Every parent wants to give their child the most nutritional food to give them a head start in life. Some parents may have views on whether fresh fruit and vegetables are better than frozen fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately the case for which contains more nutrients is not clear cut.
Freezing food does not in itself destroy mineral or vitamin levels - levels are preserved until the produce thaws. Vitamins and minerals are destroyed by heating, however, meaning that levels start to diminish as soon as you start cooking the food. Some frozen foods are blanched or heated prior to being frozen in order to protect them and this could start destroying nutrient levels, although industrial processes are generally refined enough nowadays to keep levels at their optimum.
There's a strange twist to the tale when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables. Much produce travels from all over the world to reach our supermarket shelves - bananas from South America, beans from Africa, Strawberries from the Middle East...just look at the packaging and you'll be surprised! Many of these items are picked before they ripen fully and ripen on their long journey to our shelves. This means that they aren't as nutritious as they would have been had they been allowed to ripen naturally on their plants. Frozen foods, on the other hand, are picked at their prime, once they have ripened fully in the fields or orchards, and arguably therefore start with higher vitamin and mineral levels than for some fresh produce.
Of course, there's no way to look at produce and know how it has been prepared before reaching our shelves. The best thing you can do is to minimise the 'air miles' that your produce has racked up in transit. Buy fresh produce that has been grown in local markets and it should be the best all round!
The continuing scandal surrounding horsemeat in the British food supply chain serves to show that although we pride ourselves on food labelling, there seems to be a huge disjunct between what the label says and what our food products contain. Food labellling has arguably never been clearer but clearly there is still room in the suply chain for malpractice.
While in Britain we don't usually eat horsemeat, there's nothing dangerous about this meat per se, except for the fact that if it has entered into the foodchain illegally, then it's unlikely that any high standards of farming have been applied. The greatest danger in this instance is that horses can be treated with veterinary medicines that may be dangerous for human consumption and must not be allowed to enter the food chain.
It turns out that a supplier in Poland provided meat to a supplier in France who gave it to a supplier in Ireland who sold it to our supermarkets. If ever there appears to be a case of 'too many cooks' then this has to be it!
To make a beefburger, buy some steak, mince it and round it into patties.
Our food doesn't need to travel through several countries, being part processed along the way until we arrive at a product that really doesn't take long to prepare from fresh. Even Lasagne can be made in 30 minutes and left to cook for 40.
What we have seen is the logical conclusion of consumer demand for maximum convenience for just a few pennies. Didn't we ever wonder how supermarkets managed to supply 'value' meals so cheaply? Do you remember 'mad cow disease' that resulted from animals being fed the remains of other animals? Where will the horsemeat currently being sold in the UK as burgers and lasagne end up once it has been halted from our food supplies? Will it enter into animal feed next?
If you want to ensure that your little ones are eating nutritious and healthy food, then find the time to prepare the best meals. Source your food from local providers whenever possible, and buy ingredients rather than processed foods when you can.
Whilst you shouldn't believe all the hype around 'superfoods', there is strong scientific evidence that certain foods can improve the development of the brain and your cognitive functions. We're not talking weird supplements and pills that might be dangerous for your kids, but natural elements, compounds and vitamins present in everyday foods. Including a sensible amount of these foods in the diets of your little ones can only be a good thing.
Vitamin C is known to enhance mental agility, not because of the effect it has on the brain itself, but because as an antioxidant it prevents other more harmful minerals ('free radicals') from reaching the brain. Vitamin C is present in citrus fruits, brassica's (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower etc), potatoes and strawberries, although you should avoid feeding strawberries to babies under six months because they are a common allergen.
Deficiency of Vitamin B12 is linked to memory loss and other cognitive deficiencies. Minor deficiency of B12 is linked to fatigue and depression. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with B12 making this a great start to the day. B12 is also found in animal products including meat, eggs, milk, fish and shellfish.
Magnesium is important for the development of all the cells in our bodies. High levels of magnesium are obtained from foods such as nuts, spices, coffee and cocoa - none of which, perhaps with the exception of cocoa, are common in children's diets. Spinach is another good source of magnesium that is perhaps easier to include in your kids' diets.
Omega-3 fatty oils are found in marine and plant oils and are associated with improving mental health. Although the scientific evidence is not fully established, it is widely believed that Omega-3 helps to treat ADHD and other autism spectrum disorders.
All these substances, and many more, are available as supplements from a pharmacy, but a healthy, balanced diet should give the body all it needs.
When childminders give children snacks and meals, the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework requires that they be 'healthy, balanced and nutritious'. It's fairly easy to whip up a meal that fills the criteria because you can balance a meal with fresh vegetables and use fresh ingredients.
If you are providing processed foods such as sausages, ham, nuggets, fishfingers or burgers then check the ingredients and the nutritional breakdown of the foods you are buying. To buy the healthiest options, compare the fat, sugar and salt content. Processed foods are often far more laden with salt and sugar to create flavour than if you were to make the same fare at home. When comparing fat content of products, go for ones with the least saturated fat which is more harmful than unsaturated fat. Better still, try make your own products at home and then you are aware of their contents. You can easily make burgers, fishcakes and breaded chicken or turkey nuggets - slightly time consuming but not difficult.
Try to ration meat to two or three main meals a week, offer vegetarian options (eg. jacket potato and baked beans, mild vegetarian chilli, vegetable lasagne etc.) and fish (fishcakes, jacket potato and tuna, breaded fish etc.) on other occasions.
Processed snacks can also be much less healthy than you might imagine. Snacks are often packaged to make them appear to be healthy but when choosing snacks, again, make sure you compare the fat, sugar and salt content. It's very easy to give children a high salt diet without realising and some healthy looking snacks contain more saturated fat than a packet of crisps! Better still, make snacks yourself. Fruit and vegetables chopped into portions perhaps make the best snacks. Buy yourself a hot air popcorn maker and make fresh popcorn but without the salt or sugar.
Providing healthy, balanced and nutritious food isn't difficult but it can be deceptive if you are offering factory processed foods. Check the food labels and know what you are feeding your little ones.
Toddlers can be surprisingly good at eating fruit and vegetables but as they only eat small portions, you can face a challenge keeping them fresh. Here are a few tips on keeping your fresh produce extra fresh so that your little ones can enjoy a healthy snack on demand:
Melons: they are delicious but can be fiddly to prepare. Cut the whole melon at once and put the chunks you don't eat straight away into an airtight container. Whenever you fancy a snack it's ready prepared for you and will keep for up to 5 days.
Peppers: if you only need a portion of lovely red, green, yellow or orange pepper, keep the seeds, stalk and inner membrane intact and the pepper will stay fresher for longer.
Spinach: if your spinach has gone a bit limp, refresh in ice cold water and it will revive.
Cool food: to cool food quickly, simply place on top of picnic ice blocks and you'll find it cools down much quicker.
Carrots: to stop them going mouldy, wrap in kitchen paper in the fridge and they will keep longer. The kitchen paper soaks up any condensation which is what make the vegetables turn mouldy.
Fruit: apples stay fresher in the fridge, so do tomatoes and broccoli.
Paper bag: keep a paper bag in the bottom of your fridge where you store your fruit and vegetables so any moisture will be soaked up.
Research has shown that parents are not providing enough fruit and vegetable in their children's packed lunches; 3,500 children had their lunches examined and the findings showed that nearly half did not contain any fruit or vegetables at all. The School Food Trust said that at least 2 portions of fruit and veg should be included in everyone's lunch box in order to get the children towards their '5 a day' requirement.
Jamie Oliver did great work improving school dinners, and now school dinners are better than ever at helping to provide children with a balanced and healthy diet. But nutritionists fear that lunch boxes have been ignored and are very not nutritionally sound. Healthy packed lunches are a great way to help children reach their five a day requirement, they claimed it was a "missed opportunity".
The trust carried out their research two years ago, in 2009, so hopefully things are better now, but still of the 135 schools researched, so many children did not have a healthy, balanced meal to eat. Only 58% had a single item that could be counted towards their five a day - many had nothing fresh at all.
The World Cancer Research Fund has pointed out the value in eating fruit and veg from an early age and that not including fresh items in a lunch box is a missed opportunity. Healthy eating at school promotes a healthy living and parents should be provided with information helping them provide a healthy lunch for their children.
Here are some ideas to add fruit and vegetable to your children's packed lunches:-
- Put fresh salad inside sandwiches
- Add finger fruit and veg such as grapes, cherry tomatoes, celery, carrot sticks etc.
- Give them a little pot of processed fruit, available from supermarkets
- Add easy to manage fruit such as satsumas and bananas
- Prepare a pot of fork salad rather than sandwiches with grated carrot, coleslaw, potatoe salad etc.
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.
The idea of cooking with children might fill you with horror, what with the mess, the organisation, the dangers and the unappetising results, but, with a little planning, careful thought and a bit of patience, you can all have a fulfilling and fun time in the kitchen.
Cooking actually covers various areas of the EYFS development programme and so it is a great focus activity.
- Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy - count, weigh and measure ingredients together.
- Physical Development - health and bodily awareness when talking about healthy foods and using new and exotic tools to cook with.
- Personal, Social and Emotional Development - great sense of achievement when it's finished; personal hygiene when washing hands and preparing and learning about safety in a kitchen.
While cooking: Show your children the recipe and get all the ingredients ready in advance. Guide and direct the children through the cooking and keep them engaged so they don't get distracted and do their own thing. Use tools and bowls that are the appropriate size so they feel in control and able to do the task. Allow them to do as much as you can themselves without endangering them. Talk about the dangers and hot areas to avoid (oven, hob etc). Encourage them to help clear up and taste the food afterwards.
Why should they cook?
- Introduce new foods and ways of eating.
- Explain how foods and meals are made.
- They learn numbers, counting and measuring.
- They have to listen to instructions and carry the instructions out.
- They have to understand sequencing - you have to break the egg before you whisk it!
- They can make some great creations!
- It's fun!
Having a child with a sweet tooth, is not necessarily a problem, if you handle it well; the secret is to handle sweets, chocolate and all things sugary not as a rare treat, a reward or something exciting, but instead treat it as something just like all the other food groups you offer your child.
- To start with, introduce your baby/toddler to unsweetened foods and postpone offering sweets until they are older. Offer sweet fruits and yoghurt for dessert rather than sugary things.
- Sweeten food with honey or fruit.
- If your child is old enough for sweets, and if a relative comes round to visit with a bag of sweets, allow them to have one or two and save the rest for later. Try not to allow them to eat them all.
- Keep a note of how much sugar your little ones has in a day. It should be no more than 1-2 teaspoons each day and this includes all sugar in foods.
- Read the labels on prepared food - even toddler food. There is often a great deal of sugar in pre-prepared meals.
- Talk about sugar and the harm it can do if eaten in excess. Talk about fruit, vegetables and other great tasting foods that are also so good for you!
- Allow your child to choose which fruit and vegetable to buy at the shop.
- Drink water before bed and never sugary drinks.
- Try not to use sweets as a bribe.
- Lead by example and avoid snacking on sweet things yourself...
Weaning, for most parents, is approached with trepidation and a sense of fear! Oh no, it's time for solids: mess, tantrums, choking, lots of cooking for the food to be thrown across the room, lots of washing and not much food being eaten! But, it doesn't have to be like this at all! With these quick tips in place, you will both enjoy the weaning time without tears and have some fun on the way.
Prepare: even though they can't speak to you, begin the run up to weaning, by telling your child they're going to be eating purées and being a grown-up and things are all going to be great! They little ones may have seen others eat solids, so tell them they're going to be like their big sister or cousin and how exciting it's going to be. This may help you prepare for it too!
Have the right equipment: get some shallow weaning spoons, little dishes, lots of wipes and bibs and a decent high chair with a little table etc. Perhaps some high chair toys if you think you may need them.
Be safe: never leave your child alone with food or the spoon just in case they choke.
Don't rush: weaning takes time, so don't rush them, or yourself.
Portion control: start with tiny amounts of baby rice and milk. Just make up small amounts so you don't waste. When you move on to purée vegetables etc, again use just a little bit of your supply each time so you don't spoil it and waste it if it is dropped etc.
Encourage, don't force feed: if you are worried that your baby is not eating enough speak to your GP or health visitor. Don't force feed.
Eating with friends: try to make meal times a social event. Eat with your child or invite others over to eat with you so they see others eating too. Watching other children eat can be a great advantage and really help little ones learn to eat.
New flavours: if they don't like apple today, try it tomorrow and the next day and the next day! Sometimes it takes a few tries to get them to try and eat a new flavour.
If they gag: stay calm and rub their back to try to get the food out. Keep things very smooth and milky to start with. If they continue to have a problem speak to a health professional.
Still feed them milk: weaning babies still need about 500ml of milk each day so keep them on milk too while weaning.
Ideally wait until 6 months: government guidelines say wait until baby is six month before weaning. Breast milk until then is ideal, or formula milk. If you have a history of allergies, waiting is especially important. Speak to your doctor to get their advice if you are concerned.
Don't give up: keep trying in small amounts until things become easy and progress is made, but don't expect things to be easy from day one! They may cry, they may spit it out, they may make strange faces, they may refuse all together, but be calm and persistent and you'll win them over!
If you are looking for inspiration to tempt your little ones at lunch time, here are a few ideas to make lunch time less boring! Whether lunch is normally at home, or at nursery or school, there are lots of easy ways you can make lunch more exciting and tasty than the same on sarnies!
Different bread: try little rolls, neatly cut in half or different types of rolls such as brioche, twisted rolls or bagels. Tortilla wraps or pitta is another good and cheap idea.
Go French: try filling croissants with some ham and cheese for a continental lunch treat.
Pasta: cooled pasta with some chopped vegetables and cubes of ham is easy and tasty to eat.
Dippy: try cutting cucumber, carrot, celery into sticks and include a pot of hummus in the lunch box for some dippy treats. Add some pitta bread to dip too!
Finger food: cubes cheese, ham, vegetables and fruit need to be eaten with fingers. They can be a tasty and healthy lunch option.
Couscous salad: couscous is the easiest food to prepare. Make a portion the night before and cool. Cut some cherry tomatoes, cucumber, hams and peppers into tiny pieces and mix well. Pop into a lunch box with a fork for a great lunchtime snack.
Crackers: get hold of some cheese biscuits or crackers for another option. Wrap tightly so they stay fresh and serve alongside cheese slices and apples.
Research published by the School Food Trust has confirmed that children who eat school lunches are more willing to try new foods that they would not normally try at home. Over 1,000 parents were surveyed and an amazing 80% said their children had tried new things at school and some 50% said they were asked to cook new things at home, that the children had eaten at school!
School dinners therefore were a great way to encourage a varied and wide ranging menu for children. Seeing friends eating and tucking in to un familiar dishes is a good way to tempt little ones. Even children who were labelled as "fussy" by their parents found that their children ate well.
Tips for getting children to eat:
- Get them involved: grow some vegetables, get them to pick them from the supermarket shelf
- Take a step back: go to visit a pick your own farm or a farm where crops are grown.
- Be creative: make the food look nice! Use different coloured vegetables and make the meal attractive
- Think outside the box: name things in a more attractive way. Try offering Squiggly sausages, monster mash and squeaky peas rather than sausage, peas and potatoes.
- Get the children helping: they can chop easy things, help lay the table, choose a plate etc.
- Keep portions reasonable: don't overload the plate it can be very off-putting.
- Find out their favourites and use them if you can: if carrots and peas are top vegetables, then use them along with others and introduce new ones gradually!
Don't have a battle at mealtimes, everyone at some point has a bit of trouble with a fussy eater in the house so the first thing to remember is keep cool about it. You are not alone in your struggle to get food down a stroppy toddler or a moody and tired pre-schooler. Don't think your child will starve if they don't eat properly for a few days... they won't! They may be genuinely not hungry or a bit poorly, so don't get angry with them and claim they are being defiant or naughty, this may not be the case. And, don't blame yourself.
Many fussy phases pass, so don't worry for the first few days. If eating is becoming a problem on a frequent basis and some difficult habits are forming, then try some of these tips:
- Play with food: allow your toddler to handle the food and roll peas or fly carrots like planes. If it gets them eating then allow it! Don't be too strict.
- Give small amounts of lots of choice: so have a few sorts of vegetables for them to choose from. Try using a compartmentalised plate or a muffin tray and fill each hole with something different!
- Try giving 4-6 smaller meals a day rather than the usual 3 large meals. Healthy snacking is just as nutritious and possibly better for smaller tummies to cope with. Grazing minimises low blood sugar so will lessen any undesirable or difficult behaviour too.
- Make the food fun. Cut bread into strange shapes (eat your mountains or bread crown sounds a bit ore fun!). If you can cut into shapes of use cookie cutters to make sandwiches or toast then do.
- Or get them cutting things themselves (give plastic, blunt knives to cut cooked carrot) and the food is more likely to disappear. Or, get them spreading their own spread onto bread.
- Use fun plates and even get some party plates to serve a meal on. Pretend its a party!
- Call in an older cousin or friend who eats well and have a meal together. See if any good eating habits rub off!
- Sitting on a chair with dangling feet is something that toddlers don't enjoy (try sitting on a stool for a whole meal) so place a step or box under their feet to support them. This may keep them still a while longer and many help them concentrate more on eating and less on wriggling.
If eating problems persist and really do become a barrier, then you may want to seek medical or professional help, but on the whole, eating fads come and go and this is a normal part of growing up.
Eczema is a condition found in about 15-20% of children where dry, itchy patches of skin become uncomfortable, irritated and sore. There is much discussion about the reason why eczema is so common but scientists do not know definitively why or how it occurs.
There is also much talk about how we can prevent eczema or make it less severe even before a child is born. It appears to run in families, suggesting a genetic predisposition, and scientists are researching whether anything can be done to prevent or reduce it: should we avoid certain foods, or are there ways to adapt our lifestyles to reduce the impact?
Here are a few tips:
Breastfeeding exclusively for the first four months of a baby's life may help to protect against eczema. Research has shown that this is the case and that longer term breastfeeding protects against other allergies too. The Government recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby's life.
Cow's milk can have an allergic reaction and cause eczema in children. However, if you fear this may be the case, you need to discuss it with your doctor as cows milk shouldn't be removed from a child's diet without careful consultation. Even formulas that contain cow's milk could induce an allergic reaction, but again consult your doctor. Soya based formula and goat's milk formula are not recommended but again, the doctor can advise.
Certain foods you eat while breast-feeding may result in a flare-up and if you suspect certain foods to be a trigger, you should consult your doctor. There is no conclusive evidence to support this, but it may be the case. Don't change your diet unless you have first discussed it with your doctor.
Probiotics as a supplement or in food such as yoghurt has been shown to reduce the chance of your child developing eczema. Research continues in this area.
What can be done to help the situation?
Keep a diary - to help identify if food or other activities or environments trigger a bad reaction or flare up.
House mites are believed to trigger eczema although the evidence is inconclusive. Try to reduce dust in the home by using a damp cloth rather than a dry one when cleaning. Use cotton sheets and wash them at a high temperature each week. Vacuum the mattress weekly and air the room frequently.
Wear cotton clothing as synthetic fibres may make things worse.
Keep cool and avoid overheating as this can make eczema more severe. Keep homes warm but not hot.
Keep nails short to prevent children scratching too much.
Eczema can be a very difficult condition to live with, at best it's uncomfortable whilst severe eczema may have a severe impact on your child's ability to develop normally as they will be constantly distracted by the pain. Whilst there is no final cure, follow the advice above and you may be able to relieve the symptoms. Can you tell us any other tips that have helped relieve symptoms in your own children?
Food safety advice tends to vary over time - some foods deemed unsafe to eat at one time may become positively beneficial at others, but there is always advice on some foods that should be avoided during pregnancy. Mostly such foods suffer increased exposure to dangerous bacteria, and if not stored properly between manufacture and consumption, they could pose a serious health risk to a pregnant mum to be.
Until August 2009, government advised that pregnant women should avoid peanuts for fear that consumption might be a cause of intolerance in children. This advice has changed now because science is not certain that this is a causal effect of allergies, indeed there is growing evidence that consumption of peanuts during pregnancy may actually reduce the likelihood of babies suffering peanut allergies.
Some foods such as soft cheeses and pâté should be avoided because there is an increased risk that they may carry listeria, a very dangerous bacteria to pregnant women. Pâté also contains high levels of vitamin A, a vitamin found in liver, which is also best avoided during pregnancy. High levels of vitamin A may have a negative impact on your baby's neurological development. For the same reason, you should avoid taking fish liver oils and eating liver in any other form.
Pregnant women should also be cautious against eating raw or undercooked foods, especially eggs, meats and shellfish. These all pose a higher risk to bacteria and viruses, such as salmonella.
Finally, certain sea fish may contain harmful levels of mercury to an unborn baby - avoid tuna, shark, swordfish and marlin whilst pregnant. High levels of mercury can affect neurological development in your baby.
Many other foods often considered dangerous actually pose no risk at all, these include:-
- Processed (rather than homemade) mayonnaise and salad dressings will be made from pasteurised eggs
- Hard and increasing numbers of soft cheeses are also made with pastuerised milk nowadays
- Yoghurts and probiotic drinks are also made from pasteurised milk
- Spicy foods pose no danger to unborn children
- Honey is suitable for pregnant women but shouldn't be given to babies under 1 year
- Ice cream is also made from pasteurised milk and poses no risk to pregnant women
If you are pregnant, you will be looking after yourself and paying more attention to diet than usual, but most foods are perfectly safe to consume, you don't have to change your diet radically just because you're expecting a baby. Exercise caution, but don't stifle your lifestyle!
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