The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) issued healthy eating guidelines for Irish kids aged 1-5 years old. This is a point in our children’s lives where parents still have full control of what foods they give their children; however, it is also a time where kids may start to show a growing independence in food choices! This can be challenging for parents but also an exciting opportunity to introduce lots of new, tasty foods to them as they move away from a predominantly milk-based diet.
The first thing to consider is that the nutritional requirements are high at this age, so there’s a need to focus on the quality of calories! Firstly, colour. Aim to include some colour at every meal. I’ve said it before, but if you start this at a young age, you will get your child visually used to seeing colour at each meal, and they will be less likely to refuse fruit and vegetables as they get older. It doesn’t need to be a lot—enough to fit into the child’s hand. Some fruit with breakfast, fruit with lunch and maybe some vegetable with their main meal.
Ideally from the age of one, children are getting their drinks from a beaker or a cup, and the only drinks they have are water and milk. Calcium is a vital component for bone health, growth and development. Aim to include 550 ml of cow’s milk a day or an equivalent amount from either cheese of yogurts. What is recommended is that you watch out for plant milks like almond, rice or coconut milks as substitutes for cow’s milk, as these are not nutritionally adequate for this age group. If you need a plant alternative for cow’s milk, chose a fortified soya milk as it is more nutritionally compatible.
Iron requirements are quite high in this age group, relative to adults. Aim to include some lean red meat three times a week in the diet. Again, use your child’s hand as a gauge, which is roughly the palm of their hand or 30g. Other iron-rich foods include green vegetables, beans, pulses, lentils, fortified breakfast cereals and eggs.
Fibre is important for all of us, and it is estimated that kids need about 5g plus their age per day in fibre e.g. if your child is three, they might need about 8g of fibre per day. For this reason, it is a good idea to use a combination of both white and wholemeal breads and cereals for kids. Get them used to the taste of the higher fibre foods but not limiting them to just the higher fibre options.
Vitamin D is ever topical at the moment, and it is now recommended that all children aged 1-5 years take 5ug of vitamin D daily as a supplement from Halloween to St Patrick’s day. This is because we do not get vitamin D from sunlight in Ireland in the winter months.
As with all nutritional advice, you want to nurture a good relationship with food and your child. A child might need to try something 12-14 times before they know if they like it! Always encourage your child to try everything on their plate, but let them know they don’t have to eat all of it. When trying to expand food choices, you can use a small amount of sugar to help e.g. a little ice-cream on fruit or stewed fruit or a little jam on brown bread. As they get used to the healthier food, you can take away the sugar. We want to encourage healthy eating practices for life but also let them know that it is ok to enjoy occasional treats!