Children learn very quickly which foods are 'good' for you and which are 'bad', fresh fruit and vegetables are good, chips, crisps and sweets are bad. Find a home or cooking magazine and cut out a library of pictures of different foods. Look at which ones are healthy and which ones are less so. Explain to older children why each food is good or bad, and explain what goes into processed foods such as jam, fish fingers, chips or butter.
You may not have thought about it, but so many foods that we eat today are processed in the sense that they are factory-produced. This doesn't automatically make them bad for us although processed foods do have a propensity to have higher levels of salt, fat or sugar, even all three!
Older children can be taught about salt, sugar and fat levels in food. Explain how to read the nutritional breakdown found on nearly all products and have them start comparing different foods. Take a nutritional value, such as salt, and explain that high salt levels are less healthy than low salt levels. Pick out five products from your kitchen cupboard and have your little ones place them in order of salt content, from low to high. Reiterate which end is more healthy and which are less healthy. Do the same for fat and sugar levels too.
This exercise will quickly teach about food health in a basic way as well as an ability to understand quantities, and it's fun to play along the way!
All parents and childminders worry about what they feed to their children, and yet it can be surprisingly difficult to get a real idea of how healthy food products are. That's all set to change as the EU has agreed to enforce food labeling standards. There has been demand for the EU to enforce the 'traffic light' schemes helping consumers see at a glance how foods fare, but that isn't the route they are going. Instead the EU will require the breakdown of Calories, carbohydrates, sugars and fats.
Most foods already have these breakdowns, so what's new?
To date there hasn't been a standard in the way that labels are displayed. This has lead to various 'tricks' used by food manufacturers to hide certain facts about their food when they aren't entirely complimentary. For example:-
- Sugars are carbohydrates but many sugar-laden products only display a carbohydrate count, masking the sugar content.
- Many foods high in saturated fats (the more dangerous type of fat) don't display that, simply showing the amount of total fats. For some products, saturated fat can account for almost all of the fat content.
- Values are often broken down by 'portion', but a portion is often unrepresentative. For example, 500ml bottles of fizzy drinks are usually broken down and displayed as 2 portions, whereas many consumers will drink a whole bottle at once. Some 'portions' of soft drinks can contain 30% of the adult recommended daily amount of sugar, but by consuming the whole bottle, you are consuming 60% of your recommended sugar limit. The EU regulations will ensure values are presented in a uniform way making it easier to compare foods directly.
- High salt levels are often masked as 'Sodium' values. For actual salt levels, multiply sodium by 2.5 and you're just about there!
The new rules will also cover ALL packaged foods so you will start to see labels on products that you haven't seen them on before, such as prepackaged fruit and meat.
The more information we are given as consumers, the more informed are our choices. Of course we can have the odd treat, or we can choose to ignore healthy foods altogether, but at least we can make that choice. When it comes to feeding our children, we often go that little bit further, buying more organic produce or foods with established provenance. The more we know about our food, the easier it is to feed our children the way we choose to!
The new EU regulations have been established this month and large food manufacturers have 3 years to comply, smaller food producers have 5 years to comply. We won't see a massive change overnight, more a gentle evolution of current practices over the next few years.