The Irish value the family (1) and traditional foods. Traditionally families have been called clans which gives me this visualization of a large group of people all huddled together. The family units, or clans, have always remained close knit. The country as a whole has generally been Irish Catholic and followed stereotypical gender roles of the woman caring for the home and family. 

“Every family in Ireland has its own recipe for soda bread, hand-written on flour-crusted note paper and wedged in among the cookery books.”

While there are a lot of similar everyday customs, family and gender roles, and societal challenges that have happened in Ireland similar to how they have in the US, there are traditional customs that are unique and can still be seen today. My favorite of which is the food.

How does intuitive eating play into traditional foods?

But before we dive into talking about a couple recipes, I think it’s important to not overlook how traditions and Intuitive Eating interact with each other.

In IE, with the promotion of no restrictions and unconditional permission to eat, traditions that come around once a year or only every so often can feel a lot like breaking these concepts. Let’s take a look at each of these individually first.

Removing the restrictive mindset with regard to traditional foods

First, removing the restrictive mindset means taking away thoughts and desires and habits of eliminating certain foods or ingredients, stopping any specific time-stamped eating patterns (eating on a schedule), and breaking away from limiting things like calories, fat grams, or carbs, etc. among other things. 

There are a myriad of ways you can restrict your eating. But the common idea in all of these is that they are external sources of regulation. Following restrictions essentially gives away your power. When you follow a plan or set rules, those are signals that don’t require you to tune in to how your body feels. 

Removing these outside sources of control makes room for the concept of allowing. When restrictions are gone and you allow yourself to eat what you want to eat, when you want to eat, and how much you want to eat, you in turn must rely on internal signals of hunger, fullness, satisfaction, and tuning in to how different foods make you feel.

And for your kids, these ideas of being in charge can have their own emotions tied to them. Some kids might feel excited about this idea. Others may be a little afraid of the responsibility. Kids do tend to like boundaries for safety reasons. But boundaries with kids eating can be approached differently than rules. Appropriate use of boundaries in this sense will act as a gentle guide for your kids to allow themselves to rely on their physical signals while still feeling safe that you won’t let them flounder.

Granting unconditional permission to eat those traditional foods

Next up is the idea of permission, specifically unconditional permission to eat. Permission in general can be very freeing. But it can also be an extremely challenging thing to do for yourself. Especially when you’ve grown up in diet culture. 

You can grant your kids permission to eat unconditionally the food choices you provide. Your job is to provide ample variety and keep open lines of communication with them about what those foods are. You also have the job to introduce new foods and decide what is available at each meal. 

Your child’s job is to make choices from the offered foods and also keep open communication with you about foods they like to eat. Unconditional permission to eat involves having desired foods available when they are desired. When these foods are not available (within reason), it can feel restrictive. Within reason can be handled by including a variety and balance of choices at meals and snacks. This also looks like making sure they have access to food when they are hungry and not pushing them to finish food when they have told you they are full.

These IE approaches can still be practiced within the realm of cultural traditions and seasonal/holiday food practices. Much of the time, holiday traditions with foods eaten only sporadically are not thought about at other times of the year which makes this a non issue. However, if you’re anything like me, you have a few foods you could eat and enjoy year round.

How to combine traditional foods and intuitive eating

If you do find yourself craving a seasonal or traditional food not readily available or consumed at “off” times, to honor yourself and the principles of intuitive eating you would want to make sure you have access to them. You can do this by:

  • Stocking them in your home so you have access to them when you crave them (freeze them to keep longer)
  • Find a store or restaurant where you know you can purchase the food when desired
  • Create a new tradition using these foods (this can help spread out throughout the year the times you have to look forward to eating them)
  • Include them into your regular meals as long as you need to until you start trusting you have access to them when you want

So I promised some recipes!

A couple of traditional Irish recipes are Soda Bread and Irish Stew. Irish Soda Bread was first invented in the late 1830s when bicarbonate, or baking soda, was first invented. 

While the idea of Irish Soda Bread is universal, there are many different ways to prepare it. Some clans opt for a sweeter version, adding sugar, honey, and dried fruits. Others add seeds, bran, and oats for a more hardy version. And still other clans prefer a version that adds a little Guinness. No matter the rendition of it, most opt to eat it sliced and coated liberally with butter.

 And Irish Stew originated in the 1800’s as a peasant stew made from the cheapest ingredients they could find. I have included these below for you to try out with your family.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me about your family food traditions. How might you incorporate those traditions into your intuitive eating plan for your family?

Irish soda bread

Traditional Irish Soda Bread

  • Ingredients
  • 250 g plain white flour
  • 250 g plain wholemeal flour
  • 100 g porridge oats
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 25 g butter (cut in pieces)
  • 500 ml buttermilk


  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6/fan 180C and dust a baking sheet with flour. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then rub in the butter. Pour in the buttermilk and mix it in quickly with a table knife, then bring the dough together very lightly with your fingertips (handle it very, very gently). Now shape it into a flat, round loaf measuring 20cm/8in in diameter.


  1. Put the loaf on the baking sheet and score a deep cross in the top. (Traditionally, this lets the fairies out, but it also helps the bread to cook through.) Bake for 30-35 minutes until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. If it isn’t ready after this time, turn it upside down on the baking sheet and bake for a few minutes more.


  1. Transfer to a wire rack, cover with a clean tea towel (this keeps the crust nice and soft) and leave to cool. To serve, break into quarters, then break or cut each quarter in half to make 8 wedges or slices – or simply slice across. Eat very fresh.

Total time55 mins
Takes 45-55 minutes
Makes 1 loaf
Freezable (for up to 1 month)

Irish stew

  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 200 g smoked streaky bacon (preferably in one piece, skinned and cut into chunks)
  • 900 g stewing lamb (cut into large chunks)
  • 5 medium onions (sliced)
  • 5 carrots (sliced into chunks)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • small bunch thyme
  • 100 g pearl barley
  • 850 ml lamb stock
  • 6 medium potatoes (cut into chunks)
  • small knob of butter
  • 3 spring onions (finely sliced)
  1. STEP 1
  2. Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3. Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole. Sizzle the bacon for 4 mins until crisp. Turn up the heat, then cook the lamb for 6 mins until brown. Remove the meats with a slotted spoon. Add the onions, carrots and herbs to the pan, then cook for about 5 mins until softened. Return the meat to the pan, stir in the pearl barley, pour over the stock, then bring to a simmer.
  3. STEP 2
  4. Sit the chunks of potato on top of the stew, cover, then braise in the oven, undisturbed, for about 1½ hrs until the potatoes are soft and the meat is tender. The stew can now be chilled and kept in the fridge for 2 days, then reheated in a low oven or on top of the stove. Remove from the oven, dot the potatoes with butter, scatter with the spring onions and serve scooped straight from the dish.

The trick with this classic one-pot is to use a cheaper cut of meat, which means you’ll skimp on price but not quality

Recipe credits, Irish Stew by Barney Desmazery and Irish Soda Bread by Margaret Hickey

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