Dietary requirements of primary school children

a young girl writing on her desk inside a primary school classroom

As children grow bigger, their need for vitamins, minerals and other nutrients also increases. By the time kids reach primary school age, good nutrition is needed to help them grow and develop, concentrate at school and to fuel their busy days. This is also a time to encourage healthy eating habits that will hopefully continue on into later life. Below are dietary guidelines for various nutrients and how you can ensure your children obtain what their growing bodies need.

Macronutrients

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide energy to the body's cells, particularly the brain, and are an important source of fuel for primary-school aged children. Give your child good quality carbohydrates for breakfast such as whole grain cereal or porridge, for lunch pop a whole grain salad sandwich in their lunch box and for dinner offer brown rice, quinoa or whole meal pasta.

Protein

Protein is important for the proper growth and function of the body and can also be used as a source of energy. It's recommended that kids between the ages of four and eight have 20g of protein daily, boys nine to 13 years of age have 40g/day and girls nine to 13 years of age have 35g/day.

To help your child reach their daily protein requirements, offer protein at each meal. For example, at breakfast offer a boiled egg, and for lunch or dinner include lean meat, fish, chicken, beans or chickpeas. Protein rich snacks can also be included such as hummus and veggie sticks, nuts and seeds, or cheese and crackers.

Fat

Fat is needed to absorb certain nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and can be used as a fuel source. 'Good' fats like omega 3 are also important for brain development and function. It's recommended that kids between four and eight years of age get 55mg daily and kids nine to 13 years of age get 70mg daily.1

To help your school-aged children obtain the fats their bodies need, offer full-fat yoghurt and cheese, include fish at least a few times a week, add chia or flaxseeds to their cereal, and encourage them to eat avocadoes perhaps by serving a guacamole dip or by adding avocado to their sandwiches.

Important vitamin and minerals

Calcium

Calcium is important for building strong and healthy bones throughout childhood and this helps to maximise bone health later in life. It's suggested that kids between the ages of four and eight obtain 700mg daily and kids between the ages of nine and 11 obtain 1000mg daily.1 This can be achieved by including two to three serves of milk or milk products, canned salmon or sardines including the soft edible bones, plenty of green leafy vegetables such as broccoli or calcium-fortified products.2

B vitamins

Most B vitamins help to release energy from the food we eat as well as serve many of other different functions in the body. To help your child obtain the B's they need to fuel their active days, include a wide variety of foods in their daily diet, especially whole grains, fruit and vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is important for keeping kids well and helping build collagen in bones, cartilage, muscles and blood vessels. It's recommended that children between the ages of four and eight have 35mg of vitamin C daily and children between the ages of nine and 13 have 40mg a day. This can be achieved by including one to two serves of fruit or vegetables particularly vitamin C-rich oranges, strawberries, red capsicum, kiwifruit, broccoli or tomatoes.3

Iron

Iron is important for primary-school aged children as it's needed for the transport of oxygen to the body's tissues and helps maintain healthy brain function. On the contrary, inadequate iron intake may be associated with poorer mental performance. Kids four to eight years of age need 10mg of iron daily and kids nine to 13 years of age need 8mg.1

Iron needs can be met by including lean meat, poultry or seafood in their daily diet. Beans, lentils and chickpeas are also good sources4 and could be made into a dip such as hommus, homemade baked beans or added to burritos.

Zinc

Zinc aids in the maintenance of healthy immune function in children. It's suggested that kids four to eight years of age have 4mg daily and kids nine to 13 years of age have 6mg.1 This can be achieved by introducing a variety of the following foods into their daily diet: pork, chicken, baked beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, almonds or Swiss cheese.5

Iodine

Iodine is required for skeletal growth and brain development, but research shows that one in three children of primary school age are not having enough. It's recommended that kids up to the age of eight have 90mcg daily and kids nine to 13 years old have 120mcg.1 The amount of iodine in food is highly variable but it can be found in seaweed, seafood, iodized salt, dairy products and some fruits and veggies.6