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Just one square of chocolate or half a biscuit for children each week, parents warned

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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly launched the new guidelines

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly launched the new guidelines

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly launched the new guidelines

It may be time to swap the sweets for sticker books and get out the bikes instead of the raiding the 'goody press' as treats for our little ones.

That's the advice from the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, whose department has just launched its first-ever Healthy Eating Guidelines for one to four-year-olds.

Released as part of its Obesity Policy under Healthy Ireland, it has drafted a new kids' food pyramid to show what young children should be eating and what portion sizes look like.

Among the recommendations are avoiding treats that are high in fat, sugar or salt as a reward to comfort your child as they can be linked to childhood obesity.

Chocolate

Limit buying unhealthy snack foods such as biscuits, chocolate and sweets - don't even have them in your cupboards, it states.

According to the new guidelines on the gov.ie website, if you do decide to give your child a treat, offer them in "tiny amounts" and only once a week.

This equates to one square of chocolate, five crisps, half a plain biscuit and three soft sweets. Offer them vegetables, fruit or salad instead and "use rewards instead of food treats, like stickers or a colouring book".

"Do a fun activity together such as a game, a bike ride or a trip to the playground or park," it adds.

One to four-year-olds have small tummies and can only eat small amounts, it continues.

Offer them three small meals and two or three snacks and make sure they eat in child-sized bowls.

Milk is a key food and should be offered along with water while avoiding fizzy drinks and cordial mix.

Stick to regular meal times every day and also use vitamin D supplements during the winter. When it comes to iron, offer red meat three times a week and make sure to choose a cereal that contains the essential mineral.

For children aged one to two, parents are advised to feed kids two servings of meat, fish, eggs, beans and nuts every day.

This is in addition to three servings of dairy, two to three servings of vegetables and fruit and three to four servings of cereals, bread, potatoes, pasta and rice.

Parents should increase the number of servings of these kind of foods for three- to four-year-olds.

Launching the initiative, Public Health Minister Frank Feighan said he acknowledges how "challenging" it can be feeding younger children but these new resources will help support healthy choices.

Dr Marian O'Reilly, chief specialist in nutrition at Safefood, told the Herald that the rising levels of weight issues among Irish children were a growing concern.

"One of the key reasons why these guidelines were developed is that when we look at rates of overweight and obesity, they are very high. We are seeing one in five children between age three to five are carrying excess weight and that brings along with it life-long problems," she said.

Surge

"Knowing the right amounts and different type of food to put in the bowl for them is quite a challenge, especially for the one- and two-year-olds."

She added that in recent months, parents have reported a surge in the amounts of treats they were giving children, particularly during the early stages of lockdown.

"Children between one to four have very small tummies and if they're filling up on treat foods, they're not getting the nutritious food they need," she said.

"Parents need to think about the alternatives to treat foods; think about what you're buying. If you bring them home and the child knows they're in the cupboard, they're hard to resist."