Tags: healthy eating
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!
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.
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.
Parents of young children lead an unhealthy lifestyle, according to recent research. Despite the notion that parents of toddlers spend their whole lives running after the little ones trying to catch them and keep them out of trouble, they are, in fact, not exercising enough.
The study has shown that parents of toddlers eat less healthily than their childless counterparts. Women with children drink more sugary drinks and eat fattier foods according to scientists and they are less active than women of a similar age who don't have children.
This is partly because they tend to choose the quick, less healthy option when it comes to eating because they simply don't have the time or energy to do any different, and they miss out on exercise because of being too tired, busy or having no childcare.
The research was undertaken at the University of Minnesota and published in the journal Pediatrics. The study was carried out to help identify whether parents of young children are at risk and whether they would benefit from advice on diet, exercise and healthy living.
The study looked at the lives of 1,500 adults aged around 25, many of whom were parents with children under five. On average the mothers consumed nearly 400 calories each day more than their childless counterparts. In order to prevent weight gain they should be exercising even more (walking about 3 miles a day) to counter balance. However, in reality they were exercising less than 2 hours a week at a moderate pace.
There are limitations to the findings:
- The study did not show how many women had just had their babies and therefore had retained their baby/pregnancy weight.
- There was no information on single parents and the effect of having just one parent in the home.
- There was no information on the psychological health of the women who if suffering from depression may have experienced odd eating habits etc.
These are interesting findings and we would welcome more information on how we should look after ourselves after childbirth.
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...
Soups make for a nutritional and filling meal for adults and children and a good home made soup is easy and quick to make. You can use the same basic steps to make almost any soup, here are those steps:-
- Dice your main ingredients
- Precook the ingredients to soften them by frying in butter or oil, or maybe roasting in the oven
- Add a stock or other liquid base, bring it to a boil and simmer for up to 10 minutes
- Serve as is or blend in a food processor
Your stock might be a vegetable or chicken based stock or bouillon, or you can use other liquids such as coconut milk, regular milk, tomato juice, a tinned soup or even water. What about the main ingredients? How about:-
- Pumpkin Soup: fry up onion and diced pumpkin, add coconut milk, boil and blend
- Bean Soup: fry up some onion and diced bacon, add stock and tin of whatever beans you like (drained first), boil and serve
- Vegetable Soup: fry up any left over vegetables and add stock, or simply boil fresh ones in a stock, blend and serve
- Fish Chowder: Dice and cook bacon; dice and fry leek, potato, mushrooms and sweetcorn until softened; add a pint of milk and bring to a boil
- Carrot and Apple Soup: fry onion and carrot until softened, add diced apple and stock, bring to a boil then blend
Use your imagination and use flavours that you know your children like. Here are some extra tips to guide you:-
- Onion adds depth to almost any dish, but you can also use leek which is closely related
- Add extra flavour with a bit of garlic and/or some fresh herbs or even spices such as paprika, cinnamon or star anise
- Warm winter soups are great at this time of year, but you can serve up summer flavours as cold soups in the summer, try melon and mint or cold leek and potato (vichyssoise)
- Try making fruit soups as an interesting desert
- Check the salt and sugar levels for stocks or tinned soups that you use as a base, look for stocks with a lower salt content
- Make soup ahead and simply reheat it, most soups can even be frozen
- Soups with low salt and sugar content are terrific for babies; once blended, freeze into ice cube trays and defrost just two or three at a time
- Serve with panache - keep fresh herbs on hand to garnish with and add a little extra freshness to
Soups really are easy to make and offer a really versatile meal, they are also a really healthy option for the whole family!
Recent tests demonstrated that children are more likely to eat fruit if it looks good - children were offered the same types and portions of fruit served in different ways; the more 'attractively' presented it was, the more popular it was.
The researchers studied 100 children at schools in the Netherlands and Belgium and discovered that presentation really did matter. The authors say that parents and schools should follow suit and make fruit look appealing in order to encourage children to eat more of it! The children were aged between four and seven years old and were invited to eat apples, strawberries, and grapes.
Here are our suggestions for presenting fruit in fun ways:
Fruity hedgehog - thread fruit pieces onto cocktail sticks and pop into an orange or potato to make a hedgehog. Add a few grapes as eyes and a slice of cucumber as a mouth.
Pretty plate - put the fruit on a special plate. Buy fun shaped plastic plates and always serve fruit on these special plates.
Make fruit fun - serve different colours of fruit and cut into different shapes: strips, cubes, triangles, wedges, rounds.
Fruit face - have your children make funny faces out of their fruit portions
Make a scene - use fruit cut into different shapes to make a scene, maybe a boat on the waves or a house?
Get them involved - ask the children to help choose the fruit at the shop, help peel it if they can and chop it themselves!
Have lots of ideas and do things differently each time - melon boats, melon smiley face with some grapes as eyes and a nose, melon cubes made into a tower!
Do a tasting - select a few fruits and taste them together chatting about which are your favourites.
Introduce new fruits slowly - you have to see and try a new taste seven times before you are familiar with it so research says! Introduce new exotic fruits from time to time.
Baby is best - baby varieties can be sweeter than the larger options (ie baby tomatoes are really super sweet).
Everyone is telling us how important it is to eat five portions of fruit or vegetables a day, but it's not always easy, especially if you have a fussy eater dining with you! So, here are a few tips to increase your kids to eat more fruit and vegetables.
- Sprinkle raisins, dried berries or banana on your cereal. Get your little one to help!
- Get your children to help choose the fruit for the fruit bowl. Talk about the different colours and then arrange them together. Keep the bowl somewhere you can all see them.
- Tinned fruit is handy. Throw a tin of tomatoes into your shepherd's pie or some sweetcorn in your chicken casserole.
- Make a meal of it! Invite friends from nursery to eat with you and your children. Set it up like a restaurant and make eating a fun, social event.
- Puree some vegetables and make it into a sauce for pasta.
- If your children need a snack, cut grapes, cucumber, apple, peppers etc and encourage them to nibble on those. You can then let them eat vegetable sticks if they are spending some time watching the TV.
- Make it look nice. Cut banana into slices and arrange like a flower on a plate. Make peppers into a star.
- Pick your own. In the right season, go out and pick you own vegetables. Or, grow your own! Pulling up a carrot or picking a courgette is great fun!
- Get your little one to cook with you... chop with a blunt knife, stir etc.
Make it fun and tasty because its really worth it in the long run. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is important to maintain a healthy weight, to get all the minerals and vitamins you need. Plus it can help reduce cancers and heart disease. And vegetables taste good!
According to research carried out by the British Heart Foundation, 90% of parents are being misled by food manufacturers who imply that children's foods are much healthier than they really are. Approximately 1,500 parents were questioned, all who had children under 15 years of age, and most of them felt they were being misled when it came to the health claims made on the food packets.
Wholegrain: 76% of parents thought this meant a product was healthy, yet Nestle Honey Shreddies (which state wholegrain on the packet) contain more sugar than a ring dounut!
Vitamins: 'Source of Calcium, iron and vitamins' - 63% of parents thought this meant the product is healthy. But, Kellogg's Coco Pops use this statement on their packet and yet the cereal contains more sugar than chocolate cake!
It's important to state however, these phrases are not untrue; they are just misleading! It seems parents are being hoodwinked into thinking these products are good and healthy to eat, but this is not the case. They are often full of saturated fats, sugars and salt that are way beyond what we'd serve at breakfast if presented with actual spoonfuls of sugar, fat and salt in front of us!
A clear food labelling system has been talked about, but who knows when and if this will ever be introduced. It would certainly help when choosing which products to buy!
Recent research has discovered evidence that some cases of childhood obesity are linked to genetic mutations, but the studies suggest that fewer than 2% of cases of obesity in children are caused by genetics. Childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions with 1 in 5 children in the US and 1 in 7 in the UK classed as obese.
Obesity is measured by calculating body mass index which is calculated by dividing your height in kilograms divided by the square of your height in metres. A result greater than 30 is considered obese although a high proportion of muscle, which is heavier than fat, can produce misleading results.
Obesity is linked to a number of problems, mental and physical, including:-
- Low self esteem and depression
- Low motivational drive, including feelings of lethargy
- Increased risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure
- Reduced quality of sleep (sleep apnea)
Most causes of childhood obesity are linked to lifestyle - nutrition and activity being the two main factors. Parents have a responsibility to look after their children and help their children avoid excessive weight gain. Simple steps that you can take include:-
- Encouraging an active lifestyle - make sure that your children have time to run around outdoors and in the park
- Avoid excessive snacking - children don't need to be grazing constantly but it is an easy habit to develop, ration snacks to appropriate times of the day
- Provide a role model - if you are excessively overweight then your children will consider entirely normal
- Encourage whole foods and healthy snacks rather than fast food and soft drinks
- Don't let your children choose their meals - they will probably focus on unhealthier foods - ensure you give your children a balanced diet
- Breast feed as long as you can - research suggests that breastfeeding protects children against obesity in later life
- Make sure your children consume vegetables and dairy products in their diet
Childhood obesity is something that you will want to avoid. There is no approved medication for obesity in children but so much can be done by adapting lifestyle. If your children are growing excessively overweight for no apparent reason, then do seek medical advice. There may be more serious underlying problems not linked to lifestyle, but remember that these cases are rare.
We all want our children to grow strong and healthy, so it's only natural that when a food is hailed as a superfood, we try to add it into our diet. However, the term 'superfood' is not a scientific one, and many health benefits touted by marketing agencies are unsubstantiated. In 2007, the EU passed legislation banning the term 'superfood' unless claims were backed up withj scientific evidence proving their value. Food manufacturers and supermarkets had until this year to phase out such claims unless scientifically proven.
Before the ban came into effect, over 100 foods had been awarded 'superfood' status by marketers. The list of superfoods included soy, spinach, broccoli, beetroot, blueberries, fish and green tea. Oprah Winfrey brought international attention to the acia berry which she featured on her show, inadvertently creating a scam market of bogus acai supplement suppliers employing unwholesome marketing techniques.
The major beneficiaries of so called superfoods are food producers and supermarkets. Between 1995 and 1997, sales of blueberries in the UK rose by 132%, spinach sales grew 40% and salmon sales increased over 30%.
It's not that superfoods aren't good for you - they generally contain higher concentrations of chemical deemed to be healthy, such as vitamin C, flavonoids, or Omega-3 fatty acids. However, these foods should be used as part of a balanced diet and often may be little more beneficial than many other foods. Also noteable is the fact that many superfoods are exotic and therefore have a far higher carbon footprint than locally produced foods.
With the implementation of the EU ban on the term 'superfood' reaching completion, we're far less likely to hear these claims being touted, but if we do, we know now that they will have been scrutinised properly and that the claims really are super!