Monthly Archives: February 2013

Hungry children mustn’t ever become ‘old news’


What makes news isn’t always ‘new’, is it? Take our survey of professionals working with kids, out today in the Daily Mirror.

What we found was deeply saddening: professionals reporting to be giving children money for food because they fear they’re going hungry at home. School staff reporting that the quality of food they see in lunchboxes has got worse in the last two years. Well over a third of our respondents saying they work with children who aren’t getting enough to eat every single day.

But this isn’t a ‘new’ story. Our survey’s by no means the first to collect these sorts of views and data in recent months, and it certainly won’t be the last. Headline after headline has told of children turning up at school hungry, experts have talked about the threat of malnutrition for children’s health, education and development; and some fantastic campaigns and initiatives have done a sterling job in flagging the issues, making the arguments and pressing for action.

What’s most terrifying is that this can become background noise. If we read about the growing prevalence of hungry children and hungry families here in the UK often enough, does it somehow become accepted as too big to tackle; a fact that we can’t change?

We wanted to run our survey as a reminder of the context for the debates we’ll be having at our Children’s Food Conference. What will I be saying? If we really want to get serious about reducing the number of children who spend their lives hungry, we need to invest in the things that help those who work with them. Local authorities should be using their new public health responsibilities as a lever, devoting some of their funding for public health to improving children’s nutrition. There are all sorts of ways they can do this, and the approach that’s best in each area may well look quite different. But that explicit commitment would be a step in the right direction.

Linda’s our Director of Delivery and Chief Executive-designate. 


This blog is brought to you in association with the letter D

Laura Sharp

It was the scourge of children in the 19th century, and doctors thought it had been almost eradicated.

But it seems cases of rickets are back on the rise. Frightening stuff, when you think that we know more about its causes and how to prevent it than ever before.

Why is this happening? It’s partly down to deficiency in Vitamin D. This nifty little nutrient works with calcium to help keep bones strong and healthy. We get most of it through sunlight on our skin, but it’s also found in food.

Sadly, the rise of our indoors culture means kids don’t play out as much as they used to, so they’re not getting as much sunlight (something that many of us grown-ups are guilty of too). And all too often we’re not eating the right things to get enough Vitamin D from our diet. Because of the evidence that this is becoming more of a problem, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (or SACN for short) is currently looking at the risks of this for the nation’s health. Their committee’s scheduled to publish draft recommendations in April.

In the meantime, oily fish like salmon and sardines, eggs, fortified fat spreads and breakfast cereals and powdered milk are just a few of the foods that contain Vitamin D. But here are my top tips for getting kids enjoying foods that can make every day a D-day:

  • Hook, line and sinker: If you’re making a fish pie, don’t just go for white fish. Add some salmon or another oily variety – much easier to get into a dish like this without them noticing. You’ll be boosting the amount of calcium in the meal at the same time, so it’s a win-win. Try our fish pie recipes for older children here and for little ones here
  • Eggs-periment with omelettes. They’re really cheap to make – try peppers, mushrooms and tuna in there
  • Crack it: add eggs to your salads, sandwiches or have them as part of a hearty breakfast. Glaze the top of your mashed potato with egg if you’re making shepherds pie, cottage pie or fish pie to make a golden, crunchy topping
  • Read the label: see if your breakfast cereal’s fortified with vitamin D and other nutrients like iron. But be careful – many breakfast cereals are also loaded with the sweet stuff, so go for varieties that are lower in sugar.

Some of us are at a higher risk of not getting enough Vitamin D, and if you’re in one of these groups it’s recommended you take a supplement too. Don’t forget, if you qualify for and are taking part in the Healthy Start scheme, you can get these for free.

Laura’s one of our nutritionists. Email Laura.

Love is in the air!

14 ways to make your kids fall in love with their greens (and reds, yellows, purples…)

kate photos 072

It’s true, kids don’t always love their fruit and veg – and ok, I admit, even my own three still have their moments. If we’re honest, a lot of us had our ‘moments’ too, as youngsters. Can I get a little technical on you? It’s all to do with those developing taste buds. Children’s tongues are naturally more receptive to sweet than to savoury. So if a child says “this broccoli tastes ick!”, chances are it does – to them. So believe them. But equally, keep calm and carry on.

So now you’re asking me how to stay zen when it’s the third night in a row that little Johnny has refused his veg? And now his sister is following suit? It’s chaos in the kitchen and all you really wanted was an early night and to catch the latest episode of The Killing. So what’s your strategy? Bribe with dessert  (not judging – I’ve been there)? But I can tell you that bribery and threats are a classic example of short-term gain for a lifetime of bargaining strategies. And you don’t want that (let’s face it, we’re all in this for the long haul). Why shouldn’t you bribe with dessert? Well that’s possibly a good place to start. Think of these tips as my love letter to you, and your family.

Neither reward, nor punish with food

I base this on an interesting theory called the ‘over-justification hypothesis’. The premise here is that kids enjoy something less if they realise they’re being rewarded for eating it. One to remember next time you’re tempted to bribe with ice cream..?

Become a marketing guru

While we generally eat with our taste buds, smell and emotion, kids usually eat with their ears, eyes and head. If they don’t like the look or sound of something, they probably won’t eat it. Making sandwiches? Never underestimate the power of a cookie cutter…

Don’t be a plate-up parent

Adopt my buffet-style approach to dinners – by offering a selection of dishes and ingredients and letting your family put together their own main course. Represent all food groups and the rule is that everyone needs to take from at least two dishes. Remember: kids always eat better when they’re invested in their own creation.

Don’t fall into the ‘every last scrap’ trap

By forcing kids to eat ‘every last scrap’ you’re encouraging them to over-eat as well as ignore those vital ‘I’m full’ signals from their brain – not cool! Remember: the idea is that you want your kids to enjoy, not endure their fruit and veg.

Invite foodie friends

You’d be amazed at what your child will eat when they see their best friend tucking into the same with gusto. Peer pressure at its most effective.

Grow your own…

I know that gardening with kids is yet another time constraint. My advice – especially for beginners – is to find that elderly someone in your life who’s ‘a good gardener’ and ask them for help to get you all started – they’ll love it. Plus: grow stuff you know you’ll actually want to eat – and always include strawberries on that list. Come summer you’ll become an instant hero.

…or at least pick your own!

All the taste, none of the hassle – what’s not to love?!

Encourage silly suppers

When your kids are older, create a sense of empowerment by allowing them to decide what you’ll have for dinner once a month. Chocolate and crisps all round? Use it as a (non-judgemental) opportunity to discuss how certain foods make us feel if we indulge in too much of them. Because I give my kids such a free rein on what they eat, they now come to me and say “mummy I think I need some healthy food today…” They’re listening to their bodies. Job done.

Watch the snack attacks

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of our new-found snacking culture. Kids these days seem to be grazing all the time. This also points to our on-going desire to micro-manage our kids’ diets. We hate the thought of them ‘going hungry’ – but kids need to feel hungry (a) so they eat their dinner and (b) so they understand the ebbs and flows of their body’s appetites. I’d be careful that the snacks you give are not too filling or offered too close to mealtimes.

Employ the distraction technique

Shockingly, I’m a great fan of offering (healthy) snacks in front of a kids’ favourite TV show (it’s the ‘hand-to-mouth’ action). How about going retro with cheese and pineapple (cubes) on sticks? Use cut straws as a safer alternative to cocktail sticks – and try apple and cheese too (for a budget-savvy option).

Don’t become the party bag equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition

In other words, don’t create issues around food (or succumb to ‘performance parenting’ and offer books and a balloon instead). Your kids don’t need an alpha mummy on their 8th birthday – they just want the toot (didn’t you once too?) Embrace it.

Change the scenery

Shake up the routine a bit and have a tea party in the playhouse; a breakfast picnic in the garden…

Discover your child’s personality

Interestingly, some research suggests that kids who are particularly sensitive to new surroundings, textures, or even loud noise can be particularly reticent to try new foods. Consider the role your child’s personality has to play when it comes to experimenting with food.

And I’m going to end on my biggest tip of all (and you thought I’d stopped at 13…?)

If you want your kids to really enjoy their 5-a-day, let them see YOU doing the same. I recently read about a study in America to do with getting kids to read more. It found that the children who most enjoyed reading weren’t from the families where parents read to their kids – but from the families with parents who openly enjoyed reading. In other words, do as I do, not as I say. Good eating habits have to be learnt and therefore taught. In other words, if you’re in love with healthy eating, chances are your kids will be too.

Of course the other big factor is cooking with your kids and getting them involved in the kitchen – but that’s another blog for another day!

In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day. I wish you and your kids a life-long love affair with your fruit and veg!

Fiona Faulkner is a mum, broadcaster and author of the book ‘25 Foods your kids hate…and how to get them eating 24‘. She’s working with us on our Take Two campaign to get every child eating at least two portions of fruit and veg during lunchtime at school.