Q. I know what my children should be eating, but my question is how do you actually get them to eat healthy foods? I have two boys aged two and five and though they are not the worst in what they eat, there is still a lot to be desired. For example, my five year old almost never eats the dinners we have as adults and his diet is restricted to mainly eating pasta and bread. He hates food that has ‘bits’ in it and will spit out anything he does not like. He does have the occasional apple (and this is the only fruit or vegetable he eats) and luckily he eats porridge in the morning with me. But apart from that he won’t eat any new foods I give him and it often ends up in a row. I would love him to eat more vegetables and to have dinners with us. What can we do?
A. Fostering healthy eating choices in children is a long-term project that can be marked by setbacks and frustrations. Frequently, young children can have a very limited range of preferred foods compared with adults. Like your own son, many children resist eating family dinners and instead want to eat only the foods they are familiar with – this is understandably frustrating for you as a parent. The good news is that there is a lot you can do as a parent to gradually expand a child’s food repertoire, though it does take patience and persistence.
Tune into your child’s eating habits and preferences
The first step is to observe closely and make an inventory of the amounts and types of foods your son eats. Frequently, although it might be restricted to certain foods, some children can have a relatively balanced and healthy diet that covers most of the food groups. As you describe, your son does currently eat a lot of healthy foods (such as apples, pasta and porridge). Secondly, it is important to try to understand the source of your child’s resistance to eating certain foods. Some children are averse to certain flavours or tastes but frequently children can be very sensitive to other aspects of food such as the texture, size, consistency and temperature. This may be the case with your son as he does not like the “bits” in some food. In addition, if a child has had a bad experience with a certain food, when they gagged or spat it out, this gives them negative associations that make it hard to try the food again.
Introduce new foods gradually to your son
The key to making progress is to start with food that your son likes and then to gradually expand these out to include new foods. Be extremely patient and positive when you introduce new foods and make sure to go at your son’s pace. You might expect him to tolerate only a small portion on his plate, before he smells it or tastes it (without putting it fully in his mouth), and so on. Though it is really hard, try to always be encouraging, positive and upbeat. The temptation is to criticise, cajole or even to force a child to eat but these are counter-productive strategies that can set you back (and can even invoke a “gag” response in your child). Instead, always focus on what your son is doing right, “you had a taste of that – well done” or to gently encourage him “well done, only one spoon to go”. Sometimes it is best not to mention the food at all and chat about other things as you eat. As he is five years old, it can be helpful to use rewards with him. For example, if he tries a new food (even one pea) he gets a star on a chart – the key thing is to get his co-operation rather than be fighting with him. Appreciate his efforts when he tries new foods and encourage him all the way.
Try to agree with your son about trying new foods
One advantage of him being five rather than a toddler is that you can reason with him and get his agreement and co-operation around healthy eating. Sit down with him at a good time and explain how important it is for him to eat nutritiously and how you only encourage him because you love him – you wouldn’t be a good parent if you didn’t. Listen carefully to his objections and preferences. Make a list of all the foods he knows and categorise them into “those he loves”, “those he thinks are okay” and “those he doesn’t like at the moment”. It can help to adopt an educational approach and even to fit in with what he is learning in school. For example, when his school is discussing the food pyramid, get him to select a couple of foods he likes from each level of the pyramid. Or when he is learning the importance of eating a “rainbow” of fruit and vegetables for better health, set him the challenge of eating a food from all the colours of the rainbow in one week.
Take the long-term view
When dealing with fussy eating, it is important to put things into perspective. The vast majority of children with restricted diets tend to grow up healthily and well. In the long term, fussy eating tends to fade and children change their eating habits at different developmental points (often influenced by peer groups when they start school or become adolescents). The key is to continue to gently encourage healthy eating choices while remaining patient and keeping things in perspective.
John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, November 19th 2013.
These cookies contain no added sugar as the sweetness comes from all the fruit! They also contain lots of whole-grains that release their energy slowly.
180g / 6 oz. of oat flour
40g / 1.5 oz. of oats
30g / 1 oz. of whole wheat flour
65g / 2.5 oz. of pineapple juice
1½ teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
60g / 2 oz. of chopped walnuts
75g / 2.5 oz. of sultanas
2 tablespoons of water
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
85g / 3 oz. of honey
165g / 8 oz. can of pineapple chunks, in own juice
Preheat oven to 180ºC / 350ºF / Gas Mark 4.
In a large mixing bowl, blend all the dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl combine water, vanilla essence, honey and pineapple.
Pour into the dry ingredients and stir. Place spoonful’s onto a greased baking sheet.
Cook for 10 to 12 minutes.
Allow to cool on a wire rack
This recipe works great with any type of fruit, dried or fresh, simply chop it up finely and add to the wet mixture before baking. Share these with friends to stop from munching on too many! Store in an airtight container.
Children form their eating habits from a young age, therefore, it is important to guide them in the right direction and give them an understanding of a balanced nutritional diet mixed with an active lifestyle.
There are many different websites and publications that can help you choose the best types of food for your child. But, there are a few things to remember:
A healthy balanced diet is important to ensure your child grows and develops to their full potential;
Healthy diets balanced with fun activities help strengthen their bones and muscles. It also helps brain development;
Make meals a family occasion where you all sit down and have a chat;
Try a variety of different food types, you would be surprised what your child likes;
Encourage your child to become involved in food preparation, this will support an interest in food as well as providing an opportunity to spend some time with your child;
Try and have a mix of vegetables, dairy, fruit and carbohydrates (like potatoes, pasta, etc.);
Avoid fast food and food high in sugar and fats;
Children should do at least 60 minutes of exercise a day and it doesn’t have to be done all at once;
Make exercise fun and join in where you can… it will help you too.
Do not force a particular food on a child, this will result in them never eating it and will probably make them ‘go off’ eating other food;
Children do not need the same amount of food as adults;
Try and limit the amount of treats given, treats should NOT be offered as a reward;
Offer water instead of fizzy drinks.
For more information, please click on the links below:
This is especially important when your child is learning to walk and becoming more mobile.
Safety in the Kitchen and Living room:
Be careful with hot drinks – a cup of tea or coffee (with milk) spilling over a baby or young child can result in severe scalds 15 minutes after the drink has been made.
Never heat your baby’s bottle in the microwave: the milk can be heated unevenly and could scald your baby’s mouth. Reheat in a bowl of warm water.
Reduce the temperature setting of water heaters and/or install thermostatic mixing valves on individual taps.
Young children have small airways, when means that it doesn’t take much to block their windpipe which carries air to their lungs.
Always supervise your children when they are playing. Watch out for older children sharing unsuitable objects with your younger child.
Ensure that any food that young children are eating are small bite size pieces to avoid choking.
Safety in the Bathroom:
Babies can drown in just a few centimetres of water – very quickly and without noise or struggle. They need constant supervision when around water so make sure they are never left alone while bathing – not even for a few seconds.
Medicine and Poisons:
Store all medicines in child proof containers and well out of the reach of children. All medicines are potentially harmful to children.
See also www.poisons.ie
Driveways and Gardens
Young children are especially at risk in driveways and carparks. They don’t yet realise how dangerous cars and bikes are and can get highly absorbed in whatever they are doing including chasing a ball behind a car!
Always hold your child’s hand near cars, even in your own driveway. Explain why it is important that they hold your hand.
Check and double-check where your child is before you reverse your vehicle. Reversing drivers find it very difficult to see small children behind their cars.
Children should always be supervised when using outdoor play equipment.
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This is a fun and easy way to make a crown for your little prince or princess.
Whether you are planning for a party or looking to fill a rainy day, this is a great craft activity for you and your child to do together.
Allow your child to customise their crown. Encourage them to use different materials and get creative with paint, markers, glue and glitter.
When they are finished, take a scissors and cut into the open end of the cup to create points. It’s your turn to have some fun.
When you are both happy with the crown, make some small cuts close to the base. Take a plain plastic hairband and thread it through the paper cup.
Paper Lanterns with LED Bulbs
These lanterns make great decorations.
Make sure you can source LED bulbs before you start.
Print out the template, on your desired paper OR you can print one to be used for lots of tracings.
Cut the lantern shape out of desired paper
Using a hole punch, you can design your lantern.
Carefully fold all the corners up
Take a long piece of tape and place it on the INSIDE of the box and very carefully pull the opposite side up and seal tightly. You do not want light coming out of the edges, so take time to seal these well.
Carefully insert the LED bulb and you’re done.
TIPS: Get creative! You can cut the lanterns out of all kinds of paper (i.e. wrapping paper at Christmas and birthdays, magazines, coloured card)
Talk together – remember children this age love to practice their communication skills.
Go to the library – bring your child to the library and together look up books, topics of interest to you both and have a discussion about the topics. This will help develop the bonding and relationship process.
Play problem solving games – children this age love being involved in making up and solving puzzles. You can use board games or develop a treasure hunt within or outside your home. Jigsaws are also a great activity, but make sure to do these games together!
Listen and make music together – get to know what music or songs your child likes. Allow them to play it in the car or at home and enjoy it together with them, you can even sing along with them.
This can be as simple as deciding whether one person or a committee takes on the task of organising the group.
The major advantage of a committee is that by sharing the work no one person is left to do it all and it can also provide continuity if a key member leaves.
Holding an AGM every January may be a useful way of ensuring the continuity of the group.
This can be anywhere you are able to find a suitable space with regular availability, for example, a community centre, room in a health centre, sports hall, band hall or purpose built structure.
You will need adequate space and facilities for the storage of toys and materials.
If your group has more than 35 children on any given morning and your venue has a floor space of approximately 150 square metres, Early Childhood Ireland can offer the appropriate insurance cover, at a very reasonable rate.
Extra places, up to a ceiling of 40 children, may be insured through Early Childhood Ireland Group Insurance Scheme, provided that the floor space available is increased proportionally.
You need Public Liability Insurance of at least €2,600,000. Check with your Insurer to confirm that all the group’s activities are covered, including once-off events.
Notify the health service executive
You are not obliged to notify the local Health Service Executive of the existence of your group, but it may be advisable and in your interest to do so.
Notifying the local Health Service Executive could also provide a useful contact point for new parents in the area.
Looking for funding
There are several different bodies and organisations you could contact about the possibility of securing funding, for instance:
Your regional office of the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
The National Lottery often provides once-off grants to organisations which offer a range of health related services.
If there is one, your Partnership or Community Development Group.
The Community Care department of your local Health Service Executive may be able to help with a Start-up Grant.
Local shops might also help with donations.
A number of County Childcare Committees may also provide small grants.
You could also raise funds directly, for insurance, by organising a Table Quiz, Raffle, Flag-Day, church gate collection, Coffee Morning, Race Night or a Sponsored Walk for Toddlers. (Please be aware that some of these activities require the permission of the Garda Siochana).
Toys and Equipment
The general equipment required could include the following:
suitable chairs and tables for adults and children
tea and coffee making equipment
cups and beakers
changing facilities, in a separate area from the children
a security gate/barrier to prevent children from leaving the setting
a tape recorder could be useful
The toys and equipment specific to the various age groups could include:
For babies: A safe area or baby haven, with soft flooring, soft toys, rattles, coloured bricks and activity centres
For Crawlers: If the space permits, a larger area could be cordoned off with, for instance, roll-along toys, cars, dolls, cloth books, shape sorters, stacking toys and rocking toys.
For toddlers and older children: Appropriate toys could include dolls, teddies, prams and push-chairs, sit-and-ride toys, a garage with cars, simple jigsaws, building blocks, dress-up clothes such as hats and bags, a toy kitchen, colourful books, playdough, paint, collage and drawing equipment.
Sand and water play also provide good developmental opportunities, but require even closer supervision.
Introductory information for new parents and carers
Basic introductory information could be provided to newcomers by means of a welcoming letter, including the following pieces of information:
parents and carers must look after their own children, this is not a day care service
cost per family (this would usually be about €2.00 per session)
children must be accompanied to the toilet by the parent or the adult nominated by the parent
children are not allowed in the tea and coffee area
parents and carers are asked to play an active role in the group
a lists of days, times, duration and venues for the meetings of the Parents and Toddler Group
the telephone number of the secretary or designated contact person
safety is the responsibility of all the adults attending the session
Tasks for the day-to-day running of the group could be put on job cards, which would then be distributed to each adult upon their arrival. The cards could include some of the following tasks:
book and set up premises, unlock doors and lock up again at the end of session
welcome people and distribute information
initiate new parents and carers into the group and introduce them to others
register new members and record the attendance of all children and adults
collect money and record it in an Accounts Book
organise drinks and snacks, with tea and coffee in a separate safe area
supervise each play area
read at story-time, lead sing-song
clean and maintain toys and equipment
clean and tidy up
advertise the service
while health and safety is everyone’s responsibility, it can be a good idea to have one person with a special interest in it to help raise safety consciousness. That person could also buy and maintain the First Aid Box, arrange fire drills or point out behaviours which might cause or contribute to unsafe situations
Health and Safety
Your Parent, Baby and Toddler Group should identify all health and safety hazards; eliminate them where possible and reduce them if they cannot be eliminated.
You need to put in place a simple Health and Safety Plan and make sure that everyone is aware of it. Often the best way of doing this is to:
walk around the area used by the group
write down the hazards
determine how you will eliminate or reduce the hazards
identify and record who will do this
decide by when this will be done
You need to check that these steps have been taken and to regularly monitor health and safety. An Accident/Incident Book to record all accidents and near misses is essential.
If you have an employee, a Health and Safety Statement has to be completed under Health and Safety Legislation and you must have Employers Liability Insurance. You should also be aware that you must fulfill all your legal responsibilities as an employer.
Children being transported in cars do so at the invitation of the owner and the insurance situation needs to be clarified with the car insurers. If transporting children in cars or minibuses, it is strongly recommended that the children should always be secured by safety belts and appropriate child seating.
Remember – safety in the group is the responsibility of all the members.
Ask your local Fire Officer to check the building you intend to use and to advise you about fire drills and other fire safety issues.
You will need to obtain a copy of “Fire Safety in Pre-Schools”, which you can download from the Environment, Community and Local Government website or you can contact the government publications office directly at the following address:
Government Publications Office,
51 St Stephens Green,
Courses, Outings and Parties
Parents’ courses are available from many sources including: Early Childhood Ireland, the Community Care section of the local Health Service Executive, Primary Schools, Partnerships and Community Groups, Family Resource Centres and County Childcare Committees.
VEC’s offer courses for many interests and will often provide special courses for parents and carers if asked to do so.
talks from experts could be arranged on matters like Nutrition, Child Development, Speech Therapy and the Value of Play.
the group can provide a focal point for areas of interest to parents and carers, such as hobbies, computer courses and complementary medicine. The group should avail of the expertise of members of the group.
days out for parents and children to a local amenity can be enjoyable, healthy and popular activities.
evenings out for parents and carers can provide opportunities to get a well-deserved rest from the children and to develop friendships in a relaxed atmosphere.
parties for holidays like Christmas or Easter can be great fun. However, extra numbers need to be insured and properly supervised.
members of the group might form baby-sitting contacts.
You will probably need regularly to advertise your Parent, Baby and Toddler Group in places such as local Health Centres, Doctors’ Surgeries, Shops, Shopping Centres, Libraries, Post Offices, Churches, Pre-schools, Primary Schools and local newspapers.
It would also be a good idea to ask your local Public Health Nurse to promote the group.
Parent, Baby and Toddler Groups normally operate in conjunction with Primary Schools’ terms and holidays.
Follow through on what you say and don’t change the ‘rules’ from day to day. Make sure all the people who are involved in caring for your child (partners, childminders, grandparents etc.) agree on what’s allowed. Apply the 80/20 rule. At least try and be consistent 80% of the time!
R. Reward desirable behaviour
Reward good behaviour rather than only punishing undesirable behaviour. Positive parenting should be more about learning and rewarding good behaviour, than punishing poor behaviour.
Sample Rewards :
Hugs, playing favourite game, story, gold star
AVOID – something that has been bought, something to eat
Remember children need attention – they will be more likely to repeat whatever they get the most attention doing! Attention when they have done something good is a lot more effective than giving them attention when they have done something not so good.
I. Be genuinely interested in what your child is saying, doing, thinking and feeling
S. Provide Structure
Structure your day:
Dressing time, mealtime, bedtime. Younger children love routine, so try and provide as much structure in their day as possible.
Structure your home:
“Places & Spaces”: Provide accessible places for things that your child needs like their books, games and toys. It’s great if you have room to let your child have some special space – for example, an area of the garden when they are younger or a corner of a room or ‘den’ when they are older.
Plan, Explain, Do and Review. Involve your child, where possible, in your plans for the day giving explanations if necessary. When the activities are finished it’s good to share the experience, talking about some of the funny things that have happened.
P. Be Positive
Do say: “Walk to the table” Don’t say: “Stop Running”
S. Be Specific
Do say: “You can play with your cars on the floor” Don’t say: “Stop messing”
Other things you can do to be a positive parent:
Look out for the positive things that your child does around the home and comment on them. “Well done Kyle for putting those toys back in the crate”.
Go to the local park with your child or places where families walk and play – you might meet someone you know. It is always easier to get to know other parents through children. Children will naturally play with other children so, this could be an opportunity to mix with other parents.
Visit your local library – there are often activities of interest to parents and children. Very often, your local library will run activities for children and parents, why not take time out to visit your local library, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find there.
Enrol your child in day care. Again, the local County Childcare Committee will be able to point you in the right direction in terms of early years services, what is available and how much it will cost. Many Early Years services have activities that are geared for parents, so why not have a chat with the manager and see what is available. Some Early Years services have Facebook pages, this might also be a way to engage with other parents.
Parents of children going to primary school:
Get involved in your local National School Parents’ Council or other parent groups. Schools are always looking for parents to support the school, so why not have a chat with the school principal about what is available and where you can link in.
Some communities have baby massage sessions available and this can be a good way to meet parents in your area.
Touch is the newborn’s first language – it is their other prime means of communication and plays an essential role in the forming of early parent-child relationships. Massaging your child allows you to express emotional affection and to fulfil your baby’s need for physical contact. The benefits of massage are both emotional and physical, so your baby will achieve all round well-being.
Acknowledge your young child’s feelings: “Jack I see that you are feeling a bit angry at the moment”. It is important to connect with young children emotionally. We call this emotional connection – atunement. It can be done through physical touch, empathetic facial expressions, nurturing tone of voice and non-judgemental listening. Remember younger children live completely in the moment, may be frightened by their own emotions and are only beginning to develop their language skills. They are not able to quickly engage the part of their brain that might help them control their own emotions.
Play the ‘name the feelings’ game.
Make some emotional faces and see if your child can copy you and maybe guess the emotion. Try putting on a ‘happy’ face and say “look I’m happy now, can you be happy too”. Then, put on a ‘surprised’ face and ask your child to copy you.