Healthy eating for kids and teens

We all know how important it is for children and teens to make healthy food and activity choices. But, while it may be easy to say, it’s not always so easy to do!

However, the benefits of setting some time aside to plan key steps towards getting the kids and whole family eating better and doing more activity make it all worthwhile.

Good food and eating well

Healthy eating means enjoying a variety of foods from each of the five food groups every day.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating gives us a good idea about which foods children and teens need each day. These include:

  • plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruit
  • plenty of cereals, including breads, rice, pasta and noodles – preferably wholegrain
  • lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives – choose reduced-fat choices where possible.

And remember, water is the best drink for kids and teens.

Did you notice the foods that are not on the Guide?

Lollies, chocolates, soft drinks, cakes, chips and the like do not fit into the food groups. That’s because, as tempting as they are, children and teens (and adults as well!) don’t actually need them.

These ‘extra’ foods, sitting in the bottom corner of the Guide, should only be eaten sometimes and even then, only in small amounts.

How much of each food group?

Every child is different, and the amount of each of the food groups they’ll need will depend on age, body size and activity level, but there are recommendations for how many serves of each food group children and teens normally need.

Encourage them to eat more fruit and vegetables

Getting kids to eat more fruit and vegetables every day can sometimes be a struggle. However, research shows that they’re more likely to tuck into these healthy foods if they’re available, ready to eat and their parents are enjoying them.

We can also involve our kids in growing, buying and preparing different foods. This can help them taste and enjoy a bigger range of foods, including fruits and vegetables.

Eating a rainbow of coloured fruits and vegetables

Eat a rainbow is a concept that aims to increase young children's fruit and vegetable intake. It includes a range of activities encouraging children to talk about and taste a variety of fruit and vegetables.

Resources for parents and teachers have been developed, including games to educate and encourage kids.

Teens’ eating habits can change

The life of a teenager is full of change. As well as physical changes, there are changes in fashion, attitude, interests, income and even tastes.

So it’s not surprising that their eating habits may change as well – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse – and may include dieting, skipping meals, filling up on take-away food or, if your lucky, taking up cooking as a serious hobby.

Eating habits of teenagers can be brought about by:

  • growth spurts
  • a focus on fitness and looks
  • media messages and body image
  • eating away from home.

Is their eating on track?

To see how your child or teen’s diet compares with the Australian Dietary Guidelines, try this quiz from the Dietitians Association of Australia with them.

Hints and tips to make it easier

It can be hard coming up with new and interesting food options for kids, so why not try out these inspiring snack, lunchbox and meal ideas and new recipes?

“I want, I want, I want!” tips for resisting pester power

Children see huge amounts of advertising for unhealthy food and drinks, on television, the internet, social media and sometimes even through promotions at schools or sports. By encouraging unhealthy eating, this advertising can affect kids’ health – now and later in life.

Try these tips to resist pester power:

  • when you say ‘no’, mean it and explain to your child why they can’t have the item, for example, “It’s too expensive,” or “You bought something else recently”
  • acknowledge how much they want it: “Yes, that does look nice”, while preparing them for disappointment: “But you know you probably won’t be able to have that because…”
  • keep ‘treats’ for special occasions
  • give your kids extra attention while shopping, as this can cut down on them asking for things. For example, ask them to help you with spotting items that are on the shopping list
  • limit children’s small-screen time (including tv, internet and computer games) to less than two hours a day
  • tape their favourite shows and fast-forward through the ads
  • choose tv programs that advertise lower amounts of junk food advertising. Use the Cancer Council’s Fat Free TV guide to find out what your kids are seeing on TV and to help you make healthier viewing choices
  • avoiding eating junk food yourself
  • visit Junkbusters or Parents Jury and have your say, if you are worried about junk food advertising to children.

Many efforts are being made nationally and within South Australia to look at the issue of food advertising to children.