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How much does my child need to eat?

Children’s bodies go through rapid growth and development over the years and what they eat really does make a difference. Feeding them a well-balanced healthy diet is one of the best things you can do to help them grow and develop properly and ensure they maintain good health.


The nutritional requirements of children are different from adults and are constantly changing and vary depending on their age and stage. As children grow and start to become more active the amount of food they eat will start to increase – so their portion sizes are going to increase!


It is important to offer children a variety of foods from each of the four food groups in order to meet their energy and nutrient requirements.

  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Breads and cereals
  • Milk and milk products
  • Lean meat and meat alternatives


Below are the recommend number serves for children and serving size examples for each food group.

Vegetables and Fruit

Breads and Cereals

Milk and Milk products

Lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds


Number of serves per day

At least 3 serves of Vegetables and

2 servings of fruit

At least 5

At least 2-3

At least 1-2


Example of

1 serve

- 1 medium potato- ½ cup cooked veges- ½ cup salad- 1 apple, pear or banana- ½ cup stewed or tinned fruit - 1 bread roll- 1 slice bread (wholemeal or wholegrain)- 2 wheat biscuits- 4 grainy wholegrain- ½ cup cooked porridge- 1 cup cooked rice/pasta - 1 cup milk- 1 pottle yoghurt- 2 slices or ½ cup grated cheese - 2 slices cooked meat- 1 chicken leg- 1 egg- ¾ cup cooked beans or lentilsNote: Limit processed meats


Here is an example of how to get 2-3 servings of milk and milk products can be chosen from:

  • ½ cup of milk at breakfast time
  • ½ pottle of yoghurt at morning snack
  • 1 slice of cheese at afternoon snack
  • ½ cup of milk at dinner time


So what might a typical day look like? 


Breakfast options:

  1. Cooked oats with milk and chopped banana/berries
  2. Wholegrain cereal with milk and peaches
  3. Toast with avocado and a yoghurt
  4. Boiled egg with toast soldiers


Lunch options:

  1. Cheesy courgette or corn fritters
  2. Vegetable frittata
  3. Scrambled eggs with toast and cherry tomatoes
  4. Toasted cheese sandwich with carrot sticks
  5. Wraps/sandwiches with tuna/egg/cheese and salad
  6. Sushi with extra veggies e.g. a raw carrot


Offer a serving or fruit and possibly a yoghurt or glass of milk with or after lunch.

Dinner options:

Ideally offer the same food as the rest of the family (as long as that is something balanced and healthy), and remember – it is best to offer food with minimal added salt.


Lean meat, chicken or fish with vegetables such as peas, carrot, broccoli and mashed kumara or potato, or rice/pasta/quinoa.


1. Salmon cakes (made with potato or kumara) with salad or vegetables


2. Home-made meatballs (add grated vegetables to the mix) with brown rice or wholemeal spaghetti and extra veggies on the side.


3. Chicken and vegetable pasta bake with salad/vegetables


Along with these meals choose 1-2 healthy snacks (depending on the needs of your child)


Snack ideas for kids


-       Fruit and vegetables – cut into fun shapes

-       Yoghurt

-       Homemade mini veggie or fruit muffins

-       Wholegrain crackers with cheese or avocado

-       Plain popcorn

-       Veggie sticks with cottage cheese

-       Pita bread with hummus or a yoghurt based dip

-       Wholemeal or fruit toast with peanut butter

-       Grapes and cubes of cheese

More helpful tips!

  • Water and milk are the best fluid choices for children. Blue top milk is recommended for children under 2 year and reduced far milk is suitable when they are over 2. Sugary drinks and fruit juice are best to be avoided.
  • Snacks should be considered “mini meals” and not replace main meals and aren’t about indulging in sweet treats. Treats really need to be for special occasions only, rather than every day foods.
    • Children don’t need special food, they can they same as you provided that it is healthy, an appropriate portion size and without too much salt.
    • Allow your child to identify their own feelings of hunger and fullness, as having too much control over how much your child eats can cause them to lose touch with their own appetite.
    • During childhood it is important to establish healthy eating behaviours and habits as these can influence behaviours later in life. Parents and caregivers need to be healthy eating role models for their children as children can develop habits by watching when and what you eat.


Best of luck!

By AUT Millennium Nutritionist Claire Turnbull and Dietitian Rachel Goodger

For more about Claire and her work head to www.claireturnbull.co.nz


Ministry of Health. (2012). Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children and Young People (Aged 2–18 Years) A background paper. Partial revision February 2015.
Wellington: Ministry of Health.


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