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Healthy Eating

School age is the perfect time for children to learn about healthy food, bodies and activity, as they start a busy social life, have pocket money and begin to help choose their own lifestyle. Children of this age learn quickly and are also influenced by their friends and popular trends. Children need a wide variety of foods for a well-balanced diet. The amount of physical activity they have in a day will be an important part of how much they need to eat. Some children of this age are still fussy, but, when busy and active, snacking is important to keep energy levels high. A healthy morning snack at break time and one after school are usually needed each day.




Breakfast is important
It is important to encourage breakfast. A good night's sleep followed by food in the morning helps your child to stay active and concentrate at school. It also means your child is less likely to be too hungry during the morning. Be a role model and let your child see you eat breakfast too. A bowl of cereal with milk and fresh or stewed fruit is a great starter for the whole family.

School lunches
While some schools have a canteen, without some help the food your child chooses may be high in cost and energy but low in nutrients. An alternative is a packed lunch from home, which is a great way for your child to learn about healthy food and help with preparation. Lunch box suggestions include:

  • Sandwiches or pitta bread with cheese, lean meat, hummus or peanut butter and salad
  • Cheese slices, crackers with spread and fresh fruit
  • Washed and cut up raw vegetables or fresh fruits
  • Frozen water bottle or tetra pack of milk, particularly in hot weather.
School lunches - foods to limit
Highly processed, sugary, fatty and salty foods should only make up a very small part of your child's diet. Foods to limit in everyday school lunches include:
  • Processed meats such as salami, pressed chicken and strasbourg
  • Chips, sweet biscuits, and muesli bars and breakfast bars
  • Fruit bars and fruit straps
  • Cordials, sweetened juices and soft drinks

Treats and peer pressure
Peer pressure to eat particular 'trendy' foods at this age is strong. Let your child eat these kinds of foods occasionally, such as at parties, special events or when the rest of the family enjoys them. It's best to limit the amount of money children are given to spend at school or on the way home. The occasional lolly, bag of chips or takeaway food doesn't do any harm. However, if they are eaten too often you might find that:

  • Not enough nourishing foods are eaten.
  • Your child is becoming overweight or obese.
  • You're spending a lot of money - it's much cheaper to provide homemade snacks and lunches.
  • You're missing a chance to teach your child about healthy eating.

Family mealtimes
For schoolchildren, family mealtimes are a chance to share and talk about the day's activities and events. The evening meal together is an important time to do this.

Children of this age may have swings in appetite depending on activity levels, so allow them to choose how much they need to eat while offering a wide variety of healthy foods. Some children only eat small amounts at the evening meal, so make sure that the afternoon snack is nutritious, not just high in energy. Some suggestions of possible snacks include: a sandwich with a glass of milk, cereal and fruit, or a bowl of soup and toast. Family mealtime suggestions include:

  • Allowing talk and sharing of daytime activities.
  • Avoiding distractions such as the television, radio or the telephone.
  • Letting your child decide when they are full - don't argue about food.
  • Allowing children to help with preparing meals and shopping.
  • Teaching some simple nutrition such as 'milk keeps your bones strong'.

Children should be encouraged to drink plain water. Sweet drinks such as cordials or sweetened fruit juice are not needed for a healthy diet and aren't recommended.

Exercise and activity
Physical activity is an important part of good health. Try to encourage your child to do something active each day, such as a hobby, play a game or be involved in sport. Some parents may also worry about their child's weight, so, to increase activity, try to:
  • Limit the amount of time spent watching television for the whole family.
  • Do something physical and active together.
  • Go and watch your child play sports.
  • Encourage daily activity, not just exercise.
  • Use the car less - that means everyone!

Healthy tips for school aged children
Children need a variety of different foods each day.

  • Snacks are an important part of a healthy diet for active children.
  • Make snacks nutritious, not just high in energy.
  • Plan to share meals as a family.
  • Enjoy talking and sharing the day's happenings at mealtimes.
  • Let children tell you when they're full.
  • Take lunch from home.
  • Let children help with food preparation and meal planning.
  • Encourage physical activities for the whole family.
  • Encourage children to drink plain water.

Fruit and vegetables
Colourful and crunchy fruit and vegetables can be an enjoyable part of your child's life. Most babies eat fruit and vegetables as one of their first solid foods. After the first year, you may notice your children become fussier as they become more independent eaters. Often this fussiness may include an unwillingness to eat fruit and vegetables.

If children start to eat less fruit and vegetables from time to time, this may worry parents, but usually it causes no harm. It is not possible to force children to eat more fruit and vegetables. The best way is to set a good example for them. If you eat and enjoy fruit and vegetables every day, your children may eventually follow your lead. It may take time, but this is how children learn best. So keep trying.

Benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption

Fruit and vegetables :

  • Are an important group of foods for health. They can help prevent certain diseases such as heart disease and certain cancers.
  • Contain fibre as well as a whole myriad of beneficial vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, the B vitamins, potassium and magnesium.
  • Dark green vegetables like spinach and broccoli contain folate and vitamin E, while orange and red vegetables provide carotenes, a form of vitamin A.
  • Also provide a wide variety of other substances called phytochemicals, flavonoids and phytonutrients which are thought to be protective.
  • Fruit is fairly low in calories and contains no fat, and is a great choice for a snack between meals.
  • To get all the goodness you can from fruit and vegetables choose a wide variety of colours and aim for 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables every day.
















































This programme is managed by Bord Bia and receives financial support from the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine and the European Union through the School Fruit Scheme.

Bord Bia: Irish Food Board
European Union
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food
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