herald

Sunday 20 August 2017

Mum's the word: If your kids are obese, you need to look in the mirror

Let's stop the poor excuses and junk food; kids need us parents to lead by example

When it comes to children, it is best to take the choice of junk food away
When it comes to children, it is best to take the choice of junk food away

As a parent, food writer and a restaurant reviewer I've a keen interest in healthy eating.

The new legislation to introduce calories to restaurant and cafe menus might seem like a good response to the obesity epidemic but I'm siding with the chefs and restaurateurs who are dead set against this move. Set to be implemented in 2016, the proposed law will require all food service outlets to display the amount of calories alongside the price of each dish. 

With almost two-thirds of adults and a quarter of children in Ireland overweight or obese, it seems like a smart move. Except I don't think it's necessarily the right one. Sure, it may help the serial offenders think twice about ordering the fattiest, most calorie-laden dishes on a menu, but the fact remains that most kids don't get fat in restaurants or cafes - they get fat at home.

It's not fair to lump the blame at the door of the take-away and fast food outlets either, although they do play a part. A dial-a-pizza dinner, or burger and chips combo is going to pack more saturated (bad) fats and calories than a home-cooked Shepherd's pie or bowl of spaghetti, but few families could afford to feed their kids on a daily diet of chipper and pizza deliveries.

The obesity problem starts at home, stemming from a diet of highly processed food, which lacks nutrients and is frequently loaded with saturated and hydrogenated fats (both detrimental to health), high sodium (salt) and sugar content, as well as artificial preservatives and flavourings.

effort

Chicken nuggets, also known as goujons, are surprisingly simple to make at home with flour, eggs, breadcrumbs and chicken fillets. If you're rolling your eyes at the thoughts of going to all this effort, then why not simply introduce the kids to the pleasure of grilled chicken breasts? They cook as quickly as the shop-bought frozen nuggets and are infinitely better and tastier.

If your kids are showing signs of being overweight you need to take a long look at yourself and your shopping habits. If your child is in primary school then you are fully responsible for what they eat and how they eat.

You can try offloading the blame, like arguing that you can't control how they snack when you're not there, but the fact is that good eating begins at home.

If you're loading up your trolley with snacks, fizzy drinks and processed meals weekly then you are placing temptation in your children's way and leaving them open to putting on weight.

You may defend your practice by arguing that A, you can't cook; B, it's cheaper to buy convenience food; or, C, you are too pressed for time to cook from scratch, but to defend your choices is to kid yourself and do your kids a disservice.

Convenience food makes a poor choice, especially for growing kids, and a diet of ready meals supplemented with weekend take-aways is irresponsible and likely to contribute to weight gain.

Fill your shopping trolley with crisps, fizzy drinks and biscuits and you're doubling the chances of your kids piling on pounds.

The good news is that it's never too late to set your family on a healthier path.

You, as chief shopper, have the power to steer your children away from obesity issues. Rather than terrify them by announcing a strict new health regime, start with small, gradual changes, like replacing sugary cereals with porridge. Learn to cook simple things like oven wedges instead of deep-fried chips and foolproof recipes like vegetable soup (unbelievably simple, cheap and so nourishing).

If you still believe that convenience food is cheaper than fresh ingredients look at www.wholesomeireland.com, a blog by a mum who lost her job and had to feed her family on a budget. In the battle of the bulge knowledge is power, but first you need to accept that you're part of the problem.

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