Healthy eating and weight control in children

Category: Child health

Topic: Diet and eating

Body shapes and sizes vary through the stages of life. Body shape and size depend on factors such as family history, exercise and diet. Helping your child to maintaining a healthy weight for their height is important for their good health during childhood and as an adult. Childhood is the best time to start healthy eating and lifestyle patterns to continue for life. Parents and carers are the best role models for their children when it comes to healthy eating.

Behaviours to avoid

  • Restricting lots of food from your child's diet (e.g. whole food groups)—this can result in a poor nutrient intake and may affect your child's growth
  • Aiming for weight loss
  • Making negative comments about weight or size
  • Singling your child out as being 'on a diet'

Tips to encourage healthy eating

  • Provide a balanced diet and include healthy snacks. Include a variety of foods from the 5 food groups. Make this a change for the whole family.
  • Aim to keep your child's weight stable until their height catches up.
  • Praise your child for healthy choices and reward them with non-food items (e.g. stickers or books).
  • Limit the amount of time your child spends sitting for long periods, such as watching TV or playing computer games.
  • Limit meals and snacks high in fat or sugar. These contain lots of extra energy but little nutrition.
  • Limit sweetened drinks such as soft drink, juice, flavoured milks and sports drinks.
  • Set a good example for your child. Eat with your child and show them that you eat healthy foods too.
  • Encourage your child to learn to recognise feelings of hunger and satiety.


  • Fat is high in energy and contributes to extra weight gain.
  • Fat provides some important vitamins that are not found in other foods. Avoiding all fat is not recommended.
  • Fat helps children to grow in the early stages. A reduced-fat diet is generally suitable for children over 2 years of age only.
  • Foods high in fat include foods like fried food, snack biscuits and crisps, and takeaway foods.
  • Aim for products with less than 10g of total fat per 100g. You can find this on the food label.


  • Sugars are naturally found in foods like fruit and dairy food. Small amounts of sugar are okay.
  • Too much sugar can damage teeth and cause extra weight gain and other health problems.
  • Extra sugar is easily consumed from sweetened drinks (e.g. fruit juice, soft drinks and cordials) and snack foods like chocolate, lollies or cakes.
  • Sugar is often added to foods like muesli bars and flavoured yoghurt. If sugar is added to a food it will be listed in the ingredients.
  • Aim for no more than10–15g of sugar per 100g. You can find this on the food label.
  • Food and drinks such as sweetened drinks, chocolate, lollies, cakes, ice-cream, biscuits and takeaway foods are not needed as part of a healthy diet. If you do choose these foods, only eat them occasionally and in small amounts.


  • Water is the best drink for your child. Water is freely available and has no sugar, colourings and flavourings.
  • Avoid or limit sugar-sweetened drinks such as cordial, soft drink and fruit juice.
  • Try keeping a jug of water in the fridge so it's icy cold. You could add crushed ice or fresh fruit slices.
  • Include full-cream milk or plain yoghurt at snack times. Reduced-fat milk can be offered to children from 2 years. Skim milk may be offered from 5 years.

Did you know...?

Most drinks other than water and plain milk can be high in added sugar. This table compares the sugar content of drinks:


Amount of drink

Number of teaspoons of sugar

Soft drink

375mL (1 can)


Fruit drink

250mL (1 cup)


100% fruit juice

250mL (1 cup)



250mL (1 cup)


Flavoured milk

250mL (1 cup)



Any amount


Extra foods

Foods high in fat, sugar and/or salt are not needed as part of a healthy diet. These foods are not needed for your child's growth. Limit them to only sometimes and in small amounts. These include:

  • potato crisps
  • chocolate bars, lollies, ice cream
  • cakes, pastries, donuts
  • muesli bars or health food bars
  • sweet biscuits
  • pies, sausage rolls
  • fried takeaway foods.


Regular physical activity is needed for a healthy weight and good health. Allow your child (1 to 5 years) opportunities to be active every day:

  • Be active every day for at least 3 hours. This can be spread through the day. Include fun activities to involve the whole family too.
  • Spend less than 1 hour per day watching TV or using other electronics (e.g. tablets, smart phones) if aged 2 to 5 years. Younger children do not need any screen time.
  • Limit the time your child is kept inactive or seated to no more than 1 hour at a time (except when sleeping).

Some activity ideas

Here are some ideas for keeping your child and your family active:

  • Play outside.
  • Walk to school.
  • Ride a bike along a bike track or in a park.
  • Take a ball to your local park and try football, cricket, soccer or basketball.
  • Swim at the local pool or beach with supervision.
  • Walk or play with the dog.
  • Use a skipping rope.
  • Play frisbee at your local park or beach.
  • Do dancing, gymnastics, tap, or ballet.
  • Fly a kite.
  • Join a sporting or activity club.
  • Go on bushwalks or nature walks.
  • Encourage your child to participate in household chores (e.g. raking the lawn or sweeping floors).
  • Go rollerblading/rollerskating.
  • Choose active toys (e.g. dress-ups, hoops, boxes).

Where to get more help

If you are concerned about your child's weight, diet or activity, talk to your doctor, child health nurse or dietitian for help. They can help you and your child to achieve a healthy weight and habits.

Resources for parents, families and carers

Booklet: Child Health Information (PDF, 1.34MB), Queensland Government (given to parents of every baby born in Queensland with the Personal Health Record)

Brochure: Healthy eating for children (PDF, 3.35MB), Australian Government

Growing Strong—Healthy foods and drinks for children aged 1–4 years (PDF, 4.2MB), Queensland Government

Growing Strong—Overweight children (PDF, 521kB), Queensland Government

Raising Children Network—Physical activity for younger children, Australian Government

Brochure: Get Up and Grow (PDF, 166kB), Australian Government

Fact sheet: Move and play every day—national physical activity recommendations for children 0–5 years (PDF, 536 kB), Australian Government

Booklet: Feeding babies, Northern Territory Government

The Infant Program, Victoria Government—getting healthy eating and active play right from the start

Related content

Introducing complementary foods: Feeding from 12 months

Feeding fussy toddlers

How children develop: Food and nutrition (1 to 5 years)


This information is drawn from:

  • Department of Health 2014, Australia's physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines, Canberra.
  • National Health and Medical Research Council 2012, Australian dietary guidelines.
  • Nutrition Education Materials Online, 2013, Healthy eating and weight control in children.

This is a consensus document from Queensland Health dietitians and nutritionists. You can also read the full collection of NEMO fact sheets and the disclaimer.

This information is also the result of input and effort from many health professionals in Queensland. Their assistance with the content is greatly appreciated.

This information is provided as general information only and should not be relied upon as professional or medical advice. Professional and medical advice should be sought for particular health concerns or events. Best efforts have been used to develop this information, which is considered correct and current in accordance with accepted best practice in Queensland as at the date of production. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not accept liability to any person for the information provided in this fact sheet nor does it warrant that the information will remain correct and current. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not promote, endorse or create any association with any third party by publication or use of any references or terminology in this fact sheet.