The ABC Of Smart Food
by Lisa De Silva
With a cocktail of peer pressure, hectic lifestyles and tempting advertising, it’s easy to fall back on convenience foods and takeaways. But with childhood obesity a serious concern, Lisa de Silva looks at how you can improve your children’s diet and instil healthy eating habits from an early age.
By June 2018, children in England had already consumed more than their recommended sugar intake for the whole year, eating around 13 sugar cubes each per day (Public Health England). The sugar is often hidden in processed and convenience foods, but it has little in the way of nutritional value and can lead to hyperactivity, tooth decay, mood disorders and anxiety. This is because sugar spikes blood glucose levels causing extreme highs and lows in energy, so the trick is to reduce the sugar and increase the amount of protein and good fats in the diet to provide a less erratic source of energy.
Children with a healthy diet are happier, enjoy more stable levels of energy and have better concentration levels at school. Given this, West Sussex have recently embarked on a Sugar Reduction Programme managing to reduce the sugar content in primary school meals by over 40%. In fact, the amount of sugar removed from primary school meals is equivalent to three London double decker buses.
Keeping up this good work at home can be easier and much less time-consuming than you imagine and we’ve come up with a few healthy suggestions to inspire you.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO PROMOTE A HEALTHY DIET?
- Try not to use unhealthy food and snacks as a reward or bribe
- Try to change your child’s perception of what is a treat e.g. juicy strawberries, creamy avocados or crunchy carrots instead of crisps, chocolate and cakes
- Be a role model yourself for healthy eating Sneak healthy vegetables into stews and sauces
- Encourage your children to help you shop, prepare and cook healthy savoury meals instead of baking cakes
- Make healthy snacks readily available e.g. fruit bowls in the kitchen or fresh crudities in the fridge
- Try to move towards cooking from scratch so you eat less packaged and processed meals – batch cooking and freezing can help make this a quick and easy option
- Limit simple and refined carbohydrates e.g. white bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white rice and certain breakfast cereals
- Increase complex carbohydrates which are higher in nutrients and fibre and digested more slowly, helping to even out energy and mood e.g. multigrain wholemeal bread, high-fibre cereals, brown rice, beans, nuts, fruit and non-starchy vegetables
- Increase the amount of protein in meals and snacks to provide a more balanced form of energy e.g. lean meats, tuna, eggs, oats, cottage cheese, and Greek yoghurt
- Increase the amount of healthy fat in the diet, as fats keep us fuller for longer e.g. avocado, walnuts, olive oil, flaxseed, sardines, salmon and mackerel
- Avoid sugary drinks and encourage your children to drink water – or add a splash of fruit juice to water and make smoothies by blending milk with frozen fruits
HEALTHY BREAKFAST OPTIONS
To set your children up with the best start to the day, it’s important to feed them foods high in protein which will promote their optimum physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and keep their mood and energy level stable and flowing. Some ideas include:
- Porridge with banana
- Cottage cheese and chopped apple Natural Greek yoghurt and fruit
- Boiled egg and wholemeal toast Omelette with tomatoes and mushrooms Scrambled egg on wholemeal toast Peanut butter on wholemeal toast
- Breakfast burrito – fill a wholemeal tortilla with scrambled egg, tomatoes and mushrooms
- Baked beans on wholemeal toast
HEALTHY LUNCH BOX OPTIONS
Again, the key to maintaining stable energy levels is to try to keep the food as free from added sugar and salt as possible and upping the protein content. Ideas include:
- Wholemeal sandwiches/rolls/pittas/wraps filled with lean chicken, beef, hummus or tuna with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, grated carrots, chopped peppers and other salad vegetables
- Hard boiled eggs, vegetable crudities and hummus Falafel, hummus and salad
- Cooked wholemeal pasta mixed with tuna, sweetcorn and mayonnaise
- Frittata made with eggs, peppers, sweetcorn, mushrooms and peas
- Couscous mixed with roasted vegetables
- Protein bites
- Fresh fruit and berries
- Yogurt with no added sugar
- Healthy flapjacks
Snacks are often required at short notice. Here are some ideas so you can be prepared:
- Fruit kebabs with a yoghurt dip Homemade fruit/yoghurt ice lollies
- Sardines, baked beans, banana or peanut butter on wholemeal toast
- Rice cake faces made with cream cheese and chopped veg or fruit
- Falafel/crudities and hummus
- Jacket potato with cottage cheese/cream cheese/ beans/tuna
- Pittas filled with salad and chicken/hummus/ banana/tuna
These can be made with a huge range of ingredients according to taste, so this is just one variation.
- 80g porridge oats
- 130g peanut (or cashew/almond) butter
- 80ml honey
- 45g chopped nuts (or dates)
- 2 tbsp flax seeds 2 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- Stir all ingredients together in a bowl until evenly mixed.
- Cover with cling-film and place in fridge for30 minutes.
- Roll small amounts of mixture in your hands to form around 10 bite size balls.
- Store in fridge for when children need a high protein energy boost. Will keep up to three days.