Need ideas for meals and snacks for children?

The size of the meals and snacks will be dependent on the age and energy level of the child, but general goals are to reduce the amount of processed foods, sugar, saturated fat and salt in their daily diet and to increase the amount of whole, ‘real’ foods provided.

Encourage children to drink plain water and low fat milk as opposed to juice, flavoured waters, fizzy drinks and ‘energy’ drinks.  Try floating orange or lemon slices in a jug of water in the fridge, to give water more appeal.

Because children’s nutrition and energy requirements are relatively high, due to their continuing growth and energy expenditure, they require small, frequent meals and they should be encouraged to eat from all the food groups.  It may take several attempts at offering a new food before a child will try it.



Depending on the age of the children, (younger children require less fibre and older children can have lower fat dairy), a healthy breakfast should consist of a protein source (such as milk, yoghurt, eggs, peanut butter), a high fibre, low sugar carbohydrate (such as oats, an appropriate cereal or grainy toast) and ideally a fruit choice (either fresh fruit or fruit canned in juice). You really can’t go past porridge in winter as a healthy choice.  Instead of adding sugar, try stirring banana or frozen berries into the porridge as it is cooking, to sweeten it and then top with milk or fruit yoghurt.


Snack ideas:

  • Smoothie made with milk and/or yoghurt + fruit
  • Dried fruit and nuts (not for very young children in case they choke)
  • Fruit and yoghurt
  • Low fat crackers with Vegemite + a cheese slice
  • Low fat crackers with natural peanut butter
  • Low fat crackers with low fat cream cheese and tomato or cucumber
  • Grainy bread or toast with baked beans
  • A selection of vegetable sticks + hummus or a yoghurt based dip
  • Homemade pita crisps + hummus
  • A slice of toast with peanut butter + a fruit, or glass of milk
  • Fruit kebabs dipped into low fat yoghurt
  • A chunk of cheese, raw vegetable sticks, hummus and rice crackers
  • Cheese and pineapple chunks on toothpicks, cherry tomatoes + rice crackers
  • Celery stick ’boats’ filled with peanut butter or low fat cream cheese or cottage cheese + fruit and/or crackers
  • Fruit bread toast + lite cream cheese + a fruit


Lunch ideas:

A grainy bread or a roll, a pita bread or a wrap, with a protein and salad filling.  Protein sources could include chicken, egg, hummus, cold meat, low fat cheese or cottage cheese.  Encourage children to make their own sandwiches and ensure there is a good selection of suitable fillings available.  They may like to include a small container of baby carrots, celery sticks, chunks of cucumber, cherry tomatoes, etc if they aren’t too keen on salad in their sandwiches or rolls.  A piece of fruit and a bottle of cold water finish off the meal.

Try cutting sandwiches into triangles, or making club sandwiches for a change.  If the kids prefer white bread, buy high fibre white bread, put that on top and put a slice of grainy bread on the bottom.

If they really don’t like sandwiches they might take a small can of tuna, salmon or chicken, or a chicken drumstick.   A couple of cheese chunks, together with a container of crunchy vegetable sticks and some hummus to dip them in might be more appealing to non-sandwich eaters.  Add in a piece of fresh fruit or some dried apricot halves.  A small bag of mini rice crackers or popcorn could be added to the lunchbox.

A ham and potato frittata cut into wedges makes a nice change and add veggie sticks and/or fruit to round off the meal.  Or make mini savoury muffins, served with a few cheese chunks, cherry tomatoes and fruit.

Make homemade pizzas using small wholemeal pita breads or Freya’s Thins as the base.  Top with tomato sauce, grated vegetables and a little cheese.  Cold pizza is great for lunchboxes; just add fruit to complete the meal.

Another option might be a pottle of fruit + a pottle of yoghurt, a small bag of crackers and some veggie sticks or cherry tomatoes.  For a bit of fun trying drawing faces on the skin of bananas, mandarins and oranges!

Fresh sushi with tuna or chicken and avocado, along with carrot sticks, cucumber chunks and a piece of fruit make a tasty lunch.

Remember, in summer warm lunches are not appealing so invest in a small insulated bag and pop a frozen pad in it to keep food cool.

On days when children are at home and want a hot lunch, things like a jacket potato or kumara cooked in the microwave, split and filled with baked beans, or chilli beans, or a ham and tomato toasted sandwich may hit the spot.  A small sprinkle of low fat grated cheese adds calcium and protein.

Scrambled eggs on an English muffin, or wholegrain toast is a satisfying option and children can learn to make their own scrambled eggs in the microwave.  A small platter of fruit pieces or a bowl of berries could finish off the meal.

For the more adventurous, roll a thin slice of bread out to flatten a little then press into a muffin tin.  Spray with non stick spray and then bake for about 15 minutes, or until the bread is crispy.  Fill with cream corn, baked beans or chill beans, sprinkle with a little low fat grated cheese and put back in the oven for about 10 minutes until the cheese melts and the filling is heated through.  Take care eating as cheese may be very hot.

Another option could be corn fritters or other veggie fritters served with low fat plain yoghurt on the side, plus cherry tomatoes and a piece of fruit.


Dinner ideas:

A low fat protein choice such as lean meat, chicken, or fish, plus a complex carbohydrate such as potato, kumara, rice, pasta, or corn, served with other veggies makes a balanced meal.  Letting the children help prepare the dinners, especially the veggies, encourages them to be more adventurous in trying new things.  Sometimes raw vegetables are more appealing to children than cooked ones.  Vegetable kebabs cooked on the BBQ, served with barbecued chicken or meat is another idea.

Legumes such as chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, etc, are an excellent choice for vegetarian dishes.  Add a can of tomatoes and chopped or grated veggies to the dish, herbs and seasonings and you have a tasty, low cost dish.


Dessert ideas:

  • Fresh fruit or berries with yoghurt.
  • A low fat chocolate dairy food.
  • Once or twice a week offer a small serving of low fat ice cream with fruit.
  • On cold nights try a mug of hot Milo made with low fat milk.
  • Fruit crumble served with custard made from low fat milk


Takeaways and fast foods:

These should be an occasional item and treated as such as they are generally high in fat and sodium.  Explain to children that eating from fast food restaurants is a treat, not an everyday choice.

There are also ‘better’ options available at most fast food restaurants including wraps, rolls, fruit and water, so it is still possible to obtain a healthy choice while enjoying the experience of eating out.


Beware of instant noodle pottles

They’re cheap, filling and they seem like a great idea, but they are very processed, containing additives and way too much salt. A polystyrene tub of Fantastic noodles in Chicken Chow Mein flavour adds over 8g of saturated fat, 48g of carbohydrates and a whopping 1061mg of sodium. That is half an adult’s daily sodium coming from one pot of instant noodles.  Basically they are just a big pile of flour, salt and additives.


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