The Food Pyramid

The Department of Health’s Food Pyramid categorises foods into six different groups and provides guidelines on the number of servings to be eaten from each food group on a daily basis. It is advised to choose a variety of foods from each of the bottom four shelves every day to get a good range of vitamins and minerals.

The Food Pyramid applies to individuals from the age of five years; younger children start with smaller and fewer servings which should increase up to these guidelines in accordance with the child’s own growth and appetite.

Food Pyramid

Reference: Department of Health/ Health Service Executive (2012) The Food Pyramid.
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Click on the Food Groups below to find out more!

Bread, Cereals, Potatoes, Pasta and Rice

  • Main function: Foods from this shelf are the best energy providers for your body.
  • Recommended servings:   6+ servings, with up to 12 servings depending on factors such as gender and activity levels. Men and teenage boys who are active may need up to 12 servings a day; women and teenage girls who are active may need up to 8 servings a day.
  • Examples of one serving: 1 slice of brown sliced bread; 3 dessertspoons of dry porridge oats; 2 breakfast cereal wheat or oat biscuits; 1 medium or 2 small potatoes; 3 dessertspoons of boiled pasta, rice or noodles. Younger children (aged 5-13 years) need smaller serving sizes.
    • Choose wholegrain and wholemeal varieties of these foods often.

Fruit and Vegetables

  • Main function: Fruit and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals and fibre.
  • Recommended servings: 5 or more servings.
  • Examples of one serving:1 medium apple, orange, banana or pear; 10-12 berries or grapes; 4 dessertspoons of cooked vegetables; a bowl of salad or homemade vegetable soup.
    • Choose a variety of coloured fruit and vegetables.
    • Fruit juices and smoothies count as one serving from this food group, regardless of the number of potions consumed.

Milk, Yogurt and Cheese

  • Main function: Milk, yogurt and cheese are important sources of calcium.
  • Recommended servings: 5 servings per day are recommended for those aged between 9-18 years, with 3 servings recommended for all other age groups.
  • Examples of one serving: A 200ml glass of milk; a 125ml pot of yogurt; or 25g (matchbox-sized) piece of hard cheese. Low-fat varieties are encouraged.
    • Calcium contributes to the normal growth and development of bone in children, and the maintenance of our bones and teeth.

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Beans and Nuts

  • Main function: These foods are good sources of protein.
  • Recommended servings: 2 servings.
  • Examples of one serving: 50-75g of cooked lean beef, pork, lamb, mince or chicken; 100g of cooked oily fish or white fish; 2 eggs (limit to seven eggs a week); 6 dessertspoons of peas, beans or lentils; 40g unsalted nuts or seeds.
    • Choose lean cuts of meat and limit processed meat.
    • Aim to have fish at least twice a week, and oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, sardines) at least once a week.

Reduced-fat Spreads and Oils

  • Main function: Spreads and oils provide essential fats but are only needed in very small amounts.
  • Recommended servings: 2 servings.
  • Examples of a serving: 1 heaped teaspoon or 1 mini-pack of low-fat or reduced-fat spread to cover 2 slices of bread; 1 heaped teaspoon of full fat spread or margarine to cover 3 slices of bread.
    • Choose low-fat and reduced-fat spreads, and oils such as olive oil or rapeseed oil.
    • As well as the 2 servings per day recommended, up to 1 teaspoon per person of the oils mentioned above can be added in cooking.
    • If very active, and having up to 12 servings from the bottom shelf of the Food Pyramid, you can have 1-2 extra servings from this shelf.
    • Mayonnaise and oil-based salad dressings also count towards your oil intake, and lower fat options are encouraged.

Foods and Drinks high in Fat, Sugar and Salt

  • Foods from the top shelf are advised to be avoided as they are high in fat, sugar and salt.
  • It’s best to limit servings to no more than one serving per day maximum, and not every day.


Weekly limits for alcohol are no more than 11 units per week for women and no more than 17 units for men. If you do drink, this should be spread throughout the week. Do not take more than 5 standard drinks in one sitting, and have 3 alcohol free days during the week. One standard drink is equal to a half pint of beer, a single pub measure of spirit or a small glass of wine. National guidelines recommend the avoidance of alcohol during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and is best avoided while trying to conceive.

Staying Active