Children's Nutrition

Discover the difference between adult and child nutrition, how to best meet a child's nutritional needs, and strategies to encourage healthy eating in children.

Course CodeBRE304
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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Learn about children's nutrition and how to encourage healthy eating.

In this course, you'll learn about the differences between adult and child nutrition, food sensitivities, how to balance macronutrients, and how to be food-positive and health-positive with children.

Nutritional habits, once formed, can be hard to break. A child who develops a sweet tooth and dislike for vegetables will find it much harder to maintain a healthy diet through their later life than a child raised with a balanced diet of fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy.

This course has a holistic approach, focusing not just on what to feed children, but also eating patterns and nutritional requirements from pre-pregnancy through to teens.

ACS Student comment: "I thoroughly enjoyed this course. I had not studied for the past 10 years and was a little apprehensive. The staff were very supportive, their feedback was always valuable and response time was extremely prompt. This course has given me a new desire to keep learning. I never knew learning could be so enjoyable. I am looking forward to my next learning experience through ACS". Rhonda Rae, Children's Nutrition

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction to Child Nutrition
    • Scope, Nature and History of Nutrition
    • Effect of Culture and Family Background on Nutrition
    • Importance of Nutrition in Early Childhood
    • Basic Nutrients needed in a Child's Diet
    • Key things to Remember about a Child's Diet
    • Nutrition Tips for Children
  2. Nutrition for Pre-Pregnancy
    • Pre-Conception Diet - Maternal Weight, Maternal Nutrient Status
    • Paternal Health and Nutrition
    • Effect of Nutrition of Parents at Conception
    • Making Diet Changes Pre-Conception
  3. Nutrition in Pregnancy
    • Early Pregnancy and Morning Sickness
    • Tips to Help with Pregnancy Nausea
    • Nutrition through Pregnancy - RDI
    • Caloric and Fluid Intake through Pregnancy
    • Calorie Demands for a Pregnant Woman
    • Foods to Avoid While Pregnant
    • Hypervitaminosis
    • Pregnancy Complications that Relate to Nutrition (Neural Tube Defect, Morning Sickness, Constipation, Gestational diabetes, Hypertension, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  4. Nutrition in Infants
    • Breastfeeding
    • Formula Feeding
    • Feeding for the first six months
    • Starting on Solid Foods
    • Adequate Vitamin C and Iron Intake in first year
    • Progressing with Solid Foods: protein, dairy, finger foods, etc
    • Nutrition for Toddlers
    • Snack Packs, Small Meals, Meal Alternatives, Being creative, etc
    • Allergens
    • Weaning
  5. Nutrition in Childhood
    • Caloric Intake
    • Mineral Intake
    • Vitamin Intake
    • Encouraging Good Eating Habits
    • Breakfast
    • Morning and Afternoon Snacks
    • Packed Lunches
    • Eating Habits
    • Puberty
  6. Nutritional Concerns
    • Scope and Nature of Nutritional Health for Children
    • Healthy Snacks and Re-hydration
    • Underweight
    • Malnutrition
    • Anaemia or Iron Deficiency
    • Dental Care
    • Eating Disorders : Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating
    • Fast Food and Junk Food
  7. Healthy Eating Behaviours
    • Influencing Childrens Eating
    • Teaching Healthy Eating to Children
    • Health Snack Ideas
    • Childhood Food Sensitivities
    • Food Intolerance
    • Food Allergies
    • Relevant Research
    • Food and Autism
    • Food and Child Behaviour Problems
    • Diagnosing Sensitivities : skin test, blood test, diet
  8. Issues in Child Nutrition
    • PBL Project: Develop a presentation to be given to a group of families, where a child has been recently diagnosed with an illness/disease of your choice. The purpose of the presentation is to inform families and sufferers about the disease, and to provide clear, simple guidelines for dietary intervention to improve health, correct the condition or prevent deterioration in health.
  9. Childhood Obesity
    • Cause of Childhood Obesity
    • What is Unhealthy about Childhood Obesity?
    • Guidelines for Child Weight Loss
  10. Diet Plans
    • Special Nutritional Needs
    • Childhood Diabetes
    • Vegetarian and Vegan Diets
    • Normal Eating Habits for Children

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Discuss the nature and scope of developing nutrition for children according to their backgrounds and needs.
  • Explain the various nutritional needs of the mother and father before pregnancy.
  • Explain the various nutritional needs of the mother and child during pregnancy.
  • Explain various nutritional needs of infants from birth to age two.
  • Explain various nutritional aspects of growing children addressing various issues and concerns.
  • Identify concerns in the diets of children and adolescents and overcoming them.
  • Lists ways to encourage healthy eating behaviour in children.
  • Explain some of the common issues such as food sensitivities in childhood nutrition.
  • Explain causes and guidelines to overcoming childhood obesity.
  • Develop a list diet outlines for healthy children and special diet plans for children with special nutritional needs.

What You Will Do

  • Interview parents regarding the diets (what the children eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as snacks) of their children (they can be family or friends). Make a day’s menu for each one of them according to the information they give you
  • Interview pregnant women (family or friends) and question about their daily diet. Note what they have said and write how you would improve their diets.
  • Research for information to make a tasty and healthy weaning mix for a six month old baby. Make your own weaning mix with the information you have gathered.
  • Prepare a diet plan for an 11 year old, over three days.
  • Compare the nutrition panel for different staple foods bought from the supermarkets (for example breakfast cereals, stir fry sauces or pasta sauces, fruit bars). Compare the added sugars to natural sugars
  • Do a survey and find out what children and adolescents are actually eating. Write a report on your survey. (You can conduct your survey by talking to children, adolescents and their parents, by reading articles in magazines and newspapers or by searching the internet)


  • Source information from a variety of places and always look for factual evidence that supports comments and opinions
  • Variety is everything. A diet that lacks variety will invariably lack some nutrients
  • Parents and care-givers are the sources of nutritional habits and preferences. Children don’t always do as you say, but toddlers do love to do what you do!
  • Help children to feel involved in food choices and meal preparation. This stimulates an interest in different foods and in cooking and will provide a foundation for a healthy relationship with food.
  • Don’t introduce nutrient poor, calorie dense foods to babies and toddlers. What they don’t know about, they won’t want. Spend the first years of children’s lives surrounding them with a variety of healthy foods.
  • Ensure children are well hydrated. Don’t wait until they ask for a drink, offer them water regularly.
  • Small frequent meals are often better for young children. Don’t serve large portions or force children to clean their plates.
  • Fat is important in children’s diets. Until at least the age of two, keep dairy products full fat.
  • Get creative. Use cookies cutters to make interesting shapes with fruits, vegetables and sandwiches.
  • Use different textures, temperatures and flavours.
  • Persist with new foods but don’t force children to eat what they truly dislike.
  • Work hard early on to establish healthy habits and preferences, this lays a foundation which can help parents deal with the later impact of fast food advertising and peer pressure.
  • Remember that poor nutrition can lead to illness, increased risk of a variety of diseases, lethargy, poor cognitive ability, behavioural problems and a variety of other conditions.

Nutrition tips for children

The most important meal of the day, breakfast is literally a breaking of an overnight fast. Breakfast should provide energy and nutrients. Rich sources of fibre or protein are the best choices for breakfast as they provide a feeling of being full or satiated. The most common children’s breakfasts are grain-based; cereals and bread. So long as these are whole grain options and not sugary, nutrient poor items these are good breakfast choices. In some cases meats may be included in breakfasts; typically these are heavily processed meats, deli cuts, bacon, sausage etc which contain preservatives and other ingredients that are best not given to small children. However, there is no reason why a warm dish of meat and vegetables is not a good breakfast, so long as the portion size is appropriate. In fact, it is generally suggested that the breakfast and lunch meals should be the heavier, larger meals of the day, with a lighter dinner. Other options such as eggs (preferably not fried) and egg dishes also make nutritious breakfasts. Fruits are also a healthy option, and can make an excellent breakfast when mixed with cereal or blended with cereal into a smoothie. In general, cereal with milk, or toast with a spread is simply the fastest, easiest and most convenient mid-week breakfast. Many working families simply do not have the time to cook up a breakfast during the week.

Tips for nutritious children’s breakfasts:
  • Make sure cereals are whole wheat. Avoid sugary cereals which typically have little nutritional value and will leave a child hungry not long after the meal. Toast should also be wholegrain and not white. Good breakfast spreads include spreadable cheese and peanut butter. Honey is acceptable, but is high in simple sugars. If children like it, try offering it with peanut butter.
  • Avoid processed meats; they are typically high in salt, sugar and other preservatives and also in fat.
  • There is no reason why meat, warm vegetable or tofu dishes cant be served for breakfast if you have time. In western countries cereal has become the cultural norm for breakfast but in many countries other foods are eaten.
  • A smoothie of fruit blended with muesli and milk can make a great breakfast on the run.
  • Offer a fruit platter for children to choose items from.
  • Make interesting breakfasts, layered yogurt, fruit and muesli, for example, or whole wheat pancakes with fresh berries.
  • Prepare the night before if you are able.
  • Try to make breakfast a main daily meal, along with lunch. Treat it as equally important as dinner.
  • Nutritious left-overs, like homemade pizza, can make good breakfasts if you are in a hurry.


When children are young and at home it can be easier to instil good lunch habits. When they are school age they will inevitably be surrounded by other children with lunch boxes full of processed foods, candy bars and other foods that may make a whole wheat chicken salad sandwich and an apple seem less appetising. The key for lunch is that it should, along with breakfast, be one of the two main meals of the day. It needs to provide energy for afternoon school work and play, but generally not as much for young children who will generally nap after lunch. Children nap better when they have a full (but not overfull) stomach and feel satisfied. Foods high in simple sugars can leave children cranky and restless at nap time, and an overfull tummy can make them uncomfortable and restless also. Staples such as sandwiches or leftovers can make great lunches, if you stick to healthy whole wheat, low fat options. Some suggestions include:

  • Avoid white bread as it is sugary and low in fibre. Switch to wholemeal bread or whole grain bread
  • Switch from bread to whole wheat wraps and flat breads, or pita pockets
  • Try to include some protein and vegetable in the lunch, to help get the recommended daily servings
  • Meat and salad sandwiches, left-over homemade vegetable pizzas with a little low fat cheese, stuff pizza items into a pita and warm briefly to melt cheese, yoghurt with muesli and fruit puree, small filo pastries stuffed with lean meat and vegetables, sushi rolls, tubs of chicken salad with light dressing all make excellent and interesting lunch options
  • Consider what the child ate at breakfast and will eat at lunch. Yoghurt, muesli and fruit makes a great meal, but if the child had yoghurt, or fruit salad for breakfast it is more important they get some vegetables and protein for lunch, for example. You can pre-prepare healthy options for pies and pastries.
  • Make the food look interesting and be creative. Packaged foods have ingredients that alter the colour, aroma and taste. You can do this naturally by combining interesting foods, cutting items into interesting shapes and providing lunches that don’t deteriorate before lunch time. A fruit salad may look nice in the morning, but after half a day in a school bag much of the fruit will brown and squash making it look, and probably smell less than appetising.
  • Store food properly. Bacteria love warm temperatures and moisture. Seal containers and put an ice brick in the lunch box to stop bacterial growth and prevent food poisoning
  • Sweeter foods are not a bad option for school time meals and home lunches. Instead of a simple piece of fruit, why not try a rice cracker with low fat cream cheese, strawberries and a drizzle of honey? Cut up fruits or toasted flat bread and serve with a sweet yoghurt dip, make fruit kebabs and so on to create healthy sweet options.
  • When your child is school aged they are old enough to have some general understanding of nutrition and food. Try to help them understand the benefit of healthy foods in building strong muscles, helping them learn and do well at school and giving them lots of energy for play with their friends.
  • When you are at home with children, consider spending the late morning with them preparing a lunch meal.


Dinner is often the main meal of the day in Western countries. Increasingly, between extra-curricular activities for children, shift work and long hours, it has gone from a sit down family time, to a hurried event squeezed into the routine around other commitments. Turning dinner time into a routine, family event can assist in ensuring children eat their meal and enjoy it. Sitting in front of the TV with dinner promotes poor posture and if you are not concentrating on what you are eating, can often result in over-eating. It also means that the chance to wind down and enjoy time talking and socialising is lost.

Dinner is the perfect meal to introduce new foods to children, and to serve up buffet style meals and give children some control over their food choices. It can be a good time to talk about what you are eating and all the nutrients in the meal and how they are good for the children. One thing of key importance that is often overlooked with dinner is portion size. The old habit of serving up a large portion and expecting the child to clean their plate in order to be rewarding with a bowl of ice-cream presents a variety of problems, including over-eating, frustration with food, lack of enjoyment of meals and the development of poor eating habits and psychological problems with food, and the use of desserts as the yummy treat and the meat and vegetables as an obstacle to overcome in order to get the sweet treat.

Some ideas for children’s dinners include:

  • Buffets. This sounds like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to serve several different dishes, instead just keep items separate and give the child some freedom in the composition of the meal. Offer a meat, a couple of sauces, a couple of different vegetables and perhaps a carbohydrate like rice or pasta. This also helps children learn about portion sizes.
  • Have children taste new dishes you prepare. If they dislike it, don’t force them to eat it, but do continue to offer new and varied items regularly to increase the variety in the diet.
  • Try to prepare disliked foods in different ways. Some children will have texture preferences; some will be put off by the way a dish appears or smells. Try baking, stir-frying, serving some items raw, combining different ingredients and so on.
  • As with all meals, if you can incorporate children in the preparation you will generally have more success with them eating the final product. You can dice vegetables and some cooked meat the night before and bring them out of the fridge for children to pick from to create their own pizzas. Keep control of the cheese and let them have fun with the vegetables and sauces and possibly herbs. Try pita bread, flat bread or even wholegrain bread as pizza bases, or make your own.
  • Presentation. Try serving unfamiliar or less preferred items in a familiar way. A child may not eat spinach on its own, but a little mixed with low fat ricotta, grated leek or onion, pine nuts and sprinkled with some low fat grated cheese and served in a filo pastry shell to resemble a little pie may convince them to try it. Lots of vegetable filled pita pockets for children to pick from and eat with their fingers can be a good way to introduce new vegetables. Adding items to rice or pasta dishes or served with some other dish like noodles that the child likes can be a good way to introduce new foods also.
  • Make dinner fun. If parents look and act bored, stressed or rush through the meal children will learn to associate dinner with boredom and stress and will race through it so they can do something else. Avoid complaining about the food served and eat with (exaggerated) enthusiasm, especially with small children. Take advantage of the fact that toddlers love to mimic parents and want to like what their mum or dad do. First impressions are important with children, if they try something once and dislike it, you can have a tremendous amount of difficulty getting them to try again. Likewise, if they overhear a parent or carer discussing how they hate vegetables, they will often pick up on it and decide they don’t either, and simply refuse to even taste even the most enjoyed items, like sweet corn, or potato mash.
  • Consider whether dinner needs to be the main meal of the day. After all, young children often head off to bed an hour or two after the meal. Enjoying heavier, bulkier foods for breakfast and lunch can be a good option for families. Children sleep better when not over full, or upset over a frustrating dinner meal. A lighter meal will require less cooking and preparation time and you may be able to incorporate some preferred foods more readily, making the meal much more enjoyable.

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Karen Lee

Nutritional Scientist, Dietician, Teacher and Author. BSc. Hons. (Biological Sciences), Postgraduate Diploma Nutrition and Dietetics. Registered dietitian in the UK, with over 15 years working in the NHS. Karen has undertaken a number of research projec
Lyn Quirk

M.Prof.Ed.; Adv.Dip.Compl.Med (Naturopathy); Adv.Dip.Sports Therapy Over 30 years as Health Club Manager, Fitness Professional, Teacher, Coach and Business manager in health, fitness and leisure industries. As business owner and former department head fo
Jade Sciascia

Biologist, Business Coordinator, Government Environmental Dept, Secondary School teacher (Biology); Recruitment Consultant, Senior Supervisor in Youth Welfare, Horse Riding Instructor (part-completed) and Boarding Kennel Manager. Jade has a B.Sc.Biol, Di
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