Healthy children who eat healthy: a practical guide

Healthy children
Healthy children who eat healthy food


How  can we have more healthy children?

Education in healthy nutrition starts at home well before school age. To cook, to grow vegetables and herbs, to learn how to eat healthy foods, are all home activities. It is important to help your children discover different types of food and, particularly, how to eat them in a balanced way.

In this short guide I will give you lots of advice to help you to get your children used to a healthy eating style, in particular, to consume fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholegrain cereals. First of all, here are some rules to prepare a balanced meal:

  • Fruit and vegetables should never be missing on your table and should be as varied as possible, taking into consideration you children’s preferences.
  • Try to prepare dishes based on different kinds of cereal grains, not only wheat and rice, but also barley, oatmeal, spelt and maybe also some so-called “pseudo-cereals” like buckwheat, millet and quinoa, in order to take advantage of the different nutrient composition of each one.
  • Fish should be included in the menu on a weekly basis.
  • Pulse consumption is important, since pulses provide proteins and are fibre-rich foods.
  • The consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables is recommended, particularly those from the present season which are more nutrient-rich.

Children’s food portions

The following table summarises some adequate food portions for both pre-schoolers and primary school children. The weights refer to the raw food, net of waste.

  Pre-schoolers(g) Primary school children (g)
Cereal grains
Pasta or rice 60 70
Pasta, rice, spelt, quinoa, etc. (soup) 30 40
Ravioli or tortellini 70 90
Dumplings or gnocchi 100 100
Animal foods
Meat 60 80
Fish 80 100
Eggs One One/One and a half
Cold cuts 50 50
Hard cheese 60 70
Fresh cheese 70 80
Fruit, vegetables, potatoes and pulses
Salads 60 80
Pulses 30 40
Potatoes 150 170
Tomatoes, carrots, runner beans, fennel, squash, etc. 100 150
Fruit, fresh, cooked, as smoothies or squeezed 150 150
Bread 50 50


How to help your children eat healthy

Here are some ideas to get your children used to healthy foods:

  • Shop for food together with your children and let them choose the kind of fruit, vegetables, legumes, etc. they want to buy. A good idea is to let them decide what they want to buy based on the colours.
  • Get your children involved in the preparation of the meals: buy them a nice apron and a chef’s hat to make it more fun.
  • Lay the table together with your children, adding place cards and other decorations that you have prepared together with them beforehand.
  • Every now and then, buy something different together with your children. Go to a farmers’ market or take the opportunity for a short trip directly to a farm, so that the new food will be connected to a special memory and this will stimulate in your child the curiosity to try it. Possible foods that you can purchase include some particular types of pulses that your child has never tried before (e.g. chickling, red lentils, etc.) or some grains that you have not used before at home (spelt, quinoa, etc.) or also some kind of fruit and vegetables that you have not bought before or finally some good cheese and yogurt. Once at home cook the new food together with your child.
  • Try not to make all this seems like an imposition, when you propose new foods to your child, do it in the most natural way. Behave so that you will stimulate your child’s curiosity without forcing him/her to eat something (e.g. do not say “And now, the two of us will cook together and eat this good food!”, whereas start by describing a new dish that you want to prepare and involve your child by asking him/her to pass the cooking utensils, or to stir and taste the dish that is being prepared).

In the next post about children and healthy food I will write how games are another strategy that can be used to teach children to eat healthy food. Stay tuned and feel free to contact me in case you need some advice about children’s nutrition.

Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon is an Italian nutrition coach, speaker, entrepreneur and associate professor at the University of Gothenburg. He started his career as a biologist and spent 15 years working both in Italy and then in Sweden. He has been involved in several EU research projects and has extensively worked and published on the association between diet, longevity and cardiovascular risk across the lifespan, also studying potential interactions between diet and genes. His work about the Mediterranean diet in Sweden has been cited by many newspapers worldwide including the Washington Post and The Telegraph among others. As a speaker, he has been invited by Harvard University and the Italian multi-national food company Barilla.

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About Me

I’m an Italian nutrition coach, speaker, entrepreneur and associate professor at the University of Gothenburg. I started MY career as a biologist and spent 15 years working both in Italy and then in Sweden.

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