Monthly Archives: April 2015

Why is this election debate so quiet on children’s nutrition?

D03321560Less than two weeks to go. The manifestos have been scrutinised; the TV debates have been fascinating. The NHS is, of course, one of the key battleground issues that will help to shape how our next parliament looks. So why, then, is there one topic on which this election is worryingly quiet?

How our children learn to eat today decides the health of our nation in fifty years time. How kids eat now will directly affect the NHS’ finances in future. Around one in three children is overweight or obese as they leave primary school.

Frankly, you can’t talk about NHS policy and not talk about the fundamental problem that unless we give the kids of today better skills to feed themselves well in the future, the costs of treating conditions linked to malnutrition in all its forms will spiral not just out of control, but into the stratosphere.

Politicians of all stripes make much of treating the cause and not the symptoms. If the NHS budget is buckling under the strain of managing conditions linked to obesity; if use of food banks in this country is increasing, we need to treat the (very complex) causes and do much, much more to help people eat better.

And that all starts with children. Get them into the right habits now, and they’ll pay us back in the long-term – as healthier adults, fit to work for longer and to pass on their healthier lifestyle to their kids.

Where do the right habits come from? Getting the foundations right. Good food in childcare, good food in schools and good food for any child being looked after by the state. It’s about giving all of those places the support they need to get their infrastructure right – kitchens fit for purpose and dining spaces where children want to spend mealtimes. It’s skills, knowledge and confidence for everyone who feeds children, including parents. It’s lots of opportunities to learn to cook right through children’s education, and it’s about helping families to make better food choices: making it fundamentally easier to understand food labels and managing far more effectively the way in which less healthy foods are marketed to children, wherever that marketing takes place.

Very little of the noise in this election campaign so far has been about children’s nutrition, even though some of the key policy battlegrounds are intrinsically linked: the NHS, poverty, welfare. Yes, there are bits and pieces across the manifestos but no one party is really showing how policies to get children eating better need to join up – right across departments. That’s not because politicians don’t care about children being able to eat well; far from it. I think it’s because in this world of long-term talk and short-term action, improving children’s nutrition can feel so big. Investing in getting children eating well means setting the course right and sticking to it, for much more than the duration of any one parliament.

But isn’t that ok? Can’t we all agree – whatever our personal politics – that creating the conditions to help children grow up knowing how to eat well should be a cornerstone of a healthy, decent society? This is too serious, the problem is now too great, not to make sure those foundations are right.

What do I want from the next government? Whatever its makeup, I want to hear lots of noise from every government department about getting children eating well. And we’ll be there to make sure the volume’s up.

Linda Cregan is our Chief Executive Officer. Follow Linda on Twitter.


There’s more to cooking at Let’s Get Cooking

Did you spot them? Our Facebook page and Twitter feed have been fit to burst 2516423356with lovely photos from children learning to cook with us as part of the Tesco Eat Happy Project over the Easter holidays. And their big grins got me thinking about how wonderful it is that our cooking clubs seem to mean so much more to people than simply a way to pick up new skills.

Our club network is using cooking to bring people together, reflecting the very best of human nature. Our team heaves equipment around to cook anywhere, from village halls to factory staffrooms. They drive through floods and snowdrifts to make sure they don’t let clubs down. The volunteers we train shop for ingredients, wash tea towels and in some cases tell us they even drive children home from clubs – above and beyond their normal day’s work.

Whether it’s about building relationships with those they love most or getting up the confidence to do something they’ve previously shied away from, we hear so many moving tales of how a humble cooking club really can change lives.
Jill, who runs one of our clubs, told us some of her members wouldn’t even have held eye contact before starting to cook. Now, she says, “they’re presenting and demonstrating very confidently about the food they’re cooking.”
Lucas, who comes to one of our clubs with his dad, tells us: “We’re much closer since joining the club.”

This volunteer told us about a young lad with ADHD at their club. “Each child made their own sausage roll. At the end of the session, he was called up to collect his; he looked confused. He asked me what I was giving to him. I recalled with him how he had rolled out pastry, and painted the edges with milk. He had then added his sausage meat and rolled it up. He remembered all of this. I then went on to recall how we had put the sausage rolls on a tray, and then we had cut the top with a knife, and painted them with milk again. He said that he did remember doing this. I then said that we had put them into the oven and they had baked, and that this was what it looked like once it had been baked. He again stared at the sausage roll, his eyes wide. It then seemed to connect with him what I was saying and a huge grin came across his face. “Did I really make that?” he asked me, and when I said that he had, he asked, “Can I eat it?”. He went bounding up to his mum with the biggest smile and shouted “Mum! I made that!” holding out his sausage roll like it was a trophy. “And Mum, I can eat it!”

Call me a big softie but there’s something about $RMM3MUKchildren enjoying being part of a group, enjoying food together regardless of their ability or background that really warms my heart. And, if we inspire a budding young chef by equipping them with the skills and confidence they need to get hands-on in the kitchen along the way, that’s the icing on the cake.

Let’s Get Cooking with The Tesco Eat Happy Project is giving schools the chance to be part of our vibrant and established network of clubs teaching children essential cooking skills. Our clubs are inspiring and empowering a generation of children by giving them the skills and knowledge to make healthier food choices throughout their lives.

How sweet it is…

ClaireI’ve worked for the Children’s Food Trust for almost six years now, so it goes without saying that I have a huge interest in what children eat and why, both personally and professionally. But there’s nothing like becoming a parent yourself to see some of the issues we work on in a whole new light. And right now, as it’s Easter, it’s chocolate.

Like every parent, I want my daughter to grow up eating loads of different things. And that includes chocolate. It doesn’t take a child to tell you how lovely chocolate is; most of us would agree, it’s one of life’s great pleasures. I absolutely want her to enjoy a gorgeous bit of gooey chocolate cake now and again, and that wonderful taste of a few melty squares with a cup of tea on a chilly day.

But I also want to teach her that chocolate is (sigh) one of those foods you can’t eat all the time, however much you might want to. I find it as hard as the next person to resist a plate of chocolate biscuits; it’s just that when you work for a charity that champions great food for children and the power of eating well, you kind of have to practise what you preach; when you’re surrounded all day by research on the difference good food makes to your ability to concentrate and perform, you’d be a mug to ignore it.

And I can already see how hard this is going to be. We’re trying not to give our little one chocolate until we have no other choice; until she’s starting to exercise at least some control over what she eats and when (because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from our wonderful nutritionists, the best way to help children keep sugar and salt levels down in their diet is by not giving them a taste for sugar and salt in the first place, and I’m determined to do the best I can to stick with that). Easter-Eggs

But at the grand old age of 14 months, my daughter’s been given two chocolate eggs for Easter. I LOVE my family and friends for buying her Easter presents, but maybe some less chocolatey ways to celebrate could be fun too, particularly when she’s so little: colouring in some hard-boiled eggs, going to see the spring ducklings in the park, getting all Blue Peter to make some bunny ears or rabbit shapes to play with (thankfully, there are many, much better ideas than mine here, courtesy of Netmums). Because more than anything to eat (sometimes even more than chocolate), what kids love is a little slice of our time.

If you’re celebrating Easter with a little one (or a bigger one) this year and you want to mark the occasion without a shed-load of sugar, here are some truly fabulous ways to give kids a bit of your time with eggs:

Brilliant boiled ones
Perfect poached ones
Super scrambled ones
Omelette popovers