What is a healthy balanced diet for kids?

Making healthy choices for the whole family.
Making healthy choices for the whole family. Photo: Getty

Never has there been more accessible information on nutrition, yet there seems to be more confusion than ever before. If that's you, rest assured you are not alone - a recent survey showed that 87% of Australians are confused over what constitutes a healthy diet. Perhaps more worryingly is how this confusion is affecting our children. If we're unsure of how to best nourish ourselves, how can we have the confidence to feed our kids well?

The same survey found that 82% of parents change the meals they serve the kids when they are dieting. Now if that means ditching the soft drinks, the sugary desserts and the junk food then terrific – everyone benefits! However almost 1 in 5 parents reported reducing the carbs of their kids meals while they were dieting. Yet at the same time the vast majority recognised the importance of fibre for their kids and wanted them to eat more. The hunger for correct information about balanced, healthy diets has never been larger. That's why I've lent my support to the A Grain Of Truth campaign; a campaign committed to bringing information to families about how they can embrace a sensible, long-term approach to healthy eating for parents and kids alike.

It's essential that we recognise that kids have very different nutritional needs to adults. In relative terms they have a higher demand for several nutrients that support growth and development, as well as having a higher relative energy demand overall. Despite our concerns over our kids' activity levels, the facts are that they are still (usually) a whole lot more active than most adults, plus they need energy to support their growth.

When it comes to carbohydrates, kids use up a lot more than we do for their size. Their brains take up a large portion of both their bodies and their carbohydrate use. Just consider that brain weight quadruples in the first three years of life, and then over the course of the next 15 years it only increases a little more, such that by adulthood the brain is roughly 5 times larger than at birth. That's a big glucose-burning brain in a small body for several years!

The good news is that the same carb-rich foods that are best for us are also good for our kids. Wholegrains, legumes, fruit and certain starchy veg are all terrific choices as they deliver a wealth of nutrients along with fibre. Grains in particular seem to be in the firing line right now, yet these foods are important providers of nutrients for kids.  These foods are seen as 'carbs' but in fact they provide protein, fibre and a wealth of micronutrients including B group vitamins, iron, zinc and magnesium. Bread is a great example. 2 slices of wholegrain bread provides around 6g of protein, 5g of fibre, along with 40% of a 10 year old's RDI for niacin, half his thiamin, 20% of his magnesium and iron, 15% of his zinc, and 10% his folate and phosphorus. Not bad for a food so many are becoming scared to eat.

The 2007 Children's Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey highlighted that less than half of boys aged over 5 years were eating the recommended serves of grains a day, and only 2-10% of girls were. Instead they were eating way too many discretionary grain-based foods such as biscuits, cakes and pastries. Very few kids are eating enough vegies (less than 20%) Surely this highlights to us that this is where our focus should be. Let's get the kids eating less of the nutrient-poor stuff and more of the good stuff! And most important of all is teaching them the importance of enjoying a healthy diet and lifestyle, so that they lead the way for a healthier Australia.