Giving small children healthy eating habits for life

By June Shannon Nutrition News   |   5th Oct 2020

Ireland’s first National Healthy Eating Guidelines for 1 – 4 year olds launched  

The Irish Heart Foundation has warmly welcomed Ireland’s first National Healthy Eating Guidelines for 1 to 4 year olds, which were launched recently by the Department of Health.

The new guidelines aim to help parents and carers establish good eating habits in children. Developed by nutrition experts in Ireland, the guidelines are based on Irish dietary evidence. They include a newly designed children’s food pyramid which will help people understand what children should be eating, what portion sizes look like and when treats should be given.

This early stage in a child’s life is well recognised as a critical phase when dietary habits are formed. With so many confusing messages and information about food it can be difficult to know what to feed children.

Good eating habits formed in early life can last a lifetime and the new guidelines provide practical information and advice on a range of topics including portion sizes and being guided by your child’s appetite, the importance of limiting ‘treat’ foods and sugary drinks.

" This is a very helpful clear set of guidelines for parents to help them decide what their little ones should be eating and how much,"

Sarah Noone, Dietitian, The Irish Heart Foundation

The guidance also includes new advice for parents on Vitamin D for children aged one to four. Vitamin D is needed for healthy bones and teeth and young children living in Ireland don’t get enough of it in the winter months.

The new advice is that children aged one to four take a vitamin D supplement every day from Halloween (31st October) to St Patrick’s Day (17th March).

Commenting Sarah Noone, Dietitian with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “The Irish Heart Foundation welcomes the first-ever National Healthy Eating Guidelines for 1 to 4-year-olds. Many parents can be unsure if their children are getting enough nutrition to support their healthy growth and development. This is a very helpful clear set of guidelines for parents to help them decide what their little ones should be eating and how much. While some people may be surprised at the recommendations for foods such as chocolate and crisps, it shows how normalised these foods have become in everyday diets through industry tactics such as marketing and price promotions”.

The 9 main messages from the new guidelines:

Healthy eating habits can last a lifetime – This age is the perfect age to teach your child healthy eating habits for life. Lead by example. If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child will be more likely to do the same.

Small tummies need small servings – 1 to 4-year-old children have small tummies. They can only eat small amounts. Offer them 3 small meals and 2 to 3 healthy snacks every day. All of their food and drink need to be nourishing.

Portion size matters – Be guided by your child’s appetite. Use it to help you decide how much food to offer them.  Follow the Children’s Food Pyramid guide to servings for portion sizes.

Milk is a key food – Milk is a key food in the diets of 1 to 4-year-old children. Offer your child three servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese every day.

Limit  ‘treat’ foods – Foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt can be linked to being overweight in childhood. If you decide to give your child these foods offer them in TINY amounts and only once a week.

Offer water and milk as drinks – Avoid sugary drinks like some cordials and fizzy drinks. Sugary drinks are not good for your child’s teeth.

Have a regular daily routine – Having regular times for meals and snacks sets up healthy eating habits for life, like starting every day with a healthy breakfast.

More vitamin D needed in winter months – Young children don’t get enough Vitamin D in winter. They need 5 micrograms vitamin D only – either drops or liquid- every day from Halloween (31st Oct) to St Patrick’s Day (17th March).

Make sure your child gets enough iron – Offer your child red meat three times a week and choose breakfast cereals with added iron (12mg/100g) most days of the week. 1-3-year-olds who are small for their age may need extra iron, so talk to a health professional for advice.

A suite of resources to help parents and guardians, healthcare professionals and creche managers is available on and on



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child health childhood obesity department of health dietitian healthy eating nutrition

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