Niamh's Nutrition Mission

Niamh O'Donnell

Back to school…Niamh’s nutrition tips for school kids

The all important Food Pyramid.


HEALTHY eating and physical activity are vital for children as they both heavily influence their well-being, growth and development.


Not only do children’s dietary requirements need met through good food/nutrition but the habits kids adapt from a very young age are embedded, leaving it extremely difficult in later life to combat. For example, have you ever found yourself saying “OK kids, if you eat all your carrots today you will get a packet of sweets after dinner …”

Sound familiar? Perhaps.. We’re all guilty! It’s one sure way to work, but is it necessary? This is something to think about, why ‘treat’ our kids with a cheat such as sugar for eating healthy in the first place? Food for thought!

Nutrient needs will be adequately met if referring to the simple Food Pyramid. Familiarise your kids with this from an early age so they become interested in learning the types of foods they are consuming.

Many recent Irish studies have shown that many children have increased levels of saturated fat in their diets. Eating diets high in fat with less physical activity leads to positive energy balance which may be a predisposition to lifelong health problems – for example, cardiovascular problems, type two diabetes mellitus and obesity – in older adult years. Due to lifestyle changes it has become more common for kids to spend longer on phones, iPad and video games. While perhaps at the same time snacking on crisps, chocolate, energy drinks rather than using that time for 20 minutes of physical activity. So again, ensuring their nutritional requirements are met through their 3 main meals is extremely important.

As parents, you may feel bombarded with nutrition claims for your kids. Taking a realistic, sustainable approach and leading by example is always a good start!

First and foremost- Breakfast, unfortunately this can be easily skipped, but a good breakfast with adequate calcium, iron and fibre will enable greater concentration and sustained energy levels throughout the day. A good breakfast should provide a third of the total daily energy requirement. A typical breakfast includes a cereal – for example, rice, bread, and oats – protein-rich food such as egg, a glass of milk and as source of vitamin C via a glass of orange juice.

A diet containing plenty of grain products, vegetables and fruits throughout the day will provide fibre ensuring feeling of fullness for longer, while possibly decreasing the chances of snacking throughout the day on additional sugar.


Be careful with snacks, sometimes it can be convenient to throw in a pack of sweets or fun size chocolate bar, crisps or yogurts, which can be the worst. Change it up, why not try a fruit bowl and make it as colourful as possible with some Greek yogurt and honey. Leave a small bar of chocolate for a Friday.

One little tip I find useful with kids, SHOW them! Show them exactly how many teaspoons of sugar they are consuming in one particular food. Remember from my last article, one teaspoon of sugar contains 4grams! So ONE can of coke contains almost 40grams of sugar.

Of course this does not mean avoid these type of snacks at all costs, but limit their consumption so it does not become a primary food for daily consumption.


Niamh O’Donnell of Motivation Weight Management Letterkenny. Niamh has joined the Donegal News team with her column Niamh’s Nutrition Mission.

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