Monthly Archives: November 2012

Cheesed off?

Jo Nicholas

A new survey out this week highlighted that cheese can often contain more salt than you might think. Read a good summary of the response in the Guardian. Most kids love cheese, so what’s the best way to use it in a healthy diet for them?

Here are my top facts and tips:

For 1-5 year olds:

  • Cheese and other dairy foods are a good source of energy, protein, calcium and Vitamin A. A portion of cheese can be one of the three portions of milk and other dairy foods that children of this age should have every day
  • You’ll find pictures of healthy cheese portion sizes for under-fives on P23 of our guidelines for nurseries, children’s centres and childminders here. It’s easiest to see with the pictures but as a guide, a good portion size for hard cheese is about 15-20g grated (that’s about 1-2 tablespoons of grated cheese). For soft cheese, it’s about 20-25g
  • Don’t forget – cheese can be high in saturated fat, which is why you need to watch portion sizes carefully
  • For under-fives, it’s best not to give them unpasturised cheese, mould-ripened cheeses like brie or camembert and soft blue-veined cheeses like Danish blue or gorgonzola – they can cause food poisoning in very little ones
  • It’s recommended that 1-3 year olds don’t have more than 2g of salt a day. This rises to 3g for 4-6 year olds.

For school-aged children:


  • Cheese is still a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamin A, and school cooks meeting the national school food standards use it carefully to help children get enough of these nutrients
  • Children of this age start to need less of their energy from fat (it’s the same for us as adults). So it’s really important to keep an eye on portion sizes, use lower fat versions of dairy products where you can, and to look at how much salt they contain by reading the nutrition information on the food label
  • It’s recommended that children from 7-10 years old don’t have more than 5g of salt a day. This rises to 6g for 11 year olds and over. There are good tips on reading salt information on food labels here
  • Cheese sandwiches are often a bit of a staple in children’s lunchboxes. But variety’s the trick for making sure kids are getting a healthy diet with all of the nutrients they need – so you might want to try some of our packed lunch menu ideas or these ones from Change4Life.

Jo’s one of our senior nutritionists. Email Jo.


Behind the scenes of feeding little minds….

Have a read of this great blog from @schoolschef about the trials and tribulations of encouraging 4-6 year olds to eat well at school. An insight into why it’s a job with so much to think about….and constant tweaking!

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in our years of working with schools, it’s that the more parents take an interest in food at their child’s school, the better it tends to be. If you can take the opportunity to go in and try the menu at your child’s school, do so (and that applies not just while they’re really little, but as they move up through school too). If you’re concerned about what your child’s saying about food at school, find out more. Here you’ll find lots of tips on key questions you need to ask when you’re looking round a new school and when to be worried, and don’t forget our team is always here to help if you get stuck.

We work with groups of parents around the country who wanted to get more involved with improving lunchtimes for pupils at their schools. Watch a film of one of these groups here – get in touch if you think you’d like to try using parent power too!

Five a day for kids: Mission Impossible?

Laura Sharp

Five a day. On paper, it doesn’t sound too scary, does it? But for loads of parents who email, call and write to us every day, I know that even with the news of pledges from supermarkets, caterers and retailers this week under the Fruit and Veg Responsibility Deal, it can still feel a bit like Mission Impossible.

It feels like we hear it in the news every day, but it’s too important not to say it again: too many children simply aren’t eating enough fruit and veg. Results from a national dietary survey published in the summer showed that just 11% of boys and 8% of girls in the 11-18 year old group get their five-a-day.

Eating habits develop in children’s very early years, so we’ve got to start as early as possible. At the moment, our national research on how kids eat at school shows that while we’re making progress – there’s more fruit and veg on school menus (and on their plates) thanks to the combination of hard work by school cooks, clearer messages from schools to parents and tougher regulation, and as more schools use healthy policies on what kids can bring in lunchboxes – children still aren’t eating enough of it.

So we’ve got to keep being creative. With some children, getting them trying fruit and veg can be really tough (think the culinary equivalent of that MI 2 rock face climb that Tom Cruise did!). But we can’t afford not to stick with it.

So, your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to get your kids on a fruit and veg mission…

…to get shopping for fruit and veg with you. Get them to guess the name of the weird-looking veg; to choose which colour peppers to buy; to count how many green/red/yellow/orange/purple veggies they can spot.

…to get cooking fruit and veg with you. Give them the chance to choose what’s on the menu using the fruit and veg you’ve bought –watch out for our regular Let’s Get Cooking with recipes for making with children (you’ll spot them on Twitter using the hashtag #LetsGetCooking). Cooking really does work to get kids trying new things – we know, we’ve tried it!

…to get a good fruit and veg example from you. Keep your own likes and dislikes to yourself! Eat fruit and veg with them – particularly important in those early years. There’s loads of information on this in our guidelines for nurseries, children’s centres and childminders.

…to get creative with fruit and veg with you – check out our Pinterest boards for some weird and wonderful ideas on making fruit and veg fun, and try growing some at home – cress in a pot on the windowsill or tomatoes and runner beans in pots work well.

…to eat two portions of fruit and veg at lunchtime at school. Visit our Take Two campaign page and like it on Facebook for great tips and ideas.

Don’t give up. Kids often need many, many tries of a food before they will accept it. Think of yourself as the Ethan Hunt of making fruit and veg fun. This message will self-destruct in 5 seconds.

Well, actually it won’t – it would be great if you might share it on, but let’s not spoil the dramatic effect….

Laura’s one of our nutritionists. Email Laura.

Your letters on lunchtime

Bonfire night may have been and gone, but it seems that time for lunch is still causing fireworks for some parents who’ve contacted us recently.

We’ve been emailed by several mums and dads who are worried about their children not getting enough time to eat at school, or that lunchbreak has been moved to later in the day.

One mum was worried about seating arrangements for pupils who have packed lunches at her child’s school. She wrote that children have to keep moving along on their bench each time a pupil finishes and leaves the table – meaning that some of them were moving into the mess left by other pupils, and as a result weren’t eating much at all.

A dad contacted us to say that his 5 year old daughter’s school had banned packed lunches at “very short notice” and re-scheduled the day so that lunch is served at or after 1pm on three days a week, with pupils getting half an hour in which to eat.

This is Time for Lunch Month on our Food in Schools blog, so you can read all about why it’s so important for children to have enough time to eat during the school day, and how the issue of shorter lunchbreaks is far wider than just at these two schools.

If you’re worried your child’s school isn’t giving enough time for lunch, your first question is probably about whether schools have a legal obligation to give pupils a certain amount of time for a break at lunchtime.

That’s not the case – it’s something that individual schools decide for themselves, based on their own circumstances. We always advise that if schools are making changes to their timetable, they think very carefully about how this affects children’s chance to eat, take a break and be part of school activities at lunchtime, and to make sure they talk to pupils and parents about their views on any changes.

What you can do:

• Have a chat with school about whether there’s another way to create more time for lessons or an earlier finish instead of shortening lunchtime, or whether there are systems they could try in the kitchen or dining room that would make things more efficient, so that children get more time to eat. Try a parent governor or to a member of staff on the senior leadership team, as they are responsible for policies on lunchtime at your child’s school. If other parents feel the same way, it might be possible to work with school on alternative solutions. We can help with lots of information and ideas that school can try, so feel free to suggest they get in touch.

• If your child’s school has moved lunchtime ’til later in the day, see how they are using mid-morning break to offer children food. This is a great time for pupils to have a snack to keep them full ’til lunch – we’ve got lots of recipes and ideas that schools can use to offer nutritious snacks like fruit, teacakes and toast.

Look at how other parents have worked with their schools to make improvements to lunchtimes. If you and other parents at your child’s school want to work together to make changes, get in touch for a chat.

Claire’s one of our senior nutritionists. Email Claire