It was with great interest that I saw this week’s Panorama programme on “What’s Really in Our Kids’ Food?”. I have always tried hard to make sure my daughter has a balanced diet and lots of fruit and vegetables. She never has anything deep fat fried and at the age of two very rarely has chocolate or biscuits (never sweets). I generally cook her food from scratch.
When my daughter was born she weighed 2.2kg and didn’t even make it onto the growth charts. I was immediately encouraged to feed her as much as possible and her weight stabilised quickly. When she was 18 months old I took her to the clinic to get weighed, to find she was on the 75th centile. I was grilled by the health visitor about what she was eating and it made me feel like a terrible mother. I was told to cut down her milk and not give her so much fruit. The end result – I became paranoid. The minute she started running around the weight dropped off anyway.
Getting an early start to healthy eating is something drilled into us everyday in the magazines we read, TV programmes we watch etc. The Government’s latest Start For Life campaign has a big focus on early years. We are told that it’s important to have a high fibre, low fat diet, but too much fibre and not enough fat in young children can lead to stunted growth. It is enough to make any parent that cares about what their child eats panic!
Daily Allowances for 1-3 year olds
- Average calories – 1000
- Salt – 2g per day
- Sugar – there is no RDA for sugar, although 10% of total calories should be coming from sugar. 4-6 year olds should have about 40g per day = 10 teaspoons. So far I haven’t found any information on the internet for what 1-3 year olds should have – I assume it’s less.
To summarise what the programme said: (To watch it click here)
- Birth to 5 is a crucial period in child’s growth, but nutritionists say they’re the forgotten years.
- Children should be eating 3 full meals and two snacks – instead of chocolate and biscuits etc – they recommend fruit.
- The Government says we shouldn’t add salt to children’s food.
- Research shows Many pre-schoolers aren’t getting balanced diet they need – Too much sugar and salt, not enough protein or fat.
- Under 5’s eat twice as much sugar as they should.
- Parents rarely cook, in fact 2/3 of mums have never cooked their children a meal from scratch.
- Toddlers are eating fast food
- The Government says children don’t need growing up milk. They should get everything they need from full fat milk and a balance diet.
- Nurseries struggling to dish up the right food, there is no regulation as to what they can serve up.
- Research suggested kids who are fat at 5, likely to stay that way. In fact, evidence shows weight gain can start in children as young as 2.
- Forecast is that 1 in 5 children will be obese by the time they start school, unless they have a better diet. Are we storing up disaster in years to come?
- If you ate one Petit Filous a day, you would be consuming more than two kilos of sugar in a year
- 40% of kids drinks contain added sugar
- Fruit flakes – 16g sugar
- Fruit shoot – 23g sugar – 5tsp. The low sugar – 2.4g – however the programme never mentioned they contain sweetener such as aspartame, which are also bad for you.
- There is more sugar in a Farley’s rusk than in a chocolate biscuit
TIP: Foods and drinks with less than 2g per 100g of sugars is considered low in sugar, while any with more than 10g is high.
Kids Ready Meals
There is no nutritional information on the front of kids ready meals. According to the programme there is no law for children’s food to carry food labelling.
Annabel Karmel got a hammering about her ready meals. I felt sorry for her as no other kids ready meal brands were featured. Interestingly, however, her Fussy Eaters Lasagne contains sugar – and twice as much sugar as a supermarket lasagne, although she did say they are taking the sugar out of their meals. It also contains 1g of salt which is half of a 1-3 yer olds daily salt allowance. In fact 6 out of 8 Annabel Karmel meals contain more recommended 3rd of daily allowance. She feels if no salt, sugar, children wouldn’t eat them – I’m not sure that’s entirely true. Apparently you might as well buy Tescos Finest Lasagne as it works out way cheaper. However, I’m sure there are a lot worse things children can eat!
(Here’s Annabel Karmel’s response to the programme on You Tube)
Questions and issues raised
- What is considered as overweight???
- How much sugar should they have exactly?
- What about other brands of kids ready meals?
- The programme said go for low sugar drinks, but didn’t say children should avoid drinks including sweeteners such as Aspartame, which are bad for you.
- No practical advice – the programme was quick to criticise what children were eating, but offered few healthy alternatives.
- The advice was to give children more fruit. However fruit contains a lot of sugar too.
- I’d be very interested to know who were those polled? And what demographics are they getting theirs stats from?
- Why does children’s food not have to adhere to same guidelines as adults?
- Why is there no regulation of food in nurseries (as there is in primary schools) and no plans to introduce it either?
- Should we be calorie counting or measuring how much salt/sugar children are eating. Isn’t more about common sense and taking a healthy approach?
I felt the programme was somewhat scare-mongering and patronising. It implied that if your child sometimes has fishfingers, a kids ready meals or a little tomato ketchup they were not getting a balanced diet. However, I’m sure that’s not the reason children are becoming increasingly overweight. I have a feeling that most of the parents participating in the programme as well as the viewers were possibly not the parents it was talking about!
Are we storing up disaster in years to come as the programme suggested? Possibly. However all the mums I know try to give their children a balanced diet, none of my daughter’s friends are overweight and nor are the children I see on the street. Does this mean I am extremely naïve as to the situation in the rest of the UK, for these stats to be true?
Lessons I did learn
- Not to always believe the claims food companies make. For example, there is no evidence that Good night milk helps children sleep, despite their claims.
- You are made to believe kids ready meals, snacks etc are made just for children, and you pay a premium for them.
- I will make sure I look more closely at the nutritional information on ready meals, perhaps they are not as good as they make out to be.
- Don’t add salt or sugar to her diet (sometimes she eats something I have cooked for my husband and I, but I will leave out the salt.
- I know the food in my daughter’s nursery is organic and healthy, however it’s important for it to be balanced too. I will check with her nursery.
- Not give her fruit flakes – I had no idea the amount of sugar they contain!
This is a really interesting subject. Do you give your child a balanced diet?