With childhood illness on the rise, and 1 in 4 children classified as overweight at the start of primary school, here are some simple steps to ensure children are protected from these curses of modern living.

Breakfast – Unfortunately, most breakfast cereals aimed at children will give them nearly half or more of their daily intake of sugar. They also lack protein needed for growth and development and the essential fats needed for the brain, immune system, skin and more. Try to shake things up in the morning. There is more to breakfast than sugary cereals and toast and jam, opt for peanut butter on wholemeal toast or add boiled or poached eggs for added protein.

Packed lunches – The average packed lunch is high in sugar and devoid of many nutrients. Ditch fruit flavoured yoghurts, crisps and cereal bars and swap plain sandwiches for wholemeal wraps (spread a little hummus inside), or mini wholemeal pitta breads. Crackers are also a good bread alternative. Look up ‘yumbox’ for excellent lunch box suggestions that include all elements of the food groups. Always include some fresh veg and fruit and try adding pumpkin seeds with raisins or making some homemade cereal bars or energy balls. Be aware that most schools have a nut-free policy so check ingredients. Visit my website to download the free e-book with ideas on how to increase nutrients and conform to the allergy-free policies.

Drinks – Get your child to drink more water. If you make no other change but this, it will make a huge difference. We are made up of nearly 70% water and our bodies function much better when we are properly hydrated. Ban fizzy drinks, dilute fruit juice and drink squashes only on special occasions. The king of the drinks is definitely water!

Snacks – When I’m reviewing a family’s food diary, this is the area that usually needs the most work. Snacks are notoriously high in sugar and bad fats. First, establish set times for snacks and establish that they are necessary. If your child is refusing to eat at mealtime, start by looking at their snacks. The Change4Life initiative is excellent for helping with ideas and again, download my free guide to children’s snacks (see below).

Eat together – Study after study reinforces the fact that eating together, as a family, can have the biggest impact on health. Try to sit down and eat as a family as often as you can, without any distraction – no TV, no phones, tablets etc. Use this time to discuss your day. The evidence is that families who eat together not only increase their health statistics but also their results at school! Doing a ‘help yourself’ meal can be incredibly good for the ‘picky’ eaters. Provide a meal where your children can serve themselves. This helps to regulate their appetite. My children love to serve up a chilli with tacos plus salad, cheese and hummus.

Lead by example  Your children will mimic you and learn from you. You HAVE to lead by example. It’s that easy!

One step at a time  Don’t get overwhelmed, start with one ingredient, one meal at a time. The best way to make long term changes is to take things at a steady pace and not to try and do everything at once. We are all busy and the person providing the meals in your family has a huge responsibility. Draw up a weekly meal plan, share the jobs and take it slowly.

Julie Clark is a Kent based Registered Nutritional Therapist specialising in children’s health. She is author of the book Baby Led Weaning Step by Step, contributor to Mother & Baby Magazine and a BabyCentre expert. You can find out more by visiting julieclarknutrition.co.uk

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