Get Up & Grow: Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Early Childhood - Family Book

What are the basic food groups?

Page last updated: 06 June 2011

Foods from the basic food groups provide the nutrients essential for life and growth. These foods are also known as ‘everyday foods’. Each of the food groups provides a range of nutrients, and all have a role in helping the body function. In particular, vegetables, legumes and fruit protect against illness and are essential to a healthy diet.

The basic food groups are:

  • breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles and other grains
  • vegetables and legumes
  • fruit
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives
  • lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes.

A balanced diet includes a variety of foods from each of the five food groups, and offers a range of different tastes and textures. It is important to choose most of the foods we eat each day from these food groups.

‘Sometimes foods’ (see page 24) on the other hand have little nutritional value and are not essential for good health. Limit the amount of these foods offered to your child.

Food for Health: Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia

Encourage and support breastfeeding.


Children and adolescents need sufficient nutritious foods to grow and develop normally.
  • Growth should be checked regularly for young children.
  • Physical activity is important for children and adolescents.
Enjoy a wide range of nutritious foods.
  • Children and adolescents should be encouraged to:
  • eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits
  • eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain
  • include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
  • include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives. Reduced-fat milks are not suitable for children under two years, because of their high energy needs, but reduced-fat varieties should be encouraged for older children and adolescents
  • choose water as a drink and care should be taken to:
  • limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake. Low-fat diets are not suitable for infants
  • choose foods low in salt
  • consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars.
Care for your child’s food: prepare and store it safely.
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Commonwealth of Australia, 2003. Reproduced with permission of the Australian Government, 2009

Breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles and other grains

Breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles and other grain-based foods provide carbohydrates, which the body uses for energy. The best choices from this group are wholemeal and wholegrain breads, cereals and savoury biscuits. Other good choices include brown rice, couscous, wholegrain pasta and polenta.

Vegetables, legumes and fruit

Fruit and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and fibre, and should be included in meals and snacks each day. Choose a variety of fruits, vegetables
and legumes (including different colours, textures and flavours) to provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals.

Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives Plain milk, cheese and yoghurt are the most common dairy foods, and main dietary sources of calcium. Having enough calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth.

Milk is not recommended for babies under 12 months, but small amounts in breakfast cereal, and other dairy products such as yoghurt, custard and cheese, can be given after nine months. Full-cream plain milk is recommended for children aged one to two years, and reduced-fat plain milk is suitable for children over the age of two years. If children do not drink cow’s milk, or eat cow’s milk products, they can have a calcium-fortified soy drink instead. Rice and oat milks are not recommended and should only be given to children after medical advice.

Lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes

This group includes red meat (such as beef, lamb and kangaroo), white meat (such as pork, chicken and turkey), fish and eggs. Non-animal products in this group include nuts, legumes and tofu. Meat and its alternatives are rich in protein, iron and zinc, and essential for children’s growth and development. It is best to choose lean meat and skinless poultry to ensure children’s diets do not contain too much fat.
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Vegetarian and vegan eating practices

Some families follow vegetarian eating practices. Usually this means avoiding animal products such as meat, poultry and fish. Many vegetarians still eat some animalrelated products such as eggs, milk, cheese and yoghurt.

It is especially important that vegetarians eat a variety of legumes, nuts, seeds and grain-based foods, to gain the same nutrients that meat, poultry and fish would otherwise provide.

Vegans do not eat any foods that have an animal origin. It is very difficult to meet children’s nutritional needs with a vegan diet, because the amount of food needed for sufficient nutrients may be too large for the child to manage. Plan carefully if your family follows a vegan diet, and consult an Accredited Practising Dietitian to ensure that your child’s nutritional requirements are met.

What are 'sometimes foods'?

‘Sometimes foods’ are high in fat, sugar and/or salt. They typically have very little nutritional value and are often processed and packaged. There is no need to offer sometimes foods to children on a regular basis.

Examples of sometimes foods include:
  • chocolate and confectionary
  • sweet biscuits, chips and high-fat savoury biscuits
  • fried foods
  • pastry-based foods such as pies, sausage rolls and pasties
  • fast food and takeaway foods
  • cakes and ice cream
  • soft drinks, fruit juice, fruit drinks, cordial, sports drinks, energy drinks, flavoured milk and flavoured mineral water.