A pilot initiative has been launched that will see children under the age of five given a daily serving of milk for three weeks in early learning and care settings in counties Carlow and Kilkenny.

The ‘First 5’ initiative was announced today, Monday, March 2, by the National Dairy Council (NDC), and is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine under the EU’s School Milk Scheme.

The pilot will be carried out in 12 establishments across those two counties in the month of February.

Childhood and the adolescent years are critical life stages for forming healthy bones. Milk is among the best sources of calcium – a nutrient needed for normal bone growth and development.

The objective of the pilot, according to the NDC, is to “cultivate and contribute to the development of healthy eating habits for pre-school children; to create a positive lasting impression of dairy produce; and to help pre-school children meet their nutrient needs by consuming the recommended number of daily servings from the milk/yogurt/cheese food group”.

An additional objective of the initiative is to “connect children to agriculture and develop a greater understanding of where their food comes from”.

As well as the daily serving of milk, the children involved will also receive “bespoke educational resources”.

These resources have been developed to support the pilot and its objectives. They include the ‘Moo Crew’ booklets, posters, journals, stickers and jigsaws.

The initiative follows a cross-departmental collaboration between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Other stakeholders involved in the pilot include the Department of Educations and Skills; the NDC; Tusla; Healthy Ireland; and Childcare Committees Ireland.