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Healthy Eating for Children Aged 5 to 12 years

Eating and drinking well in childhood is essential for proper growth and development. It can also establish healthy eating patterns to promote good health and wellbeing in later life.

Children aged 5 to 12 years are growing quickly and are becoming more active. The best way for them to get all the food and nutrients they need in the day is to have a regular pattern of eating – for example, three meals a day with some nutritious snacks in between.

The foods that school aged children eat at meal times usually contain a range of nutrients while typical snacks (such as crisps, biscuits or sweets) contain lots of calories and very little nutrition. Filling up on these snacks could lead to nutritional deficiencies and unwanted weight gain.

It is important to encourage your child to eat a healthy balanced diet based on the principles of the  Eatwell Guide. This guide applies in full to children from 5 years and above. It shows the different amounts and types of foods needed to enjoy a well-balanced and healthy diet, giving us an overview of what is recommended to eat and drink over a period of time. Watch this short video on the Eatwell Guide for useful hints and tips.

Here are some tips on the different sorts of food to offer your child: 

Healthy Weight

Children who are above a healthy weight are more likely to remain so as adults which increases the risk of preventable health conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

To help your child maintain a healthy weight try to encourage them to:

  • Eat a healthy and varied diet
  • Limit the amount of foods, drinks and snacks that are high in fat and sugar  
  • Move more - children should be active for at least 60 minutes a day

Eating and lifestyle habits are established early in life. Children are likely to adopt the same eating patterns as their parents. It is important that the whole family adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Diet and dental health

It is important to try to limit the number of times a day that children have sugary foods and drinks and, if possible keep them to mealtimes. The risk of developing tooth decay increases as the amount and frequency of sugar intake rises. Soft drinks such as carbonated drinks and squashes, and fruit juices can be high in free sugars which can be harmful to teeth, so choose reduced sugar versions and dilute fruit juices. These drinks may also be acidic, and this can damage the protective enamel on teeth. To help protect teeth encourage your child to drink water or milk and remember to keep soft drinks to mealtimes.

Snack foods containing free sugars such as sweets, cakes, biscuits and chocolate should be limited, especially between mealtimes, as they can promote tooth decay. If your child eats these snack foods, try not to make them a daily addition to the diet – provide them occasionally and in small amounts.

Designed to Smile have useful information about healthy eating to look after your child's teeth. 


Taking time to start the day with a nutritious breakfast is important because it helps children to fuel their body for the day ahead while providing important vitamins, minerals and fibre. Evidence shows that eating a healthy breakfast at the start of the school day can contribute to improved readiness to learn, increased concentration, and improved wellbeing and behaviour.

See the healthy Breakfast Food Fact Sheet on the British Dietetic Association (BDA) website for more information and healthy breakfast ideas. 

Many breakfast cereals are fortified with added vitamins and minerals and can be a quick, easy and nutritious option for breakfast. Try to choose high fibre varieties to help keep your child feeling fuller for longer and prevent constipation, and watch out for breakfast cereals that contain lots of sugar e.g. any that are chocolate, honey or sugar coated. 

School Food

The food and drink provided in schools can make a positive contribution towards giving children a healthy balanced diet and encouraging them to develop good eating habits. Government regulations guide most primary and secondary schools to provide healthy and balanced meals and healthier snacks. In Wales, these regulations set out nutritional standards for an average school lunch as well as food and drink requirements throughout the school day. This means meals and other foods served throughout the day should be nutritious and of good quality.

If you choose to provide a packed lunch for your child, check whether their school has a packed lunch policy. The NHS website has healthy lunchbox ideas and recipes

Child Measurement Programme

The Child Measurement Programme measures the height and weight of children at the age of 5 in Reception class. The school nurse will provide information to parents on the Child Measurement Programme prior to this universal contact, with the option for families to opt out. 

This national programme allows learning on how children in Wales are growing so that NHS Wales can better plan and deliver health services and for the school nurse to assess a child’s health and development.

Further information and resources