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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 8 December 2021

Daily vitamin D and no takeaways - New healthy eating advice for young children

Three mothers told TheJournal.ie about their struggles with establishing healthy diets for their children.

Image: Shutterstock/FamStudio

THE GOVERNMENT TODAY launched new healthy eating guidelines for children aged one to four, with advice for portion sizes, treats and what children should be eating. 

The guidelines aim to help adults set up good eating habits for children. They were developed by nutrition experts and based on Irish dietary evidence. 

They stress the importance of smaller portion sizes for children and limiting the amount of treat foods.

Foods which are high in fat, sugar and salt are not recommended for children in this age group, and should be eaten in tiny amounts no more than once a week. 

A ‘tiny amount’ equates to one square of chocolate, three crisps, half a plain biscuit or three soft sweets. 

The guidelines also say that takeaways “should not be part of your child’s diet”. 

Children aged between one and four are also recommended to take five micrograms of vitamin D each day between 31 October and 17 March as they are lacking the vitamin during winter. 

An updated six-tiered food pyramid was also released for children in this age group. Further advice and details can be found on the department’s website.  

‘Daily battle against the copious sweet things’

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, mothers of young children expressed their struggle to maintain healthy diets for their kids.  

Maggie, a mother of two primary school children, was “convinced” she would only feed them organic fruit and vegetables, homemade brown bread and sugar-free foods. 

“I tried in the early days, blending veg for their dinner as babies and freezing it, monitoring as much as I could. Now, if I’m honest, it’s all gone to pot,” she said. 

Maggie tried to include healthy food in lunchboxes, but treats would slip their way in through grandparents and childminders. 

“I’m so grateful they play sport, at least, so they’re pretty active… I’m trying to examine the ‘hidden sugars’ and see if we can cut these out, but it’s a daily battle against the copious sweet things in our lives.”

Sarah from Leinster says her 10-month-old daughter only recently tried heavily processed foods when she started at a creche. 

“We feed her healthy food at home, lots of fruit and veg, chicken and fish,” she said.

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Four days into the creche, she has eaten sausages, fish fingers, turkey burgers and garlic bread.

“I really just can’t believe that this food is deemed appropriate for a 10-month-old baby in a creche that’s advertised [as having] home-cooked food by chef on-site. I am worried she will develop a taste for this convenience food and not want to go back to healthier options.”

Kathleen from Dublin has a mostly vegetarian family and they are struggling to find a creche to accommodate the meatless meals for their three-year-old. 

“Finding a creche which at the very least could flex some of its meals to be ‘non-meat’ was a key issue for me when creche-hunting,” she said.

Most creches “almost laughed” when they heard about the dietary requirements.

“I always felt so apologetic – it was embarrassing. Most just said, if you want to feed them something specific, you need to cook it and bring it in yourself,” she said. 

“Not a great option, given the cost and given I’d be working full-time.”

- With reporting by Laura Byrne

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