Counting calories for children? Public Health England launched the first Change4Life campaign to promote healthier snacking for children. They are suggesting that children should have a maximum of two snacks a day at 100 calories or less. The intention is good; to help reduce sugar intake as the average child’s sugar intake is 7 cubes a day, half of which comes from unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks.
However this approach of calorie counting is not a healthy one. What we need to do is encourage our children to eat healthy food, not foods based on a lower calorific content. Supermarkets are supporting the campaign by helping parents choose ‘healthier snacks that are 100 calories or less’ and parents can get money off vouchers for things like ‘lower-sugar fromage frais.’
Calorie counting does not mean healthier. In fact it could mean quite the opposite. We could give our children avocado on wholegrain bread or some walnuts and an apple. These are snacks filled with fibre, healthy fats, protein and micronutrients. You will be full and satisfied after eating; they will have minimal effect on blood sugar levels and have nutrients that support biological processes in the body. They are also likely more than 100 calories. Or we could give them something of 100 calories or less that is just processed food with little benefit to health that still leaves them hungry, irritable and craving more food as blood sugar levels fall after a short period of time.
Focusing on calories is not a good model. We do not want to teach our children to count calories and obsess over food. We don’t want them to fall into the diet trap and spend their lives in a vicious circle of yo yo dieting. We want to teach them to eat REAL food and to COOK themselves and to ENJOY eating. If you are eating real food you really don’t need to be worrying too much about ‘lower sugar’ as nature pretty much provides for us. Of course if you sit and eat fruit all day long then you could have quite a bit of sugar but eat a good varied diet based on whole real food and you don’t even have to consider the words ‘lower sugar.’
We should be educating our children on the benefits of food for health and how to cook. This can start in the home with the whole family. Here are some really simple steps to take;
- Start the day with a healthy breakfast such as; boiled eggs and soldiers, porridge, scrambled egg on toast, oats soaked overnight with berries and nuts, nut butter on toast. There are so many options that don’t involve sugary processed cereals and pastries. I have lots of recipe suggestions to give you inspiration here; https://www.heatherrichardsuk.com/recipes/
- Eat 3 meals a day based around whole unprocessed food. Protein, healthy fats complex carbohydrates and vegetables. You don’t need to be a chef to make simple wholesome food and it doesn’t need to be expensive.
- Get children involved with the cooking from a very young age. With supervision they can stir, weigh, peel chop, taste and be involved.
- Make your own snacks such as vegetable sticks with hummus, apples and a handful of nuts, oat bars, fruit salads.
- Eat as a family as much as possible. Sit down together for mealtimes and don’t encourage a snacking culture. If nutrient dense food is eaten 3 times a day at mealtimes the need for snacking immediately reduces anyway.
- Take children shopping at a young age. Teach them about fruit and vegetables and real ingredients not about packets and processed foods.
Details of Public Health England Change4Life Campaign https://www.gov.uk/government/news/phe-launches-change4life-campaign-around-childrens-snacking