Nutrition for Two to Fives

What if my child is a fussy eater?

By the time your child is two, he or she will have developed definite likes and dislikes. And most children won't hold back in letting you know what they will and will not eat!

It is important to remember that children's eating habits vary greatly so don't worry if your child refuses to eat a well balanced diet every single day. If you child is happy and is growing normally, there is usually no cause for concern.

However this does not mean that you should give up trying to give them a balanced diet. There are a number of things you can try:

  • Do not show your child that you are upset or angry by them not eating and do not put pressure on them to eat. Instead try to create a relaxed atmosphere at meal times.
  • Continue to offer a variety of foods, including things that you know he/she will eat.
  • Give your child small portions and offer seconds, rather than giving them a very large plate of food. Don't force your child to clear a plate or a food he/she doesn't like.
  • Take advantage of their natural appetite. They will be more willing to eat a particular food if they are hungry.
  • Try to have as many family meals as possible. If your child sees everybody else eating the same food, he/she will probably be more willing to try it.
  • If possible, include your child in the preparation of the food including the washing up!

If you continue to be concerned about your child's erratic eating habits, visit your doctor or nutritionist.

How can I meet my child's nutritional needs?

The best way to ensure that your child is eating a balanced diet is to offer them a wide range of different foods every day.

There are a number of food groups that you should be concerned with and if you select the right amount from each of these groups, you should succeed in meeting your child's nutritional needs.

Bread, potatoes and cereals are extremely important because they are high in carbohydrates and are a rich source of energy, B-group vitamins and minerals.

They should be included in every meal. Offer six or more servings from this group each day. Suggested servings are:

  • One slice of bread.
  • One bowl of breakfast cereal.
  • One small potato.
  • Two tablespoons of rice or pasta.
  • One small scone.
  • 25g of popcorn.

Fruit and vegetables are important sources of vitamins and minerals. Many parents face the battle of trying to get their children to eat vegetables. If your child will not eat vegetables, offer more fruit instead as there are similar nutritional values in both.

Offer four or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day. These can be cooked or raw. Always wash fruit and vegetables and peel vegetables before eating. Frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh ones. Suggested servings are:

  • One piece of fruit: Try to offer as wide a range of fruit as possible, for example mandarins, strawberries, bananas, melon and pears as well as apples and oranges.
  • Half a glass of fruit juice.
  • Carrot, cucumber or celery sticks.
  • A bowl of vegetable soup.
  • Two tablespoons of cooked vegetables.
  • Salad vegetables such as tomatoes and lettuce.

Meat, fish poultry, eggs and pulses are important sources of protein, which is essential for growth and development.

Offer two servings per day. Suggested servings are:

  • One egg.
  • 50g (two ounces) of beef burger.
  • 50g (two ounces) of chicken.
  • 75g (three ounces) of fish.
  • 50g (2 ounces) of baked beans.

Milk and other dairy products are the best source of calcium, which is essential for the proper development of bones.

While milk is an essential part of a child's diet, daily intake should not exceed a pint. This is because large quantities of milk may reduce your child's appetite and prevent them from eating the mixture of foods that are necessary to keep them healthy. Skimmed milk is not recommended before the age of five.

Cheese, milk and yoghurt can all be used in cooking without affecting the calcium content. Therefore if you are having problems getting your child to eat dairy products, use these ingredients in foods to increase their calcium intake. For example, offer them custard, toast with melted cheese on top or even pizza with melted cheese on top.

Offer three servings a day. Suggested servings are:

  • One glass of milk (200mls).
  • Two cheese singles.
  • 25g (one ounce) of hard cheese.
  • One carton of yoghurt.
  • One yoghurt drink.
  • One bowl of milk pudding.

The mineral iron is essential for healthy blood and normal growth and development. Recently in Ireland, approximately one in ten two year olds were found to be anaemic (not enough iron in the blood).

The best source of iron is lean, red meat (beef, pork and lamb). Chicken and fish are also excellent sources.

The iron in meat is absorbed up to seven times faster than the iron from fruit, vegetables, nuts and cereals. However meat eaten at the same meal as these foods will help the absorption of iron from them. Therefore a meal containing meat and vegetables is high in iron because the iron from the meat is easily absorbed and the meat also helps with the absorption of iron from the vegetables.

Children have high iron requirements and should eat meat at least three-to-four times per week. If your child is a vegetarian (or a vegan), please consult a doctor or nutritionist about their diet. If they are not eating meat, an alternative, which supplies them with enough iron, must be found.

Is there anything I need to watch out for?

If your child eats a lot of sugary food, the risk of tooth decay increases. This does not mean that sugar should be left out of the diet. However try to limit sweet foods to mealtimes.

Give the child water or milk to drink. Fizzy drinks and fruit juices have a high sugar content. If you want to give the child juice, dilute it first.

If the child is given sweets in between meals, try to ensure that they eat them together rather than spreading them out over the course of a few hours. When sugar is consumed, the acid level in the mouth falls to a level where it can cause dental decay for about 30 minutes. As a result if the child is eating sweets all day, their teeth are under attack continuously.

For the same reason, they should not brush their teeth directly after eating sugary foods because the teeth are weakened (by the acid attack) and brushing can damage the enamel. It is advisable to wait 30 minutes before brushing.

Low fat foods such as skimmed milk and low fat butter spreads are not suitable for children. This is because fat is an important part of a child's diet due to their small appetites and high energy needs.

Very high fibre diets can prove too filling for a child and are therefore not recommended.

If your child is a vegetarian or vegan, please consult a doctor or nutritionist. It can be difficult to meet a child's many nutritional needs so it is essential that you are fully informed about what exactly your child needs and how to fulfil these needs on a vegetarian diet.

What about snacking?

You should include snacks in your child's daily diet as they will help to top up his/her high energy needs between meals.

Try to make the snacks as healthy as possible, basing them on foods that they need such as carbohydrates and calcium-rich foods. Suggestions are:

  • Fruit: Always wash fruit before eating.
  • Yoghurt.
  • Cheese slices.
  • Ham or tuna sandwich.
  • 25g (one ounce) of popcorn.
  • Carrot or celery sticks: Always peel and wash before eating.


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