It has become increasingly harder in recent years to know what to feed children given the huge array of products in the supermarket that are designed to appeal to them. There have also been conflicting reports in the media about whether drinks such as fruit juice are healthy or not and whether some processed products can be included in the 5 a day or not. Children need fruit and veg as much as adults do, for the fibre, vitamins and minerals that boost immunity and make a vital contribution to good health.
- One 150ml glass of 100% fruit juice
- 80g whole fruit, eg. banana, apple, pear, a few large strawberries, a handful of blueberries
- 30g dried fruit (a small box or large handful)
- 80g vegetables or salad veggies
- 3 tbsps legumes, eg baked beans, lentils, chickpeas
And don’t forget that all vegetables in soups, casseroles and sauces or fruit with cereal count towards the total. This means that even a small amount in each meal or snack all adds up to achieving the daily total.
Don’t be fooled however, by processed supermarket foods, such as ‘fruit bowls’ and ‘fruit loops’ that claim to be one of the 5 a day because they contain fruit juice. When you isolate the juice from the fruit, you’re taking away the fibre that slows the absorption of the sugars in the juice. More than anything, these snacks deliver a large dose of sugar, which is instantly absorbed, leading to a spike then a slump in energy levels and an increased likelihood of the calories being stored as fat.
Snacks, like all meals should contain some carbohydrates and some protein to slow the absorption of the sugars. This should also ensure that your child isn’t instantly hungry again. A good snack includes a piece of fruit with or without plain yoghurt, cheese and crackers (wholegrain if possible), raw veggies such as carrot sticks dipped in humous or cottage cheese, dried fruit and nuts – whatever your child likes to eat.
Breakfast cereals are another area where contentious health claims are made. The reality is that the vast majority of processed cereals contain a lot of sugar, so are absorbed quickly and are likely to leave your child feeling hungry again by mid morning. By far the best option for a good breakfast is porridge made from rolled oats (not instant as they are more processed). If you add milk, chopped banana or blueberries, a few nuts and some honey, it should taste good and keep the energy and attention levels high for the whole morning. Other decent options are high fibre cereals, such as Weetabix or Bran Flakes with chopped fresh and/or dried fruit to boost fruit intake and add a bit of sweetness.
Most parents are aware that calcium is important for developing bones and teeth. Calcium is found mainly in dairy products, but also in nuts and green leafy vegetables. Children require 2 or 3 serves of calcium rich foods per day to meet the recommended daily intake. This is easily accomplished with cereal and milk at breakfast, a cheese sandwich at lunch and a glass of milk at bedtime.
However, too much calcium can affect the absorption of iron, which is vital for energy and concentration. Regularly giving a child more than three servings of milk, yoghurt or cheese in a day can have a negative rather than a positive effect on their overall health. And beware children’s yoghurts that are marketed as healthy because they contain calcium! They often contain far too much sugar to truly fit into the ‘healthy’ category and may not be necessary if your child already has plenty of calcium-rich foods. Try buying large pots of unsweetened yoghurt and adding fruit or a bit of honey instead.
In writing this article, I realised just how much there is to say about children and healthy eating, so this subject is to be continued!