Food news and your child

Our child nutritionist brings you all the info you need when considering your child’s diet

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Food labels on packaging can be confusing

Sugar-free products – as sweet as they seem?

Sugar-free seems like a healthier option but actually, products containing artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, acesulphame K and saccharin may disrupt the body’s ability to ‘count calories’, and encourage a sweet tooth. Although they are officially deemed safe, they’re banned in food for children under 3. A far better option is fresh fruit.

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Naturally bright is best for kids

The acceptable levels of certain artificial food colourings have recently been lowered by the Food Standards Agency due to links with hyperactivity in children. But what can you do as a mum? The key things to remember are to check labels, and best of all, to hit the fruit and veg aisle for some naturally bright food.

Mealtime stresses?

Ever feel like a dinner lady as you prepare everyone’s meals? You’re not alone – 81 per cent of us cook two or more meals every night, according to a new survey. Merchant Gourmet’s poll of 4,000 Britons found fussy eaters were creating extra work for busy mums. Take charge and change your family eating habits by making sure you:

  • Eat together. Tots may be up for trying something new if you do.
  • Persevere. It can take up to 10 tries before a new food is accepted.
  • Focus. Turn off distractions like the TV and make mealtimes about more than just refuelling.

Rewrite dinnertime rules

Should your little one eat what she likes, or is it better for you to set the rules? This is the question researchers in Texas and Alabama investigated with the help of 700 parents of 3 to 5 year olds, and they came up with some interesting results. If parents were ‘indulgent’ or ‘uninvolved’ in feeding (letting children eat alone), children ate less fruit, vegetables and dairy food. Children also ate more high-calorie foods if their parents were less proactive. It’s not good to be too controlling, but have a look at how you conduct dinnertime, and whether you could make changes tonight.

Funky sandwiches

You’re probably used to saying, “Don’t play with your food,” but it could actually help a fussy eater with his lunch. It worked for dad Mark Northeast, whose attempts to get his 4-year-old son to eat a good lunch by making wacky sandwiches have proved a hit on the Internet. He found his son’s eating habits improved markedly when he started making sandwiches in unusual designs, including a crocodile, Charlie and Lola faces, and this piano! Go to www.funkylunch.com for inspiration, or come up with your own designs.

Feeding facts

Are you surprised that 81% of mums don’t know toddlers need carbs at every meal? How about that only 27% think their tot should have a low salt diet? It can be confusing knowing what the right foods are, but a campaign by the Infant & Toddler Forum aims to help. Download a dietary chart from www.littlepeoplesplates.co.uk, input the food your child’s eaten, and the chart reveals where you might need to make changes.

Going nuts

The government’s changed its guidance and said that babies can be given crushed peanuts or other nuts, from 6 months old. Whole nuts should still be avoided until age 5. If you have a family history of allergic conditions there is a higher risk of peanut allergy, so talk to your GP before giving your tot nuts for the first time.

Rice drinks off the menu

If you give your little one rice milk instead of cow’s, formula or your own breast milk, it could be time to find an alternative. Research from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has shown rice drinks, also known as rice milk, contain low levels of inorganic arsenic, which can cause cancer. Although the arsenic levels in rice milk are below the legal limit, babies and young children drink more milk compared to their body weight than we do.

If your child usually drinks rice drinks, it is unlikely he’ll have suffered any long-term health effects, but as a precaution, it’s best to find an alternative. If he is allergic to cow’s milk, talk to your health visitor about a suitable substitute.

Keep it seasonal

Do you know what veg is in season right now? A look around the supermarket isn’t always helpful as much of our fresh produce comes from abroad. But a new project is hoping to open our eyes – and our children’s – to what’s tastiest at this time of year. The National Trust’s ‘Food Glorious Food’ campaign (www.foodgloriousfood.org.uk) is giving away seasonal seeds as well as running events across the country into autumn.

Seasonal veg tends to be tastier as it’s freshly grown. Find your nearest farmer’s market or greengrocer for inspiration.

Not just any old iron

It’s hard making sure your toddler gets adequate amounts of all the right vitamins and minerals, especially iron. Many don’t consume enough, leading to an increased risk of anaemia. In the past, experts have suggested that meat and fortified breakfast cereals are the best sources of ironfor children. But research says a more varied diet is important, because of links between high meat intake and bowel cancer.

So dish up wholemeal bread, potatoes, peas, beans and leafy green vegetables to boost your little one’s iron intake.

Fast food = slower brain?

If your child is getting ready to make the transition from nursery to primary school, take fast food off the menu. Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee asked 5,500 primary school pupils’ mums to record how often they ate at fast food restaurants in a week, and compared results with academic test scores. They found that the more often pupils ate at fast food restaurants, the worse they performed. Try and get into good habits with your little one by having healthy family meals at home this term time.

Obesity’s not in our genes

When it comes to childhood obesity it seems we might have been blaming ‘fat genes’ unfairly. Research looking at obese children and their parents’ weight showed a gender link, but not a genetic one. Overweight mums were found to be more likely to have an overweight daughter. And overweight dads were more likely to have an overweight son. But there was no evidence that an overweight dad was more likely to have an overweight daughter – or an overweight mum a bigger son. So it seems behaviour has a big part to play, as children could be copying same-sex parent’s eating habits. If that strikes a nerve, have a look at your plate this evening!

Assault on salt

Did you know that 75% of the salt we eat is already in the foods we buy? And the biggest contributors to salt intake are family favourites like bread, breakfast cereals, ketchup and baked beans. To help everyone cut down on hidden salt, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has the ‘one month lower salt challenge’.

To take part, you just need to change one food per week for four weeks. So next time you’re shopping, look at how much salt your usual brands have and see if you can find a lower salt alternative.

Fooled by food labels?

If you feel confused when you read a food label, you’re not alone. According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), 90% of mums feel that the wording on many everyday products is deceiving.

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In a BHF survey of nearly 1,500 parents, most failed to see past advertising claims to spot high fat or sugar foods. 76% of mums questioned reckoned that ‘wholegrain’ meant a product would be healthy, even though some cereals marked wholegrain contain high levels of sugar. 84% of mums said they’d like products to have a single, front of pack labelling scheme.

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