‘Extra’ foods are those foods that add to the amount of food we eat but don’t contribute to our nutritional needs. These foods typically contain sugars and/or fat but not many vitamins, minerals or fibre. Examples of ‘extra’ foods include cakes (including muffins, banana bread), biscuits, ice cream, chocolate, lollies, soft drinks, all types of crisps, chips. Of course we all like to eat these foods because they taste good!
Core foods, on the other hand, are the basic foods from the five food groups: breads and cereals, vegetables and legumes, fruit, dairy and meat, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts
You may have heard me say that children know how much they need to eat. They will eat if they are hungry and stop when they are full. This is true of foods in the core food groups. However, children (and their parents!) will eat more than they need from the ‘extra’ foods if they are allowed to. The problem is that the extra foods are going to replace ‘core’ foods which contain the nutrients they need. There are so many extra foods available and they are offered to children too often.
Very young children don’t need to be offered ‘extra’ foods. When children are socialising with other children, going to family celebrations, going to pre-school or school and are aware of extra foods from advertising, family, going to the shops etc, I recommend that one extra food per day is enough for any child.
So if your child had biscuits for morning tea, that counts as their extra food for the day. They don’t need to fill up on ice cream or cake at another meal that day. Or if you plan to offer ice cream for dessert, they don’t need chips or cake for morning tea.
Remember that it is up to you as the parent to decide what foods are on the menu for each meal.
We all take part in celebrations and occasions where ‘extra’ foods are plentiful and accessible to our children. At these occasions you could:
- Take a plate or bowl and let your child choose which foods they want from what is on offer. Let them know that they can have one plate or bowl only
- Let them eat what they want knowing that this is an occasional occurrence and you don’t have control over what has been offered.
Whatever strategy you adopt, you need to be consistent and apply the same ‘rules’ to all your children.