New guidelines aimed at helping parents and carers to establish good eating habits in young children have been launched.

The first ever national healthy eating guidelines for children aged between one and four have been developed by nutrition experts in Ireland. They include a children’s food pyramid which will help people to understand what young children should be eating and in what portion sizes.

“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,” explained the Minister of State for Public Health and Wellbeing, Frank Feighan.

The guidelines also contain new advice about vitamin D for children. This vitamin is essential for healthy bones and teeth. It is known as the sunshine vitamin because it is produced in the skin by exposing the body to just 10-15 minutes per day of sunshine. In Ireland, vitamin D can only be produced in the skin between late March and late September. It cannot be produced in winter.

As a result, the guidelines recommend that children aged between one and four take a vitamin D supplement every day between Halloween (October 31) and St Patrick’s Day (March 17).

Meanwhile, some of the main messages included in the guidelines are:

-Healthy eating habits can last a lifetime – this 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 – young children have small tummies and can only eat small amounts. Offer them three small meals and two to three healthy snacks each day
-Milk is a key food – offer your child three servings of milk, yogurt or cheese every day
-Limit ‘treat’ foods – foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt are linked to being overweight in childhood. If you decide to give your child these foods, offer them in tiny amounts just once a week. A tiny amount is described as three crisps, one square of chocolate, a half a plain biscuit or three soft sweets
-Offer water and milk as drinks – avoid sugary drinks such as fizzy drinks. These are not good for your child’s teeth
-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. Children aged between one and three who are small for their age may need extra iron, so talk to a health professional, such as a dietitian, for advice.

The guidelines can be viewed here and more advice on healthy eating is also available here.

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