Healthy Eating for Children

kids x 3

1 in 4 three year old’s in Ireland is overweight.

I find this statistic shocking and scary.

But with 60% of adults in Ireland overweight it should not be a surprise.

Paediatrics Dietician in Temple Street Children’s Hospital, Kizzy Moroney, has said the problem of overweight in children has become a major issue. Ms Moroney suggests fast food and sweets are the main culprits, so it is critical parents are on top of their child’s diet.

With 1 in 3 Irish people eating fast food 3 times a week, she definitely seems to have a point. Fast food – whether its is a takeaway or a ready meal, tends to come in big portions with a high fat content while being low in nutrients. These foods should be seen as a treat, to have now and again – not 3 times a week.

In Ireland, an average family spends: 19% of the food budget on treats like crisps and sweets, only 10% on fruit and 7% on vegetables. It has been estimated that around 20% of a child’s daily calories are from treat foods. As with fast food, these sweet treats are no longer regarded as “treats”, they are part of our kids diets every day.

Causes of overweight in children

  • High calorie low nutrient diets
  • Not enough physical activity
  • Too much screen time and gadgets
  • Sleep routine

Consequences of overweight in children

Short Term

  • Physical: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, joint problems, digestive problems
  • Psychological: anxiety, depression, low self esteem
  • Social: stigma, bullying

Long Term

More likely to be an overweight adult and the associated problems of increased risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and premature death.

How to help an overweight child

  1. Be a good role model
  2. Involve the whole family in healthy lifestyle changes
  3. Avoid weight talk, focus on healthy changes
  4. Discourage dieting and encourage healthy eating and physical activity
  5. Be positive – reward achievements
  6. Be patient
  7. Get active together
  8. Portion sizes should be age appropriate
  9. Child size plate
  10. Don’t tell them to clean their plate
  11. Have set mealtimes and eat together
  12. Don’t treat or reward with treat foods – use non food rewards
  13. Be positive
  14. If you give food treats make them very very small – fun size

Physical Activity

  • More moving and less sitting
  • Limit devices to <2 hours each day
  • From age 2 and up kids should be active for 3 hours per day
  • Play with them – if they see you being active they will learn from you


Studies have shown that the less sleep a child has, the greater chance of them being overweight. Establish a good bedtime routine in your family, with set bedtimes. Make bedrooms a gadget-free zone.

Unhealthy Eating

  • Discourage high fat high sugar high salt foods
  • No fizzy drinks
  • Don’t have salt at the table
  • Don’t have sweets in the house
  • Don’t give in to protest behavior, stick to your guns. You are being kinder in the long run

Healthy Eating

  • 5 fruit and veg every day
  • Encourage water
  • Regular meal pattern, together
  • No TV or gadgets at mealtimes
  • Base meals on starchy carbohydrates + lean protein + vegetables
  • Kids generally don’t need to diet, the aim is to maintain weight as they grow into it

Involve them in:

  • Meal planning
  • Food shopping
  • Meal preparation
  • Cooking

Healthy Snacks

  • Fruit salad
  • Chopped vegetables
  • Rice cakes
  • Corn cakes
  • Low sugar yoghurt
  • Slice of toast
  • Pancake
  • Handful of pasta shapes


Calcium and vitamin D are very important for bone development in childhood. Dairy products are a great source of these nutrients.

  • Full fat should be given until at least the age of 2.
  • No skimmed milk until at least over 5

At the end of the day it is us parents who decide on the foods being fed to our children.

It is our responsibility to be good role models and to teach them how to eat a healthy diet.




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