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Frequently Asked Questions


Portion sizes

How do I switch to smaller portions when my children have always been given bigger ones?

Get started by reducing the size of the portion you give them. If they request more after this, then give them more.

But if they don’t eat a big portion, won’t they be hungry later?

No. Eating a wide range of healthy foods is actually quite filling. When children eat foods high in sugar, it leads to feelings of hunger and cravings for more sugar later in the day. Instead, offer your children healthy snacks between meals to keep them fuller for longer.

Does this mean I can’t give them snacks between meals?

Not at all. Of course you can give your child snacks. By offering healthy foods such as fruit as snacks, they will remain fuller for longer, have more energy and be healthier. But if you find that your child isn’t very hungry at meal times, they may be filling up on too many snacks and drinks in between.

My problem is trying to get them to eat healthy food at mealtimes not the portion size.

Look at what they are eating and drinking between meals – are they filling up on snacks and high sugar foods? If they are, cut down on the snacks and sugary drinks between meals. They are then likely to be hungry at mealtimes.

Lead by example: Give them smaller portions of what you are eating at dinner – this makes them feel included, and they also see that the whole family enjoys healthy food.

Should I insist on them clearing everything on their plates?

No. They should eat enough to feel full and not more. You are trying to get them to self-regulate their eating as a lifelong habit.

If they eat all of their dinner or say they are full, is it okay to give them a treat afterwards?

The trick is not to give them free access to treats or to get into the habit of giving them one after meals. If you are doing this, cut back to one small snack-sized treat once a day.


Encouraging more sleep


My child can’t switch off at night.

Avoid late-night TV viewing or video games and don’t have a TV in the bedroom as these can trick the brain into thinking it’s still daytime.

How can I help my child get a good night’s sleep?

Life has become more hectic in recent years and many people now struggle to fall asleep. Helping your child achieve a good night’s sleep will leave them happier and more alert. Trying these tips:

  • Encourage sport and physical activity in the evenings to aid sleep (but not too close to bedtime).
  • Create a sleep-friendly environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.
  • Finish eating two to three hours before bedtime.


Less screen time

The TV keeps them quiet while I prepare the dinner?

Too much TV is bad for your children. It is easy to sit children in front of the TV when preparing meals to keep them out of the kitchen. Instead, why not invite them to the kitchen to colour or chat about the day. Better still, get them involved in meal preparation, teaching them food and cooking skills.

But my child sometimes needs to use the computer to do homework.

During evenings when this is the case, limit the use of other screens and have the computer in a common area where you can keep an eye on the amount of time spent actually doing homework.

When it’s dark and wet, it’s easier to let them watch TV or play on the computer.

Unfortunately, the weather can sometimes put an end to our great outdoor intentions. Don’t let this deter you. Set up games, such as an obstacle course, which can be played indoors.

What if they protest?

Reducing screen use will take time. Offer children an alternative that will keep them occupied and happy. Make this a family effort – put all screens and electronics in one place and lead by example. Show them that you can do without screen time too! Get together and make time for fun, whether it’s a walk in the park, preparing dinner together as a family or talking about your day.


Managing foods that should be treats

But their granny/granddad insists on giving them treats.

You’re not the only one who says this, and nowadays many children spend a lot of time with grandparents, carers or other family members. Talk to those who spend time with your child and explain your thoughts on treats. Maybe choose one snack-sized treat that they can give your child.

Alternatively, why not agree on a non-food treat, such as a trip to the swimming pool, park or zoo, reading them their favourite storybook or showing them photos of family, friends, holidays and of them growing up. You could also do a shared outdoor activity, like walking, cycling or kicking a ball. A trip to the beach or a friend’s house can also be fun. 

But they’ll throw an awful tantrum if I don’t give them treats.

This can be a very difficult situation to deal with. Try setting some rules. If you stick with them through the tough times, your child will soon come to terms with the new routine.

Discuss the reasons with them and remember, lead by example: If they know you’re eating treats, they are less likely to want to stick to new habits. Try offering a reward at the end of the week for good behaviour – a trip to see their football team play,  to the park or beach or to a cousin’s or friend’s house, or let them have a sleepover.

But they’re always putting treats in the basket in the supermarket.

While difficult, it will be easier in the long run if you say no in this situation. Saying no once in the supermarket will mean you won’t have to say it several times during the week.

What else can I give as a reward?

Try giving a comic at the end of the week or offer a trip to a friend, a sleepover, or a visit to the playground, park or swimming pool. Your time can be a great treat for children: play their favourite game with them or read their favourite stories.

If I’m too restrictive, won’t they go mad when they don't have access to food treats?

It is important not to ban food treats outright as this will only increase their desirability. Instead, you should limit them. A small portion is fine once it’s not a few times a day. Reward them with their favourite activity or a trip to a local attraction – family fun and activity for everyone!


Replacing sugary drinks

Is drinking low cal or sugar-free drinks okay?

No. Diet drinks contain very few calories compared to the full sugar ones. However, they are not a long-term solution. They are very acidic, which can damage children’s teeth, and they can keep your child craving sweet things. Try to limit this option. When you do offer it to your child, make sure that they drink it at mealtimes to help protect their teeth.

As an alternative, you can add some sliced orange, lemon or lime to water to add flavour.

But surely it’s okay if I give them a small amount of orange squash in their water?

Yes, it’s fine to give them a taste. But try to keep the portion small. Otherwise you are introducing more sugar and calories and also keeping up their liking of sweetened drinks. Read the labels and use the one with the lowest sugar content.

I give them fruit juice. Doesn’t that count as one of their five-a-day?

This is true. Smoothies and 100% fruit juices do count towards one of your five-a-day fruit and veg. They are, however, very high in sugar, so limit them to a small (100ml) glass. Also, make sure that they drink them at meals to help protect their teeth.

What about milk. Am I not supposed to give them milk?

Yes, milk is important for healthy bone growth but they shouldn’t be drinking it all day as it is also high in calories. Alternate it with water. Low-fat milk should be given to children from two years up. Children need between three and five portions of dairy products a day.

How can I get my children to drink more water when they are so used to sugary drinks?

Lots of children are now used to getting sugary drinks at home, in crèches and when visiting friends. It will take time to increase their water intake and wean them off these drinks but it’s well worth the effort. Why not start by reducing the amount of orange squash you add to water. This will reduce their taste for it. Maybe alternate throughout the day by giving a glass of water to replace some of the diluted or fizzy drinks they were getting. Try adding some fruit to their water (a slice of orange, lime or lemon) to give it flavour and make it more fun and interesting for them.


Make being active fun

They can’t play outside when it’s wet and dark.

There are lots of things you can do inside to keep them active if they can’t be outside. Get the family together and create your own indoor obstacle course. Pillows make great ‘rocks’ to jump over. Or have a treasure hunt or hide ‘n’ seek game. Another indoor option is to put on some music and have a family dance party.

And don’t let the rain put you off totally – wear wet gear and get them out – most children love jumping in puddles!

I thought we had to have 60 minutes’ activity in one go?

No. All the little bursts of activity throughout the day add up to the 60 minutes, so you can break up your activity during the day. For example, walking is 15 minutes to and from school, cycling to a friend’s house is a 15-minute roundtrip, dancing could be for 10 minutes, and skipping for 5 minutes (total: 60 minutes).

But I can’t walk them to school. It’s too far?

Walking to school is only one idea to help you fit activity into your routine. You could drive some of the way to school, then park, and walk the rest of the way. That means you’ll get your exercise too! If it’s not possible to walk to school, have some family activity in the evening, go for a walk in the park or a swim in the local pool.

Why should I encourage my kids to be active? Don’t they get enough exercise at school?

Kids should enjoy 60 minutes of activity on top of their school day. While kids are active at school, most of the time they are actually sitting down and can be happy just  chatting to their friends in the playground instead of running around. It’s more fun if you make an activity something the whole family can do together, and kids are more likely to join in if their parents are doing it too.

My child is just not interested in sport.

Make a list of activities available to your children in your local area and let them choose their activities. Or ask them what they enjoy doing and then turn it into a form of exercise. For example, dancing. Also, doing the activity as a family makes it less of a chore and more of a fun activity.

Most activities nowadays cost time and money.

Getting physical activity into your day needn’t cost you a penny. Local playgrounds, beaches, and cycle paths and walkways are all free to use.


© The Food Safety Promotion Board