SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Children are able to decide how much food they need for activity and growth if allowed to eat according to their appetite.
- Strict or low-fat diets are not recommended because children’s energy and nutrient needs are high.
- High energy treats are best kept for special occasions and are not recommended for lunch boxes.
- Reduce screen time and encourage active play.
About food and preschoolers
Once children start kindergarten or school, life takes on a new routine. A regular intake of food is needed throughout the day to keep children active and help their concentration while learning.
Some children in this age group are still fussy, so offer a wide variety of foods and regular meals and snacks, and allow the child to eat according to their appetite without force or arguments.
Allow your child to eat according to their appetite
Children are able to decide how much food they need for activity and growth if allowed to eat according to their appetite. Forcing children to ‘clean the plate’ or giving sweets as rewards may lead to problems of overeating later in life.
Allow your child to decide how much food is enough. This shouldn’t cause problems for most children if a variety of are consistently offered.
Offer a small serve first and give your child more if they are hungry. Meal sizes will vary, as the amount of food a child needs depends on what else has been eaten during the day.
Meals for kindergarten
Preparing meals together is a great opportunity to give children positive messages about nutrition, such as ‘milk makes your bones strong’ or ‘bread gives you energy to play’. Suggestions for lunches include:
- mixed sandwich, and a tub of yogurt
- lean meat and salad in pita bread, with dried fruit and a carton of plain milk
- and drinks can be frozen in hot weather and taken to kindergarten.
Healthy snacks for preschoolers
Snacks are an important part of a child’s food intake for energy and nutrients. What children eat is more important than when they eat.
Children who snack on lollies and chips may not get all the nutrients needed for good health. Healthy snack suggestions include:
- fresh and dried fruits, or fruit packed in natural juice
- yogurt or cheese
- fruit bread, bun or muffins
- bread, rice cakes or crackers with spread
- pieces and dip.
Treats are best kept for special occasions
By this age, children can eat independently and enjoy the social aspects of eating.
Having friends means eating out of home more. There may be an occasional meal at a fast food restaurant. They may go to a party with lots of sugary and fatty snacks. These things will do no harm as long as good nutrition is continued on most days.
Food is an important part of special occasions for everyone and should be enjoyed. However, high energy treats are best kept for special occasions and are not recommended for lunch boxes.
Strict diets aren’t recommended for children
Children grow at a steady rate during the kindergarten and early school years. Strict or low-fat diets are not recommended because children’s energy and nutrient needs are high. If you’re concerned about excessive weight gain, a good approach is to:
- Consult with your doctor.
- Develop healthy eating habits for the whole family.
- Encourage regular physical activities for everyone.
- Limit the time spent watching television and using screens.
Encourage physical activity for children
Physical activity helps children feel good and promotes a healthy appetite. For this age group, 3 hours per day of active play spread out over the day is recommended and only one hour or less of screen time. While formal sports aren’t necessary for fitness, children can benefit from your encouragement and guidance. Suggestions include:
- Watch less television and have less screen time.
- Play games in the back garden or a local park.
- Go for a walk to the park or playground.
- Teach your child to .
- Participate in kindergarten and school activities.
- Be involved in regular, fun activities with your children.
Healthy drinks for children
Active children need plenty of fluids.
Food tips for growing children
General food tips for growing children include:
- Offer a variety of foods every day.
- Encourage healthy eating for everyone in the family.
- Let your child decide if they are full or hungry.
- Offer healthy snacks between meals.
- Involve children in meal preparation.
- Encourage water rather than sweet drinks.
- Enjoy family mealtimes and activities together.
Where to get help
- , Department of Health and Aged Care, Australian Government.
- , National Health and Medical Research Council and Department of Health and Aged Care, Australian Government.
- , The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.
- , The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.
- , 2021, Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority.
- , 2019, Department of Education and Training, Victorian Government.