What exactly is a ‘balanced diet’? Think about how a football team works – you need a goalkeeper, attackers, and defenders. If you have too many attackers and no defenders, you’re likely to lose the game. It’s the same with food; without the right balance of food, your body doesn’t perform at its best.
These five major food groups go together to make up a balanced diet:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, or other starchy carbohydrates
- Milk, dairy, and dairy alternatives
- Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat, and other protein
- Unsaturated oils and spreads
The below food groups are shown on the NHS Eatwell Guide
Fruit and vegetables are a key part of a balanced diet as they provide lots of fibre as well as vitamins and minerals. 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day help to protect the body from disease, with a portion being the size of a medium-sized piece of fruit such as an apple.
Carbohydrates or starchy foods, as they are sometimes called, are very filling and provide your body with lots of energy, which helps to keep your energy levels up and keep your digestive system working properly. Meals should be based on foods from this group.
Protein-rich foods such as beans, pulses, meat, fish, and eggs are vital to build and repair your body. Protein should be part of your everyday diet to keep you strong and healthy. Soya products such as tofu also provide protein. Aim for at least 2 portions of fish a week, with one portion being an oily fish (for example salmon or mackerel).
Milk and dairy products are important for your bones, teeth, muscles, and nerves. Drinking plenty of milk and eating cheese is an easy and tasty way to stock up on calcium. Watch out though for added sugar in yogurts and milkshakes. Try to choose lower fat versions such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, and lower fat cheeses. Unsweetened, calcium-fortified dairy alternatives also count in this group.
Some fats are essential in the diet, however, only small amounts are needed. Try and use unsaturated oils and spreads.
Foods high in fat, salt, and sugar (including cakes, chocolate, crisps, and sugary drinks) are not required for a healthy balanced diet, try and eat them less often and in small amounts.
Useful resources for young people
The Food a fact of life organisation provides free resources about healthy eating, cooking, food, and farming for children and young people aged 3 to 18 years.
For a full list of resources, please refer to the PSHE directory for a full list of resources
Healthy eating is also important for healthy teeth. Two useful resources have been produced by the Bucks Oral Health Improvement Team to support early year units and special schools to develop a whole-school approach to good oral health.
Download the NHS Oral health guide for early years
Other useful information
Schools are ideally placed to provide children and young people with positive food experiences, from providing good quality nutritious foods, an engaging and stimulating lunchtime environment, and opportunities to learn and experience food through the curriculum. A good school food culture improves children’s health and academic performance1.
Food comes in many different forms, a hot meal or cold meal provision, packed lunches, snacks, breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, tuck shops, and even access from outside especially in secondary schools that allow pupils off-site.
Ultimately it is the governing body that is responsible for school food provision, and ensuring the food meets the statutory school food standards.
There are many resources available to assist schools to develop a positive school food culture. For further information please visit: schoolfoodplan.com
The importance of water
It’s important to drink plenty of water, especially when exercising. The body loses around 1.8 litres of water daily, so you should aim to drink 6-8 glasses a day.
Water makes up around 50-75% of your total body weight and not drinking enough can cause headaches, tiredness, and loss of concentration. This can really affect young people in an educational setting.
Water, lower-fat milk, and lower-sugar or sugar-free drinks including tea and coffee all count. Fruit juice and smoothies also count towards your fluid consumption but they contain free sugars that can damage teeth, so limit these drinks to a combined total of 150ml per day.
It is advised that you drink around 1.8 litres of water a day, which can seem like a lot but spread over a whole day it is easy to achieve. A lot of schools encourage their pupils to carry a bottle of water around during the school day.
Concerns about weight
Obesity is on the increase and if a child is obese now they are more likely to become an obese adult, which could lead to illness and disease. If you know your height and the weight you can work out your Body Mass Index (BMI), which can give you an idea of where your weight puts you and whether you may be overweight. BMI is the scale used for the National Child Measurement Programme which takes place annually in schools.
Obesity can result in diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and many other illnesses so it is always a good idea to get checked out by your doctor. You should also try your best to combine a balanced diet with regular exercise. Eating more fruit and vegetables along with slow-release carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread and potatoes will help you feel full whilst keeping calories down.
There is support available in Buckinghamshire for children and young people that are overweight or obese.
1 in 3 children in Buckinghamshire is currently overweight or very overweight, and for these children and their families MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do it!) is a fun way to learn about becoming fit and healthy.
Spark is a FREE 10-week group programme for children aged 7-13 and their families. The programme consists of fun games and activities helping families make small changes for a BIG difference. You will learn how to make healthier food choices and how to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, whilst become more active.
Spark empowers families to make sustainable changes towards a healthier lifestyle.
Spark sessions are held in a range of locations across Bucks and are held during the early evening and weekends.
Find out more and enroll with Spark
Overweight young people can also experience emotional difficulties. If you know a young person would benefit from speaking to someone either online, on the phone, or in person, let them know about the free Buckinghamshire counseling service.
PSHE and teaching about Health, Wellbeing, and Healthy Eating
Health Education is now statutory for years 1 – 11 and is a key part of PSHE. The link below provides an overview of strands from the PSHE Association which address healthy eating through the PSHE curriculum.