Parents and guardians of children aged one to five years have been warned against using some drinks, such as almond, coconut and rice 'milks', as dairy milk substitutes because they are nutritionally inadequate.
The advice is contained in new dietary guidelines for this age group from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
The guidelines say that 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.
Dr Pamela Byrne, FSAI chief executive, said: "We know that dietary habits which can last for a lifetime are formed during this critical phase. We live in an age where there are so many confusing messages and information about food and nutrition."
The guidelines point out that toddlers and pre-schoolers have very high nutritional requirements relative to their size, so there is a real need to focus on the quality of food rather than quantity.
Milk is a key food, with a daily intake of 550ml of cow's milk recommended, or equivalent amounts of yoghurt or cheese. Water and milk are the only drinks recommended for this age group. Acidic drinks and drinks containing sugar should be limited and, if consumed, kept to mealtimes.
A portion of vegetables should always be included in the main meal, together with a 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 and protein. On other days, red meat can be replaced with poultry, fish, eggs, beans or lentils, which also provide iron, protein and minerals. Smooth nut butters also provide protein.
A combination of both white and wholemeal breads, cereals, potatoes, pasta and rice are recommended.
During the extended winter months - from Halloween to St Patrick's Day - all children need to be given a low-dose (five micrograms) of vitamin D-only supplement. Young children aged one to three years need extra iron.