Paediatrics: Healthy eating for children

2021-03-04 12:00 AM

Breast milk is the ideal feed for almost all infants.

Healthy eating for children


  • Breast milk is the ideal feed for almost all infants.
  • Solids are not recommended until age 6mths (d food allergies).
  • Initial solids should be based on baby rice, fruit, and vegetables.
  • Gluten is acceptable from age 6mths.
  • Following the introduction of solids, infants should experience and progress through a wide variety of tastes and appropriate textures.
  • Finger foods should be introduced from age 7mths.
  • Continue complementary breast or formula feeds until age 1yr. Normal full fat cow’s milk can then be introduced as the main drink.
  • Avoid the addition of salt and sugar to food.
  • Low-fat products are not suitable for infants.
  • Supplemental vitamins A, C, and D are recommended until age 5yrs.

Age 1–5yrs

A well-balanced diet in early childhood is important to establish a lifetime pattern of healthy eating. The key recommendations for healthy eating to be achieved by age 5yrs are the following:

  • Decrease fat to 35% energy intake by avoiding excess high-fat foods and changing milk to semi-skimmed at age 2yrs, and skimmed at age 5yrs.
  • Include whole-grain cereals and 5 portions per day of fruits and vegetables to increase fibre intake.
  • Monitor for (accelerating weight velocity) and avoid obesity.
  • Moderate salt intake, e.g. not adding salt to cooking or at the table.
  • Avoid iron deficiency anaemia by restricting milk intake to 1 pint per day and including foods rich in iron (red meat, cereals, beans, pulses, egg yolk, dark green vegetables, and dried fruit). Add vitamin C as fruit juice at a meal to increase iron absorption. Drinking tea with meals decreases iron absorption.
  • Excessive consumption of fruit juices or squashes can contribute to chronic non-specific diarrhoea of childhood (toddler diarrhoea) and contribute to feeding problems.

Older children

Schoolchildren should eat a diet based on a wide variety of foods. Nutritional guidelines relating to school meals have been set out by many UK local authorities and healthy eating forms part of the UK national curriculum. A healthy diet should include:

  • At least one starchy food at each mealtime, e.g. wholemeal bread, potatoes, pasta, and rice.
  • Five portions per day of fruit and vegetables.
  • Two servings of meat or alternatives each day.
  • Two to three portions a day of skimmed milk, low-fat yoghurt, fromage frais, or cheese (a portion = 1 yoghurt, 1/3 pint milk, 30g cheese).
  • Only small and occasional amounts of sugar and fats