Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD, together with the Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman TD and the Minister of State for Public Health and Wellbeing, Frank Feighan today launched the first ever National Healthy Eating Guidelines for one to four year olds.
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.
Speaking at the launch of the guidelines, Minister Donnelly said:
We all want to give our children the very best start and helping them to establish a healthy relationship with food is something that will benefit them for their entire lives. These guidelines will help parents and carers to set their children up for a healthier life and are another step to help make the healthy choice the easier choice for everyone.
As Minister for Health, I’m very glad this progress has been made for the future health of our nation’s children.
These guidelines represent a significant step in implementing our Obesity Policy under Healthy Ireland and Sláintecare. The suite of resources provides useful and practical nutrition advice to empower parents and to support others including dietitians, health care professionals and preschool teachers. I believe having these guidelines in place for our youngest children is another important part of the foundation on which to build a healthier Ireland for all.
Minister O’Gorman said:
The early establishment, and fostering of good nutritional habits in a nurturing, caring society, will provide an excellent foundation for the future health of our nation’s children. These Guidelines deliver on a key action in the First 5 Whole of Government strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families which aims to better their lives and I am confident that these will be of great assistance to parents and those working with children, feeding them and helping with their growth and development on a daily basis.
Minister Feighan said:
I am of the view that every parent or guardian wants to give their children the best possible start in life. So this is why getting their diet right from an early age is of huge importance for our children’s future development. Whilst acknowledging just how challenging it can be when trying to feed younger children, the new resources launched today will help parents and others to understand the issues around healthy eating for children much better and they will help families through the first four years of a child’s life.
A critical message coming from these new guidelines is that we really need to recognise that small children have small tummies and as a result we need to be mindful of the portion sizes that we’re giving them when eating. The Children’s Food Pyramid will help to assist families to make healthier choices for their child as it provides a range of information on the number of servings from each shelf needed at different ages. It also recognises that some children of the same age will need more food and some will need less.
Our children are better at making changes when the whole family do it together and I strongly recommend that families try to make these positive changes together. Small changes made now can make a big difference later in life. The development of these resources will ultimately help improve the health and wellbeing of children and their families, and as a result they are an important foundation in the implementation of the Healthy Ireland framework.
Included in the guidance is 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).
Healthy eating guidelines help people make choices to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. We all want our kids to have the best possible start in life so getting their diet right is of huge importance. Making changes as a family can make it easier for everyone to adjust and help develop healthy habits for life.
Getting your children’s diet right from the start will help give them the nest possible start in life and will lead to them developing healthy eating habits for life. The following guidelines outline the best food to feed your 1 to 4 year olds and how much and how often to give them.
This food pyramid is a guide for servings and portions sizes for 1 – 4 year olds.
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 their food and drink needs 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 drops or liquid every day from Halloween (31 October) to St Patrick’s Day (17 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.
Healthy eating guidelines for older children and adults
Knowing how much food to give your child can be difficult as it can depend on their age and activity levels. Portion size is a good place to start and is something you can introduce gradually for everyone in the family.
As a rule of thumb, a 5-year old should eat about half the amount that an adult does. Many adults eat larger portions than they need also. Try giving everyone smaller portions on their plates to start with and they can have more after if they’re still hungry. Using smaller plates, for children and adults, can help
This guidance is for everyone from 5 years upwards.
The guidelines are called Healthy Food for Life and the toolkit includes:
eat more vegetables, salad and fruit – up to seven servings a day
limit intake of high fat, sugar and salt in food and drinks
size matters: use the Food Pyramid as a guide for serving sizes
increase your physical activity levels
small chances can make a big difference… so start today!
Go to safefood for more information on portion serving sizes.
We partner with the HSE and safefood on the START campaign, which helps parents make changes to their childrens’ diets. It’s also a place where parents share tips with each other. You can check out some recipes, especially for kids, here.
Cooking healthy meals
Dinner is a busy time in any house. After a long day at work or school, preparing a healthy dinner when you are hungry and tired might be the last thing you feel like doing.
Many recipes can be made healthy without losing the taste. Here are a few tips that will help you adapt your favourite recipes to reduce fat, sugar, salt, calories and increase fibre without changing your diet radically.
cut down on fats: if frying, use a non-stick pan and less oil than the recipe suggests
cut down on salt: replace salt with alternative seasonings such as pepper, herbs, spices, lemon juice, vinegar or mustard
sauces and dips: choose tomato-based sauces and replace cream, whole milk and sour cream with semi-skimmed and skimmed milk, or low-fat yoghurt
cheese: use strongly flavoured cheeses like mature cheddar or blue cheese in savoury dishes – you can use less and still get all the flavour
Safefood have some very simple, healthy recipes you can follow (the calories are also stated). You can check out the recipes here.
Bord Bia also have recipes that combine a mixture of traditional and modern cuisine and you can check them out here.
What you drink matters too
The amount of fluid we need depends on how active we are and how warm it is. To stay healthy, we should drink about 8 cups or 1.6 litres per day. Water and milk are the best choices. Get into the habit of drinking water with all meals and carry it as a thirst quencher. Still water is kinder to teeth than sparkling varieties.
Drinking a large glass of wine is like eating a slice of pizza, when it comes to calories. If you drink a lot, it’s likely to have an impact on your weight over time, as well as your general health. You can find information on calories in alcohol here.
When trying to lose weight people often focus on one thing, the pounds or the kilogrammes lost. But you can be more successful if you focus on eating healthier foods, and being more active will lead to keeping the weight off.
Some tips are:
keep track of your food intake, it will make you aware of your eating habits and will help you spot problem areas
planning and setting goals is crucial to your success
rewarding your success will help keep you motivated
You can check out some tips on how to lose weight safely here.
The revised Healthy Eating Guidelines and Children’s Food Pyramid are based on the FSAI “Scientific Recommendations for Food-Based Dietary Guidelines” for 1 to 5 Year Olds in Ireland” 2020
The following are the 9 main messages from the 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 needs 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.
In addition to the FSAI scientific recommendations in their report, the FSAI also provided the Department with a range of meal plans for different age points which facilitated the development of the Children’s Food Pyramid and the sample meal plan guides.
The suite of resources for parents, healthcare professionals and creche managers includes :
A 24 page booklet
Poster – Health professional/ creche manager
Poster – parent
Shelf fact sheets x 6 – 1 on each shelf of the Children’s Food Pyramid
Happy Healthy Meals fact sheet
Tips for Fussy Eaters
Vitamin D fact sheet
Iron fact sheet
Breakfast fact sheet
Snacks fact sheet
Drinks fact sheet
Sample Meal plan x 5 – 1 for each year of age and 3 yr old vegetarian
Adult and child Plate comparison infographic
Meal plan options (healthcare professionals / Creche)
Rationale for healthcare professionals
Powerpoint presentation for training
A Web support / digital vault for sharing with partners
The release will be supported by a digital and social campaign and use the hashtag #kidspyramid
The members of the Obesity Policy and Oversight Implementation Group’ s Healthy Eating Sub Group who developed the Healthy Eating guidelines for 1 to 4 year olds and the Children’s Food Pyramid are :
Ursula O’ Dwyer, Department of Health* (Chair)
Anne-Marie Brooks, Department of Children & Youth Affairs
Maeve Lynch, Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine
Carmel O’Keeffe, Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine
Charles Martin, Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Ronan Kielt, Department of Education and Skills
Margaret O’Neill , HSE* (Joanne O’Hallorhan, HSE*)
Dr Mary Flynn, FSAI*
Dr Marian O’Reilly, Safefood* (Joana Caldeira Fernandes da Silva*)
Jennifer Feighan, Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (Ruth Martin* and
Dr Janas Harrington, UCC
Seamus O’Reilly, Department of Health
Caitríona Connolly, Department of Health
*These members were also on the Technical Working Group for the 1-4 year olds Healthy Eating Guidelines and Children’s Food Pyramid
Want to get €5, absolutely free? Sign up to the ‘Smart’ Debit Card – Curve today, and earn a fiver on us! Find out more here.