What do Irish children eat? National Food Survey Update

The National Children's Food Survey 2 was released this week, and it is interesting to see how Irish children's diets have changed since the last survey (2003-2004).




Here's the headline results:


  • Staple foods for Irish children aged 5-12 years are breads, potatoes, milks, meats, fruits, vegetables and breakfast cereals.

  • Intakes of fruit and veg is low at about 3 servings per day- including one serving of veggies, 2 of fruit, and a half serving as unsweetened fruit juice.

  • The average daily intake of bread was 85g (approx. 2 slices).

  • Breakfast cereals were consumed by 91% of children with an average daily intake of 53g- from ready-to-eat breakfast cereals (85% consumers) and as porridge (28% consumers).

  • Average consumption of milk is about one glass per day, mainly as whole milk.

  • Almost all children eat meat; however, processed meat is consumed more than fresh meat. Chicken was the most popular type of fresh meat, followed by beef.

  • The main beverages consumed are water, milk, soft drinks and unsweetened fruit juice.

  • Notable changes since the 2003-04 survey include reduced intake of milk, fruit juice and sugar-sweetened drinks, and increased intake of fruit, wholemeal/brown bread and water.





Sugar:

Mean intake of free sugars was 9.5% of energy with 40% of children having intakes above the recommended maximum of 10% of energy.

Intake of free sugars was lower than in the NCFS (2003-04) (16% of energy), mainly due to a switch in beverage consumption from sugar-sweetened drinks to water.


It is really positive that intakes of sugar has decreased in the last few years, and particularly that children are having water in place of sugar sweetened drinks. Sugary drinks are fine to include in the diet, but over-consumption can lead to poor dental health and is associated with increased dental caries and need to have teeth extracted.

In terms of contribution to energy, the problem isn't that sugar is bad, but rather that when children are filling up on sugary foods they may be missing out on important nutrients like fibre, vitamins, minerals etc.



Fibre:

Average daily dietary fibre intake (14g) was higher than in 2003-04 (12g) but lower than the recommendations by the European Food Safety Authority for children of this age (14-19g). The key contributors to dietary fibre intake were breads, breakfast cereals, fruits, cereal grains and vegetables.


Fibre intakes are also headed in a positive direction, and can certainly improve further if fruit and veggie intakes can be increased by another portion or 2!

The increase in brown bread consumption has helped too, but this could increase much more. Remember to offer at least 1 wholegrain carb every day- just opt for brown rice, bread and pasta, all widely available nowadays.



Salt:

Average daily intake of salt (5g) was higher than the maximum levels recommended by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, but 1g lower than in 2003-04.

Cured and processed meats, and breads are the main contributors to salt intake.


Try to avoid adding salt to children's food, too much is an unnecessary addition to their diets. It can also be helpful to avoid salting your food at the table in front of children- so many of us salt food before we even taste it and usually this is a learned behaviour that is done out of habit rather than taste preferences.



Vitamins and minerals:

Intakes of most vitamins and minerals were adequate. However, significant numbers of children have inadequate intakes of vitamin D (94%), calcium (37%), iron (20%) and folate (13%).

Important sources of vitamins and minerals were milk and milk products, meats, breads and cereals, especially fortified breakfast cereals, and fruits and vegetables.

A total of 102 different types of food supplements were recorded.

Multivitamins and minerals were the most common type (30% of all supplements recorded), followed by multivitamins (25%).

Single vitamin D supplements were consumed by 10% of children.


I was surprised to read how low the vitamin D supplement intake is. Parents are encouraged to provide a vitamin D supplement from infancy, and there has been lots of advertisement around the recommendation for 10micrograms of vitamin D/day. It would be interesting to find out what barriers people report for not giving a supplement- cost is likely to affect many families, and problems around difficulty getting the child to take a supplement may exist too.



Dairy:

Milk is a staple food in the diets of Irish children, consumed by 91% of children, mainly as a beverage or with breakfast cereal. The mean daily intake of milk was 186g (less than a serving).

Milk was mainly consumed as whole milk (70%) with 28% as reduced fat milk. Just 2% of all milk consumed was nondairy milk.

Intake of milk is lower than in 2003-04.

Cheese was consumed by 63% of children with an average daily intake of 11g.

Yogurt was consumed by 59% of children with an average daily intake of 34g.

Consumption of cheese and yogurt has remained similar to that reported in 2003-04.



It is worrying to see poor intakes of important minerals among children. Lack of calcium and vitamin D can have a negative impact on growth and development, as these are the key nutrients for bone health. We must ensure a good intake of calcium and vitamin D to ensure sufficient bone mass is developed during childhood and adolescence.

It is interesting that calcium intake has decreased alongside milk intake. If you are choosing to reduce milk and dairy in your family's diet, please ensure you get advice on how to include enough minerals in the diet. You can get calcium from other foods, but it is important to know your portions!


If you need help navigating children's diets, get in touch to find out how I can help.


Lots of love,

Little O x


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