Dietary guidelines for 1 to 5 year-olds call for vitamin D in winter

FSAI says plant-based ‘milks’ and sugary cereals should be avoided

Children aged between one and five should be given Vitamin D supplements in winter and red meat at least three days a week, according to new guidelines from Ireland’s food safety watchdog.

It has also said plant-based “milks”, sugar-coated cereals and drinks other than milk and water should be avoided.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) on Monday published dietary recommendations for very young children for the first time.

The authority said the guidelines would cover a gap in Irish scientific dietary recommendations for the post-infancy period - which starts on a child’s 1st birthday until they are five - after which general population healthy eating recommendations apply.


The report described milk as “a key food” with a daily intake of 550ml of cow’s milk or equivalent amounts of yoghurt or cheese, recommended.

It says water and milk are the only drinks recommended while sugary and acidic drinks should be limited and, if consumed at all, confined to mealtimes.

Parents and guardians are warned against using almond ‘milk’, coconut ‘milk’ and rice ‘milk’, as milk substitutes as these are nutritionally inadequate.


The report says if plant-based beverages are needed to replace cow’s milk, a soya ‘milk’, can be used, provided it is fortified with nutrients, particularly calcium.

A portion of vegetables should always be included at the main meal, together with the number of small portions of salad, vegetables or fruit that match the age of the child, for example two small portions for a two-year-old, four small portions for a four-year-old.

Portion sizes given should fit into the child’s hand so that smaller children are given less and bigger children more. Around 30g of lean red meat is recommended three days a week for iron and other essential minerals in addition to protein.

On other days, red meat can be replaced with poultry, fish, eggs, beans or lentils which also provide iron, as well protein and minerals.

Smooth nut butters also provide protein, the FSAI said.

A combination of white and wholemeal breads, cereals, potatoes, pastas and rice provide adequate fibre and are important sources of calories.

Foods high in fat, high in sugar or salt such as cakes, crisps, biscuits and sugar-coated breakfast cereals are not recommended. Fats, spreads and oils should be used minimally.

During the extended winter months - from Hallowe’en to St Patrick’s Day, all children aged 1 to 5 years need to be given a low-dose vitamin D-only supplement to make up for lack of skin synthesis of this vitamin from sunlight.

Encouraging acceptance of the wide range of flavours and textures naturally found in the food people need for healthy eating throughout life is important and the guidelines suggest fostering a tolerance to try an expanding variety of vegetables, salads, fruits, meat, fish and wholemeal cereals helps children develop a taste for nutritious foods.

"We know that dietary habits which can last for a lifetime are formed during this critical phase," said the chief executive of the FSAI Dr Pamela Byrne. "Children in this age group are at a development stage, where their increasing wish is to make their own decisions about what they eat, and this can be challenging."

Dr Byrne said the recommendations were "the scientific evidence-base provided to the Department of Health, to inform the future national food-based dietary guidelines that will empower parents, guardians and health professionals in Ireland to best support this essential stage in a child's development."

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast