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The five food groups

The five food groups2019-06-27T11:09:16+10:00

Children need a healthy diet to have enough energy to last throughout the day, and to have the right mix of nutrients for healthy growth and development.

Vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C and E, magnesium, zinc, and folate. They also provide lots of fibre, which keeps us full for longer and supports good gut health. It’s important to ‘eat the rainbow’, as different colours and types of vegetables provide us with different nutrients.

A standard serve is about 75g or:

  • ½ cup cooked vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, beans)
  • ½ cup cooked or canned beans, peas or lentils
  • 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables (e.g. lettuce, carrot, capsicum)
  • ½ cup sweet corn
  • ½ medium potato or small sweet potato
  • 1 medium tomato

Fruits are rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium, as well as fibre. Eat a variety of fruits to take advantage of lots of different nutrients.

A standard serve is about 150g or:

  • 1 medium apple, pear, banana or orange
  • 2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums
  • 1 cup diced or canned fruit (no added sugar)

And only occasionally:

  • 30g dried fruit

Grains are rich in vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, iron, and magnesium, and they are a great source of fibre. To support healthy growth, it’s important to choose wholegrain products more often than refined grain products. Learn more about the difference between wholegrain and refined grain products.

A standard serve is:

  • 1 slice bread
  • ½ medium roll or flat bread
  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, noodles or quinoa
  • ½ cup cooked porridge
  • ¼ cup muesli
  • 1 crumpet or English muffin

Lean meat, fish, and eggs are rich in protein to help kids grow healthy muscles, as well as iron, zinc, B12 and essential fatty acids. Plant-based alternatives like tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes are also included in this food group.

A standard serve is:

  • 65g cooked lean meat like lamb, beef, veal or pork
  • 80g cooked lean poultry
  • 100g cooked fish
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup cooked or canned legumes or beans
  • 170g tofu
  • 30g nuts, seeds or peanut butter

Dairy is a great source of calcium for healthy bones and protein for strong muscles. Non-dairy sources of calcium, such as certain plant-based milks, almonds, some types of fish, and tofu, are included in this group. Full-fat dairy products are suitable for children aged between 12 months and 2 years. From 2 years of age, low-fat or reduced-fat dairy products are recommended (but not skim or fat-free products).

A standard dairy serve is:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 slices hard cheese
  • ¾ cup yoghurt

How many serves should my child have a day?

The five food groups’ standard serves sizes help ensure children get the right amount of nutrients for healthy growth and development. For children, the number of serves they need each day will depend on their age, gender, height, weight and physical activity levels. View the recommended number of serves for toddlers, children, and adolescents.

What about portion size?

‘Portion size’ is the amount of food your child actually eats. Sometimes your child’s portion sizes will be smaller than the standard serve size, and sometimes they will be larger. The total amount of food your child eats across the day should end up being similar to the recommended number of serves for each food group.

Children who grow up in families that enjoy a variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups are more likely to make their own healthy choices as they get older.

Choose healthy fats
Healthy fats are an essential part of a balanced diet for children. They are also known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Healthy fats are found in some plant-based oils and spreads (such as olive, sunflower, safflower, soybean, and canola oil), avocado, nuts, seeds, and fish. To support good health, it’s important that children eat healthy fats in appropriate amounts.

Unhealthy fats are saturated and trans fats. They are found in a range of foods including fatty meats, processed meats, full fat dairy products, coconut and palm oil, potato crisps, deep-fried foods, many takeaway foods like pizza and burgers, and commercially baked products like biscuits and pastries. Children whose diets contain too many unhealthy fats are more likely to have higher cholesterol levels and could be at risk of developing heart disease later in life.

Learn more about healthy and unhealthy fats for children.

Limit intake of discretionary foods and drinks
‘Discretionary foods’ are called that because they are not a necessary part of our regular diet. They are high in kilojoules, saturated fat, added sugars, and added salt. When we eat discretionary foods, they can take the place of more nutritious foods. Eating discretionary foods too often can increase the risk of being above a healthy weight.

If chosen, discretionary foods should be eaten only sometimes and in small amounts. These foods include soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened drinks, meat pies and other pastries, processed meat and sausages, lollies, chocolate, sweet biscuits and desserts, potato crisps, and ice cream.