Most parents want their children to eat healthily but many, it seems, aren’t quite sure what that means.
So although 84% of parents think their child’s breakfast, for example, is healthy, the reality is that children consume at least half the recommended daily sugar intake at breakfast, when many eat and drink foodstuffs containing a total of three or more sugar cubes (11g).
It’s recommended that children aged four to six years consume no more than five cubes of sugar a day, and seven to 10-year-olds have no more than six cubes per day. Children frequently consume more than three times these recommendations.
Some of the main sources of sugar at breakfast include sugary cereals, drinks, and spreads. But it’s not just breakfast sugar that’s causing children’s dietary problems – away from the breakfast table, children are also consuming too much sugar, saturated fat and salt in products like confectionery, biscuits, muffins, pastries and soft drinks.
Be food smart
In a bid to help parents take more control of their children’s diets, the Change4Life campaign has developed a new Be Food Smart app to highlight how much sugar, saturated fat and salt is in everyday food and drink.
The free app helps families choose healthier options and works by scanning the barcode of products allowing parents to compare brands. It also features food detective activities for children and mini-missions for the whole family.
Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE’s chief nutritionist, says: “It’s crucial for children to have a healthy breakfast, but we know the mornings in a busy household can be fraught.
“That’s why we’ve developed our Be Food Smart App, taking some of the pressure off parents and helping them to choose healthier food and drink options for their children.”
The campaign also helps parents identify the health harms of children eating and drinking too much sugar, saturated fat and salt, including becoming overweight and developing tooth decay.
Recent reports show more than one in five children start primary school overweight or obese, rising to more than a third by the time they leave.
Actress and chef Lisa Faulkner, mum to 10-year-old Billie, is supporting the Be Food Smart campaign, and says: “As a mum, I know how crucial it is for children to eat a healthy diet, but also how meal time in a busy household can be fraught.
“I’ve found that getting Billie involved in what I’m doing really helps, so I always try to show her when I’m cooking a healthy meal – she loves to see what ingredients I’m throwing together in the kitchen.”
Faulkner, 44, who has written three cookery books since winning Celebrity Masterchef in 2010, says healthy eating is important to her and she’s very conscious of the ingredients she uses.
“I use the Be Food Smart app and Billie and I have had a great time checking out how healthy foods and drinks are in our cupboards and around the supermarket, and using the app to find a healthier option.”
She says she makes an effort to try and eat less meat, keeps an eye on portion sizes, and plans meals ahead.
“Cooking in batches is a great way to save money and time,” she advises, “and I tend to go for fruit and veg that are in season, as this makes it both cheaper and better tasting.
“I also like to set an example for healthy eating and what a balanced diet looks like, so I tend to give Billie similar food to what I eat.
“For me, a healthy diet isn’t about restricting foods, but about balance.”
Lisa’s top tips for being food smart
Have a healthy breakfast – children will love fruit (fresh, tinned or frozen), eggs or low-fat, lower-sugar yoghurt.
Salt is often hidden in everyday foods that might not taste salty, so it can be tricky to keep track of your family’s consumption. Simply using black pepper and herbs as seasoning instead of salt can help you eat less salt.
It can be difficult to know which fats we need to eat and which we don’t. Having unsaturated fat in the diet can help to lower blood cholesterol, but saturated fat (in things like butter, cheese, cakes and biscuits) can lead to high blood cholesterol and serious problems, such as heart attack or stroke. Using tomato sauces on pasta rather than creamy or cheesy ones is an easy swap to help you cut back on saturated fats.
Getting your kids involved in producing, buying and preparation of food is a great way to help them be more aware of what they’re eating and encourage them to make healthier choices early in life.
The free Be Food Smart app is available from the iTunes Store or Google Play.
Ask the expert
Q: “My teenage daughter sits in her bedroom with her friends, but instead of talking to each other, they sit in silence and communicate via Snapchat – is this the norm these days or should I be worried?”
A: Youth expert Sarah Newton, author of Help! My Teenager Is An Alien, says: “There’s nothing to worry about – communication for teenagers is different now, and while we may not understand, this shouldn’t be cause for concern.
“What’s often happening in these types of Snapchat exchanges is they’re bringing other people who aren’t physically present into the conversation. You might speak to her about it, share your concerns and ask if it bothers her.
“You could also suggest that perhaps sometimes when her friends are over, you take them out or they plan a movie night in. Suggest perhaps that you cook them all something or they have snacks around the table with no phones allowed. When they’re doing something they enjoy, they’re less likely to be engrossed in their phones – they often reach to them in times of boredom.
“Make sure too that in your home, you have technology-free times and zones, for example no phones at dinner, and encourage communication over meals, perhaps by using conversation cards.
“If your daughter can communicate well then I really would stop worrying.”