Children's Diets
Children's Diets Under the Spotlight

Dietitian, Juliette Kellow looks at recent controversy over children's diets and school meals.

Children's Diets

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

This month, the papers have been packed with news about school dinners and children’s diets. In the hit Channel 4 show, Jamie’s School Dinners, TV chef Jamie Oliver showed the nation exactly what many British children were being fed for lunch at school – and it wasn’t good news!

Most were filling up on junk food like chips, pizzas, nuggets and burgers, and were horrified at the thought of eating fresh food and vegetables. But worse still, catering staff simply didn’t have enough money or resources to provide better quality lunches.

Now, after weeks of campaigning to end school junk food, Jamie is delighted the government has finally agreed to spend a minimum of 50p a day on ingredients for each child in primary school education – and 60p for those in secondary schools – instead of the average of 37p. In addition, more money will be available for training cooks and a School Food Trust will be set up to advise on how to make meals healthier and tastier. Meanwhile, the labour party has pledged to ban junk food adverts during children’s TV if food companies don’t take the plunge themselves.

Many experts agree the move to improve children’s diets couldn’t come soon enough. In February, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation made one of starkest predictions yet, warning that many obese teenagers could face heart attacks in their 40s. And only last month, official government figures showed that hospital admissions for obese children were up almost a third from last year, indicating that overweight youngsters are placing an increasing strain on the health service.

But it’s not just children’s health that’s affected by diet. As Jamie’s School Dinners showed, if children eat healthily, their behaviour and performance at school is also likely to improve. In March this year, government research showed exactly this. They found that primary schools who belonged to the government’s national healthy schools programme – where children are encouraged to have a healthier lifestyle – outperformed those that didn’t belong to the programme in national tests for English, maths and science.

Weight Loss Resources says…

Currently, 8.5 percent of six year olds and 15 percent of 15 year olds are obese and are setting themselves up for a range of health problems when they’re older, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, high blood pressure and joint and back problems to name just a few. It’s good news then, that as a nation, we’re finally beginning to recognise the importance of feeding our children a healthier diet. The challenge is now to ensure that parents, schools, food manufacturers, government and the health service work together to achieve the best results possible.

Juliette's Tips

One of the most important things we can do as parents is to provide our children with healthy meals and snacks. But it’s also important to talk to children about food and encourage them to cook or help out in the kitchen. Young children in particular, love cooking and are far more likely to eat something they’ve made themselves, so get them involved in making simple recipes like fruit smoothies, or filled pitta breads. Children also learn by example – you can’t expect a child to eat loads of fruit and veg if you never touch the stuff yourself – so make it your mission to ensure the whole family has a healthy diet. It’s not just your children who will benefit – your waistline will love you for it too!

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