Monthly Archives: January 2013

Have you got a calcium kid?

Laura Sharp

And I don’t mean the film! Far too many children aren’t getting enough calcium. In fact, one in eight 11-18 year-olds aren’t getting the recommended amount, and it’s a big problem.

We need calcium for strong bones and teeth, especially during childhood and adolescence when our bones are growing fast. This is our once-in-a-lifetime chance to build strong bones. They reach their strongest in our mid- to late twenties, then start to lose calcium and get weaker. So children who don’t have enough calcium are at risk of developing rickets in childhood, and osteoporosis or brittle bones in later life. We also need calcium for healthy muscles and nerves, and to keep our blood clotting well.

The great thing is that you’ll find calcium in all sorts of foods. Ask where it comes from and most people will think of milk, cheese or other dairy products. They’re right: these are some of the best sources of calcium, but they can be high in saturated fat. There are lots of other foods which will help you get it into your child’s diet too: broccoli, rhubarb, chickpeas, sage and pilchards are some of the many others with good calcium credentials.

So here are my top tips:

  • Choose low-fat varieties of dairy foods. Try adding low-fat plain yoghurt to curries – this helps to make them less spicy as well as increasing the calcium content
  • Swap for soya – get some of these little beans into your child’s diet. Try swapping some kidney beans in chilli for soya beans, and you’ll boost the calcium content
  • Try adding semi-skimmed milk or plain low fat yoghurt to a smoothie…just make sure there’s still plenty of fruit in there too
  • Use canned fish with small bones, like pilchards and sardines – the bones are edible and high in calcium. Try pilchards in pasta (there’s a great recipe for herby pilchard pasta here) or sardines in fishcakes
  • Add different varieties of dried fruit to porridge and other breakfast cereals.

There’s lots more about dairy foods and calcium for under-fives on page 22 of our guide for childcare providers.

And have a look at these recipes which are all designed to give kids a calcium boost  – they’re written for school cooks, but you can reduce the quantities if you’re trying them at home.

Laura’s one of our research nutritionists. Email Laura.


Don’t go cold turkey…

Laura Sharp

Christmas dinner’s only just out of the way, but don’t swear off the turkey for too long.

It’s a great way to help make sure your children are getting enough folate. This nutrient is one of a group of B vitamins and occurs naturally in foods, though it’s also manufactured to be used in supplements. The manufactured form is called folic acid.

We need it for healthy red blood cells, to help nerves function properly and to allow cells to reproduce. Without enough, you may feel tired and lacking in energy.

We can’t store folate in our bodies, which is why it’s so important for children to eat enough folate-rich foods every week. One in every 20 children isn’t getting enough folate, but a balanced diet full of lots of wholefoods, fruit and veg is all they need to cover it. Here are some tips on good ways to get kids full of folate:

  • Stir-fry it. Cooking vegetables quickly stops all the folate being lost and there are many folate-rich foods that work really well in stir-fries. Try broccoli, spring onions and bean sprouts and add some sesame seeds or peanuts
  • Pass on the peeler. Jacket potatoes and potato wedges in their skins are a great high folate alternative to chips. Top them with things like bean chilli or turkey stew for extra folate points
  • Get growing! Kids love eating things they’ve nurtured themselves – parsley and mint are great sources of folate and easy to grow at home. Use them to add flavour and colour to soups or casseroles
  • Try turkey. Coat drumsticks in a tasty herb or spicy marinade and bake or grill them – a healthy alternative to processed turkey products
  • Bang in some beetroot. Add it to soup, salads or even chocolate cake to boost their folate content (you’ll find a great recipe for a beetroot chocolate cake on P18 of this booklet. This is a recipe for school kitchens, so you’ll need to reduce the quantities if you’re making this at home).

Get inspiration for more fabulous folate dishes from our school cook book here.

Laura’s one of our nutritionists. Email Laura.