Healthy eating for babies and young children
Giving babies and young children the best start in life
We all want our children to grow up strong, healthy and happy, and by helping them to eat well and enjoy lots of activity, we can help our children to learn healthy eating and activity habits that will last a lifetime.
Babies - birth to around 6 months
For young babies, mum’s breastmilk is the best and most natural food, containing all the nutrients baby needs for around the first six months.
If your baby is not having breastmilk, use a commercial infant formula.
Babies - from around 6 months
At around six months of age, babies are physically and developmentally ready to eat other foods. Signs that your baby is ready for solids include:
- being able to hold his/her head up and sit with support
- looking, reaching and grabbing for food
- baby seems hungry even after a full breastfeed or bottle, and
- baby progresses from sucking to biting.
At around six months of age baby’s iron stores are also becoming depleted, so when introducing the first solid foods it is recommended that these are iron-rich nutritious foods.
Iron rich foods include iron-fortified baby cereals, pureed meat, chicken, tofu or legumes. At the start your baby may only eat small amounts and breastmilk or formula will be the main food.
Then add different types of pureed vegetables, fruit and other foods from the Five Food Groups.
Keep breastfeeding or using infant formula while you introduce other foods. Breastfeeding should continue until your baby is 12 months old, or for as long as both the mother and baby want to keep going.
Offer a variety of foods from the Five Food Groups and gradually vary the texture, from pureed to soft, to mashed, to minced, as your baby gets older. Your baby should be eating a wide variety of nutritious foods enjoyed by the rest of the family by around 12 months.
Respond to your baby’s cues to know how much food to given them. Babies know when they are hungry and when they are full and often do not eat the same amount of food every day!
For safe eating, honey and raw or undercooked eggs are not suitable for children under 12 months of age as they contain bacteria that can be harmful to babies.
Don’t give babies:
- drinks high in sugar (such as soft drinks, fruit juice, fruit drinks);
- all teas, coffee
- soy, rice, oat, almond or other cereal or nut based drinks
You can find more about what, how and why to give various foods to babies, by reading the pamphlet: Giving your baby the best start-the best foods for infants. For more detailed information, see the Infant Feeding Guidelines Summary.
Toddlers and young children
From around 12 months onwards, offer your toddler a wide variety of healthy meals and snacks enjoyed by the rest of your family. Avoid preparing a different meal for your toddler. Remember, ‘carer provides, child decides’. It’s the parent’s or carer’s role to provide children with regular healthy meals and snacks throughout the day; it’s up to the child whether or not to eat, and how much. If your child is not hungry, the next meal or snack is never far away!
Younger children may need to try new foods, including fruits and vegies, up to ten times before they accept them. So be patient and keep encouraging your child to try new foods even if they have previously refused it.
From around 12 months, most foods for your toddler should be the same texture as for the rest of the family. Texture progression is important for your toddler’s speech development. However, young children (under the age of four) are at risk of choking, so care should be taken with foods such as:
- hard lollies
- raw hard fruit and vegies (e.g. apple, carrot and celery)
- round foods (e.g. grapes and cherry tomatoes)
- foods with skins (e.g. frankfurters).
For tips on making young children’s foods safer, read the "Preventing choking on food" pamphlet.
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 provides information about the Five Food Groups which young children and adults need each day:
- plenty of vegetables of different types and colours, and legumes or beans
- grain (cereals) foods, mostly wholegrain and /or high cereal fibre varieties such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
- lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
- milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat. However, reduced-fat varieties are not suitable for children under two years of age.
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating also recommends we drink plenty of water, and limit discretionary foods. Children should not be offered discretionary foods every day, as they are poor sources of important nutrients children need for growth and development. ‘Discretionary’ foods and drinks include sweet biscuits, cakes, desserts and pastries; processed meats and fattier/salty sausages; sweetened condensed milk; ice cream and other ice confections; confectionary and chocolate; savoury pastries and pies; commercial burgers with a high fat and/or salt content; commercially fried foods; potato chips, crisps and other fatty and/or salty snack foods including some savoury biscuits; cream, butter and spreads which are high in saturated fats; sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, sports and energy drinks and alcoholic drinks.
For more information about the Five Food Groups and how much you and your family need from each food group every day, see: