Monthly Archives: May 2015

Want to cut salt in children’s diets? Don’t give them a taste for it in the first place.

saltNew research suggests the UK’s efforts to cut the amount of salt we eat have taken a backward slide in recent years. Here our Head of Nutrition, Dr Tricia Mucavele, blogs about why we’ve got to stop children getting a taste for salt before it even gets started.

It’s simple; liking salt and salty foods is a learned taste – shaped by the food children are exposed to. The less salt children eat, the less they want. So, how can we limit children’s intake of salt? One way is to provide guidelines or standards for educational settings, as they can have a powerful influence on children’s eating habits.

Until three years ago there was no nationally recognised guidance on how to provide healthy, balanced and nutritious food in early years settings in England. We Tricia Mucavele (1)worked with partners including nurseries, childminders and children’s centres to develop guidelines which are now recommended as best practice. This guidance and the practical tools including seasonal menus and recipes, have now been downloaded more than 20,000 times, we’ve trained more than 1,500 early years practitioners across 38 local authorities (a quarter of the country) and childcare teams as part of our Eat Better, Start Better programme. And we’re thrilled that early evaluation has shown changes in practices which will help limit the amount of salt provided by early years settings.

The challenge now is how to spread this work even further: the guidelines are voluntary and providing early years providers with training relies on funding from local authorities and community organisations, who are themselves under funding pressures too.

For older children, we have mandatory school food standards in England. They specifically limit the amount of salt provided in school food by restricting foods high in salt such as condiments, meat products, battered and breadcrumb coated products, and not permitting salty snacks, or salt to be provided on the table.

Another part of the school food circle – the procurement of food – also plays a part in cutting salt for children. The new school food standards include the recommendation that schools use the Government Buying Standards nutrition criteria to choose their products and suppliers, to make sure they’re purchasing the healthiest (lowest in salt, fat, saturated fat, and sugar ) food and ingredients for children’s nutrition. The vast majority of these standards focus on reducing salt in ingredients and products. If we can encourage more schools and their caterers to use Government Buying Standards alongside the school food standards, we’ll bring down salt levels in school food even further.

I think with parent power behind us on cutting salt wherever children eat; we can really start to make a difference. Of course this includes salt in food when children eat out – a real challenge for parents.

What I think I’ve learned from my work for the Trust helping different businesses improve the food they provide for children is that there is a real will to deliver what customers want on this. And the more restaurants and retailers understand of parents’ concern for what their children’s options are on the menu, and of their demand for healthier options, the more change we’ll see. And it is possible. We’ve already worked with restaurants who’ve made great changes to get more fruit and veg into their children’s menu and to reduce the amount of fat and sugar. Just as schools are using all kinds of fabulous tricks and techniques to create lower-salt versions of favourite dishes, so can restaurants still have delicious food which feels like a treat but doesn’t mean children consume an entire day’s worth of salt in one sitting.

And finally, before I get off my salt box. Here are our three tips to reduce salt:

  • Taste before you shake!  Even better, why not urge the restaurants you go to to follow the guidelines for early years and the national standards for school food and simply remove salt from the table?
  • Go for green! choose products with a green colour code for salt.
  • Cook from scratch! Let’s Get Britain Cooking again – using fresh rather than pre-prepared foods.

Why their glasses need to be more than half-full during revision season….

??????????????A frightening number of us are pretty rubbish at drinking enough water. And if there’s one time when you really need to get hydration right, it’s when you’re trying to reinforce everything you’ve learned about Hamlet or Anita and Me over the last two years at the same time as memorising your notes on global food supply and the geopolitics of food.

If your teen’s complaining of feeling tired and lethargic during a revision session, it could be a sign Clairethat they’re simply not drinking enough. Our bodies need this to work properly, so one thing you can do to help them be more effective at revising is make sure their glass is topped up… with the right fluids.

Back in 2009, we asked 500 13-17 year olds what they drink when revising.  One third chose fizzy drinks and more than a quarter said they went for caffeine-laden energy drinks. And according to a survey of more than 1,000 children who sat key stage two tests last year, 30 children had high-sugar drinks for breakfast on the morning of their exams.

Research suggests that up to half of teenagers drink energy drinks. Scientists are warning of a number of potential risks of drinking them but there’s no doubt that their marketing is powerful: many young people think they’re a great way to help them cram for long periods. In fact, they can have high amounts of caffeine and are full of sugar and empty calories – the last thing they need for a monster study session. That’s why energy drinks are labelled as unsuitable for children and in some countries, for example Sweden, where sales to children under 15 are banned.

We don’t think energy drinks should be sold to children. National school food standards state that only healthier drinks should be provided in schools, and that free, fresh water should be available for children right through the day. Children need to be able to get to this easily – schools have water fountains or coolers and cups in the dining room or around the school, or water jugs on tables in the dining room. At home, stick a jug of water next to them or get them their own water bottle so they can sip throughout the day.

Keep at it, encourage them to drink water regularly, and eat foods that provide energy, vitamins and minerals to fuel their revision sessions, the end is in sight.

Claire’s our senior nutritionist. Email Claire.

Home cooked meals provide welcome breaks, motivation and fuel for revision


It’s a funny old time, the revision season. Feeling somewhat helpless becomes a standard state, particularly if you’ve got kids in Year 11 or in sixth form.  Here Lisette, from our Let’s Get Cooking team, explains that in her experience the one thing we can do is feed ‘em well. 

I know we say it all the time, but it’s worth repeating: research proves that when kids eat better, they do better. They’re more focused on learning after a good meal, while some smaller studies we’ve done found pupils got better results in schools offering healthy breakfasts compared to those that weren’t.

You don’t need science to tell you that you’re in better shape to revise when you’re keeping your energy levels up with good food; that much is common sense. We all know how grotty we feel if we don’t get lunch til late afternoon because a meeting’s run over.

But health benefits aside, there’s also something about how a good meal can give kids such a great break from the books. Sitting down with you to talk about something completely different over a tasty dish can be the tonic they need for a final push.

So if ever there was a time to be thinking about what’s in Lisette compdyour cupboards and putting a bit of extra thought into meals that will make your kids feel good, it’s now. Italian Chicken Pasta Salad is one of my family favourites – it can be made in advance and stored in the fridge until needed.  Any leftovers can be used for refuelling stops or lunch the following day. Oaty Salmon Fishcakes can also be made ahead of time, chilled and then cooked when required.

Here are my tips:

It’s important to try and have a routine as this can avoid a sense of panic and that everything revolves around exams and revision.  Building proper mealtimes into this routine helps as they can act as markers for breaks.  This said, it’s also useful if there’s some flexibility around mealtimes – after all, you don’t want to interrupt someone when they are on a roll!

Stopping for a snack can be a tempting distraction from the task in hand, especially when the going gets tough and in my experience they will grab whatever is to hand.  Keep a supply of chopped veg (maybe with a Cheese and Chive Dip) and prepared fruit for grab ‘n’ go snacking.

Lastly, don’t forget to keep yourself well fueled too – as a parent it’s easy to overlook your own well-being when you’re worrying about your offspring!

So, don’t under estimate the power of good food over the next month or so. Those home cooked meals provide welcome breaks, motivation and fuel – and can help you feel anything but helpless.