Jamie Oliver is on the rampage again, and is putting his all into improving the nutritional status of our young. Yesterday, Jamie took his ire out on typical items to be found in school lunchboxes, including crisps and soft drinks (including Red Bull) and described the parents that provide such foodstuffs as ‘tossers’.
Even for someone who likes to use the vernacular quite readily in his own life, this language is a bit strong for me. The fact is, there’s still a lot of misinformation and ignorance about what actually constitutes a health diet (the food industry has done a pretty decent job of selling what I believe is rubbish such as fat-reduced crisps, sugar-charged yoghurts and artificially sweetened drinks as ‘healthy’). The advertising and marketing of such foods to adults (and children), in addition to their convenience, makes them, I believe, quite compelling. Plus, coming up with healthy alternatives is not necessarily easy. To this end, I’ve attached here an article which explores some health alternatives to the usual lunchbox fare.
However, as every parent will know, it’s one thin putting healthy food in front of a child, it’s quite another getting them to eat it! Over my time in practice I have seen hundreds of children. Some of these will seemingly eat everything and everything, while some have very ‘picky’ eating habits indeed. I generally ask the parents of an eclectic eater what they believe is the reason why their child has such a broad palate. The answer invariably goes along the line of he/she has no choice�. In other words, if the child won’t eat what is served to them, they simply are not offered anything else in its place.
Now, I’m a liberal at heart. But I have to say I reckon this approach has real merit. The fact is, children (even very young ones) can use food refusal to wield some control and as an attention seeking device. What is it about us as parents that will want to lay down rules with our children with regard to television watching, bedtime, playing with matches etc. etc, but will essentially let our children choose what THEY eat, even when we know it’s not good for them?
Personally, I recommend a firm hand here. Getting a child to eat healthily is not about forcing them to eat, it’s about making them consistently aware of the effects of their food refusal ” i.e. going hungry! This approach is hard-line and generally does not get an instantaneously good reaction from little folk. However, applied consistently, it generally gives way to less choosy eating within a few days.
Another way of ensuring your child eats more healthily is simply to AVOID BUYING CRAP FOOD. To this end, I’ve added a link to another article, which offers advice about how to keep control during (dreaded) supermarket shopping expeditions.
Observer Column – 30th October 2005
The Government has recently announced that school dinners are to undergo a much-needed audit and overhaul. It seems that this particular move towards healthier eating has been come about, at least in part, as the result of Jamie Oliver’s efforts to highlight the generally woeful quality of food on offer in UK schools. Bearing in mind the unwholesome reputation such fare has, I welcome any genuine improvements in this area. However, I was somewhat concerned to read a recent study in the British Medical Journal which suggests that the health of children eating school dinners is no worse, and in fact may even be better, than those children who bring food in from home.
This week, therefore, my aim is to offer some constructive advice for parents who take their children’s school lunch into their own hands. Sandwiches are a stock lunch box item, but are a food I have at least some resistance to. One reason for this is that wheat-based breads, even wholemeal varieties, tend to release their sugar relatively quickly into the bloodstream. The resultant surges in blood sugar can lead to peaks in the hormone insulin which can only help to fuel the burgeoning rates of childhood obesity and diabetes.
The blood sugar and insulin stimulating effects of bread are often compounded by other commonly-found packed lunch items such as crisps, biscuits and confectionery. While finding alternatives to sandwiches is not always easy, it can help to at least surround these with nutritious foods that might also help to temper the sugar release from bread. Good options with respect to this include fresh fruit such as apples, satsumas and tangerines, as well as cut-up veggies such as carrot, cucumber and celery. Nuts make a good swap for crisps: these slow sugar-releasing and highly nutritious foods have been linked with a range of beneficial effects including relative protection from heart disease. Like nuts, dried versions of some fruits such as apricots and apples are intrinsically nutritious and, despite their sugary nature, tend to liberate their sugar quite slowly into the bloodstream.
As far as the sandwich itself is concerned, I recommend using 100 per cent wholemeal bread. While generally fast sugar-releasing, this is at least more nutritious than its more refined counterparts. Further nutritional value can be added by using a wholesome filling such as chicken, tinned sardine or tinned salmon with some salad. Sardine and salmon represent particularly good choices on the basis that these are rich in so-called omega-3 fats that have been linked with health brain development and function in children. For vegetarian children, I recommend eggs that are enriched with brain-boosting fats. These may be used a sandwich filling, but in hard-boiled form also represent a healthy lunchbox item. If good nutrition is the aim, it can help to think outside the usual lunchbox.
Observer column – 17th August 2003
The BBC is under attack, and not just over claims relating to the sexing up of dossiers either. The Food Commission – an independent watchdog body campaigning for healthier food for all – has recently complained to the Beeb about its licensing of the Tweenies good name and image to companies marketing foodstuffs directly to children. The Tweenies’ guest appearances on a range of food products including McDonald’s Happy Meals, chocolate bars and sugary cereals has led to the charge that the BBC is aiding and abetting the promotion of poor nutrition in children. There has also been some considerable backlash from parents who feel their attempts to feed their kids right are being undermined by the madcap antics of some characters at the BBC.
Personally, I very much welcome the moving of this issue into the spotlight. The Food Commission’s efforts also serve to remind us of the widespread use of wholesome children’s characters to sell distinctly unwholesome fare. Parents are likely to be only too aware of the power this brand of marketing has to captivate kids and increase their desire for fast and processed foods. Shopping with children can be an endurance exercise in itself. However, it most certainly is not made any easier by a child’s persistent demands for foods that are so clearly undesirable from a nutritional perspective.
Many parents wishing to exert some control in shopping situations are understandably tempted to get tough with their kids and just say ‘no’. However, studies have found that a hard-line approach generally increases a child’s desire for forbidden foods, something that is likely to inflame hostilities in the longer term. Another tactic that might work better is to agree a set number of treats (I suggest one or two) that a child can choose on each outing. Children usually respond well to the element of choice afforded to them in this scheme. Crucially, however, this approach puts a predetermined ceiling on the amount of rubbish that ends up in the shopping trolley.
The most common arena for the food feuds the can go on between children and their parents is the supermarket, as these are notorious for having temptation all over the shop. If possible, I suggest avoiding taking kids into this environment at all. The absence of children clearly dissolves much of the potential for the battle of wills that the supermarket setting tends to induce. Not all parents have the luxury of being able to extricate themselves from their kids when the shopping needs doing. However, if two grown-ups are on hand, an option might be for one to take on the mantle of child-minding duties while the other makes a solo supermarket sweep.
An even better tactic, though, might be to junk the supermarket altogether. Making use of the farm shops, farmers markets or the high street butcher, fishmonger, baker and greengrocer may be preferable for a variety of reasons, including support of local businesses, and possibly some local producers too. Importantly, however, the closest thing to a character-branded food likely to be found in markets and speciality shops is some gingerbread men. For some, the idea of multi-stop shopping may seem unnecessarily arduous compared to convenience of the supermarket. However, many find this more traditional way of purchasing food an altogether more wholesome experience, and one that can make countering unhealthy influences on their children as easy as taking candy from a baby.