Encouraging Healthy Habits Part 1: Starchy Foods

This weeks blog, part 1 of a 4 part series, provides guidance on how to include suitable starchy carbohydrates as part of your early years menu and family mealtimes. Part 2 to 4 will explore the remaining Eatwell Guide food groups.

What is the current UK guidance on starchy foods?

It is recommended that toddlers are offered starchy foods at each main meal and some snacks. These foods should make up about a third of the food eaten each day. In the UK it’s reported that the main sources of carbohydrates in the diet come from cereals, cereal products, potatoes, fruit, drinks and white bread (SCAN).

Current recommendations highlight that children aged 2-5 year should consume an average of 15g of fibre every day, from a variety of food sources. There are no current recommendations for children aged under 2 years, however from around six months of age, families are encouraged to gradually introduce children to a varied diet, including whole grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables.

Why are starchy foods important for early years children?

Starchy foods are a great source of energy, keeping toddlers fuelled for play, while helping them to concentrate when learning. Other benefits include providing children with fibre, essential for healthy digestion and B vitamins which covert foods into fuel!

Which sources of starchy foods should we offer children?

There are a large variety of starchy carbohydrates highlighted in Eatwell guide and within the Eat Better Start Better Food and Drink Guidelines (page 17). These include:

  • breakfast cereals such as porridge or wheat biscuits
  • bread (mixture of white and wholemeal)
  • chapatti
  • potatoes
  • pasta
  • rice
  • other grains such as couscous.

Some starchy foods can be highly processed, meaning they are often higher in salt, saturated fat and sugar. It is important for both parents and early years settings to read food labels and choose foods which are low (green) or medium (amber) in salt, saturated fat and sugar, avoiding those labelled red. For more information on how to read food labels download the free FoodSwitch app. This works by simply scanning the barcode of products to see how much salt, saturated fat and sugar they contain along with guidance on healthy swaps.

How to provide starchy foods as part of your early years menu?

In-line with the Eat Better Start Better food and drink guidelines, your settings menu should provide:

  • a portion of starchy food as part of each meal (highlighted in blue in example menu below)
  • a portion of starchy food as part of at least one snack each day (highlighted in green in example menu below)
  • a variety of both wholegrain and white starchy foods
  • at least three different varieties of starchy foods across each day and across each meal and snack every week.

Example of how the above guidelines would look within your settings food menu:

Public Health England has produced example menus and useful guidance for early years settings to help support you in meeting the Early Years Foundation Stage requirements for food and drink. We have reviewed one of the example menus below to highlight the inclusion of starchy foods and how it meets the Eat Better Start Better guidelines:

Menu Example

Additional Resources:

Early Start Wellbeing and Nutrition

  • If you would like additional information and support on making your settings menu in-line with the Eat Better Start Better guidelines book our in-house or online Menu Planning Training. More information can be found here!

First Steps Nutrition Trust- Good Food Choices and Portion Sizes

bread, other cereals and potatoes

By Jamie Douglas

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