Are we starting to take kids’ poor diets seriously?

November 6, 2019 8:12 am Published by Leave your thoughts

A couple of alarming stories have hit the headlines in recent months. In early September, it was reported that a young man in the UK had become blind, due to inadequate diet. A week or so later, a report was issued on a teenager who had died in hospital from a heart condition, with obesity a major contributing factor. Both cases had their complexities – but both sharply highlight the kinds of things people have been discussing for years: the real, serious problems that children’s poor diets can create.

We need to take children's eating habits seriously!

The first case concerned a young man who had been cared for by doctors in Bristol since his poor diet had begun to cause permanent sight loss. He’d been surviving for several years on nothing but chips, crisps and white bread, with the occasional addition of processed meat. Tests showed severe vitamin deficiencies and damage from malnutrition (although he was a healthy weight): minerals had even been lost from his bones.

The doctors didn’t pull their punches, making the point that parents needed to be aware of the harm that can be caused by extreme picky eating.

In the second case, a teenager in Manchester died from a heart condition caused by obesity. Little things (obstacles placed in the way of exercise, the continual eating of takeaways, and so on) had gradually built up until, at just 13, there was no turning back. Childhood obesity, argued the officials involved, needed to be treated as neglect.

What to do?

Healthy eating isn’t complicated. The NHS provides simple, clear advice on its websites, in its official messages, in leaflets and in person (if not in its hospital canteens). The advice might not be perfect –neither is ours – but it’s good enough. Follow it and your kids’ diets will be fine.

But the NHS is up against a lot of other, contradictory dietary advice. Take the hundreds of diets dreamt up by time-rich celebrities or marketing people, for instance. These generally involve obscure, expensive ingredients, to be eaten in complex patterns, accompanied by detailed instructions. They’re almost impossible to follow, especially if you’re cooking for a family.

Then there’s the insidious voice of society at large, that tells us at every turn that another bag of crisps/sweets/chips isn’t going to do our kids any harm/that as part of a balanced diet, kids can eat junk whenever they feel like it/that the nanny state should back off, because as parents, we’re not stupid/that those banging the drum for healthy diets are just kill-joys.

And, of course, there’s the widespread advertising of junk food, including for all things sports-related, the poor quality meals given out daily in schools and other public institutions, the terrible choice available in local shops in poorer areas, and the discrepancy in prices between healthy food and unhealthy.

There are lots of reasons why our kids might have poor diets. But perhaps they’re explanations, and not excuses. As the Bristol and Manchester cases make clear, it’s time we started taking our kids’ health and eating habits a little more seriously.

How to do it? At Naturally Good Food, we once came up with ten simple diet rules. They were aimed at adults, but we’ve adapted them for the whole family. Here are the top 5 to get you started.

Rule 1: Provide proper, natural food

If the food, or the ingredients, couldn’t have been made, or found, in your Granny’s kitchen (as the saying goes), then don’t eat it and don’t make it for your kids.

Step away from heavily processed food and ready meals. Most heavily processed food is full of sugar. If it’s not, it’s full of salt. If it’s not, it’s full of fats – and not good fats. A whole load of the vitamins and minerals will have been lost.

Rule 2: Watch out when eating out

You’ve really got no idea what’s in the food you eat when you’re eating out in restaurants and cafes, either on your own or with your kids. Restaurant food has almost certainly got more salt, more sugar and more saturated fat than food you’d make yourself from scratch. If you’re eating out regularly, think carefully about making healthy choices when you do, and also about how on earth you can manage to avoid the ubiquitous ‘X and chips’ on the children’s menu.

Rule 3: Eat less refined sugar

Sugar is usually the main problem when it comes to children’s diets. An easy way to improve the situation is to make your own cakes and biscuits for your family, partly so that you can see exactly what’s going into them (and do what you can to improve that), and partly because it’s more labour-intensive than simply picking up a bar of chocolate at the shop, and therefore should help everyone cut down. Offer your kids fruit, or dried fruit, too, as an alternative.

Rule 4: Eat more vegetables

Vegetables are much healthier than anything else and your kids can obtain their benefits from fresh, tinned, frozen or dried varieties. There are all sorts of helpful tips online for sneakily incorporating them into your kids’ diets – alternatively, bribery and threats are the standard tried and tested methods for success.

Rule 5: Eat wholefoods

At NGF, all our messages end up boiling down to this: make wholefoods the basis of your diet and that of your family. Wholefoods, the whole of the food, are foods like rice, pulses (beans, chickpeas, peas and lentils), grains, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. They’re rich in fibre (which solves almost everything), protein, vitamins and minerals. To cook from scratch, you need wholefoods. To eat natural food, you need wholefoods. To eat healthily when out and about, you need to choose wholefoods. To get the right kind of nutritional elements – and avoid the others – you need to choose wholefoods. And, in short, to keep your kids healthy –you need wholefoods.

To see the rest of our diet plan, click here.

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This post was written by Yzanne

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