Good nutrition is necessary for the active growth and development that takes place in early childhood. Good eating habits and a well-balanced diet support children’s health and wellbeing, and minimise the risk of illness. Eating habits developed in the early years are likely to have a lifelong influence.

Healthy eating in childhood minimises health risks and improves health throughout life. On the other hand, poor nutrition in childhood can contribute to lifestyle diseases such as obesity, cancer, heart
disease and diabetes.

Work with parents and families to support and encourage healthy eating for children. Regardless of whether your setting provides meals and snacks for children or they bring their own from home,
you can support their health by encouraging them to adopt good eating habits.

Healthy Eating Guideline

Make sure that food offered to children is appropriate to the child's age and development, and includes a wide variety of nutritious foods consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia (see below).

Food for Health: Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia

Encourage and support breastfeeding.

Children and adolescents need sufficient nutritious foods to
grow and develop normally.
  • Growth should be checked regularly for young children.
  • Physical activity is important for children and adolescents.

Enjoy a wide range of nutritious foods.

Children and adolescents should be encouraged to:
  • eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits
  • eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain
  • include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
  • include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives. Reduced-fat milks are not suitable for children under two years, because of their high energy needs, but reduced-fat varieties should be encouraged for older children and adolescents
  • choose water as a drink
and care should be taken to:
  • limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake. Low-fat diets are not suitable for infants
  • choose foods low in salt
  • consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars.
Care for your child’s food: prepare and store it safely.

Commonwealth of Australia, 2003. Reproduced with permission of the Australian Government, 2009

The five basic food groups provide the nutrients essential for life and growth. Each group of basic foods provides a range of nutrients, and plays a role in helping the body function. Foods from the five basic food groups should be eaten every day, and can also be called ‘everyday foods’.

‘Sometimes foods’ (see page 25) on the other hand have little nutritional value and are not essential for good health. Eating lots of sometimes foods is associated with ill health, being overweight and obesity. Sometimes foods are not to be offered in early childhood settings.