healthy packed lunch for kids

A parents’ guide to healthy eating for kids

Do you want to make sure your kids are eating a healthy diet?

Maybe it’s something you’re already embracing and want to perfect? Or perhaps you’ve thought about it, but haven’t had chance to action it just yet?

Whether you’re in the first or the secondary category, or a bit of both, this article is designed to help. Over the next few paragraphs, we’ll talk you through:

  1. Why kids should eat a healthy diet.

  2. What a healthy diet looks like.

  3. Some healthy eating tips and ideas.

Why healthy eating for children matters

Healthy eating for kids goes hand-in-hand with lots of positive things. For instance, children who are of a healthy weight are reportedly:1
  • Fitter
  • Healthier
  • Better at learning
  • More self-confident

Research has also found that they’re less likely to develop health problems as they get older too. What’s more, if you introduce healthy eating habits to children at a young age, then they’re more inclined to adopt this way of thinking and living into their lives and continue with it into adulthood.

What a healthy children’s diet looks like

We all need to be getting the right quota of essential minerals, vitamins, fats, carbs, protein etc. to help lead a healthy life. However, the levels do vary between adults and children because children:

  1. Are developing
  2. Tend to be more active than adults

Recommended calorie intake for children

  • Young children - need to ideally consume 1,000 to 2,000 calories a day.
  • Older children and adolescents – need between 1,400 to 3,200 calories a day.
Just as men tend to need more daily calories than women, boys need more calories than girls too (as you’ll see in the tables below).2

Guidance on estimated calorie levels

Here’s some guidance on calorie consumption levels, depending on gender, age and activity levels.3


Age Sedentary Moderately active Active
2 1,000 1,000 1,000
3 1,000 1,400 1,400
4 1,200 1,400 1,600
5 1,200 1,400 1,600
6 1,400 1,600 1,800
7 1,400 1,600 1,800
8 1,400 1,600 2,000
9 1,600 1,800 2,000
10 1,600 1,800 2,200
11 1,800 2,000 2,200
12 1,800 2,200 2,400
13 2,000 2,200 2,600



Age Sedentary Moderately active Active
2 1,000 1,000 1,000
3 1,000 1,200 1,400
4 1,200 1,400 1,400
5 1,200 1,400 1,600
6 1,200 1,400 1,600
7 1,200 1,600 1,800
8 1,400 1,600 1,800
9 1,400 1,600 1,800
10 1,400 1,800 2,000
11 1,600 1,800 2,000
12 1,600 2,000 2,200
13 1,600 2,000 2,200


How to serve up those recommended calories

The best healthy eating meal plans for children provide the right balance of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are essential for good development, as well as replacing the energy that’s being burnt off every day.

But what does this look like in reality? What food does this involve exactly? And how much do you need to eat more frequently than others?

Generally speaking, when putting healthy eating meal plans together, you need to make sure your child’s diet is following the NHS’ Eatwell Guide. This means that it’s made up of:4


  • You’ll find this in: Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals, oats, couscous and other grains.

Protein – aim for at least two portions of fish a week

  • You’ll find this in: Lean meat, dairy, eggs, fish, eggs, beans, soya food and pulses.

Fat – steer clear of saturated fats, if possible

  • You’ll find this in: Butter and fattier meats (saturated) and olive or rapeseed oil and nuts and seeds (unsaturated fat).

Calcium – always try to go for low fat versions of dairy products, if they’re available

  • You’ll find this in: Cheese, yoghurts, beans, tofu, green leafy vegetables.

Iron – is particularly important for girls

  • You’ll find this in: Liver, wholegrains, lean meat, nuts, dried fruit and breakfast cereals that have been fortified with iron.

Vitamin A

  • You’ll find this in: Milk, cheese, eggs, carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers and spinach.

Vitamin C

  • You’ll find this in: Oranges, berries, peppers, broccoli and sprouts.

Vitamin D

Omega 3 fatty acids

  • You’ll find this in: Oily fish – salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines.

Ideas for making healthy eating for kids fun

 We’ve scoured the internet for some fun healthy food ideas for kids (of which there are many). Here’s our pick of the bunch:

Idea 1: Salad in a jar

Yes, you’ve heard right, salad in a jar. Getting your kids to cram salad pieces of their choice into a jar is fun and makes the salad look more appealing too.

Idea 2: Cucumber caterpillars

We’ve head of caterpillar cakes, and now there’s cucumber caterpillars. You can make them as short or as long as you like and you can even give them a name if you want to as well!

Idea 3: Breakfast burritos

A burrito? For breakfast? Grab some tortilla wraps (preferably wholegrain) and fill them with as many healthy toppings as you like – cheese, tomatoes, spinach or egg. Experiment with different combos.

Idea 4: Make it look fab

The more appealing food looks, the more likely it’s going to appeal to kids’ eyes and appetites. Turn ingredients into shapes, rainbow-coloured concoctions and create creatures and faces, if possible too.

Idea 5: Turn it into a kebab

Fruit or veg, meat or carbs. Cut the food up, slide it on to a kebab stick and encourage your child to get involved with making the kebab creations. Don’t be afraid to make up random food combinations.

Has this article left you keen to crack on with creating a healthy eating meal plan for your children now? The recipes in this article, ‘Delicious and nutritious lunch ideas kids will love’ are a great place to start.

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Last updated: 23 July 2020