Each of the five food groups provides different nutrients. When toddlers eat from all five food groups each day, they will get all the nutrients they need for their health, growth and development. The only exception is vitamin D, which comes mainly from sunshine on the skin – only very small amounts are found in foods. Under-fives all need to take a supplement of vitamins A & D in addition to eating from the five foods groups.

The five food groups are:

1. Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods

Key nutrients provided: carbohydrate, B vitamins, fibre, small amounts of iron and zinc

Foods from this group should be included at each meal and also as snacks, choosing wholegrain options some of the time.

2. Fruit and vegetables

Key nutrients provided: vitamin C, carotenes, fibre, phytochemicals

This includes fresh, frozen, tinned and dried fruit and vegetables. Offer 1-2 servings at each meal and also as snacks.

3. Milk, cheese and yogurt

Key nutrients provided: calcium, vitamin A, protein, iodine, riboflavin

Aim for 3 toddler portions per day. Limit milk drinks to 3-4oz (100-120mls). Food options include small cubes of cheese, or a pot of yoghurt.

4. Meat, fish, eggs, nuts and pulses

Key nutrients provided: iron, protein, zinc, magnesium and omega 3 fats from oily fish

Pulses include starchy beans like kidney beans, chickpeas, hummus, lentils and dhal. When eggs, pulses and nuts are served, a food or drink
high in vitamin C should be included in the meal to ensure good absorption of the iron. Aim for 2 toddler portions per day from this group or 3 for vegetarian toddlers who do not eat meat and fish.

5. Food and drinks high in fat and sugar

Key nutrients provided: vitamin E (some foods also provide vitamin A and omega -3 fats)

This group includes oils, butter, margarine, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, sweets, sweetened drinks and fruit juices. Only include very small amounts of this food group in addition to, but not instead of, foods from the other four food groups. They enhance flavour and make meals more enjoyable.

The five food groups in action

A one-day healthy balanced diet menu for a toddler

Breakfast Light meal Family meal Snacks
First course Wholegrain cereal with milk Ham sandwich with cucumber and carrot sticks Fish and potato pie and roasted vegetables


Crackers and
slices of pear

Second course Grapes Blackberries with yogurt Apple crumble and custard
Drink Milk Water Water

Did you know?

    • The carbohydrates in starchy foods provide much needed energy boosts for physical activity which is why they should be provided at each meal and some snacks.
    • Bottles of milk should be discontinued around 12 months of age, otherwise they can be used as a comfort by toddlers who can become very stubborn about giving them up as they get older.
    • Toddlers who continue to drink large bottles of cows’ milk are likely to become deficient in iron and may become anaemic.
    • Butter and cream are not in the milk, cheese and yogurt group as they contain very little calcium and are high in fat. They are in the Food Group 5 – foods high in fat and sugar
    • Oily fish twice is the best source of omega three fats and should be offered once or twice per week. It can be mixed with white fish to lessen the strong taste
    • Sweet foods, when offered, should be limited to mealtimes and no more than one snack per day to protect teeth.

For more information on how to encourage healthy eating, check out our the NowBaby toddler section.  There’s also further information on healthy eating for toddlers, including practical tips and advice on portion sizes, planning meals, and offering snacks and drinks on the Infant and Toddler Forum website.