The 5 food groups
You will do yourself a favor if you choose a variety of foods from each of the 5 food groups every day:
- fresh fruits
- fresh vegetables and legumes (beans)
- whole grains and cereals
- lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes (beans) tofu, nuts, seeds
- milk, cheese yoghurt or alternatives.
Each food group has important nutrients.
The amount of each food you need will vary during your life, depending on factors such as how active you are and whether or not you are growing, pregnant, breastfeeding and more.
Fresh fruit is a great source of nutrition. Choose fruits that are in season in your area. They’re fresher and provide the most nutrients.
2 to 3 year-olds, 1 piece a day
4 to 8 year-olds, 1½ pieces a day
adults and children over 9, 2 pieces a day.
If you want to have fruit juices, do it only occasionally. Half a cup is enough. Fruit juices lack fibre and they’re not filling. Their acidity can also damage tooth enamel. Commercial fruit juices are often high in sugars.
Dried fruit also has a high sugar content. It is only suitable as an occasional extra.
Vegetables and legumes (beans and peas)
Vegetables are primary sources of essential vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre.
To get the most from this group:
choose vegetables and legumes in season
look for different colours:
greens like beans, peas and broccoli
red, orange or yellow vegetables like capsicums, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potato and pumpkin
purple vegetables like red cabbage and eggplant
white vegetables like cauliflower, mushrooms and potatoes.
The healthier way is to eat raw vegetables, we all know that, but there are also some vegetables which offer useful health benefits when they’re cooked.
2 year-olds, 2½ serves a day
adults and children aged 9 and over, 5 serves a day.
One serve is ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw.
You can include vegetables at lunch (salads, raw vegies or soups) as well as dinner. Cherry tomatoes, snow peas, green beans, red capsicum, celery or carrot sticks with hummus makes a great snack.
Grains and cereal foods
Whole grains have protein, dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins. In processed grains, some of these nutrients are lost.
They include rolled oats, brown rice, wholemeal and wholegrain breads, cracked wheat, barley, buckwheat and breakfast cereals like muesli.
2 to 8 year-olds, start with 4 serves a day
14 to 18 year-olds, 7 or more serves
adults, 6 or 7 serves a day depending on activity.
A serve is equivalent to:
1 slice of bread, or
½ cup cooked rice, oats, pasta or other grain, or 3 rye crispbread, or
30 g of breakfast cereal ( 1 cup flakes or ¼ cup muesli).
Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes (beans) tofu, nuts and seeds
These foods provide protein, minerals and vitamins. Legumes, nuts and seeds also have dietary fibre. It’s good to choose a variety of foods from this group.
2 to 3 year-olds, 1 serve a day
4 to 8 year-olds, 1½ serves a day
women and children over 9, 2½ serves a day
men aged 19 to 50, 3 serves a day
A serve is 65 g cooked red meat, or 80 g poultry, or 100 g fish, or 2 eggs, or 1up legumes, or 170 g tofu, or 30 g nuts, seeds or pastes (peanut butter or tahini).
Adults should eat no more than 500 g of red meat a week. There is evidence that those eating more than 500 g of red meat may have an increased risk of bowel cancer.
Milk, cheeses, yoghurts
Dairy products provide calcium, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients. However, they’re also major sources of fat, so it’s best to choose small portions of full-fat cheeses, and reduced-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt.
Some nut or oat milks have added calcium but they lack vitamin B12 and enough protein. Check your child’s total diet with a doctor or qualified dietician before using them.
Children should have full-cream milk until aged 2. Reduced-fat varieties may be suitable after that.
2 to 3 year-olds, 1½ serves a day
4 to 8 year-olds, 1½ serves (girls), 2 serves (boys) a day
9 to 11 year olds, 2½ serves (boys), 3 serves (girls) a day
12 to 18 year-olds, 3½ serves a day
adults, 2½ serves a day.
A serve is 1 cup of milk, or 2 slices of cheese, or 200 g yoghurt.
If you use plant-based alternatives to milk, like soy milk, check that they have at least 100 mg calcium per 100 mL.
Tap water is the ideal drink for children.
Foods that are not included in the 5 food groups are called ‘discretionary choices’ or ‘extras’. Some of it could be called junk food.
You can eat small amounts of unsaturated oils and spreads. These may be from olives, soybeans, corn, canola, sunflower, safflower, sesame or grapeseeds.
Other ‘discretionary choices’ are not needed in a healthy diet. This includes:
- ice cream
- ice blocks
- soft drinks
- cordials, sports, fruit and energy drinks
- lollies and chocolates
- processed meats
- potato crisps
- savoury snack foods
- commercial burgers
- hot chips
- fried foods
These kinds of food can provide excess energy, saturated fat, sugar or salt. They are often described as ‘energy-rich but nutrient-poor’.
They also often replace healthier foods in the diet.
You probably didn’t know this information, but Australia about 40% of children’s food energy come from discretionary foods. This is too high for their good health.