, choosing lean cuts of meat and cutting off any visible fat will reduce the daily fat content of a child’s diet.
  • Try to encourage children to eat 2 portions of fish a week, including a portion of oily fish

Dairy and alternatives  (blue group)

  • Gives children protein, calcium and vitamins. Calcium helps children have strong bones and teeth.
  • Children should be aiming to eat 2-3 portions from this food group. A portion includes:-

                       1 glass of milk

                       1 small pot of yoghurt

                       1 match box sized piece of cheese

                       1 small pot of fromage frais

                       2 tbsp cottage cheese

  • Try to encourage children to eat lower fat and lower sugar options, for example, semi-skimmed milk, reduced fat cheese, low fat low sugar yoghurt, unsweetened calcium-fortified versions of dairy alternatives. (Please note that children should be given whole milk and dairy products until they are two years old because they may not get all the essential vitamins they need from lower-fat dairy products. Don’t give children skimmed milk until they are at least five years old).

Oils and spreads  (purple group)

  • Children only need a little fat in their diet to give them essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) which are important in the function of all tissues of their body. Meat, fish, milk, nuts and seeds are also good sources of essential fatty acids
  • Unsaturated fats are healthier fats that are usually from plant sources and in liquid form as oil, for example vegetable oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil.
  • Choosing lower fat spreads is a good way to reduce saturated fat intake in a child’s diet.

Remember, all types of fat are high in energy and should be limited in a child’s diet.

Foods high in fat, salt and sugars

Some foods high in fats and/or sugar now sit outside the purple group and away from the plate to illustrate they are not needed for children’s health. Foods like chocolate, cakes, biscuits, full-sugar soft drinks, butter and ice-cream are not needed in a child’s diet.However if these foods are eaten or drunk, it should only be occasionally and in small amounts.( Please see the sections on sugars, fats and salt for further details).

How much should children drink in a day?

  • Children should aim to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid every day. If the weather is hot or children are taking part in energetic activities, they should be encouraged to drink more.
  • Encourage children to have a drink with each meal and at least once between meals.
  • Water, lower fat milk and sugar-free drinks are the best way for children to keep hydrated.
  • Fruit juice and smoothies also count although they are a source of free sugars so children should limit them to no more than a total of 150ml per day.
  • Fizzy and sugary drinks have no place in a child’s diet and therefore should be kept to an occasional treat

One of the easiest ways for children to accidentally consume too much sugar is through drink choices 

Surprising sugar content of some popular drinks!

500ml of these drinks


Sugar content (teaspoons)




Diet juice drink

Ribena Light


Sports drink

Lucozade Sport Drink


Flavoured water

Volvic Touch of fruit


Chocolate flavoured milk

Yazoo chocolate milk drink


Pure orange juice

Tropicana orange juice original





Glucose energy drink

Lucozade energy original


Source World Cancer Research Fund

*Please note the sugar content may differ substantially if different brands are purchased

Did you know that fizzy drinks can be bad for children’s teeth?

Fizzy drinks contain acids that dissolve children’s teeth enamel and many have loads of sugar that cause tooth decay. Here are some tips to help children maintain strong healthy teeth:-

  • If children like fizzy drinks, limit them to 1 or 2 a day.
  • Encourage children not to take little sips for hours on end_ give their teeth a break!
  • If children want a fizzy drink, give at meal time as the saliva produced when eating will break down acid on their teeth.
  • Encourage children not to ‘swish’ drinks around in their mouth before swallowing.
  • Drinking through a straw straight from the fridge is kinder to their teeth – acid is less harmful cold.
  • Chewing sugar free gum after a fizzy drink stimulates saliva in the mouth which neutralises the acids from the fizzy drink.
  • Don’t ask children to clean their teeth straight after having a fizzy drink _ leave it an hour (otherwise they will be brushing off the top layer of enamel that’s been loosened by the acid)
  • Never ever give fizzy or sugary drinks last thing at night


What’s the maximum daily amount of sugar children can have?


Daily sugar limit

Sugar Cubes

4-6 yrs

No more than 19gm per day


7-10 yrs

No more than 24gm per day


From 11 yrs

No more than 30 gm per day


Source Change4life – Food detectives 2016

Hidden sugars in a child’s diet can be detrimental to their teeth and can cause them to put weight on. Swapping foods high in sugar for a more healthy option can make a real difference to a child’s diet. Here are some ideas to try:-




30 gm bowl of sugary cereal (over 2 sugar cubes)



Plain porridge, plain whole wheat biscuit cereal or plain shredded whole grain





Chilled dessert (over 4 sugar cubes per serve)



Low fat, lower sugar yoghurt, fruit or sugar free jelly





Fruit muffin/fairy cake (5 sugar cubes)



Fruit, cut-up veg, plain rice cakes, fruited teacake, toast or bagel

Looking at food labelling, any food that has more than 22.5gm of sugar per 100 gm of food is classed as being high in sugar content so limit these foods in a child’s diet.

How much fat is in children’s food?

Here are some examples of fatty foods that can easily slip into a child’s diet. Please note that the fat content is per 100gm of the food and not a serving/portion. Any food that has more than 17.5 gm of fat per 100 gm of food is classed as having a high fat content and therefore children should not be eating too much of these foods.

Fatty food per 100gm


Grams of fat

Peanut butter




Cheese and tomato pizza






Jam doughnut


Quarterpounder with cheese


Takeaway chicken nuggets


Source British Heart Foundation

How much salt is in children’s food?


Daily salt limit

4-6 yrs

No more than 3gm per day

7-10 yrs

No more than 5gm per day

From 11 yrs

No more than 6gm per day

Source British Nutrition Foundation

These daily recommendations include salt that has already been added to foods before they are purchased so try to encourage children not to add salt at the table as they will reach their recommended daily limit easily within their food. Any food that has more than 1.5 gm of salt per 100 gm of food is classed as having a high salt content and therefore children should not be eating too much of these foods.

Common food

Child’s portion


Cod fish fingers



Fresh salmon cooked





2gm (high)

Chicken nuggets



Chicken breast  (raw)



Pizza (1 wedge)


4.1gm (high)

French fries


2gm (high)



1.27gm (high)

Dry roasted peanuts


0.59gm (high)



0.5gm (high)





What is in a healthy lunchbox?

  • Try to have at least 1 food from the yellow group (bread, pasta,rice)
  • Try to have 2 foods from the green group(cherry tomatoes, vegetable sticks, apple, banana, grapes, fruit juice)
  • Try to have 1 food from the blue group (milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Try to have 1 food from the pink group (chick peas, nuts, tuna, ham)
  • Try to avoid foods high in fats and sugar


Key message summary

Children should be encouraged to:-

  • Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.
  • Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates; choosing wholegrain versions where possible.
  • Have some dairy or dairy alternatives; choosing lower fat and lower sugar options.
  • Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily).
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts.
  • Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of fluid a day.     

If consuming foods and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar have these less often and in small amounts