As the percentage of overweight and obese primary school leavers continues to rise, with increasing awareness of the equally troubling figures regarding pre and Type II diabetes in this age group, the UK government has issued a new guideline suggesting children should have snacks limited to or under 100 calories. But is this truly the answer we’re looking for?
Optimal childhood nutrition is something I am exceptionally passionate about, and in my opinion this falls far short, so instead I suggest the following. I would love to hear your opinions and/or experiences so please do comment below.
Children have naturally sweeter palates due to a need to gain more readily available energy from a smaller volume of food. However if savoury foods are introduced earlier (and persevered with) the palate will adjust, and you are far more likely to have success before a child becomes mobile as then they become more wary of new foods due to an innate protective mechanism that would have guarded them way back when we foraged for food in nature.
Encourage children to be involved, let them pick and try things as you cook, get them to smell fresh herbs and introduce as many new flavours as possible. If you can take them shopping with you then allow them to choose something new they’d like to try (fresh produce only!) All of a sudden the ‘but my child will only eat pasta/fish fingers/chips is not an issue’.
The idea of ‘feeding up’ children runs deep – from the moment you bring home a newborn you will keep note of the weight they are gaining, being encouraged that bigger is better. Yes absolutely you don’t want a baby losing weight, but as children grow we must also be mindful to make meals in proportion with their needs. As they transition onto solid foods aim for carbohydrates equal to their fist, protein their own palm, and 2-3 handfuls of vegetables as easy guidelines.
Approximately 50% of the time a child tells you they’re hungry they’re actually thirsty so first up always make sure they’re drinking plenty of fresh water (cooled herbal teas are also great and make a far superior choice to juice).
Many parents will also look to snacks and treats as bargaining chips or quick and easy ways to keep kiddies quiet. This can actually make it difficult for a child to interpret true hunger signals leading to overeating in future so take toys or offer alternatives like stickers to sugary snacks.
What I am hoping to inspire here is an increase in communication about food between parents and children. I strongly believe that educating children about healthy eating, cooking and looking after themselves overall is a far better solution to simply limiting the calories in their after school snack. Leading by example by being active, walking to and from school (if appropriate) encouraging them to be tactile and inquisitive with food all leads to culinary confident young adults, and those who understand all of the contributing factors to good health and healthy weight management.
My other significant bugbear with this guideline comes down to its lack of explanation or definition when it comes to those 100 calories as there is a significant range of things that could fall into that bracket, and in fact some better choices might be excluded because they are more calorific, but would in fact be far more nourishing. As an example a sugar free yoghurt could be under 100 calories but laden with artificial sweeteners, whereas a fresh apple with nut butter may exceed 100 calories so be excluded but would have provided vital vitamins, minerals, fibre, healthy fats and plant based protein.
So to conclude, no I don’t think this is the answer we were searching for, and potentially it may have in fact just muddied the waters ever so slightly more. Oh dear.