The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has warned the parents and guardians of toddlers against using some beverages such as almond ‘milk’, coconut ‘milk’ and rice ‘milk’, deeming such milk substitutes to be “nutritionally inadequate”.

The authority made the warning in a report today, Monday, June 22, which outlines food-based dietary guideline recommendations for one to five-year-old children living in Ireland.

The latest Irish research on the dietary habits of this age group was used by the FSAI’s Scientific Committee to develop these guidelines, which reflect international best practice on young child feeding in an Irish context.

In the report, the authority highlighted a number of key recommendations, including:
  • Milk is a key food, with a daily intake of 550ml of cow’s milk, or equivalent amounts of yoghurt or cheese recommended;
  • Water and milk are the only drinks recommended for this age group. Sugar-containing and acidic drinks should be limited and, if consumed at all, should be kept to mealtimes;
  • Parents and guardians are warned against using some beverages such as almond ‘milk’, coconut ‘milk’ and rice ‘milk’, as milk substitutes as these are nutritionally inadequate. If a plant-based beverage is required to replace cow’s milk, a soya ‘milk’ can be used, provided it is fortified with nutrients, particularly calcium;
  • A portion of vegetables should always be included at the main meal, together with the number of small portions of salad, vegetables or fruit that match the age of the child: For example, two small portions for a two-year-old, four small portions for a four-year-old (the portion size given should fit into the child’s hand so that smaller children are given less and bigger children more);
  • Lean red meat (about 30g) is recommended three days a week for iron and other essential minerals in addition to protein. On other days, red meat can be replaced with poultry, fish, eggs, beans or lentils which also provide iron, as well protein and minerals. Smooth nut butters also provide protein;
  • A combination of both white and wholemeal breads, cereals, potatoes, pastas and rice will provide adequate fibre and are important sources of calories.

According to the FSAI, this is the first time a national scientific report addresses the nutritional needs of toddlers and pre-school children living in Ireland.

These guidelines cover the gap in Irish scientific dietary recommendations for the post-infancy period – a phase that starts on their first birthday and ends at the age of five years, when the general population’s healthy eating recommendations begin to apply, the authority says.