Simple guidelines from qualified experts make it easy to have a balanced diet and nutritious and healthy food.
The 5 food groupsThe best way to eat for health is to choose a variety of foods from each of the 5 food groups every day:
- vegetables and legumes (beans)
- grains and cereals
- lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes (beans) tofu, nuts, seeds
- milk, cheese yoghurt or alternatives.
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.
Vegetables and legumes (beans and peas)Vegetables and legumes have hundreds of natural nutrients such as 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.
- 2 year-olds, 2½ serves a day
- adults and children aged 9 and over, 5 serves a day.
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.
FruitFresh fruit is a good source of vitamins and dietary fibre. It’s best to eat fresh fruit.
- 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.
Dried fruit also has a high sugar content. It is only suitable as an occasional extra.
Grains and cereal foodsGrain foods include rolled oats, brown rice, wholemeal and wholegrain breads, cracked wheat, barley, buckwheat and breakfast cereals like muesli.
Wholegrains have protein, dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins. In processed grains, some of these nutrients are lost.
- 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.
- 1 slice of bread, or
- ½ cup cooked rice, oats, pasta or other grain, or 3 rye crispbread, or
- 30g of breakfast cereal ( ⅔ cup flakes or ¼ cup muesli).
Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes (beans) tofu, nuts and seedsThese 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
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, yoghurtsMilk gives you protein, vitamins and calcium. Soy drinks with added calcium can be used as a milk substitute for children over 1.
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.
Read more on Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on introducing allergy foods to babies and children.
- 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.
If you use plant-based alternatives to milk, like soy milk, check that they have at least 100mg calcium per 100 mL.
DrinksApart from milk, the ideal drink for children is tap water.
Discretionary choicesFoods 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
They also often replace healthier foods in the diet.
In Australia about 40% of children’s food energy come from discretionary foods. This is too high for their good health.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (Australian Health Survey: Nutrition )eatforhealth.gov.au (Five food groups)National Health and Medical Research Council (Eat for Health Australian Dietary Guidelines)NSW Department of Health (Choose water as a drink)