What is a healthy weight?
Children are at their healthiest when they stay within a healthy weight range for their height and their age. However, it’s not always easy to tell if a child is a healthy weight for their age, because every child is unique. There’s no perfect ‘one size fits all’ measure, but the Body Mass Index (BMI) is commonly used for children and teenagers from 2 through to 19 years, to compare a child’s weight and height to see if it’s in balance.
BMI gives an indication of whether your child is in a healthy weight range or if they are tending towards being overweight or underweight. You can find out your child’s BMI using the BMI percentile calculator on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
What is a serve?
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommended standard ‘serves’ or ‘serve sizes’ for the different food groups to ensure you get the full amount of nutrients your body needs. The serve size is a set amount that doesn’t change and is used along with recommended ‘serves per day’ to work out the total amount of food required daily from each of the five food groups. However, the amount of ‘serves per day’ varies according to age, gender, height, weight and physical activity levels.
How do serve sizes differ within the five food groups?
The serve size your child will need is dependent on the Food Group. Here are some examples of ‘standard serves’ as recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines:
A standard serve is about 75g or:
- ½ cup cooked vegetables
- ½ cup cooked or canned beans, peas or lentils
- 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
- ½ cup sweet corn
- ½ medium potato or sweet potato
- 1 medium tomato
A standard serve is about 150g or:
- 1 medium apple, pear, banana or orange
- 2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums
- 1 cup diced or canned fruit (no added sugar)
And only occasionally:
- 30g dried fruit
A standard serve is:
- 1 slice bread
- ½ medium roll or flat bread
- ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, noodles or quinoa
- ½ cup cooked porridge
- ¼ cup muesli
- 1 crumpet or English muffin
Lean meats and poultry
A standard serve is:
- 65g cooked lean meat like lamb, beef, veal or pork
- 80g cooked lean poultry
- 100g cooked fish
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup cooked or canned legumes or beans
- 170g tofu
- 30g nuts, seeds or peanut butter
Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives
A standard serve is:
- 1 cup milk
- 2 slices hard cheese
- ¾ cup yoghurt
What about portion size?
‘Portion size’ is the amount your child actually eats, but the amount they need depends on what their energy needs are. Some children’s portion sizes are smaller than the serve size and some are larger, however on average, the total of their portion sizes should end up being similar to the number of serves they need each day. If you child eats portions that are smaller than the serve size, they will need to eat from the Five Food Groups more often, and if your child’s portion size is larger, they will need to do the opposite.
How do I know how many serves my child should have a day?
The serves per day your child needs from the Five Food Groups will depend on their age, gender, height, weight and physical activity levels. For meal ideas and advice on how to apply the serve sizes to your child’s diet, please go to the Department of Health’s website.
How do I read food labels?
Food labels can be confusing, however knowing what nutritional information to look for can help you make the right decisions in terms of avoiding unnecessary fats, added salt and added sugars and make the best choices for your family’s health.
Labels on most packaged foods must meet strict requirements in terms of food additive listings and food storage instructions, and the most important food label in terms of choosing healthy food is the Nutrition Information Panel.
This offers the simplest way of choosing healthier foods and can also be used to decide how large one serve of a Food Group or discretionary food choice (the ones best eaten in only small amounts) would be, and whether it is ‘kilojoule worthy’. The panel enables you to compare similar packaged foods and to decide which of them contains less saturated fat, salt, added sugars and kilojoules per 100gm.
Other useful tools for gauging the nutritional value of packaged foods are the Health Star Rating system, the Ingredients List and the Percentage Daily Intake figures. More information about these can be found on the Department of Health’s website.
What are healthy fats?
Not all fats are bad. A certain amount of fat is an essential part of a healthy balanced diet, and we need fat for our nerves, brain and skin cells, to protect vital organs in the body and to help to control our body temperature. Fat also provides us with energy and adds taste and texture to our food.
However, it’s the type and the amount of fat that children eat that’s important. Children whose diets contain too many ‘bad fats’ are more likely to have higher cholesterol levels and could be at risk of developing heart disease later in life.
Saturated and Trans Fats
These are considered less healthy for us than other types of fat because they raise blood cholesterol, and can increase the risk of heart disease in later years. These are found in:
- Fatty meats
- Full fat dairy products like milk, cheese and cream
- Coconut and palm oil
- Deep-fried takeaway foods
- Commercially baked products like biscuits and pastries
These are a better for the body as they can help reduce blood cholesterol. There are two types of polyunsaturated fats, Omega-3 and Omega-6, and both are healthier alternatives to saturated fats. These are found in:
- Sunflower, safflower and soybean oils
- Nuts and seeds
These can lower blood cholesterol, and are found in:
- Canola oil
- Olive oil
- Nuts and seeds