In Part One of this series I looked at diet from birth to two years old with the emphasis on breast feeding for six months and the introduction of key foods that would complement breast milk and help develop a healthy immune system over the next 18 months.
In coming weeks I will be exploring the crucial elements of the different age groups, and also stages of life, such as puberty, pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy, menopause (male and female) and as we become more sedentary.
The key element will be to focus on how to maintain our immune system throughout our lives which is primarily dependent on having a nutritionally balanced intake of food, regular exercise and avoiding industrially manufactured products.
The saying – ‘give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man‘ Aristotle and other wise men… is also appropriate in the context of lifelong health.
These years are crucial for the development of the immune system but also brain function, bone density and healthy digestive and reproductive systems. Since this is one of the most critical periods in our development, I am looking at diet this week and next week the physical activity needed to build healthy bones and major organs in this age group, and some of the increasing deficiencies that are inhibiting that healthy development.
The diet of children used to be in the hands of their mothers primarily, with school lunches once they entered primary education. Today that has changed radically, with babies often being placed in childcare at six months old, then kindergarten until four or five when they enter primary school. The diet of our children is being handed off to others at a very early stage in their development.
I checked out some of the menus for day care and kindergarten and it is clear that many are making an effort to provide a nutritionally rich menu during the day, with input from a nutritionist, and also promoting a family atmosphere of shared eating and social interaction. Kindercare Child Nutrition
The best start to the day is a healthy breakfast that is nutritionally varied, hydrating and will keep a child satisfied until later in the morning.
At home this could be
- a bowl of oatmeal made with milk and topped with berries or some banana, be wary of adding sugar and you can use a half a teaspoon of honey in the porridge mix to encourage your toddler or child to eat.
- Boiled egg and wholegrain bread and butter toasted soldiers.
- Omelette made with onions and mushrooms and a piece of wholegrain toast and butter.
- Multigrain waffles with yogurt and berries.
- Wholegrain pancakes with fresh fruit and yoghurt.
- A glass of unsweetened apple juice or juice diluted with water.
- Or a glass of milk.
In the UK there has been a great deal of government investment in school breakfast clubs which not only benefits children who might be from families with reduced circumstances but also children whose parents work, and can drop their children off early in the knowledge that they will receive a healthy start to the day.
Here is further information on the project from The School Run
Breakfast clubs may be funded by school budgets, local or national government schemes, or sponsorship from charities or businesses, so parents may or may not be expected to foot the bill. In March 2018, the government announced that it was investing £26 million – raised by the sugary drinks levy – into breakfast clubs. The clubs will be run by the charities Family Action and Magic Breakfast, and will benefit 1,770 schools in total.
Approximately a quarter of breakfast clubs are completely free for all children to attend. Some only offer free places to children from lower income families – typically those who are eligible for the pupil premium.
Others charge a nominal amount per breakfast item (from around 10p to 70p), or have a daily charge – an average £1.68 nationally – for children to attend.
More formal breakfast clubs – often those that are run by private companies with the main aim of providing before-school childcare – may have higher fees of up to £15 per session depending on the location and opening hours.
If you decide that this would suit you and your child, I do recommend that you check the menu out and ensure that it is not just a glass of orange juice and a bowl of sugar laden processed cereal. There should be wholegrains, protein such as eggs and beans on toast, milk and fruit available. More details on one of the charities in the UK that runs the clubs can be found Magic Breakfast
When I was cooking school lunches over forty years ago, there were very few guidelines and it was down to the individual school to set menus and budget. I was lucky that I was the caterer for a private school and was able to buy fresh local produce to deliver a varied and nutritionally balanced diet to the children I was responsible for keeping healthy.
There has been a great deal of discussion about the nutritional standard of school lunches in the UK and today whilst many positive changes have been made, there is still a great deal of room for improvement. There are Government guidelines
Food served in some schools and academies in England must meet the school food standards so that children have healthy, balanced diets.
The school food standards apply to all maintained schools, and academies that were founded before 2010 and after June 2014. They must provide:
- high-quality meat, poultry or oily fish
- fruit and vegetables
- bread, other cereals and potatoes ( I do wish that they would clarify that by including wholegrain and not sugar laden cereal)
- There can’t be: drinks with added sugar, crisps, chocolate or sweets in school meals and vending machines
Government schools provide free lunches to children until the age of 7 when parents will need to pay between £2.30 – £2.80. At private schools this can be higher.
I found this site which looks at standards across Europe and what should be included both in meals that are provided and also in a packed lunch.. Generally in line with what I would recommend however it should be updated as this was based on 2012 data. EUFIC.org
I you wish to keep the nutrition of your children in your own hands, you do have the option of sending them to school with a packed lunch. Later I have a list of foods that are great to help build healthy bodies and immune systems, and you can use them to put together healthy wholegrain sandwiches or wraps and low sugar snacks.
Every country has its own recommended standards and there are a great many sites now promoting health eating for children. As you will see in this next part of the post, there are still some barriers to giving our children the healthiest start in life… including from our own government guidelines!
Our bodies have key three enemies attempting to breach its defences and suppress our immune systems –
Over consumption of sugars, including corn syrup and other manufactured sweeteners, leading to pre-diabetes in billions of children, men and women and full blown diabetes in half a billion people worldwide.
Diabetes Daily Rates of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are increasing globally. According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Diabetes Atlas, here are the overall rates including both type 1 and type 2:
- 415 million adults have diabetes (1 in 11 adults)
- By 2040, 642 million adults (1 in 10 adults) are expected to have diabetes
- 46.5% of those with diabetes have not been diagnosed
- 1 in 7 births is affected by gestational diabetes
- 542,000 children have type 1 diabetes
- 12% of global health expenditure is spent on diabetes ($673 billion)
What is shameful is that sugar free varieties of baby food are made from grape juice and other fruit concentrates with thickeners and preservatives, providing refined carbohydrates and sugar…not a good combination.
Whilst we as adults are making the decisions about the health of the food they eat as children, we also need to make sure that we try to instill in them a wariness of sugary items, and that it is only to be eaten occasionally.
It is tough when this addictive sweet substance is everywhere around them… they don’t understand that the can of soda they want has 13 teaspoons of sugar, that the fruit loops their friend is allowed for breakfast has 12 teaspoons of sugar, and that the small kid’s sized chocolate bar of 45gm has 6 teaspoons. ( more about chocolate later, as no diet should be without it!)
Infiltration of even alleged healthy manufactured foods with unhealthy fats such as Canola Oil – touted as healthier than olive oil with a higher smoke point. Formerly used as an industrial lubricant and in candles, soaps, cosmetics and insecticides, it has now been turned into a cheap oil for human consumption.
The solvent used to extract the oil is a neurotoxin called Hexane which is a byproduct of the petrol production process and is a toxic pollutant. Some residue remains in the oil, not just canola, but also other oils touted as a healthy alternative including soybean oil.
Restaurants not only use this now for cooking because of its higher temperature tolerance, but they also dilute olive oil at the table to save cost. 90% of rapeseed oil (canola) is genetically modified, is a hydrogenated fat (with a 40% level of Trans Fatty Acids) and because it is so prevalent in industrially manufactured foods, it can result in numerous health issues. It has been linked to chronic inflammation the cause of many of our diseases, including damage to the brain, liver and kidneys.
What amazes me is that doctors are advising mothers to add a teaspoon of canola oil or butter to breast milk, my choice would be butter…and, many factory made baby foods contain either canola or soybean oil.
.In my opinion it has no place in a baby’s or adults diet.
There are few independent studies of the impact of consuming the oil, but there are plenty from the canola industry touting its health benefits. However, the internet now has many sites who are calling alleged expert opinion into question.
Which leads me onto the third danger to our health – Industrially led studies into a product’s health benefits, that has led to the exclusion of many natural foods and food groups in our diet in the last 50 years, contributing significantly to the current obesity epidemic, including the following that are just four that have impacted my diet since I was a teenager.
- 50 Years Ago, Sugar Industry Quietly Paid Scientists To Point Blame At Fat : NPR Org
- Governments still promoting a high Carbohydrate and low healthy fat food pyramid: The Hill
- Official advice on low-fat diet and cholesterol is wrong, says health charity The Guardian
- 1988 salmonella scare as a result of Edwina Currie’s statement: BBC
Time to bring this back to the obesity epidemic and children aged 2 to 7 years old.
In Part One I shared some of the important foods to introduce into a baby’s diet once it is weaned to build a healthy immune system. These foods should be continued once a baby begins to eat more solid food…The emphasis is avoiding refined sugars and developing the baby’s palate towards the savoury rather than sweet.
Carrots, broccoli, sweet potato, courgettes (zucchini) and parsnip, avocado, apple, pear, baby porridge, banana, papaya, cod.
Developing the bacteria in the gut.
They are also excellent for beginning to establish a health colony of bacteria in a baby’s guts that will process the food that is consumed and turn it into nutrients to fuel the body and to create the necessary disease fighting blood cells. If you are interested in finding out how that happens then you might like to look at my post on the journey of a Chicken Sandwich through the digestive system
Without a healthy gut bacteria we are vulnerable, and at whatever stage in life we might be, at risk of developing life threatening illnesses including dementia.
The variety of foods can be expanded to include those that you are eating as a family.
Avoid high sugar packaged foods, cereals, biscuits and soft drinks. Also heavily salted processed meats.
It is important to eat healthy fats in moderation including butter and cheese.
- leafy vegetables such as spinach, Brussel Sprouts and green cabbage
- Salad vegetables – homemade mayonnaise without the canola oil!
- onions and garlic
- butternut squash,
- organic oats and rice,
- Homemade or fresh baked wholegrain or sourdough bread.
- Wholegrain wraps for older children.
- nuts such as almonds,
- Lower sugar fruits including melon and kiwi
- Oily fish such as salmon
- lean protein such as chicken especially when made into soups with vegetables
- Olive oil and Coconut oil for cooking and dressings
- Live yogurt (no added sugar)
- Spices in small amounts such as turmeric and ginger. ( a warming drink such as lemon and ginger)
So where does chocolate come into the equation?
I love chocolate and puddings.Growing up we had wonderful home cooked meals and desserts at the weekend. My father was a steamed treacle pudding (made with suet) and custard kind of guy. We were also given our pocket money on Saturdays and there was just enough to head over to the sweet shop on the corner for a bar of chocolate and some loose mint humbugs from one of the tall jars on the shelves.
We always seemed to be ready for our meals (including school lunches) and I don’t remember ever being picky about what I or my sisters and brother ate. We didn’t leave anything on the plate and were always up for dessert.
Then again we were very active. We walked to school and back every day, spent 15 minutes mid-morning and mid-afternoon racing around the playground and 30 minutes after lunch. Once I got to secondary school I walked the mile there and back in all weathers to save my bus money, and would think nothing of walking the dog for an hour when I got home. I played netball, tennis and hockey and also went swimming three times a week.
If a child is eating three healthy balanced meals a day containing all the food groups, healthy fats, plenty of non-sugary drinks, and is also very active, then eating a bar of chocolate once a week, and having a milkshake, bowl of ice cream, dessert or french fries occasionally, is not going to do them any harm.
It is about balance and the same rule applies to us as adults. 80% of the time eat a fresh, cook from scratch, varied diet, and 20% enjoy those foods that require a little more caution.
Next time, some of the emerging nutritional deficiencies that are causing concern in young children, and building strong bones with exercise and sunshine.
©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2022
My nutritional background
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-four years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain.
Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.
As always I look forward to your comments and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask them.. thanks Sally.