Feeding your kids – your expert guide

Dietitian tips to make healthy eating simpler

Knowing what to feed your child can sometimes be hard. Recently we asked our Health Navigator community what questions they wished they could ask a dietitian about the matter. Auckland District Health Board dietitians Vicky Campbell and Julie Carter answered your questions.

Here are their replies, with some helpful advice for feeding growing children.

Q. How much should I be feeding my child?
A. Think children-sized portions

The size of a hand is a practical and easy way to remember what a portion size for children is. It’s also a great way to show children and adults how portion sizes are different for everyone and how they change as your child grows.

A quick guide for good portions are:

  • two cupped hands – a serving of vegetables
  • a closed fist – grains and starchy vegetables
  • whole hand – piece of fish
  • palm of your hand – poultry and meat.

To help you remember, print out this handy poster of portion sizes.

Image: 123RF

Q. Does my child need salt?
A. Limit salt 

Our sense of taste develops during childhood, so what we eat when we’re young impacts on what we want to eat as adults. Limiting the amount of salt your child eats means they’re less likely to want to eat foods high in salt as adults.

Salt is added to many foods so it can be hard to know how much salt your child is eating. Processed meat, sauces such as tomato and soy sauce, chips and savoury snacks are high in salt. Limit the amount of these foods your child eats. Bread and some breakfast cereals can also contain high levels of salt.

Foods low in salt include fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and poultry and frozen and canned vegetables.

Low-salt snacks contain less than 120mg of sodium (salt) per 100g.

Q. Is yoghurt a good food for my child?
A. Choose a low-sugar yoghurt

Yoghurt is a great source of protein and calcium and should be encouraged as part of a healthy diet. Some yoghurts are high in sugar so look for unsweetened varieties. If your child prefers sweeter yoghurt, try adding in some unsweetened canned fruit or fresh fruit.

An ideal serving of yoghurt for children is 100–150ml.

Q. What does 5+ a day mean?
A. It means 5 servings of vegetables and fruit

Most of us have heard of 5+ a day. It’s important to include a mix of vegetables and fruit, and ideally, your child will eat three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day. Remember that one serving is the size of your child’s hand, so one piece of fruit might be more than one serving for a small child.

Dried fruit doesn’t count as it’s high in sugar and should be a treat food.

Q. Why do processed foods get a bad rap?
A. Not all processed foods are the same

Ideally, your child’s lunchbox will include mostly vegetables, grains, protein and fruit, but hungry children can need lots of food to give them the energy they need. How do you choose a processed food that’s still healthy?

Some processed foods like baked good, pies, pizza and pastries tend to be high in sugar, artificial ingredients, trans fats and refined carbohydrates. But some minimally processed foods like whole-grain or wheat breads can form part of a healthy diet.

Aim for variety: one week include a low-sugar muesli bar, the next some rice crackers and cheese. One pre-packaged snack in your child’s lunchbox is okay as part of a balanced daily diet.

Q. What drinks should I give my child?
A. Milk and water are the healthiest options

Kids need to keep hydrated during the day, especially when they’re out and about playing and burning off energy. Milk and water are the best options. A 250ml glass of fruit juice or soft drinks can contain between 5–7 teaspoons of sugar, so should be thought of as an occasional treat and not as an everyday drink.

Image: Canva

Learn more

Lunch boxes Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education, NZ

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Vicky Campbell, Auckland District Health Board Dietitian Last reviewed: 26 Jul 2017