A healthy, balanced diet will provide your child with the vitamins, minerals and nutrition they need to grow and develop their minds and their bodies, to be able to concentrate, be physically active and reach their full potential.
There’s lots of information available on healthy eating and nutrition, but the main things to remember are plenty of fruit and vegetables, some proteins such as meat, fish, eggs and milk, and lots of water. You don’t have to buy fresh; tinned fruit and veg is also fine, and buying food in season means it not only tastes better but is cheaper too.
If your child is a healthy weight, there's lots you can do as a parent to help them stay a healthy size as they grow.
Research shows children who stay a healthy weight tend to be fitter, healthier, better able to learn, and more self-confident.
They're also much less likely to have health problems in later life.
Children whose parents encourage them to be active and eat well are more likely to stay a healthy weight and grow up healthy. Have a look below at some tips and advice that can help you and your child.
One way to instil good habits in your child is for you to be a good role model. Children learn by example. You can encourage your child to be active and eat well by doing so yourself.
Set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride instead of watching TV or surfing the internet.
Playing in the park or swimming with your children shows them being active is fun. It's also a great opportunity for you all to spend time together.
Any changes you make to your child's diet and lifestyle are much more likely to be accepted if the changes are small and involve the whole family.
If you're not sure what activities you'd like to try as a family, head to our fitness hub.
If you eat together with your family your children are more likely to have a healthy weight.
It’s also an opportunity for you to talk, perhaps about things they’ve enjoyed learning about at school, or plans for the coming weekend.
It might also be an opportunity to talk about something that didn’t go well for them during the day and talk about their feelings. For further information see the Feelings section.
It's natural to worry whether your child is getting enough food if they refuse to eat sometimes.
But it's perfectly normal for toddlers to refuse to eat or even taste new foods.
Do not worry about what your child eats in a day or if they do not eat everything at mealtimes. It's more helpful to think about what they eat over a week.
If your child is active and gaining weight, and they seem well, then they're getting enough to eat.
As long as your child eats some food from the 4 main food groups (fruit and vegetables; potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates; dairy or dairy alternatives; and beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins) you do not need to worry. Find out more about what to feed young children.
Gradually introduce other foods and keep going back to the foods your child did not like before. Children's tastes change. One day they'll hate something, but a month later they may love it.
Keep offering a variety of foods – it may take lots of attempts before your child accepts some foods.
Tips for parents of fussy eaters
- Give your child the same food as the rest of the family, but remember not to add salt to your child's food. Check the label of any food product you use to make family meals.
- The best way for your child to learn to eat and enjoy new foods is to copy you. Try to eat with them as often as you can.
- Give small portions and praise your child for eating, even if they only eat a little.
- If your child rejects the food, do not force them to eat it. Just take the food away without saying anything. Try to stay calm, even if it's very frustrating. Try the food again another time.
- Do not leave meals until your child is too hungry or tired to eat.
- Your child may be a slow eater, so be patient.
- Do not give your child too many snacks between meals – 2 healthy snacks a day is plenty.
- Do not to use food as a reward. Your child may start to think of sweets as nice and vegetables as nasty. Instead, reward them with a trip to the park or promise to play a game with them.
- Make mealtimes enjoyable and not just about eating. Sit down and chat about other things.
- If you know any other children of the same age who are good eaters, ask them round for tea. But do not talk too much about how good the other children are.
- Ask an adult that your child likes and looks up to to eat with you. Sometimes a child will eat for someone else, such as a grandparent, without any fuss.
- Changing how you serve a food may make it more appealing. For example, your child might refuse cooked carrots but enjoy raw grated carrot.
Try to avoid feeding your child oversized portions. There's very little official guidance on precisely how much food children require, so you'll need to use your own judgement.
A good rule of thumb is to start meals with small servings and let your child ask for more if they're still hungry.
Try not to make your child finish everything on the plate or eat more than they want to.
Avoid using adult-size plates for younger children as it encourages them to eat oversized portions.
It may also help if you encourage your child to eat slowly and have set mealtimes. You can use mealtimes as an opportunity to catch up on what's happened during the day.
Explain to your child how to get the balance of their diet right using the Eatwell Guide. It shows how much they should eat from each food group.
Read more about what counts as a balanced diet.
Children need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day for good health, but it doesn't need to be all at once.
Several short 10-minute or even 5-minute bursts of activity throughout the day can be just as good as an hour-long stretch.
For younger children, it can take the form of active play, such as ball games, chasing games like "it" and "tag", riding a scooter, and using playground swings, climbing frames and see-saws.
For older children it could include riding a bike, skateboarding, walking to school, skipping, swimming, dancing and martial arts.
Walking or cycling short distances instead of using the car or bus is a great way to be active together as a family. And you'll save money, too.
- Find out the amount and types of physical activity recommended for under-5s
- Find out the amount and types of physical activity recommended for children and young people aged 5 to 18
- Join Change4Life for free and your child will get their own personalised activity plan full of good ideas for getting moving.
Children, just like adults, should aim to eat 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables every day. They're a great source of fibre and vitamins and minerals.
Getting 5 A Day shouldn't be too difficult. Almost all fruit and vegetables count towards your child's 5 A Day, including fresh, tinned, frozen and dried. Juices, smoothies, beans and pulses also count.
Be aware that unsweetened 100% fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies can only ever count as a maximum of 1 portion of their 5 A Day.
For example, if they have 2 glasses of fruit juice and a smoothie in 1 day, that still only counts as 1 portion.
Their combined total of drinks from fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies shouldn't be more than 150ml a day, which is a small glass.
For example, if they have 150ml of orange juice and a 150ml smoothie in 1 day, they'll have exceeded the recommendation by 150ml.
When fruit is blended or juiced, it releases the sugars. This increases the risk of tooth decay, so it's best to drink fruit juice or smoothies at mealtimes.
Discourage your child from having sugary or high-fat foods like sweets, cakes, biscuits, some sugary cereals, and sugar-sweetened soft and fizzy drinks. These foods and drinks tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients.
Aim for your child to get most of their calories from healthier foods like fruit and vegetables, and starchy foods like bread, potatoes, pasta and rice (preferably wholemeal). And switch sweetened soft drinks for water.
Help your children avoid sitting and lying around too much, as it makes it more likely for them to put on weight.
Limit the amount of time your child spends on inactive pastimes such as watching television, playing video games and playing on electronic devices.
There's no hard and fast advice on how much is too much, but experts say children should watch no more than 2 hours of television each day.
And remove all screens (including mobile phones) from their bedroom at night.
It also helps children stay trim if they sleep well. It's been shown children who don't have the recommended amount of sleep are more likely to be overweight.
The less children sleep, the greater the risk of them becoming obese. Lack of sleep can also affect their mood and behaviour.