Diet and Nutrition Basics

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Young children need your help to develop healthy eating and physical activity habits for life. You want your child to have a healthy diet, but do you know which nutrients are necessary and in what amounts? We’re here to give you a quick overview.

Nutritional Needs for 3-6-Year-Olds

Nutrition is instrumental for healthy development in all areas of living physical, psychological and social well-being.
A diet inadequate in nutrient dense foods may result in delayed development, psychomotor delay and behavioural disorders. These are all preventable by educating parents and families about basic nutrition.
Nutrition can be defined as what foods the individual consumes and how the body uses them. Preschoolers should not be regarded as young adults. As they are still growing, in order to achieve satisfactory growth children require larger amounts of nutrients per unit of body weight than adults. Therefore, when children are fed foods which contain inadequate amounts of nutrients, they may fail to grow and develop adequately. Lack of adequate nutrition will cause failure to gain weight in the short term and in the longer term will result in small stature.


Protein intake ranges from 14.5g/day in 1-3-year-olds up to 19.7g/day in 4-6-year-olds. All pre-school children should have an adequate intake of protein and they can eat lean meat, dairy produce, soy produce, unsalted nuts and seeds, eggs, beans, chicken and fish to meet their protein needs.


Give your child a variety of fresh, canned, frozen or dried vegetables. Aim to provide a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange, beans and peas, starchy and others, each week. When selecting canned or frozen vegetables, look for options lower in sodium.


Fibre foods are bulky and young children with small appetites who are offered a diet high in fibre, may not ingest adequate energy. Phytate, a substance associated with cereal fibre, can bind with and prevent the efficient absorption of certain minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper and zinc. Children who may be eating sufficient amounts of these minerals but are consuming too much fibre may actually become deficient in these minerals. Dietary fibre should be encouraged but not excessively so in small children. Wholemeal bread, wholemeal breakfast cereals, oatmeal, quinoa, popcorn, brown rice should be encouraged, particularly as the child. Limit refined grains such as white bread, pasta and rice.


Encourage your child to eat and drink fat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt, cheese or fortified soy beverages.


Encourage your child to eat a variety of fresh, canned, frozen or dried fruits — rather than fruit juice. If your child drinks juice, make sure it’s 100 per cent juice without added sugars and limit his or her servings. Look for canned fruit that says it’s light or packed in its own juice, meaning it’s low in added sugar. Keep in mind that one-quarter cup of dried fruit counts as one cup-equivalent of fruit. When consumed in excess, dried fruits can contribute extra calories.

Aim to limit your child’s calories from

Added sugar. Limit added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars, such as those in fruit and milk, are not added sugars. Examples of added sugars include brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, honey and others.

Saturated and trans fats. Limit saturated fats — fats that mainly come from animal sources of food, such as red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products.

Look for ways to replace saturated fats with vegetable and nut oils, which provide essential fatty acids and vitamin E. Healthier fats are also naturally present in olives, nuts, avocados and seafood. Limit trans fats by avoiding foods that contain partially hydrogenated.


  1. WebMD. Good nutrition for Preschoolers. Accessed on 10th October 2018
  2. Healthline. Balanced diet. Accessed on 10th October 2018
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