Recommendations of more Vegetables for children by the Australian Dietary Guidelines
Provides scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets.
There are challenges for adoption of the Guidelines as dietary recommendations in Australia is poor. Most children’s intake of vegetables, fruit, grain (cereal) foods and milk, yoghurt and cheese products and alternatives is below the recommended levels, while their intake of saturated fat, sugar and salt exceeds recommendations.
There appear to be complex relationships between dietary patterns established in childhood and dietary quality over time.
Guideline 1 states that children and adolescents should eat sufficient nutritious foods to grow and develop normally. They should be physically active every day and their growth should be checked regularly. A number of national and state-based surveys of children and adolescents using measured height and weight data have found that 21–25% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese and 2–5% are underweight. The prevalence of obesity is higher for boys than girls. The prevalence of overweight and obesity in children has increased significantly over the past two decades. Childhood obesity has been identified as one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. In the United States (US) it has been predicted that, due to premature mortality associated with obesity developing at a younger age, the current generation of children will be the first in that country’s history to have a life expectancy lower than that of their parents. Obesity is an important determinant of a range of health disorders – unless the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity is arrested, the burden of chronic disease in future generations will be pandemic and cause a crisis in health and economic systems across the world.
Infants, children and adolescents need sufficient nutritious food to grow and develop normally. As a child’s rate of growth is a fundamental indicator of nutritional status and health and wellbeing, parents, carers and health professionals must be responsive to the developmental and nutritional needs of children. Food intake may drop off during the second year of life, when parents’ encouragement and example may be needed. After starting school, children are subject to an increasing array of influences from outside the home, particularly peer pressure, which peaks in adolescence.
Childhood is a period of education about good nutrition—appropriate use of food helps to establish healthy nutrition practices for life!
Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:
- Plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
- Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as
breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years)
And drink plenty of water
- Dietary patterns that include a wide variety of nutritious foods are more likely to meet nutrient requirements, promote health and wellbeing and confer health benefits than restricted diets.
- A variety of foods should be consumed from each of the five food groups – vegetables and legumes/beans; fruit; grain (cereal) foods mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties; lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and/or legumes/beans; and
milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives.
- There are many different ways that these nutrient-dense foods can be chosen to contribute to nutritious dietary patterns that suit personal preferences. However economic, social and
cultural factors can affect the ability of individuals and groups to access nutritious foods.
When introducing solid foods to infants, parents and carers should ensure that a wide variety of nutritious foods of different colours, suitable textures and types is offered. This will provide the additional nutrients required as infants grow and the variety will help to increase acceptance of different nutritious foods. It is also more likely to improve the acceptance of a varied diet during childhood.
Children and adolescents should be encouraged to consume enough of a wide variety of nutritious foods to support normal growth and development. Enjoy plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours,and legumes/beans, and enjoy fruit. There are many nutritional, societal, culinary and environmental reasons to ensure that vegetables, including legumes/beans, and fruit are a major component of Australian dietary patterns. These foods are nutrient dense, relatively low in energy (kilojoules) and are good sources of minerals and vitamins (such as magnesium, vitamin C and folate), dietary fibre and a range of phytochemicals including carotenoids.
The inclusion of a variety of vegetables, including legumes/beans, and fruit provides a diversity of colours, textures and flavours, adding to the enjoyment of eating.
Vegetables, including legumes/beans, and fruit should be eaten in their whole food forms to maximise the impact on a range of health benefits.
Some vegetables are suitable to eat raw, while it is best to cook others to make them more palatable and digestible. Dried legumes should be cooked. Some processed fruits and vegetables, such as those that are canned or frozen in natural juices, are nutritious alternatives as long as they are produced without added salt, sugar (including concentrated fruit juice) or fat (in particular saturated fat).
Different fruits and vegetables are rich in different nutrients. For example, green leafy and Brassica (or cruciferous) vegetables are generally high in folate, and starchy vegetables are a good source of complex carbohydrates. The health benefits of consuming diets high in vegetables, including legumes/beans, and fruit have been reported for decades and are consistently recognised in international dietary guidelines. However fruit and vegetable access, affordability and availability may be difficult for some groups.
The scientific evidence for the health benefits of consuming vegetables, has been strong for several decades and has generally continued to strengthen over recent years, particularly the evidence for a protective effect against cardiovascular disease.
Children and adolescents
The recommended quantities of vegetables and fruit intakes for children and adolescents vary depending on their age and sex.
To meet the dietary recommendations, children and adolescents need to approximately double their overall vegetable consumptionand increase the overall variety of vegetables consumed.
Current fruit intakes by 2–3 year olds are close to the recommended levels but need to increase proportionately with age.
A wide variety of different coloured, textured and tasting vegetables and fruit, both fresh and cooked, should be offered frequently to toddlers and preschoolers.