Nutrition for 1 – 4 year olds
Nutrition for 1 – 4 year olds
One to four year olds are always on the go and need a wide variety of foods for growth and health. That is why you should offer a range of different foods over the course of the week and your child is likely to get the nutrition they need. There is no need to cook special meals; use foods all the family enjoy.
To help make this task a little easier, the main foods in our diet can be divided into food groups, as below. By selecting the right amounts from each of the food groups, you can meet your child's nutritional needs.
It’s important that children begin to eat well at an early age to develop healthy eating patterns.
Here are top 10 healthy eating tips for children aged 1-5:
1. Include a variety of foods in the child’s diet:
It is important to have different food options each day as this will ensure they get all the necessary nutrients & will also add excitement to meal times.
2. Child-sized portions:
Children at this age require much less food than an adult or any other person in their household. Plate size differs between adults and children, a child’s plate measure 20cm and adults plate measure 26cm. Similar with bowls, a child’s bowl measures 11cm and an adults bowl measures 16cm.
By giving a child too much food during their early years sets them up for overeating which is why it is important to get it right.
3. Limit sugar intake & treat foods:
At this early age, children don’t need sugary foods i.e. sweets or chocolate. Limit their access to sugary & treat foods to once a week where neccessary and try to develop healthy eating patterns early on.
Milk or Water are the best drinks for children. Fizzy drinks should not be made freely available in the home and should be kept for special occasions.
4. Quality food – limit intake of processed foods:
Children’s meals should be made from quality and fresh ingredients & their intake of processed foods such as chicken nuggets should be limited as they lack nutritional value.
5. Fruit & vegetables:
In Ireland, the consumption of fruit & vegetables is very low. Include vegetables in pasta sauces, curries and stews, giving children at least 2 portions of vegetables at dinner and also in their lunchbox. Celery, carrot, cucumber and pepper sticks are perfect for younger children.
Why not try making these Fruit Skewers.
6. Choose foods that are low in salt & fat:
Irish children have too much fat in their diet. Fresh meat, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, potatoes and pasta should be chosen to reduce the amount of fat in the diet.
Also important for children to have foods that are low salt, limit intake of foods such as ready-made meals or salted crackers.
7. Include iron-rich foods:
In Ireland about one in ten two-year-olds were found to be anaemic (not enough iron in the blood). Red meat (lamb, beef, pork) and chicken are excellent sources of easily absorbed iron. The iron in meat is absorbed up to seven times more easily than the iron from vegetables, cereals and fruits.
Children have high iron requirements and should be encouraged to eat meat on a regular basis (at least three to four times a week) to prevent the development of anaemia.
8. Include Good sources of calcium:
In a child’s diet, it is important that every day they get good sources of calcium. Calcium-rich foods include Whole or semi-skimmed cows’ milk or cheeses.
Dairy alternatives include unsweetened fortified milk, plant based drinks and yoghurts such as soya ,oat & almond
9. Special Dietary Requirements:
If you and your child are following a vegetarian diet, consult your dietitian, public health nurse or GP to ensure that he/she has enough protein, energy and iron. It may be difficult for a child on a vegetarian diet to meet all of his/her nutritional needs.
10. Keep them Active:
At this age, children should be active for at least 1 hour every day. The access to screen time amongst children has increased over the years. It is so important that children are involved in exercise from an early age.
Here are 20 game ideas to keep your children active.
The Food Pyramid
The new food pyramid for 1 to 4 year olds differs slightly from that for older children and adults. You can find a copy of the governments new guidelines below.
These foods are high in carbohydrate and provide energy your child needs to be active and play. Include at least one serving at every mealtime. Very high fibre diets can be too filling for young children and are not recommended.
- 1-3 years = 4 servings
- 3-4 years = 4-6+ servings
- E.g. one serving = 1 slice of bread
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals. Offer fresh colourful vegetables, salads or fruits chopped into small servings at every meal, and as snacks.
Orange juice is rich in vitamin C. When your child drinks unsweetened orange juice and eats an iron-containing breakfast cereal, it helps them absorb iron. Iron is an important nutrient for young children.
- 1-2 year olds = 2 or 3 servings a day.
- 3-4 year olds = 4 or 5 servings a day.
- E.g. one serving = 1 piece of fresh fruit e.g. pear, banana, apple, orange / 100ml unsweetened orange juice.
Did you know?
A serving size that fits into half the palm of your hand is the correct serving for 1-4 yr olds
Cheese, milk and yoghurt can be used in cooking without affecting the calcium content. Custard, cheese on toast or pizza are popular ways to increase your child's calcium intake.
While milk is an important part of a child's diet the amount consumed should not exceed one pint a day as large quantities of milk may reduce appetite and prevent your child from eating a mixture of foods that are necessary at this important time in their growth and development.
- Three servings a day are recommended.
- E.g. one serving = 1 glass of milk (200 mls)
Meat, fish, poultry and eggs are good sources of protein which is essential for growth and development. Pulses (peas, beans, lentils) also provide protein.
Children’s appetites vary, offer smaller portions to younger children. They can decide on their own appetite so don’t force them to clear their plates.
- 1-2 year olds = 2 servings a day
- 3-4 year olds = 3-4 servings a day
- E.g. one serving = 30g of cooked beef/lamb/chicken/salmon.
Recipes to try with your children: