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Eating Well for 1-4 Year Olds

Posted Jun 18th 2015

Eating Well.jpgTo help children develop patterns of healthy eating from an early age, it is important that the food and eating patterns to which children are exposed - both at home and outside the home - are those which promote positive attitudes and enjoyment of good food.

Growing children need plenty of energy (calories) and nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals) to ensure they grow and develop well. And they need to eat a good variety of foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables, to make sure they get all the other important dietary components they need. A good appetite will usually make sure that they get enough energy from the food they eat.

Intakes of meat, fish, vegetables and fruit among 1-4 year olds are generally low. An increase in the intakes of these foods would help to ensure that children have the right amounts of vitamins, minerals and other dietary components for healthy growth and development.  Eating is an important part of everyone’s life. Encouraging children to eat healthily does not mean denying them food they enjoy. Healthy eating is about getting a varied, balanced diet and enjoying lots of different foods.

Helping 1-4 year olds to eat well

Below are the key things to think about when helping 1-4 year olds to eat well.

Make sure children have a good appetite

Kids Running.jpg★ Children need to be active every day. Physical activity – which means any type of movement including active play, outdoor play, games, dance and playing with other children, for example – helps to ensure that children have a good appetite. Children who are active will then eat enough food to get all the nutrients they need. Activity also builds up muscle strength and fitness, develops physical skills such as balance and coordination, and provides a release for children’s energy.

Make sure children eat regular meals and  nutritious snacks

★ Breakfast is a particularly important meal and fortified breakfast cereals can make an important contribution to daily vitamin and mineral intakes. Choose cereals which are low in added salt and sugar.

★ Children need to eat regularly and need nutritious snacks between meals. The best snacks are those which are low in added sugar. A variety of snacks should be offered including fruit, vegetables, milk, yoghurt, any type of bread, and sandwiches with savoury fillings.

Make sure 1-4 year olds get the energy and nutrients they need for growth and activity

★ It is important that 1-4 year olds get enough energy (calories) for growth and development. While adults and children aged over 5 are encouraged to eat a diet that is high in starchy foods and low in fat, younger children on this sort of diet may not have the appetite to eat enough food to provide all the nutrients they need. 1-4 year olds will need regular meals which are ‘nutrient-dense’ – that means meals that provide energy and nutrients without being very bulky. Avoid giving under-5s low-fat foods that are designed for adults.

What does eating well look like for children aged 1-4 years?

★ Children should be encouraged to eat the same healthy food as the rest of the family. They do not need special children’s foods. Food sold for children is often very expensive for the portion size given, and it is not necessarily a healthier option than food you would make at home.

★ Children should be encouraged to eat a varied diet. 1-4 year olds should eat foods from each of the four main food groups every day. A varied diet is associated with better health as it is more likely to contain all the nutrients the body needs. The four main food groups are:

Balanced Diet.jpg– bread, other cereals and potatoes

– fruit and vegetables

– milk and dairy foods, and

– meat, fish and alternatives (such as eggs, pulses – peas, beans and lentils – nuts and soya).

★ Fruit and vegetables are particularly important for good health. 1-4 year olds should be encouraged to taste at least five different fruits and vegetables a day. Aim for 40g portions of vegetables and fruits for all 1-4 year olds at meals and snacks.

★ The iron intake of many 1-4 year olds is lower than currently recommended. Iron-rich foods include meat, offal and fish, as well as green vegetables, wholegrain cereals and pulses. Children who do not eat meat should have a varied diet containing foods such as cereals, pulses (peas, beans and lentils), vegetables and fruits.

★ If children have sugary foods, these should be given with meals rather than as snacks between meals, to prevent damage to teeth. Children do not need sugary foods such as sweets, chocolate, soft drinks or honey for energy. Starchy foods – such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and yam – are better sources of energy as these foods contain other important nutrients too.

★ Make sure food for 1-4 year olds is low in salt: avoid adult meals, take-aways and foods that are high in salt, use less salt in cooking and don’t let children add salt to food at the table. This doesn’t mean that food for 1-4 year olds should be bland. Use a wide variety of flavourings such as herbs, spices, fruit and vegetables and good quality ingredients to ensure that food is interesting to eat and that children become accustomed to different natural flavours.

★ Young children need to eat small quantities of good food regularly. The best foods are those that are simple and which have been made from good-quality ingredients. Avoid foods that are ‘diluted’ – for example, avoid meat and fish covered with breadcrumbs, batter or other coatings which make them lower in nutrients. Potatoes should be served as potatoes, not as waffles or smiley faces or other products with added fat and salt.

Information courtesy of