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Diet throughout life

A healthy diet is always important – no matter what age you are. But your exact needs change as you go through the different stages of life.

This article will guide you through you and your family's key dietary needs, potential issues you may encounter and tips on how to overcome them.

Look out for the recipes and meal ideas from our Bupa dietitians too!

An image showing a Dad having lunch with his children


  • Babies Babies

    Your baby's only dietary need in the first six months of life is breast milk (or formula milk). This will give babies all the nutrients they need to grow and develop.

    When your baby is around six months, start to introduce solid foods. This is known as weaning. Here are some tips to help with this.

    Tips for weaning

    • Gradually increase the texture of the foods you give your baby to encourage them to chew. 
    • Jars or packets of baby food are convenient but mix these with home-made foods so your baby has more variety in texture. This will encourage them to eat lumpy and more solid foods. You can cook batches and freeze them to make things easier. 
    •  Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables yourself as your baby is likely to copy what you're doing. 
    •  Go at your baby’s pace and don’t force them to eat more than they want to.

    An infographic showing some recipes for babies

    Download the infographic here (107kb).

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  • Children Children

    Children grow really quickly and need a diet that provides plenty of energy and nutrients. Protein and calcium are particularly important to help children grow and for their bones to develop.

    "Focus on the range of interesting and tasty foods that make up a healthy diet, rather than on denying certain foods." Rachael Eden, Bupa dietitian

    It’s vital not give your child too many processed foods or fast food. The patterns and routines of eating you develop in their early years will often stay with them into adulthood. If you limit foods that are high in fat and sugar, you will encourage your children to make healthy choices as they grow older. They will see a healthy diet as normal. Some children can be fussy eaters, so getting them to eat the right foods can be tricky. Here are some tips to help you.

    "Lead by example – adopting a healthy eating approach with your child is more likely to be successful. Be a positive role model." Jacqui Smith, Bupa health clinic nurse

    An image showing a family eating strawberriesTips for fussy eaters 

    • Give your child a wide variety of foods and try to make meal times an enjoyable family experience. 
    • Be imaginative in ways to encourage your child to eat foods they don’t like. 
    • Disguise vegetables by mashing them with potato, for example, or make a smiley face on their plate. 
    • Think about what your child is drinking. Milk or water is best but if they aren’t a fan, try to limit sugary soft drinks or fruit juice to mealtimes only. Or dilute them with plenty of water. 
    •  Be patient – children usually grow out of their fussy phase.

    "Faddy or picky eating is very common in young children but it doesn’t usually inhibit development or growth." Rachael Eden, Bupa dietitian

    "It may take 10 to 15 tries for your child to develop a liking of a new food, don’t give up too soon!" Rachael Eden, Bupa dietitian

  • Teenagers Teenagers

    Teenagers grow and develop quickly, and need even more energy and nutrients. They may have a big appetite but it’s important they fill up on nutritious food rather than sugary, fatty foods.

    Here are some tips to help with the issues and challenges you may face with your teenagers during this time of change and development.

    Tips for challenging teens

    • As teenagers gain more independence around what they eat, encourage them to make healthy choices. It might help to check what options are available at their school or college and petition for healthy options if they are scarce. 
    • Target your health messages around things that are important to them. For example, let them know that eating a healthy balanced diet and drinking enough water can keep skin in good condition. 
    • Body image and weight is something teenagers often worry about but it’s important they don’t restrict their diet or cut out any food groups. If your teenager wants to lose excess weight, encourage them to eat a healthy balanced diet and do regular physical activity
    • Teenagers need enough iron in their diet, particularly girls because they will lose iron when they start to have periods. Ensure they eat iron-rich foods such as red meat, fish, pulses (including baked beans) and breakfast cereals.

    "Try and sit down as a family to eat together, this is a good opportunity to have quality time together." Jenny Clement, Bupa health clinic nurse

    "Studies show families who have regular meals at the table with no distractions such as TV, are more likely to be a healthy weight." Rachael Eden, Bupa dietitian

    "Focus on health, not weight. Compliment behaviours, for example, "great snack choice", rather than weight loss." Jacqui Smith, Bupa health clinic nurse

    An infographic showing snack ideas for teenagers

    Download the infographic here (118kb).

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  • Adults Adults

    Your nutritional needs don’t change much between the ages of 19 and around 50, unless you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. As adults, we should aim to eat a healthy balanced diet and get plenty of exercise. See Related information for tips and advice.

    If you have a time-consuming work-life, it can be difficult to find the time to eat well. Here’s some advice on how to keep healthy.

    Tips for busy lives

    • Cook a batch of meals at the weekend and freeze them. Take a meal out of the freezer each morning, ready to heat up as soon as you get back from work. Or stock up on ready meals but be sure to check the labels for healthier options. Keep some frozen vegetables in to have on the side. 
    • Don’t skip breakfast because doing so can slow your body down so you don't burn energy as quickly. This can make you put on weight. Another danger is that you will get hungry and be more likely to snack on something less healthy than your breakfast would have been. 
    • Take healthy snacks to work in case meetings run over lunch. Examples include dried fruit and nuts, or carrot sticks and tzatziki. 
    • If you don't have time to go to the supermarket, shop online and get food delivered to your door. 
    •  Try to limit takeaways to the occasional treat. They can often contain lots of sugar and salt.

    An infographic showing meal ideas for busy people

    Download the infographic here (103kb).

  • Older adults Older adults

    As we get older, our metabolism decreases and we may become less active. Because of this, it’s natural to start eating less. Yet it’s still important to eat regularly and to keep your diet balanced.

    For women, going through the menopause can have important implications for their diet. Levels of the hormone oestrogen drop after you enter the menopause and your bone density decreases, which can put you at risk of osteoporosis. Oestrogen also helps to protect against heart disease.

    Tips for later life

    • Eat calcium-rich foods, such as dairy products to help prevent osteoporosis. 
    • Eat less saturated fat because it can raise your blood cholesterol level and increase your risk of heart disease. Saturated fat is found in butter and fatty processed meat as well as in cakes and biscuits, for example. 
    • Eat two portions of fish a week and make one of these portions an oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon or pilchard. Oily fish is particularly rich in long-chain, omega-3 fatty acids, which may help prevent heart disease, although more research is needed to prove this. 
    • If your appetite is dwindling, eat smaller meals more often, and have healthy snacks in between. Make foods as tempting and tasty as possible. You could vary colours and textures, for example, or add herbs and spices. 
    • If you find it more difficult to cook or you don't feel like cooking, look for some nutritious ready meals. They are quick and easy to cook, and you can keep some in the freezer. Check the labels to see how healthy they are. See Related topics for more information. Always have a supply of tinned foods and keep your freezer well stocked in case you’re not able to get out. 
    • If you're finding it difficult to buy food and prepare meals, speak to a friend or family member, or your local social services for some advice. There are services available to provide food for older people such as meals on wheels. Some private companies offer this too.

    An infographic showing meal ideas for older people

    Download the infographic here (94.7kb).

  • Resources Resources

    Further information


    • The pregnancy book. Health and Social Care., published 2014
    • Off to a good start: all you need to know about breastfeeding. Health Scotland., published 18 March 2015
    • Fun first foods: an easy guide to introducing solid foods. Health Scotland., published 4 August 2014
    • Setting the table – nutritional guidance and food standards for early years childcare providers in Scotland. Health Scotland., published 21 January 2015
    • Personal communication, Rachael Eden RD Member Coach, The Coach Program™ by Bupa, June 2015
    • Personal communication, Jacqui Smith RN, Member Coach, The Coach Program™ by Bupa, June 2015
    • Personal communication, Bianca Parau, Senior Specialist Dietitian at Bupa Cromwell Hospital, 12 May 2015
    • Mitchell Gl, Farrow C, Haycraft E, et al. Parental influences on children’s eating behaviour and characteristics of successful parent-focussed interventions. Appetite 2013; 60(1):85–94. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2012.09.014
    • Advice for life stages. Food Standards Scotland., accessed 29 April 2015
    • Teenagers. British Nutrition Foundation., published 2 March 2012
    • Food provision. British Nutrition Foundation., published July 2009
    • Skin health. British Dietetic Association., published reviewed April 2013
    • Nutrition, health and schoolchildren: factors affecting food choice. British Nutrition Foundation., published December 2011
    • Nutrition, health and schoolchildren: iron deficiency anaemia. British Nutrition Foundation., published December 2011
    • Wansink B, van Kleef E. Dinner rituals that correlate with child and adult BMI. Obesity 2014; 22:E91–E95. doi:10.1002/oby.20629
    • Adults. British Nutrition Foundation., published July 2009
    • Tips for healthy eating. Food Standards Scotland., accessed 29 April 2015
    • Healthy snacking. British Nutrition Foundation., published May 2014
    • Eating outside of the home. British Nutrition Foundation., published May 2014
    • Later life. British Nutrition Foundation., published 5 October 2012
    • Failure to thrive in elderly adults. Medscape., published 30 November 2012
    • Menopause. British Nutrition Foundation., published 4 January 2013
    • BNF top tips for older people for healthy ageing. British Nutrition Foundation., published June 2014
    • Fats. British Dietetic Association., reviewed January 2015
    • Healthy diet and enjoyable eating. PatientPlus., reviewed 18 February 2011
    • Fish in the diet: a review. British Nutrition Foundation., published June 2013
    • Meat, fish, eggs, beans and non-dairy protein sources. British Nutrition Foundation., published February 2014
    • Nutritional support in primary care. PatientPlus., reviewed 22 June 2011
    • Other local authority activities: welfare: meals for the elderly. Department of Health., published 11 February 2015
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