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How to help children eat healthily?

(138 Posts)
OldieMum Mon 25-Aug-03 10:50:17

I've been feeding dd (7 months) on home-made baby food, organic jars and juices, but am only too aware of how soon she'll be bombarded with advertising for junk food and additive-laden snacks. How do parents with older children deal with the effects on their children of advertising, or of seeing other children eating junky snacks? Also, what kinds of policy changes do people think could made to help children eat healthily (eg in Sweden advertising aimed at the under 12s is banned)? What would you like to see the government do about children's diets?

LIZS Mon 25-Aug-03 11:12:44

I'd love to see more restrictions on advertising aimed at kids but at the same time can perceive how much Britain has already become a "nanny state", undermining some parents sense of their own responsibility. I too have tried to avoid heavily processed and junk foods whilst the kids are young and in my direct care, however you have be prepared to compromise once they are out and about in the big wide world.

For example DS, whose eating habits are not perfect and who loves the occasional Macdonalds, at five now refuses sweet lollies, saying he doesn't like them. He has had them occasionally (usually in party bags) and his behaviour deteriorates in the extreme. I've not insisted that he doesn't have them, he chose to, whether out of dislike for the sweet itself or its effects I do not know. He doesn't like most fizzy drinks either, preferring water or juice (interestingly the only time he had Heinz baby juice at a party he promptly threw up).

You can continue to reinforce the good habits at home, but still give them the choice occasionally. I think it is far better that the decision is an educated one and comes from the child themselves, then they will hopefully learn to resist the worst of peer pressure and advertising.

doormat Mon 25-Aug-03 11:12:56

Oldiemum IMO I dont think it is down to the Government to sort out our children diets it is down to the parents. The only exception is the Govt should BAN all the crap in our food.

Us parents have the responsibility of giving our children a well balanced and healthy diet.As for junky foods the answer is a firm NO but I do buy a huge multi bag of crips every week but that is basically it.
When I do a meat and veg dinner, I do 5 kinds of fresh veg, all the kids have to eat at least 3 types.I dont force them but they have grown up with this so it is normal for them to eat veg.
This is what I cant understand when people say their kids wont eat fruit and veg why????If they are brought up on it very early on why is it not normal to them. I just dont understand. Sure they may grow to dislike some veg but not all of it surely.

zebra Mon 25-Aug-03 11:24:12

There is a limit to what governments can do, unless you're going to ban crisps, sweets, cakes & squash/sodas completely. I mean, it would be NICE if the sugar content of all sold foods was limited to 15%, squash, aspartame-containing foods, sodas and hydrogenated fats were banned, but ain't gonna happen.

Get the TV out of your house if you want to limit the influence of advertising, is my No. 1 tip.

Besides, if you make these foods too forbidden the kids will just go to great lengths to get them, anyway. The only thing I completely ban my kids from having is chewing gum (Blech!).

Don't buy them, don't offer to them, don't have in the house, junk food. Emphasise if they get a cake or sweet that it's a treat, something special, not an everyday thing, not a staple in their diet. I tell my kids they need "balance" and lots of biscuits is not "balance".

Sadly, I think most people have pretty bad diets and don't really mind their kids having likewise. Few parents actually get 5 portions of fruit+veg in themselves each day, never mind into the kids. I seem to be the only mom who dislikes the kids having squash at Mom+Tots groups & Nursery. DH has a cousin who is a parenting perfectionist in many respects, but the only cereal in her cupboard less than 35% sugar was ReadyBrek. When I complained on Mumsnet that Party Bags shouldn't be chock full of chocolate & sweets I got pooh-poohed by the other Mumsnetters. Yesterday I saw a 5yo drinking her own, 2/3 litre size bottle of Dr. Pepper. 2yos eating crisps for breakfast in every pushchair in town, 7 month old's contentedly working thru chocolate bars ("My Health Visitor said it's ok!" is the reply when I ask).

A friend had toddlers grow cress for a special event. She warned us about an E.Coli risk if our kids actually ate them, "But it doesn't matter because they are *never* going to eat them, anyway", she laughed. Well, *my* 3yo gobbled them down.

-Z (Food Nazi Extraordinaire?)

WideWebWitch Mon 25-Aug-03 11:53:52

I'm with Zebra to an extent. I can be a bit of a food nazi in that I don't buy junk food so there is very rarely any in our house. Therefore we have to eat healthily or not at all. We always have a full fruit bowl and ds easily gets 5+ portions of fruit/veg/pulses a day, as do we most days. He is veggie and we very nearly are, not for moral reasons but because the more I find out about meat production the more it horrifies me. As a result I think we eat more veg and pulses.

I do think advertising aimed at children should be banned, absolutely. I've banged on and on about this elsewhere on mumsnet so I won't go on further but I am very anti it. The bottom line is that there's more money to be made out of selling sugar + water + e numbers (and calling it a fruit drink) than there is to be made from fresh unprocessed food and therefore the former is what many manufacturers would like us to buy. OK I'll shut up about that now.

We do sometimes have crisps/chocolate/sweets because I don't want ds to think any food is 'bad' per se, just that it should be eaten in moderation and alongside a balanced diet. He knows that he wouldn't be fit and strong and healthy if he ate chocolate etc all the time, but that it's OK to eat it some of the time. I don't want him to turn into me when I left home: I ate junk for 10 + years because I was never allowed it when I lived at home. So once I could eat what I wanted I existed on Pot Noodles for ages and managed not to eat a vegetable or any fruit for about 5 years. I suppose I'm trying to find some balance between my mum's way (no sweet things at all) and my own (sweet things in moderation alongside a good diet).

My tips are:
* Don't have junk in the house then your dd won't ask for it. If it's not there, she can't have it
* Explain about advertising. I don't want ds to be a complete cynic but I do want him to know that adverts don't always tell the truth and that they exist to persuade him to buy something. I haven't shoved this down his throat, I've just explained that Ronald McDonald wants us to buy burgers.
* I do think if children are fed a generally healthy diet they get used to it and want and like healthy food.

What I'd like the government to do about it:

* I'd like to see more stringent labelling regulations. If an ingredient is under 1% it doesn't have to be on the label - not good enough. I need to know ALL the ingredients in order to make a decision, although I appreciate that 1% isn't a large amount.
* I'd like to see factory farming banned and our reliance on cheap meat (and therefore cheap and dangerous production methods - battery hens, routine use of antibiotics etc) hugely reduced
* I'd like supermarkets to respect their suppliers and stop squeezing their margins. I'd like the provenance of all meat to be clearly marked.
* I want commercial organisations such as Coca Cola and Nestle to stay out of children's classrooms. I do not want my son given free snacks at school as part of a branding/marketing/research exercise
* I want a halt to all GM crop testing. consumers have shown fairly clearly that they don't want GM produce in this country and yet the govt doesn't want to listen. I worry about the dangers of cross contamination.

Oh, there's probably loads more on the subject in my head but I haven't any more time now! Ds is nearly 6 btw.

WideWebWitch Mon 25-Aug-03 11:54:42

Zebra, I successfully complained about squash at our pre-school and it was removed. They now get a choice of water or milk.

kmg1 Mon 25-Aug-03 12:44:36

OldieMum - I'm with Zebra and WWW - it is up to you: what you do with your child, especially in the next 4yrs, will determine how she eats for life. At home my boys (4 and 6) don't snack between meals at all, we never have biscuits in the house, they only have crisps at parties, they do have a small bag of sweets once a week. If they eat their main meal, they do have lots of "puddings", but these are mostly things like fruit, yoghurts, dried fruit, home-made muffins, rice pudding, etc.

I do think schools/nurseries can do a lot too - my boys used to have a biscuit every day at playgroup and/or nursery, but since we moved the new area toddlers, nursery, and school all have healthy eating policies, and there are no biscuits. The kids get free fruit at breaktime, and are not allowed to bring in anything else. They also have strict rules as to what is and is not allowed in packed lunches. My children eat even more fruit&veg than they used to as a result of these policies ..

If we hadn't moved, then I would have expected some pressure from ds1 as the children in the sch. he would have gone to, nearly all seemed to have a chocolate bar or bag of crisps at snack time. But you don't have to conform to that, and certainly up to a certain age children will accept this.

I'm also a TV-nazi, so they've never watched ITV, and never seen children's adverts - but that's another discussion!

katierocket Mon 25-Aug-03 12:48:16

agree with all comments esp. not having stuff in the house so that they don't ask for it. BUT I also believe that if you completely ban sweets, choc etc you can send them the other way so that once they reach the age where they can get their hands on it themselves they gorge! ie the banning of it makes it seem more exciting.

singingmum Mon 25-Aug-03 13:04:12

My two had veg given them mashed from 3 months old.They loved carrots,broccoli,etc.
Now son will eat carrot cooked or raw and cucumber also bananas and apples but anything else is left or bribed to eat.Daughter hates veg will however eat some fruit.Have no idea why they went off veg etc. but they did.
They are allowed sweets and cakes but once their weeks supply(bought by over zealous nan)are gone thats it unless xmas or b'day.I don't give in to demands but somehow still picky eaters son won't even eat rice or noodles whereas daughter loves will be kids and it doesn't matter what you do sometimes.I was extremly fussy eater when younger and know love all diff foods.
We are all fussy eaters as kids I think we just forget that we were.

doormat Mon 25-Aug-03 13:37:29

singingmum then your children must have a general dislike of some veg.I mean my one of my kids despises cauliflower and broccolli while another dislikes cabbage etc.But at least you have tried to give them a choice. Some mothers just dont.I know where Zebra is coming from as I have seen kids in the prams with a bag of space raiders in their hands.

Zebra and www I never give my kids pop or juice. I dislike the thought of them having it. It is either water or milk/milkshakes in our home.

As for a tv nazi all we have is cbeebies or nicklebloodyodeon on most of the day. Aaarggh.

doormat Mon 25-Aug-03 13:44:11

WWW I would be interested in any links you can do on meat production techniques.We havent touched processed meat for about 17 yrs. The thought knocks me sick.I only buy cuts of meat. Is there anything sinister in that side?

OldieMum Mon 25-Aug-03 13:48:03

Thanks for these comments. I agree about the importance of parental responsibility in teaching children to make healthy choices, but the government has responsibilities, too. That's particularly true in Britain, where the retailing sector is so heavily dominated by a few firms. Issues of proper labelling (so people can make informed choices) and regulation of advertising seem crucial here. But there are wider issues, too. We work the longest hours in Europe. I imagine that is linked to the demise of the family meal (where it's easier for parents to control choices) and the growth of ready-made food, which tends to be full of additives and high in salt.

Governments also have responsibilities to children while they are in school. I understand that in some schools the water fountains have been taken out and soft drinks machines installed. I also know that, in the US, junk food purveyors (eg Pizza Hut) have negotiated deals with school districts that allow them to sell to children on the school premises. Has this sort of thing happened here?

zebra Mon 25-Aug-03 13:54:55

I was a fussy eater too, and I'm sympathetic to idiosyncratic eating preferences. When DS was about 18 months old he only ate one fruit: bananas, and carrots were about the only reliable veg. We just persisted; for instance, the only snacks on offer in the playground or when we're out & about is fruit. If he gets a bowl of sausages & veg for tea & eats all his sausages, he doesn't get any more sausage until most of the veg are gone. He can choose which veg to a certain extent. The rules are simple.

We make a lot of crumbles (low sugar) which is a good way to get fruit in to them, too. The water left over after cooking veg can be used to make bread, etc.

misdee Mon 25-Aug-03 14:25:49

i wont force my dd1 to eat veg. bad me. i have tried to get her to eat it, she will take a bite and then go yuk and refuse to eat it. but if i make a shepherds pie/bolangaise then i will whizz some veg up in the blender and add this to trhe meat so i know she is getting veg in that way, will use the water from cooking veg to make gravies, and try where possible to get her to have a glass of pure juice everyday (sometimes she refuses it totally for a week. she will suck on tangerines/oranges/satsumas but will never actually eat them. she eats rice and pasta well, loves chicken, loves curries (actually may try a veg curry to see if i can fool her that way) she eats cheeses, drinks milk, has squashes and home made pop (sodastream, less syrup added than recommended). i wont allow my dd2 to have chocolate,crisps, squash etc, tho she does share my mac donalds (oh dear). both my kids were bought up on veggies and fruits, just my dd1 has now got to the stage where she will only eat what she likes, i'm hoping she will pass this phase, i dont belive in making her sit at the table till all her veg is eaten, as i dont think forcing her will make her eat veg. (btw she refuses potatoes(unless on shepherds pie, or in chip form), cauliflower, brocali, carrots,sweetcorn, peas, parsnips, apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes, raisans.) i'm gona look into how to make cauliflower cheese to see if can tempt her this way.

WideWebWitch Mon 25-Aug-03 18:12:30

Doormat, here's an Observer article: meat timebomb and another Guardian article some salami contains horsemeat. I thoroughly enjoyed Fast Food Nation which, although about fast food meat production, is a fascinating read. I couldn't put it down and although it might sound a dry read it's anything but. The Great Food Gamble by John Humphrys is also interesting and informative on the subject of pesticides, GM crops and intensive farming - I haven't eaten farmed salmon since. Which means I haven't eaten salmon since actually.

WideWebWitch Mon 25-Aug-03 18:17:54

Oldiemum, re advertising to children in schools, no it hasn't happened here *yet* but I believe it's only a matter of time and I really think parents will need to protest loud and clear and long to ensure it doesn't happen to the extent that it's already happening in the States. The Parents Jury , who are an offshoot of the Food Commission, campaign against this kind of thing if anyone's interested. Like I said, I've banged this particular drum lots here so I will shut up now. Honest

doormat Mon 25-Aug-03 19:46:16

WWW Many thanx to you for the links.
I have read them and I just feel sick.Put it this way I was eating my tea at the time, I didnt finish it. I will be definitely buying organic meat from now on. I buy my meat at Tescos but now I just dont trust any store.
I will also be looking out for fast food nation when I go into town tomorrow.
Thanx again

OldieMum Mon 25-Aug-03 20:19:18

Doormat, Fast Food Nation is excellent. People might also want to take a look at 'Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World', by Greg Critser. It discusses the reasons why there is an epidemic of obesity in the US, in both adults and children. The main themes are the reasons for the growth of cheap fast food, with portions that get bigger all the time, and declining levels of fitness. He makes explicit comparisons with Britain, arguing that we are moving in the same direction.

bossykate Mon 25-Aug-03 21:18:59

www, zebra and other fussy food mums, how do you handle food at nursery (or other childcare) and children's parties or other occasions where there are other children who are allowed to eat junk? ds will always want what the other kids are having - up to now i haven't made a fuss as he doesn't get any rubbish at home, but i can see the creeping peer pressure beginning to start... i don't want to be the one at children's parties saying sniffily no crisps, nuggets, cake etc... and it would lead to lots of confrontational situations with ds as he would inevitably want whatever the "forbidden fruit" happened to be... just wondering how you all deal with these situations. thanks

Paula71 Mon 25-Aug-03 22:13:25

The danger is in banning certain foods you run the risk of loosing vital nutrients important for the children if not for we grown-ups.
My twin ds' are still at the stage of having several light meals throughout the day rather than three larger meals. For snacks I have found things like breadsticks, raisins and other fruit to be sufficient as they enjoy them. They also get biscuits (just not too many) as they need the "empty calories" for all that running around they need to do.
Everything in moderation. I think being faddy with food is what is making children obese or weight conscious when they should be seeing food as fuel!
When visiting their Gran they get a chocolate. So at no point will they ever wonder why they aren't allowed something. Because you can be sure what they are not allowed they will want.
People ask me how I got my boys to eat all sorts of food. There isn't a trick, they just get what I make them which is healthy enough, they have decided what they like and don't like. The only thing I do not allow is food with E numbers.
I don't make food an issue, they don't see it as an issue. By the way they are 20 months old.

judetheobscure Mon 25-Aug-03 23:25:49

I'm broadly in agreement with doormat and others here. I think the government should put VAT on junk food (anything exceeding agreed levels of salt, sugar, saturated fat, e-numbers etc.) They should also have health warnings on them like on cigarette packets. Having said that,a lthough my children eat three healthy meals a day, they do get two biscuits when they get home from school. (They used to get chocolate after school but I stopped that fairly recently and they haven't complained.)

The thing that really bugs me is schools. Our school is supposed to have won a "healthy living" award whatever that is, but the school dinners are atrocious - always junk food, usually chips, processed meat - a lamb chop is reconstituted stuck together with starch, veg is rarely fresh. They say that the children have a choice but 90% of them choose the unhealthy option. On the plus side they do have fruit at break time for infants and all the children are allowed to bring in a sports bottle of water which is kept on their desk for drinking whenever they want.

Something which always astonishes me is the number of parents who give their babies "fruit juices" a) when they are young - say less than 1 year and b) in bottles. There's no need to give anything except milk or water when they're babies and it's terrible for their teeth to have it in bottles. Also hate seeing children eat crisps for breakfast. And agree about party bags - lots of mums I know say - oh I don't bother with putting any toys in the party bag because all they want is sweets - when I do party bags they are 90% toys, pencils etc., 1 piece of cake 1 sweet. Perhaps I should be meanmum.

WideWebWitch Tue 26-Aug-03 05:28:34

Paula71, you say: "The danger is in banning certain foods you run the risk of loosing vital nutrients important for the children if not for we grown-ups" There's no danger at all associated with banning say, Coke or crisps! There's also NO danger associated with a balanced vegetarian diet. But I agree, ideally it would be good to find some balance so that nothing is totally banned and massively exciting as a result. Hmm, that's what I'm aiming for anyway. Also, children do need calories for running around, agreed, but they don't *need* empty calories (i.e. biscuits, to use your example) for anything. Are you thinking of carbohydrates and fats maybe? Because you're right, small children do need those.

Bossykate, I think nurseries and parties are 2 different kettles of fish really. Since nurseries are providing food regularly I would (and have) insist on healthy food being provided. For example, ds used to go to a nursery 2 days a week when he was 1.5 where tea was white bread jam sandwiches. There's no excuse for that as far as I'm concerned so I complained and he was given something different. Most parents didn't seem to mind though - it baffles me! Parties, I think, are a different matter: I think they're supposed to be a let your hair down crap fest and so I let ds eat what he wants at parties (he doesn't want meat so the veggie thing doesn't come up - if I'm not there he'll ask if something is vegetarian or not). I also let him choose what he wants for his own parties and yes, he chooses the usual garish biscuits, packets of pink crisps etc. The way I see it, it's one of the few times I even go down the biscuits/crisps/cakes aisle in the supermarket - it's quite an adventure really! So at parties it's fine for him to eat whatever is provided and I will provide *some* 'junk' for his parties. It won't all be bad though - sandwiches will still be marmite or peanut butter and I will put fruit out too. Last year the cake was made by a friend so that was reasonably healthy too.

I'm not entirely convinced I've got it right though and I'll be interested to see what is in his cupboards when he grows up. Will he want to eat healthily because I've brought him up with that or will he go on an extended junk binge as I did when I left home? We'll have to see. I will be able to say I did my best though and that he had a nutritionally sound start in life. I'm trying to find this middle ground of nothing being completely forbidden or banned but providing a mostly healthy balanced diet. So I do think chocolate, ice cream, cakes and sweets are OK sometimes and in moderation but we don't have them in the house as a general rule. Ds did ask me in the supermarket recently "why do you think chocolate is OK sometimes but you absolutely won't buy Coke?" Hmm. Well chocolate is marginally healthier I suppose, as I explained, whereas I somehow really object to Coke, plus the effect is *huge*!! Immediate sugar/caffeine high that goes on for ever! Although I do even let him have Coke sometimes when we're out as I remember the excitement from my childhood when my dad would buy me a glass and the thrill of the bubbles going up my nose was wonderful. I'll only allow it though if we're a LONG way off bedtime so there's plenty of time for the effects to wear off. I am shocked at the number of children who are allowed Coke as a regular part of their diets and it's no coincidence that childhood obesity has risen in line with the huge success of the soft drink industry.

Doormat, sorry I put you off your supper! Judetheobscure, agree with you about schools.

Lindy Tue 26-Aug-03 09:00:02

Is anyone else like me in that they read all these books, try to do the 'right' thing about their child's diet but eat rubbish themselves?!!
For example DS has just had for breakfast - smoked salmon on wholemeal bread (!), half an apple, a banana and a glass of orange juice - usually has a yogurt as well (hardly ever drinks milk) - I had white toast thickly spread with butter, cold sausage left over from yesterday's BBQ & 3 cups of strong coffee!!! NB - not eaten in front of DS!

Lil Tue 26-Aug-03 09:38:13

Lindy I must say I am the opposite. Since having kids I am more aware than ever about what is in food. I used to eat crap, basically, but now I am a manic label reader!

Must raise a hand to agree with all those who ban coke and fizz. Have you seen what is in there? water, sugar and phosphoric acid.If you leave a T-bone steak to soak in coke, after a day or two there is nowt left but the bone - so what does that stuff do to your insides!!!

Must add that I do get p**d off with parents that blame advertising for their children's bad diet. I don't know any children that do the weekly who's the one susceptible to advertising then?

zebra Tue 26-Aug-03 09:53:18

Bossykate: Parties & Christmas I relax the rules. I loosely try to enforce a "You must have some proper food first" -- which basically means eating at least a small portion of anything not crisps or sweet!, before they are allowed to stuff themselves on cake. I snitch all but one choc & sweets out of their party bags, too. This tactic will only work until DS learns to count . I think we are working towards a "one sweet/choc from the party bag per day" policy post parties.

Nursery is tougher; we started with a no cakes & no squash rule for DS but he soon wanted what other tots had. I didn't feel right about making the Staff into food police so decided he could have squash & pudding there; it was only 2-3days/week. I try to stuff my kids up on fruit and real apple juice (or anything else) as we walk thru the market on the way to Mom+Tots groups, so that they don't go crazy for biscuits & squash while at the event [my kids are hobbits and need a substantial 2nd breakfast from somewhere, anyway]. If they don't notice biscs & squash being served at the event, so much the better; I won't point the treats out to them! I have a max. 2 biscuit rule at Mom+Tots groups. DD HOWLED in protest about it once, but has settled down, now.

Nowadays my kids go to 2 childminders; both tend to offer more cake-sweetened food than I would prefer, but it's only 1-2 days/week; again, not worth me sweating, esp. after DS hated nursery & I'm just glad he likes the CMs so much.

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