Children aged 1 to 4 years old grow and develop fast. They need nourishing food to give them energy, protein and other nutrients.
Give them child-size portions and servings of healthy food each day. Use the children's food pyramid as a guide.
The children's food pyramid
The children's food pyramid is for children aged 1 to 4. It shows a variety of foods and child-size servings.
It's different to the pyramid for older children, teenagers and adults. This is because children under 5 have different nutrition needs at this stage of life.
The bottom of the children’s food pyramid is ‘cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice’. This is because children need more of these carbohydrate foods for energy and growth.
The pyramid shows how many daily servings your child should have from each shelf. There are examples of child-size servings on each shelf. Offer your child the number of servings suitable for their age.
The 5 main shelves are:
- cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice - eat every day
- vegetables, salad and fruit - eat every day
- milk, yogurt and cheese - eat every day
- meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts - eat every day
- fats, spreads and oils - only in very small amounts
The red triangle on top contains foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt. These should only be given maximum once a week in tiny amounts.
The children's food pyramid was published by the Department of Health in October 2020.
Food portions to give your child every day
Offer your child 3 meals and 2 to 3 healthy snacks each day. Use child-size portions and servings.
Lead by example. If you eat a variety of healthy food your child will be more likely to do the same. Try to eat meals with your child when possible.
Read meal plans for children aged 1 to 4 years.
Cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice
These are carbohydrates. They are also called starchy foods. They provide energy and fibre. They also provide some B vitamins which get energy from food.
Offer at least one of these foods at every meal.
Ages 1 to 2: 3 to 4 servings a day
Ages 3 to 4: 4 to 6 servings a day
1 serving is:
- half cup flaked cereal fortified with iron
- 1 to 1-and-a-half wheat cereal biscuits
- 1 plain rice cake (unsalted)
- 1 to 2 crackers
- half to 1 slice bread
- half to 1 small roll
- half pitta pocket
- half small wrap
- half chapatti
- 1 unsalted breadstick
- half to 1 small cooked potato
- half cup cooked sweet potato or yam
- half cup cooked pasta
- half cup cooked rice
- half cup cooked noodles
- half cup cooked couscous
Give an iron-fortified porridge or breakfast cereal
Offer your child a porridge or breakfast cereal with added iron most days of the week.
Standard porridge is a healthy breakfast food, but children aged 1 to 4 will benefit from one with added iron.
Iron is very important for a young child's growth and development. It keeps their blood healthy.
Some porridge, wheat biscuits and flake cereals have iron added. This includes supermarket own brand cereals.
Check the label for ones that contain at least 12mg of iron per 100g. Get tips on how to read food labels at makeastart.ie.
Add some chopped berries to breakfast porridge or cereal that contains iron. Berries have vitamin C. This helps the body to absorb iron.
Limit sugar-coated and chocolate-coated breakfast cereals.
Give a mix of white and wholemeal
Young children can eat a mix of white and wholemeal breads, pasta, rice and other cereals.
Offering wholemeal or wholegrain choices only may be too filling. This can reduce your child’s appetite for other nourishing foods.
If your child gets constipation, offer more wholemeal and wholegrain types. Make sure they drink enough fluid. Offer a variety of fruit and vegetables too.
Vegetables, salad and fruit
These foods provide vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Offer vegetables, salad or fruit chopped into small servings at every meal and as snacks.
An average serving size is about 40g. A serving size that fits into half the palm of your hand is about right for children aged 1 to 4.
Ages 1 to 2: 2 to 3 servings a day
Ages 3 to 4: 4 to 5 servings a day
1 serving is:
- 1 plum
- 1 kiwi
- 1 mandarin
- 100ml unsweetened orange juice
- half orange
- half apple
- half pear
- half banana
- 3 to 4 cooked carrot sticks
- 3 to 4 cucumber sticks
- 5 to 6 berries cut in halves or quarters
- 5 to 6 grapes cut in quarters
- 3 to 4 cherry tomatoes cut in quarters
- half cup (30 to 40g) tinned fruit in natural juice
- half cup (30 to 40g) cooked, fresh or frozen vegetables
- 100ml homemade or readymade vegetable soup
Different coloured vegetables
Offer your child different coloured vegetables, salad and fruit. Try to give a variety of colours. This includes green, yellow, orange, red and purple. These provide a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin C foods
Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. Iron is an important nutrient for young children.
Good sources of vitamin C are berries, oranges, kiwis and red peppers. Chopped berries can be eaten with breakfast porridge or cereal that contains iron.
Limit dried fruit
Limit dried fruit such as raisins and dried apricots to once a week. Dried fruit is sugary and not kind to teeth.
Milk, yogurt and cheese
These foods provide calcium for healthy bones and teeth.
Ages 1 to 2: 3 servings a day
Ages 3 to 4: 3 servings a day
1 serving is:
- 200ml plain milk
- 1 pot (125g) plain yogurt
- 2 small pots (47g) plain or natural fromage frais
- 2 adult thumbs of cheese
- homemade custard or rice pudding made with 200ml of milk
- 2 x 100ml unsweetened soya milk fortified with calcium
Offering milk as a drink with meals is an easy way to get 1 of the 3 daily servings.
1 serving can combine two foods or drinks. For example, one serving could be 100ml of milk with 1 small pot (47g) plain or natural fromage frais. Or 100ml milk with 1 adult thumb of cheese.
Breastmilk counts towards these servings. Continue to provide breastmilk up to 2 years of age or beyond.
If you are breastfeeding, you can still add cow’s milk to your child’s cereal or offer cow’s milk as a drink.
It is important to include yogurt and cheese also to help meet your child’s nutritional needs.
Soya and plant-based milks
You can give your child soya milk if they are allergic to cow’s milk. These should be unsweetened and fortified with calcium.
Almond milk, coconut milk, rice milks and other plant-based milks are not suitable for young children.
Your child no longer needs formula milk after they are 1 year old.
Small pots of plain or natural yogurt or fromage frais can be offered with meals or between meals.
Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts
These foods provide protein and iron. Your child needs these for growth and development.
Offer one of these foods to your child at each of their 2 main meals every day.
Red meats such as beef, lamb and pork contain iron. They should be offered 3 times a week.
Ages 1 to 2: 2 servings a day
Ages 3 to 4: 3 to 4 servings a day
An average serving of cooked beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey or fish is around 30g. This is about one third the size of an adult’s palm of the hand. This serving is about right for children aged 1 to 4 years.
1 serving is:
- 30g cooked beef
- 30g cooked lamb
- 30g cooked chicken or turkey
- 30g cooked salmon
- quarter cup baked beans
- quarter cup lentils
- quarter cup peas
- quarter cup chickpeas
- 35g hummus
- 35g cooked portion tofu
- 2 falafels
- 1 medium egg
- 1 heaped teaspoon smooth peanut or nut butter
Limit meats like ham and bacon
Do not give processed meat such as ham or bacon to your child more than once a week. They are high in salt. Use small amounts.
Avoid chicken nuggets, sausages and burgers
Chicken nuggets, sausages and burgers are high in fat and salt. They have less protein than other types of meat. They should not be a regular part of your child’s diet.
Oily fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon, trout and sardines have Omega 3 and vitamin D. These are good for brain and eye development.
Offer them once a week. This can be cooked or tinned fish. Avoid ones tinned in brine or salt.
Nuts and nut butter
Offer your child smooth nut butter without added sugar and salt.
Whole nuts should not be given to children under 5 because of the risk of choking.
Vegetarian protein sources
Good vegetarian protein sources include:
- soya products
- nuts - use a safe form like smooth nut butter
Foods from the ‘Milk, yogurt and cheese’ section also provide protein.
Iron can be a problem for vegetarian diets. Consult a registered dietitian for advice.