Sometimes, I feel a bit sorry for nanny.
Spat at in radio phone-ins and comment pieces on a daily basis, she’s the butt of outrage at red tape and excessive regulation and takes a regular – often well-deserved – kicking. But we shouldn’t forget that in the right doses, nanny’s sometimes just the help we need.
I got thinking about her earlier this year. We’d commissioned some national polling to feed into a debate about how the voluntary sector, government and business can do more to help parents help their children to eat more healthily.
The message from the 1000-plus families surveyed for us by ComRes was only too familiar for many of us who are parents: encouraging children to eat well can be really hard. Has it ever been more difficult? Almost three quarters of parents had bought things like chocolate, sweets, crisps and sugary drinks or cereals in the last month when they didn’t intend to, after being pestered by their child.
Two thirds agreed that they could do more to make their child’s diet healthier; the same proportion said they supported the idea of a 9pm watershed for TV advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt. Almost all wanted to see healthier children’s menus in restaurants and smaller portions of the adult menus on offer, too. 79 per cent said that there should be minimum nutritional requirements for the food offered by any organisation that may be looking after children.
We asked some similar questions to delegates at our Children’s Food Conference and got some striking answers: 90% said there is still too much advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt; 72% of delegates said that pack labelling for children’s food and children’s portions isn’t clear enough; 95% said that there should be stronger minimum requirements for children’s food for any organisation acting in loco parentis.
You might be surprised by these figures; I wasn’t. Listen to your average morning phone-in and it’s easy to assume that many of us would rather face the thumbscrews than admit that nanny might have the odd good point. By no means is she always right for the job, and she can’t – and shouldn’t – do it alone.
But when it comes to the health of our kids – and the critical prognosis for the NHS when it comes to supporting them as tomorrow’s overweight and obese adults – isn’t help from nanny food for thought, if parents themselves admit they’re struggling?
She’s got to work alongside clear information that we can all get our heads around, and genuine efforts to make food and drink products better for all of us.
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from our work with school food, it’s that nanny really can make a difference. School food still has a way to go, but having nutritional standards set down in legislation has made a tangible impact on the food that children having school meals eat during the day. With nanny’s help, schools that meet the standards are creating an environment that does lead to better choices for at least part of their lives, as they form their ideas about food and healthy eating. Yes, it’s only part of the picture; yes, children still eat the majority of their meals away from school; yes, it’s more difficult to do outside of that environment – but aren’t there things we can learn?
The challenge, of course, is knowing when and how to get nanny involved. What will help rather than hinder parents in feeding their children well? The overwhelming feeling from our conference was that we already know what works; to have an impact, we need to use it all in tandem. Caterers are in a unique position to get behind parents on this. From the looks of our results, they’ll thank you for it. And I suspect that nanny will thank you, too.