News for Public

Dietitians' Top Tips for Back to School

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By Ashley Welch, Irish Examiner Monday August 23rd 2021

Back to school can be a stressful time for both kids and parents alike. There’s shopping for school supplies, getting back into a normal bedtime routine, and dealing with first-day-of-school nerves.

For parents, there’s the added stress of packing school lunches that are not only nutritious but appealing for their kids to eat. With the onslaught of picture-perfect bento-style lunchboxes taking over Instagram these days, experts say parents are feeling the pressure more than ever.

“You go online and you see these beautifully presented, colourful and curated lunchboxes,” says Caroline O’Connor, registered paediatric dietitian, mum of four, and founder of Solid Start. 

“That puts a huge amount of pressure on parents and for most people, that’s just not realistic.” 

Her advice? Relax and keep it simple. “How your child’s lunch box looks is not a reflection of your parenting skills,” she says. “Every child is different and every family is different. Some children eat a wider variety of food and it may look like their parents put more effort into their lunch boxes. But a 'boring' school lunch is okay, too.” 

Here are dietitian-approved tips for packing the best school lunches for your children.

Focus on food groups 

When preparing a lunch box, experts recommend making sure each of the following food groups are represented.


“These are the energy foods like bread, wraps, crackers, pasta, and rice cakes,” says Blaithin O’Neill, clinical lead dietitian at Spectrum Nutrition. “When you’re thinking of putting a lunch box together, I’d recommend first deciding what your carb source is going to be.” 

If you’re going for bread, whole grain is preferable. “But if your child doesn’t eat whole grain bread, that’s okay, too,” O’Connor says.


Next, you’ll want to include a protein source. “Protein is very important for children for growth,” O’Neill says.

Chicken, beef, fish, cheese, eggs, falafels, and hummus are good sources of protein.

“These can be put in a sandwich or eaten separately,” O’Connor says. “Some children will eat a sandwich and others won’t.” 

If the latter sounds like your child, a bento-style lunch box with separate compartments for different foods can be a great option, she says.

Fruit and vegetables

Finish off your child’s lunch box with a bottle of water and some fresh produce. This can be anything from cucumber, carrot sticks, or peppers to bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, or kiwi. There are endless options to choose from but you know your little ones best so pack what they like.

“If you get these three fundamentals down, then you’ve got yourself a balanced lunch,” O’Neill says.

Also be sure to follow your school’s healthy eating policy and check for policies on nut butters and other allergens.

“Apart from that keep it simple,” advises Cathy Monaghan, a senior paediatric dietitian, mum of three, and founder of “It won’t all be eaten, and there is no need to complicate things in the hope of it being eaten. Provide the main foods groups and leave it at that.” 

Always include food you know your child will eat 

While it’s perfectly fine to be adventurous sometimes, experts advise mainly sticking to what your kids know when packing a lunch box.

“You don’t want your child to open their lunch box and be shocked by what they see,” O’Connor says. “It’s okay to experiment with new foods and put things in that your child doesn’t necessarily eat from time to time, but most of the food in your child’s lunch box should be food that is familiar to them and that you know they would eat.” 

This is especially important for fussy eaters. “Make sure there are foods in a decent portion that they could and would eat if they were hungry,” O’Connor says.

Tips for fussy eaters 

Fussy eating is common among kids, so if your child is suddenly refusing to eat food they once enjoyed, don’t panic.

“The most important thing is not to react to it or make a big deal about it,” O’Neill says. “Usually it doesn’t make that much of a difference if they don’t eat a tomato or another fruit at school. They probably eat a balanced diet anyway.” 

She also recommends continuing to pack that item in their lunch box. “It doesn’t have to be every day, but continue to offer it to them because if we don’t, the child has no other opportunity to eat it,” O’Neill says.

Next, instead of dwelling on what’s not being eaten, pay close attention to what your child is eating.

“We always think about what children don’t eat, but make a list of everything your child does eat,” O’Connor says. “Then use that list as a basis for your lunches.” 

From there, try to create variety as much as possible. “You can do this even within the same food group,” O’Connor says. “Even if it’s just having different types of sliced pan bread or sometimes cutting the bread in a different shape. That helps children to become more adventurous.” 

Finally, don’t compare your child to other kids who eat all their food. “It’s very easy to do, but a lot of times parents of fussy eaters think they’re on their own but it’s so common and the vast majority of children will grow out of it,” O’Neill says.

Remember: the lunch box is not the be all and end all 

 Parents may get anxious when their kid’s lunch box comes back with its contents uneaten, but usually there is no need to worry.

“This is a common occurrence and is to be expected,” Monaghan says. “Often it has nothing to do with the food. Children have less time to eat than ever.” 

Experts say it’s important to keep lunch in perspective.

“Your child’s whole day of nutrition does not rest on what they eat during those few hours at school,” O’Connor says. “If they don’t eat a lot at school they can make up for it when they come home and have a bigger after school snack.”

For more details on portion size for children check out FSAI

Nutrition And You Event

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On Thursday June 17th the INDI and the NDC are running a FREE event covering a wide range of nutrition topics of interest to you and your family. From weaning to sports nutrition and healthy ageing, there will be something here to interest you. All topics are presented by expert dietitians and you can book your place by clicking on the  Nutrition And You Event


All videos will be available to watch for 30 days so you can watch back at your leisure.

We are looking forward to the event and hope you enjoy it.

Success for INDI in bringing ICD2028 to Ireland

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We are absolutely delighted to announce that we have been successful in our bid to bring the International Congress of Dietetics to !reland in 2028. Having fought off stiff competition from an initial entry of 9 countries, we were shortlisted with New Zealand, India and Mexico. Following a competitive voting process we were thrilled to hear that we will be welcoming our international friends and colleagues to Dublin in August 2028. It is a huge achievement for a relatively small professional organisation. We would like to thank our colleagues in BDA and in EFAD for their support. Save the date in your diaries now! Lot's more news to follow!

Healthcare and The Law Course (Virtual) November 23rd-25th 2021 9.30am-1pm

Healthcare and the Law

These three half day workshops are for Health and Social Care Professionals who need to know more about the implications of current healthcare legislation for their own practice and, where relevant, for that of their staff. COVID19 related issues will be included too.

This bespoke three half day programme facilitated by La Touche Training will give delegates a full understanding of what they need to know from a legal perspective. The course will explore relevant legislation through use of case studies, and reference to current policies/guidelines and their practical application.

Topics covered will include the following:

• Accountability of Health and Social Care Professionals (CORU and Professional Regulation)

  • Understanding Negligence and the Duty of Care owed to your client

  • Best Practice in Record Keeping

  • The principles of Data Protection

  • Freedom of Information and access to records

  • Understanding what constitutes a valid Consent

  • Writing a Comprehensive Report

  • Witness Preparation and Giving Evidence in Courts, Inquests and Professional

    Conduct Hearings

 Numbers are limited to 25 due to breakout sessions during the workshop. This workshop will be interactive and participants will have the opportunity to ask questions relevant to their roles.

To register, please email Rebecca : with payment form (attached below).

240 Registration Fee & this fee will be collected at booking stage.


INDI Nutrition & Dietetics Open Day

louise zoomSo you want to be a dietitian? Watch our Virtual Open Day video here to find out everything you need to know about studying to become a dietitian and hear from a selection of inspiring dietitians working in very different careers.  Over 500 people signed up to join us on Apri 13th - if you missed out you can watch back here.

The 30 Different Plant Based Foods Per Week Challenge

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Have you heard of the latest gut health challenge? Usually we tend to steer clear of food trends and challenges but this one could be worth a try.

We all know that eating plants is good for us. However, it seems that eating a large VARIETY of plant foods is even better, improving our gut health by encouraging the growth of different species of bacteria.

Our gut microbiome is made up of trillions of micro-organisms and their genetic material that live in our intestinal tract. A healthy gut microbiome relies on large numbers of different bacterial species (i.e. the total number of bacterial species in our gut microbiome) and diversity (i.e. the amount of individual bacteria from each of the bacterial species present in our gut microbiome) of bacteria.

As we learn more about our gut we are beginning to understand the crucial role it plays in our overall health and wellbeing. A more diverse microbiome results in a more stable and resilient microbial community that is better equipped to powerfully protect our health.  This includes lowering the risk of many common conditions which affect many of us.

The American Gut Study, the largest published study to date of the human microbiome, found that people regularly eating more than 30 different types of plant foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds) each week had a significantly more diverse microbiome than those eating 10 or fewer different plant foods a week. 

So the more different foods you can eat per week the better and diversity is really good for your gut!


It’s as simple as eating  up to 30 different plants in a 7 day period. Each item only counts once in the week, even if you eat it lots. Get the family involved and stick a list on the fridge to see who can get to 30 in a week.

Its important to remember that we still should be eating 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables per day so a banana a day is great - but the banana can only count as one of your 30 a week!


  • Choose a start date for your 7-day challenge and commit to keeping track each time you consume a new or different plant food over the course of 7 days. 
  • Try a new fruit or vegetable that you have never eaten before each week.
  • Herbs and spices are a really simple way to add variation and flavour to your cooking. Add fresh herbs to your salads and spices to your soups.
  • Look for mixed beans e.g. four bean mix or soup mix to boost your bean variety.
  • Buy frozen fruit to add to yoghurt, smoothies, oats.
  • Include a plant food at every single meal e.g.  top your oats with mixed berries, add grated carrot and lettuce to your chicken sandwich or mushrooms and onion to your omelette.
  • Swap out meat for a vegetarian protein option 1-2 days a week e.g. beans, lentils, mushrooms etc.
  • Salads and stir-frys are easy meal options to get lots of different plants on a plate.
  • Swap the processed snacks for a handful of nuts, a piece of fruit or seeded crackers with some hummus and sliced vegetable sticks. 


Plants include all fruits and vegetables, legumes (peas, lentils and beans), grains, nuts and seeds. 

Nuts, Seeds and Grains

Cashews, pumpkin seeds, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, flax, hemp, chia, sunflower, sesame, oats, almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, rye, corn, coconut, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios, millet, pistachios, hazelnuts.


Green peas, chickpeas, mung beans, white beans red beans, pinto beans, broad beans, red lentils, green lentils, fava beans, split peas, kidney beans, cannelloni beans, lima beans.

Fruits and Vegetables

Berries, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, apricots, sweet potatoes, peaches, papaya, apricots, plums, melons, eggplant, lemons, lettuce, rocket, kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, spinach, chard, fennel, celery, beetroot, onions, plums, cauliflower, cherries, bananas, mushrooms, parnsips, turnips, oranges, spinach, apples, rhubarb, leek, pumpkin.

Herbs and Spices

Parsley, mint, sage, saffron, turmeric, thyme, basil, lemongrass, fennel, cumin, cinnamon, chives, pepper, cardamon, caraway, chilli, clove, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, paprika, rosemary, oregano, lavender, ginger, dill.

Give it a go and see how you get on! Any increase is a positive so if you go from 10 to 15 thats good for your gut.