Primary school children need to get lots of nutrients and energy from their food to fuel healthy growth and development; their requirements are higher in relation to their body size than adults.
Both boys and girls grow by about 5 – 6cm a year over the primary school years, and gain weight accordingly.
The general principles of a healthy diet are aimed at all children over 5 years of age, but please note that these guidelines should not be applied too rigorously in the early primary school years as some young children develop at a slower pace and may be unable to eat enough to satisfy energy and nutrient needs.
The best way to make sure they get all the nutrients and energy they need is to give them a wide variety of nutrient rich foods; ones that provide lots of vitamins and minerals, from the food groups below, increasing serving sizes of foods and drinks as your child grows.
- Bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and other starchy carbohydrates
- Fruit and vegetables
- Milk and dairy products
- Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other proteins
- Oil and spreads
By this stage your child will, hopefully, have grown out of any fussy eating phases they may have gone through before starting school – if they haven’t, not to worry! You can follow the same tips which apply to younger children here.
MILK AND DAIRY FOOD GROUP
Milk, hard cheese and yogurt are the main providers of calcium and iodine to the UK diet. Childhood is an important time for growth and development and getting enough calcium is an essential part of building bones.
Dairy foods are excellent sources of protein too, which is important for growing bones and muscles.
Foods from the dairy group also contain other important nutrients such as vitamin B12, riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2), phosphorus and potassium.
- As well as a drink, milk can be used in custard, milk puddings, soups and sauces
- A cheesy sauce on pasta or as cauliflower cheese ups dairy intake too
- Try giving yogurt or fromage frais as a tasty pudding or snack
For more detail about the other food groups, see Tiny Tums.
SUGARY FOODS AND DRINKS
We all know that as a nation that we eat far too much sugar. But what does it really do to our health?
Sugar causes dental caries (tooth decay), especially if they are consumed between meals. Sugar mixes with the natural bacteria in our mouth and becomes an acid. Sugars in processed foods and drinks are free to harm our teeth. Those in fruit on the other hand, are trapped within the cell structures, and so don’t act in the same way. However when fruit is blended or juiced, these cell structures are broken down and so the sugars are able to escape and cause damage to our teeth.
You can help protect your child’s teeth by reducing their intake of sugary foods and drinks, and keeping these to mealtimes. Sweets like lollipops will damage teeth as the sugar will be in contact with the teeth for a long time. Also remember to brush teeth and gums for eat least 2 minutes, twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
But sugar isn’t the only dental damage culprit, acidic drinks such as fizzy drinks, fruit juices and squashes can also be a big problem by wearing away the surface of the tooth.
For more advice on dental health, check out our publication Tiny Teeth.
A NOTE ON BREAKFAST
Mornings can be hectic, but it’s definitely worth making sure your child has time for breakfast.
Many primary school children skip breakfast, but breakfast can give children’s daily nutrient needs a boost; breakfast eaters usually have a better intake of vitamins, minerals and fibre than breakfast skippers.
If you don’t have time for breakfast at home many schools now offer breakfast through their breakfast clubs. Find out more from your own school.
The food children are given at break and lunchtime at school can make an important contribution to their dietary intake. School food nutrition and quality has vastly improved in recent years. Different governing bodies control school food policy in England, Scotland and Wales.
The School Food Standards set out the requirements for food provided in educational settings in England. They are designed to ensure pupils are offered nutritious meals and snacks during the school day and aim to increase the vitamin and mineral content and decrease fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content from children’s diets.
Better Eating, Better Learning was released in 2014 to help schools, local authorities, caterers, parents in Scotland, to work together to make further improvements in school food and food education.
Also see Scottish School Meals
The Healthy Eating in Schools (Nutritional Standards & Requirements) (Wales) Regulations 2013 sets out the type of foods which can and can’t be provided by schools to ensure nutritious foods are available in primary schools in Wales.
Every school child in the UK, aged from 5 to 18 years, is eligible for EU-subsidised milk at school each day. Many schools take advantage of the scheme to provide breaktime milk for their pupils. It is important to encourage your kids to take advantage of this and drink the milk that is provided.
As well as calcium, a carton of mid-morning milk (189ml or 1/3 pint) provides other essential nutrients including protein, phosphorus, potassium, iodine and vitamins B12 and B2, and can be a useful boost to meeting children’s nutrient needs.
Percentage (%) of a primary school child’s nutrient needs (RNI)* provided by a carton (189ml) of semi-skimmed milk
|Nutrient||4 – 6 year old||7- 10 year old|
* This is the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI); it’s a figure set by the Department of Health which describes the amount of a nutrient that is enough to meet the dietary needs of most people in a group (97%).
For more information on school milk, visit the Government website.
Although school dinners are now subject to food standards, many children take a packed lunch to school. Most schools now have their own healthy snacking policies in place and schools are encouraged by the Department for Education to introduce packed lunch policies too.
Regularly coming up with healthy ideas your children will enjoy can be a challenge, but as an easy guide to getting the lunchbox balance right, and in line with standards for school lunches, include at least one item from each of the four main food groups. Try to keep snacks high in fat and/or sugar to a minimum as these have little to no nutritional benefit.
Packed lunch should include
- At least one portion of fruit and one portion of vegetables
- A starchy food such as any type of bread, pasta, rice, couscous, noodles, potatoes or other type of cereals
- Meat, fish or other sources of non-dairy protein (e.g. lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, houmous, peanut butter and falafel)
- Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt, or fromage frais
- A drink such as water, milk, yogurt or homemade smoothies could also be included.
As much as kids will ask, it is best NOT to include:
- Snacks such as crisps – for an alternative try: nuts, seeds, vegetable sticks, savoury crackers or breadsticks, cheese
- Confectionery such as chocolate bars, chocolate-coated biscuits and sweets – for an alternative try: fresh fruit, yogurt, rice pudding or a digestive biscuit
- Meat products such as sausage rolls, individual pies, corned meat and sausages / chipolatas should only be included very occasionally
World School Milk Day is held all over the world on the last Wednesday of September every year to celebrate the benefits and success of school milk programmes.
In the United Kingdom, our history of school milk spans back over 100 years to the Provision of Meals Act 1906, which recognised that the provision of school food would allow disadvantaged and undernourished children benefit more from education and that milk could be provided to children to prevent poor nutrition.
Last reviewed: 03/2017
Next review due: 03/2019