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'You are what you eat'

How many times do we hear this? Actually, evidence shows it can be true, particularly in childhood and children who 'eat better, do better'.

A healthy, balanced diet from a range of foods and drinks along with recommended levels of physical activity is key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Developing children need energy and a range of essential nutrients, including vitamins and minerals from their diet to set them up for a healthier, longer life. It's also been proven that children who eat better at breakfast and lunchtime are able to concentrate more in class, behave better and achieve more.

Figures from the 2014/15 National Child Measurement Programme shows that just over a fifth of reception age children and a third of Year 6 children are overweight or very overweight. Children who are not a healthy weight (including underweight) may not be getting all the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development and may be having too much of things that are not good for them.

Being over a healthy weight can lead to life-threatening diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of dementia. These conditions, known as 'non-communicable' or 'preventable diseases' have increased hugely, however they can be avoided through healthier choices every day. In recent years doctors have seen a very worrying upward trend of type 2 diabetes in children, which was in the past a condition that only really happened in later life.

As well as physical health problems, children who are an unhealthy weight are far more likely to have weight issues as adults and are more risk of with depression and other mental health issues due to bullying and low self-esteem.

What is a healthy, balanced diet?

Healthy eating and drinking can be a challenge with a lot 'advice' out there which can be confusing! At this age children will be making more of their own food choices however if parents and children have accurate information with support and encouragement, those choices are more likely to be healthier ones.

The Eatwell Guide gives evidence-based guidance about what we need (and don't need!) in our daily diets and why. The 4 major food groups are:

Fruit & vegetables - contain vitamins, minerals and fibre, it is recommended we all have at least 5 portions from a range of fruit and veg each day

Bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, and other starchy food or carbohydrates are sources of energy and fibre

Meat, fish, eggs, and other sources of non-diary proteins like meat substitutes, pulses, beans, chickpeas etc. provide protein that supports growth and repair of the body

Milk and dairy foods give essential vitamins and minerals such as calcium for healthy bones and teeth and are another source of protein

There is another section included in the Eatwell Guide, 'Oils & Spreads', however these should be unsaturated and used in very small amounts.

What to avoid...

Guidelines around healthy eating for children age 5-11 are the same as for adults but remember:

The Eatwell Guide states foods high in fats or sugar should be avoided or kept to a minimum. Too much of these foods contributes towards excessive weight gain, especially if we are not very active. Children should get all the vital nutrients including energy and essential fatty acids from the 4 major food groups

Avoid foods high in salt like crisps, fast food, processed food or ready meals. Children's kidneys are still developing and their bodies can't get rid of salt so it can build up more than in adults. Too much salt can put us at risk of high blood pressure and kidney disease.

Limit sugar intake, particularly in drinks as it can cause rapid tooth decay and contribute to weight gain, this includes fresh fruit juices and smoothies.

Drinking more water keeps us hydrated, more alert and won't fill us up with 'empty calories' that we don't need

Me Size Meals

Many of us eat much more food than we need or that the body can deal with, especially if we are not very active. 'Me Size Meals' used by Change4Life gives guidance, tips and ideas around portion sizes and other fun ways to support healthier choices for all the family.


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