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Children's Nutrition

Encouraging positive eating habits in our children: part 2 – how to manage mealtimes!

Photo credit: Kelly Heath, Parenting Gracefully

Back in May, I started pulling together some resources to help parents of “fussy” eaters, or maybe I should just say parents of eaters, as I’ve yet to come across anyone who has never had a struggle or doubt about what to do and say at mealtimes to help build that love of eating healthy foods in our children that we all strive for.

Part one was an interview with mum and cookery school owner, Becky Beasley. Apologies for the delay (life!), but I can finally share with you an interview that I conducted a while back with local mum, blogger and Play Therapist, Kelly Heath, of Parenting Gracefully, to discuss just how we manage those tricky meal times.

RFN: Hi Kelly, lovely to sit and chat with you today, thank you so much for your time. I have a burning question to start you with if that’s ok, and that is – how are mealtimes in your house?!

PG: Well, I’ve got an 8, 6 and 2 year old – I have a fast but fussy eater, an incredibly slow eater, and a toddler! I think our meal times are similar to most other family’s … there’s often at least one person who doesn’t like what’s on the table, someone who’d rather play than eat, and a mum whose trying to remain patient and encourage rather than force everyone to eat!

One thing I have learnt is that the less fuss I make about eating and the more relaxed I am at the table, the more pleasant the meal time. As parents we set the tone for mealtime, and the tone of our home in general actually. Viewing dinner time as an opportunity for family time rather than just a time to eat helps to set that tone.

RFN: Well that’s reassuring, thank you! So particularly looking to support parents with fussy eaters, I know it can be quite challenging to stay calm and not dread that daily battle, or feel the frustration or futility rising. Do you have any tips on what to do for someone that feels like that?

PG: As with most things, preparation, sense of power, and distraction work well with kids!

Chat with your kids about how you (and they!) would like meal times to be, away from the table. Decide on your family’s choices (rather than rules) around mealtime. Doing this away from the table, separate from meal time, means that you’ll help avoid the emotional responses and reactions that you might get when your child is already feeling uneasy and ‘wobbly’ at the dinner table and distracted by the food that they don’t want to eat.

There is very little children really have control over but putting food into their bodies is one thing they can (try to) control and that’s why eating can become a power struggle. So, as much as possible, allowing your child to feel like she has a say or that he can make his own choices helps ease the power struggle.

I make dinner “buffet style” as often as possible, and get the kids involved by helping to set the table and dish up food for themselves. Interestingly, they often dish up more than I would have for them, or if it’s meal that’s not their favourite, they eat what they’ve put on their plate because they feel in control rather than forced to eat. Even when it comes to new recipes that no one wants to try, our family ‘choice’ is that everyone tries it, but they get to choose how much they put on their plate and in their mouth (yes some people might try a pea size amount, but they tried it and I claim that as a win!) So if I’m making something unfamiliar I usually make it as a side along with familiar food or a familiar dish with just a slight twist.

Then there’s good old distraction – making meal time family time – a time to chat, share ideas, share your days highs and lows, and laugh together. Turning the focus away from food and getting your child out of their “feeling brain” and back into their “thinking brain” is key with fussy eaters. So have a conversation topic or table ‘game’ up your sleeve, or have a finger foods style meal and eat with toothpicks – anything that takes the focus off of the eating and puts in on the company you’re sitting with.

I’m not a fan of screens at the dinner table, but an alternative is a children’s story podcast or audio book – it’s a great way of shifting the focus from food, and then can lead into a lovely chat about the story afterwards.

RFN: Brilliant. I loved an idea I saw on your page about having a jar of questions to refer to in those moments when you just can’t think of what to do to steer everybody back to the right place, and as you say, “switch on their thinking brains!”

PG: Yes, I keep a jar filled with topics and questions in the kitchen, so if I’m stuck for ideas we can dip into it and find a prompt to change the conversation: “what’s the best gift you’ve ever received?”, “what is your favourite smell?”, “what was the highlight of this week for you?” or games such as “would you rather…”. These all bring us out of our “feeling brains” into our “thinking brains”, which helps reduce the emotional overwhelm to food.

RFN: Coming back to your comment about choice, I like the idea of giving more choice, but as a nutritionist I am acutely aware that there are certain things I just need my kids to eat. What happens when they “choose” not to have any of them?

PG: When we talk about choice we also need to think about the boundaries around that choice. If you give an open-ended choice (“what would you like to eat?”) you’re likely to get a response that doesn’t work for you. However, you can offer choices with boundaries to help your child feel a sense of control but still ultimately have your child do what is needed, for example “are you going to have one or two spoonfuls of veg?”

There’s the flip side too though – If we think about it, our children probably do have a lot more choice than we did growing up, so much so that it can actually be overwhelming – this isn’t just with food, but also books, toys, clothes, etc. Society just has so much choice these days – we need to find a balance!

As I mentioned it can be helpful to sit down and compose a list of family ‘choices’ to help around mealtimes so that there’s still choice, but also clear expectations and limits to work in. Our family choices, for example are:

  1. Everyone has the same meal.
  2. You don’t have to love it to eat it … some things are important to eat because they help keep your body healthy.
  3. Everyone tries at least a small amount of each thing on the table … because sometimes it takes our bodies 20 tries before it decides it likes a food!
  4. We choose not to use words like “gross” or “disgusting” or pull faces when talking about our food, but you can say “this is not my favourite” or “this would taste better with some butter/ketchup on it.”
  5. If you’ve had a good go at eating (had more than half of what you dished up) you can have dessert (which is often Greek yogurt with fruit – not necessarily treaty) if it’s on offer. (If it’s a meal that I know my child really struggles with so long as she has tried at least a few proper mouthfuls, I allow her to have something to fill herself but not something treaty, so for example, a bowl of porridge).
  6. Once you leave the table, you are finished.

RFN: That’s a great idea, and I completely agree about too much choice being overwhelming – I’m far better at deciding what to cook / eat if I don’t have limitless choices of ingredients and timeframes!

Finally, in summary could you please share your top 3 tips for making mealtimes a pleasant experience?

PG: 1. Focus on connection rather than coercion. Yes, we all want our kids to eat and not ask for food at bedtime, but creating a battle-free zone at mealtime, I feel, is more important than an empty plate. As grown-ups we all have days when we are hungry or less hungry, and meals that we prefer and ones we don’t really like. Our kids are the same. Dinner time generally happens at a busy time of day, but if we can make the mind shift from ‘needing the kids to hurry up and eat’ to ‘this next 45 minutes is our chance to connect’, your mealtime will feel less stressful.

2. Always take time to connect before you disconnect. So if you can’t eat with your child, perhaps you have to take a phone call for example, take two minutes first to really connect with them before you transition yourself out of that situation and into whatever it is you need to do – look them in the eyes, smile, tell them a joke, give them a tickle, play a few rounds of “would you rather…” – they’re more likely to get on with eating than find 23 reasons to call you and need you!

3. Give your kids grace – we all have good days and bad days. And give yourself grace. There is no right answer on “how we should” be or do things. Tune into your child and do what needs to be done for your own sanity and calm.

RFN: Thank you so much Kelly, that’s fantastic advice and ideas! I’m off to make a jar of questions right now!

Kelly can be found on Instagram and Facebook (@parentinggracefully) where she shares simple, practical, doable, daily ways to keep connected, show love, give grace, get messy and rediscover joy as you navigate the journey of parenting. With half term approaching, she’s bound to have lots of great ideas for us to be doing with our children when eating and not eating so if you enjoyed this, please give her a follow! Kelly also offers parent consultations and is contactable at: parentinggracefullyuk@gmail.com

Nutrition Science

Do I need to detox?

If you look at the internet you’ll typically find two schools of thought – there’s one group hell bent on green juices and colonics, and another that cite the science and assure you that “detoxing” is not something you have to put effort into doing, that it is simply something that the body does on a daily basis – if you weren’t detoxing, quite simply put, you’d be dead.

And this second school of thought is absolutely right – our bodies really are detoxing every second, every minute of the day, but is that to say that there’s no reason to give them a little extra help?

The fact of the matter is this – we live in a far more toxic world than we’ve evolved to live in. Air pollution, agricultural chemicals, smoking, cosmetics and cleaning detergents all combine with toxins produced by the breakdown of hormones in our bodies to increase the workload for our liver and other organs. Whilst some thrive, others do not, and an individual’s ability, or rather inability, to efficiently break down toxins, detoxify and then eliminate them, means that they can build up in the body.

If we’re suffering from constipation or poor concentration, if we seem to pick up every bug going around, if we can’t shift stubborn weight around the middle or are feeling constantly tired, the chances are we might be struggling to detoxify well and could use a little bit of help to cleanse and reset our bodies; a little TLC for our liver and other detoxification organs.

If you’d like to know more, and join a supportive and motivated group of individuals on a two-week programme combining diet, exercise and lifestyle support designed to do exactly this, please get in touch to learn more about the upcoming Cleanse and Reset programme starting 6th November.

Children's Nutrition, Kids meals, Lunchboxes, Recipes, Savoury, Snacks

Sweet potato and bean dip

Good sources of protein, fats and fibre in toddler snacks, lunchboxes and for adults as well, really help to keep blood sugar levels balanced and support a stable mood, sustained energy and that all important ability to concentrate and learn. This sweet potato and bean dip also adds in plenty of extra micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and more) that really support the body in all it’s important tasks and help you to feel in tip-top health!

This recipe was inspired by the blog Rupert and Mummy, and is a lovely nutritious alternative to hummus. “Mummy” (Jenny) uses tahini in hers for extra creaminess, but since the whole point of this recipe is to avoid nuts and seeds (a requirement in many schools now) and provide a nutritious, protein and fibre-rich alternative to hummus, I’ve played around with some different ingredients to make the base (beans and sweet potato) really pop with flavour without it. Why not give it a go and have a play with different flavour tweaks yourself? I’d love to know how you get on!

Ingredients:
• 1 sweet potato
• 1 400g tin butter beans (or other beans – cannelini or haricot also work well, I just like to use white beans for the overall colour)
• juice of 1/2 lemon
• 2 sundried tomatoes
• 1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
• 70mls extra virgin olive oil
• Pinch of salt (optional)

Method:
1. Roast the sweet potato in the oven whole at 180C (fan) for about 40 minutes, until it is cooked all the way through, then leave it to cool. I tend to do this alongside baking something else, and pop it in the fridge to use later. 2. Once you’re ready to make your dip, remove the skin from the sweet potato and pop in food processor with the beans (drained and rinsed) and rest of the ingredients
3. Blitz until it’s the desired consistency, adding a splash of water if it’s a bit thick for your processor (my boys prefer it very smooth), then chill in the fridge

You can then serve with crudites or oatcakes for a snack, and it also makes a good filling for wraps – I love to add some salad leaves and halloumi for example.

Children's Nutrition, Dinners, Kids meals, Lunchboxes, Recipes, Savoury

Pumpkin seed and parsley pesto

Pesto is such a versatile sauce – you can eat it with pasta, as a base to savoury toasts, smothered on chicken or fish, as the flavour for a salad dressing… the list goes on. And pesto doesn’t have to be the traditional basil and pine nut base (of course it can, that’s delicious!), once you get the hang of making them you really can use any seeds and leaves you want to.

This delicious parsley and pumpkin seed version is great for this time of year as it’s full of vitamin C and zinc, fab nutrients for supporting the immune system. I tend to make a large quantity, then use half and freeze half to just grab out when I need a quick meal.

Makes about 8 tablespoons
Ingredients:
• 75g pumpkin seeds
• 1 clove garlic
• Large pack of parsley (approx. 50-60g)
• Juice of half a lemon
• 150-200mls extra virgin olive oil
• Pinch of salt and pepper to season (omit salt with young children)
• 50g parmesan cheese (optional)

Method:
1. Blitz the pumpkin seeds and garlic in a food processor (I use my Nutri Ninja) until they are ground to a flour
2. Add the parsley (washed and ripped into pieces), lemon juice, salt and pepper and olive oil and blitz again to a smooth consistency
3. Add the grated cheese if using (I enjoy this just as much without, and my children tend to add so much cheese to their pesto pasta it rather feels like too much to already include it in the pesto!), and blitz again. If you’re not adding the cheese you will probably need nearer 150 mls rather than 200 mls of olive oil, but adjust it to the taste and consistency you like
4. Serve! This will keep for a good few days or up to a week in an airtight jar in the fridge, just trickle a little extra olive oil over the leftovers to keep the air away.

Breakfast, Recipes, Uncategorized

Strawberry Omega 3 Granola

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it’s important that we also get that breakfast right. Many processed breakfast cereals release their carbohydrate content very quickly (even if they are labelled “low sugar”) and are really lacking in essential nutrients that we need to thrive. (I cover all the science behind this in the Eating for Energy workshop, new dates coming soon!)

So, one of my favourite breakfasts is home-made granola. Making granola might look complicated and time-consuming, but I assure you, once you get in the swing of it, it really isn’t that onerous and the benefits to your health and energy levels, as well as your wallet, will speak volumes!

This is my latest batch, inspired by my pick-you-own strawberry experience (I sliced and dehydrated these strawberries, but you can also buy them in health food stores, online shops, or substitute for another dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries).

I’ve called it “omega 3” because it’s rich in the fats that our body coverts to healthy omega 3 (think heart and brain health) and which tend to be lacking in many shop-bought cereals which often provide more omega 6 fats). Omega 3 in this recipe comes from the walnuts, flax seeds and hemp hearts, but you can mix it up with whatever you have to hand in terms of nuts and seeds.

Do have a go – I think you will be pleasantly surprised! And if you’d like more recipe inspiration to maximise the nutrients in your daily diet without having to spend a fortune on superfood fads, please join my Supercharge your Diet workshop on Thurs 20th June.

Ingredients:
150g walnuts (or other nuts)
150g almonds (or other nuts)
100g flax seeds (linseeds)
200g other seeds – I used 100g hemp hearts and 100g buckwheat*
200g oats or other flakes – I used 100g rolled gf oats and 100g quinoa flakes*
4 tbsp coconut oil
4 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
100g dried fruit – I used dehydrated strawberries**

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180C (fan).
2. In a saucepan, gently melt the coconut oil with the maple syrup and cinnamon.
3. Put the walnuts, almonds and flax into a food processor and blitz for a few seconds just to break them down into small chunk – you aren’t aiming to make a fine flour, just avoid there being too many whole nuts in your granola.
4. Add the nut mix to the other dry ingredients (oats and seeds etc. but not the dried fruit) and mix together, then pour over the melted coconut oil and maple syrup mixture and again stir thoroughly to make sure everything is coated.
5. Tip the mixture into a deep baking tray and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir the granola – this is so that it all gets toasted evenly. Return it to the oven for another 10 minutes, then repeat the stirring and bake for a final 10 minutes.
6. Leave the granola to cool in the tray, then add the dried fruit, mix well and store in an airtight container. This will last 2-4 weeks kept in a cool and dark cupboard. Serve with full-fat plain yogurt or milk.

Don’t forget there are more of my breakfast recipes available in a free pdf download when you sign up to my newsletter!

Children's Nutrition, Kids meals

Encouraging positive eating habits in our children: part 1 – get them cooking!

As part of developing resources to help parents encourage their children to eat healthily, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Becky Beasley of Two-Teaspoons.

Becky founded Two-Teaspoons in 2012, teaching culinary skills to children of all ages and I absolutely love her passion for real food and her no-nonsense approach to the art of cooking. She is an inspiration, catering for five nurseries a day and teaching toddlers to teens to cook on a regular basis. I couldn’t do it, but she truly believes that anyone and everyone can cook and there’s no doubt in my mind that if you have any doubts, she’s the person to show you how!

RFN: Hi Becky, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. Can you start by telling me when was it you yourself learnt to cook, and what was it that sparked your passion for good food?

BB: I learnt to cook from my Mum, who also worked full time as a teacher. My parents were incredibly social, often inviting guests to eat, and the passion really came from the early recognition that learning to cook made life more fun. I always tell teenagers in my pre-uni classes that if they can cook a meal, they will never be short of friends!

RFN: Have you had many fussy eaters through your door and how did they find the cooking experience?

BB: Absolutely, from the mildly fussy to the quite extreme, but they all enjoy the cooking experience and often enough that they try the food at the end too.

RFN: That’s amazing – how do you do it?

BB: I think there are two key values that I always instil throughout a class:

1. It’s social – my classes are not “classes” as much as “experiences”; it doesn’t matter what is being cooked or whether or not it is liked as much as the whole event itself is fun. This helps the children form a more positive relationship with the dishes we’re making. I’m not the parent in this scenario, I really don’t have any vested interest in whether or not the children I teach eat the food they make, and once they know that, and there’s no pressure to try new or disliked foods they tend to relax and enjoy themselves.

2. There are no “good” or “bad” foods – I never put more value on one particular food above another. Sometimes we cook with chocolate, other times it’s broccoli; neither is more or less delicious than the other, they are just what’s required for the recipe and the focus is on enjoying the cooking experience.

RFN: That’s some very powerful psychology and a great attitude to have for building a long-term healthy relationship with food. Have you learnt anything from the children you’ve taught to cook?

BB: I never cease to be amazed by the skills of the children I teach – they always surprise me with their ability. That and never teach a couscous class unless you really love cleaning up!

RFN: I hear you there… Ok, so what’s your favourite dish to cook with kids, and why?

BB: I can’t really say I’ve a favourite dish to teach, but I always enjoy teaching them to cook things they think they’ll hate. There’s nothing more satisfying than turned up noses at the start of a class, and clean plates at the end!

RFN: And what’s the most popular class or dish for the kids, and why?

BB: Probably bread making, which I also love to teach. There’s so much fun to be had in being so tactile with the food – it’s fun, messy and a complete sensory pleasure. I also get to be a bit theatrical pouring oil on the table which also adds to the fun dynamic of the class!

RFN: That does sound like brilliant fun! And finally, can you share your top 3 tips for getting children cooking?

BB: Yes…

1. It’s important to get enthusiastic as a parent. That also means getting comfortable with chaos and mess. Cooking needs to be fun rather than a series of “telling offs”, regardless of how frustrating that sometimes is to do!


2. Let them have a say in what they want to cook. If they want to bake cookies, then bake cookies. You can also make something healthier to go alongside. Once children have taken ownership of a task, their attitude changes and that brings an enormous sense of pride and achievement.


3. Find a time when you have that capacity to cook with your kids (perhaps a Saturday afternoon rather than a Tuesday evening!) so that you’re not under any pressure, and remember that it doesn’t always need to be a huge activity – the smallest of “jobs” like peeling potatoes and grating cheese can also be great fun for children.

RFN: and I imagine that will help enormously with points 1 and 2 as well! Thank you Becky for that invaluable insight and please keep helping our kids learn to love cooking!

If you’d like your children to try out a cookery class with Becky, you can head over to her website: Two-Teaspoons to sign up. All classes are mixed age and ability (from 4 years upwards), which she says is fantastic for bringing the best out in everyone, and goes to show that it’s never too young to start cooking.

There are also some great family friendly recipes on the website that I’ll be trying out, and Becky’s shared with me a couple of her favourite gadgets to alleviate our fears for young children getting too involved. I’ll be testing these out with my kids too and will let you know how I get on.

Kids meals, Nutrition Science, Recipes

Reclaiming our children’s health

Photo by: C. Pohl. What was actually on offer at a local primary school disco…

On 10th March 2019 we were confronted with the headline “Scientists blame working mothers for Britain’s childhood obesity epidemic after study of 20,000 families”. Brilliant, as if working Mums don’t have enough on our plates, now we’re responsible for the obesity epidemic too? Not surprisingly, the Mum army was furious, but what did the study actually say, and how on earth is this headline at all helpful?

Sadly, the headline was not helpful at all. Rather than offering support to working families or those with children that are classified as overweight or obese, it just caused upset, guilt and anger. I took to Instagram live and was pleased to see that that was helpful for a lot of parents, but for those of you who missed it, here’s a written summary…

What the paper said

The research was a paper published in the scientific journal SSM-Population Health, with the title “The impact of maternal employment on children’s weight: Evidence from the UK”. It tracked 19,244 children born between 2000 and 2002, measuring their Body Mass Index (a measure of weight relative to height) at 9 months, 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14 years. The premise of the paper was that both childhood obesity and the number of mothers is paid employment has risen dramatically since 1975. The hypothesis set out to test if there was a causative effect between these two factors, rather than them both being independent statistics that happen to show the same trend.

So was there a causative link?

The paper statistically concluded that there was, however it did also fairly summarise the other available research on this subject. What it found was a number of research papers that also supported the association, and an equal number that did not. It also offered two possible contradicting explanations as to how and why a mother’s employment status might link to their child’s weight:

  1. Working mothers have less time to prepare and cook healthy food
  2. Working mothers may be able to afford better quality food for their children

The study also asked two additional questions of the children / their carers:

  1. How many hours TV did they watch per day during term time? This was to determine how sedentary children of working versus stay-at-home mums are
  2. How often did they skip breakfast? To act as a measure of children’s healthy eating habits

So how robust does that make these findings? In my opinion, the existence of other conflicting studies do seem to undermine a strong statistical significance, and these additional questions do take rather a big leap between what is being asked and the conclusions drown. There are, however, some useful take-aways from it.

What can we learn?

Rather than single-handedly blame working mothers, the paper concluded that steps should be taken to better involve both fathers and childcare providers in the day-to-day childcare activities and responsibilities such as eating and exercise, something which it recorded as still falling largely to mothers regardless of employment status. It noted that, whilst again not statistically significant, children who also lived with grandparents tended to have a lower BMI, suggesting that it is this aspect of time and capacity to care for and teach and provide food for our children that was the key factor.

What about working fathers?

This was a huge objection from the audience, so to cover off why fathers were not considered in the study, this was legitimately due to a lack of data. Father’s working status was also recorded, however only about 10% of the total fathers were not in employment at any stage of the study, so sadly any conclusions drawn about fathers specifically would not be statistically significant.

A word on BMI

The main measure used to determine whether or not a child was overweight or obese was BMI, which is calculated by taking a person’s weight in kilograms and dividing that by the square of their height in meters (if you’re interested in finding out yours, I would suggest popping over to the NHS website and using their handy calculator tool). When it comes to children, this is then applied against a population average that places your child at its appropriate percentile against the population as a whole. A healthy weight is deemed to be between the 3rd and 95th percentiles.

Is BMI helpful? It does give a measure across large populations and a way to track trends, so using it to show that on average childhood obesity is increasing over time is relatively helpful. However when it comes to the individual, things are less clear cut. Total weight does not take into account heavy muscle mass or lighter fat mass such that, for example, a healthy athlete may have a much higher BMI than an elderly adult who has lost much muscle mass and gained in unhealthy fat mass. Similar can be said of children – they are all so very different, and medical professionals do not usually consider BMI alone as a measure of good or poor health.

What to do if your child has a high BMI

Children in the UK are measured at school, and that BMI measure is then communicated back to their parents for follow-up. First of all, if you’ve received such a letter, I would say not to panic. Please consult a medical professional who will be able to tell you whether or not there is something of concern.

Depending on where you live, there are varying free support services available to help you to make changes to diet and lifestyle if needed. Many Registered Nutritional Therapists such as myself, are also able to offer help and support in this area: click here to find an NT near you.

Supporting working families

I think it’s safe to say that we’re not going back to pre-1975 and looking to retire the majority of mothers from the workforce. Ethics aside, even if this was feasible from a financial perspective, I doubt it would be in any way successful. So many factors in our lives have changed in the last 45 years, many of which have contributed to a poorer diet and increased levels of obesity. So here are my alternative ideas for healthy change:

  1. There is no difference between kids’ food and adult’s food

One of my biggest bug bears is this notion of “kids’ food” versus adult’s food. Where did this come from? I’m not advocating weaning babies and young children on restaurant dinners or suggesting that we can’t occasionally enjoy richer or spicier food alone, but most of the food I cook and eat is not designated for a single-sized human, and that’s how it was until very recent history in the grand scheme of things.

It has become the norm to only offer children fish fingers and chips, mac and cheese or chicken nuggets in restaurants. Also normalising the omission of any type of vegetable in many cases!

When we promote foods as a “children’s dinner” in a world where working parents often are eating separately out of necessity and timings, it’s easy to see how we can get caught in the trap of feeding our children their own food at their own dinner time. But actually, was this a conscious decision? Or has it just happened due to marketing and following what peers do? Ask yourself this question – would you eat what you’re serving your children?

My challenge to you is – can you stop? Can you prepare the same food, even if it’s eaten at separate times? Or can you ensure that childcare providers that are providing this food eat the same foods with the children in order to model good eating habits? Depending on how ingrained habits are and how old your children are, this may take some time to transition, but perhaps weekends would be a good starting point – a family meal that is fun, but also healthy and suitable for all ages.

2. We don’t always need snacks

My mum always scoffs at kids’ snacks and asks when on earth did this become the way to eat? Certainly not when I was a child apparently (and we’re not even going back 40 years then either, not quite!) This is an additional area of marketing for the food industry – if children need snacks then they can sell them. And it’s completely become the norm again without many actually stopping and thinking about whether or not their child really needs a snack. If my boys eat a decent breakfast, they are rarely hungry again by 10am and actually asking for more food, unless that is, they see it, and/or their peers are eating it.

Try starting the day with a healthy and filling breakfast, and see how long your children last without asking for or visibly needing food. You may be surprised! And always take a back-up snack that is full of fibre and protein and not high in sugar.

3. The food industry is an industry

The clue is in the title – food as an “industry”. Food became a “technology” subject at school and we stopped being taught how to cook and instead learned about how to produce “food products”. Do you see the difference? We stopped leaning about how all the wonderful nutrients in our bodies really work there in a way that made them appetising, and focused instead on the art of analysing our food as products to sell. We were subconsciously trained to buy food products rather than cook them ourselves, and indeed many people I meet genuinely believe that cooking is far more difficult than it actually is (ok I may not be Michelin star standard, but what I produce is more than “edible”!) and that processed packaged foods are just as nutritious as homemade one (they are not).

There is more and more emerging evidence that processed foods are not healthy for us, regardless of how many vitamins and minerals are artificially added, and the UK is one of the biggest consumers of highly processed foods in the world (certainly lengths ahead of our European counterparts). Perhaps this change in how we learn about food, rather than the increase in working mothers, has actually driven down the route of buying more unhealthy processed foods?

4. Food labelling is too complicated

In addition to buying in to the food industry itself, we are also being constantly conned by food labelling. It is there in the guise of making it easier for consumers to make healthy choices, but oftentimes this very labelling is making it much harder than it really needs to be to make a judgement on a food’s nutritional value.

My golden rules for reading labels are very simple:

  1. If it has more than 5 ingredients, it’s probably not healthy
  2. If you don’t recognise any of the ingredients listed, or your grandparents wouldn’t, it’s probably not healthy

I teach the fundamental principals of good nutrition in my EAT TO THRIVE programme, and it’s so rewarding to help people make sense of reading food labels. There’s often a traffic light system to help busy people make good choices quickly, but this does not reflect a product’s propensity to spike blood sugar levels, and “healthy” artificial sweeteners aren’t really a healthy choice despite keeping that traffic light number in the green.

We need to approach food labelling with a more cynical eye, and increase our own confidence in reading labels, cooking and choosing healthy foods so that we can pass those skills on and model them to our children.

What can we do?

I put that question to you, and the response was fantastic, so…

1.Teach our children about food; teach them how to cook it, teach them what it does in their bodies, get them involved in every aspect of what they eat from choosing it at the supermarket/market, to growing it, chopping it, cooking it.

If you’re not preparing the food for your children, speak to those who are about doing this too. Find your most knowledgeable friend or neighbour and rope them into volunteering at your child’s school or nursery to do food-based activities with them, there are endless possibilities

2. Brush up your own knowledge and skills. It doesn’t have to be a chore to learn how to cook, there are loads of great cooking classes out there. Sign up, take a friend, learn to love cooking real food from scratch so you don’t have to rely on processed meals

3. Surround yourself with supportive friends and talk about nutrition. For older children surrounded by peer pressure, how can we help them? In all honesty I’m not there yet, but I am doing everything in my power to model good eating habits to my children and surrounding our whole family with like-minded people so that they have a group of peers in exactly the same boat.

And I talk about it! Yes, I am probably that annoying nutrition friend, but we can all do it – if you learn something, share it, talk about it. Headlines like this try to divide the working mums from the stay-at-home mums but we shouldn’t let them. If you have challenges, ask your friends for help – chances are they are experiencing or have experienced the same issues too.

4. Provide a healthy breakfast. This was the key area that consistently came up as challenging – what to serve your children for breakfast that is quick, easy and tasty, and not a high-sugar breakfast cereal that won’t support their energy levels over the course of the morning and will likely lead to more pestering or bad choices at “snack time”. So I’ve pulled together five recipes that I use on a regular basis – you can download them by signing up to my mailing list.

I hope that helps, but if you’ve any questions or requests, please do post them here, and let’s continue the conversation about how to help turn around the childhood obesity epidemic regardless of how many hours mums spend per day in paid employment! And if you’re in the Wimbledon area are would like to learn more, my next Children’s Nutrition Workshop will be taking place on 18th May.

Nutrition Science

What is Functional Medicine?


Photo by Cara Fuller on Unsplash

Functional Medicine

Functional medicine is a term that’s very familiar to me, but I forget sometimes that when I started studying it a little over seven years ago, the concept was relatively new to me and certainly the term itself was not one that was in my day to day vocabulary. So today I wanted to draw on the inspiration provided to me by functional medicine doctor Tom O’Bryan, who I had the pleasure of meeting the other week. Dr O’Bryan’s knowledge is phenomenal, but it’s not that information that I want to share with you today, it’s the analogies he uses to explain in simple terms what Functional Medicine is, and how he proposes everyone undertake life-changing practices that are not daunting, nor complicated, nor intangible to the many…

So what is functional medicine?

Functional medicine, put simply, is getting to the root cause of health symptoms, and fixing the issues that lead to chronic ill health in the first place. Here I must just reiterate that it’s chronic conditions I’m talking about, not illness through an accident or stringent virus that we were unfortunate enough to befall. So when we find ourselves in a place of chronic ill health, the analogy Dr O’Bryan used and which I want to share with you today, is one of falling down a waterfall and into a pond.

When we fall down that waterfall we, hopefully, receive the medicine we need to survive, his so-called “lifejacket medicine”. But what brought us to that place in the first place? And how do we get out of the pond? This is functional medicine – looking back upstream, sometimes as far as events in our childhood or even preconception, that lead us to that stream in the first place. And once we find them, we can start to make changes to resolve that underlying issue or issues, and figuratively climb out of the pond and walk back upstream to a place of good health again.

To quote Albert Einstein “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. If we don’t make any changes, how can we expect to set out on a different, healthier path, that won’t lead us back to that waterfall again?

In some cases I don’t dispute that lifelong medication may be needed, but even in that instance, there are likely factors we can change that will help support our health for the future, and those factors are what is today more commonly called “lifestyle medicine”: diet, exercise, sleep and stress management.

What does functional medicine look like in everyday life?

Whilst my main focus, as a Nutritional Therapist, is on diet, my functional medicine training has taught me how to also recognise and address the other three of these pillars too, and clients who come to see me for advice on what to eat often also leave with simple changes to make to their sleep habits or exercise regime too, or ideas and tools to help them better manage their day-to-day stress. All these aspects are also very much interlinked: diet plays a role in how we manage stress for example, and exercise can impact how well we sleep, all these factors are inextricably intertwined. While that might sound more complicated and daunting, it’s often the very opposite: making one small change can act as a catalyst to so many other aspects of our life and health. And these leads me to the other pearl of wisdom from Dr O’Bryan that I wanted to share with you today: “base hits win the ball game”.

“Base hits win the ball game”

An American phrase I know, but what it means is simple: it’s not the home runs that have the biggest impact on a baseball team’s success. It’s not the huge life changes that we sometimes think we need to make (“it’s January, out with the sugar and the TV dinners, in with the kale and daily gym work-outs” – does that sound familiar?) It’s the small steps we take that positively impact our health, lead to good habits, and allow us to move on and make the next small step rather than give up because everything’s become too overwhelming.

Where are you now?

For some of you reading this, you may well be feeling that you’re in the pond at the bottom of the waterfall. Would you like some help to climb out and walk back upstream? For others you may be in the stream. Perhaps you don’t realise it yet, but if you’re not confident about how to eat, sleep and exercise well and manage your stress, could it be that you may be headed for that waterfall? If any of this does resonate with you, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line and set up a complementary call to see if a personalised functional and lifestyle medicine approach could help you. Or, check out my next EAT TO THRIVE programme to help learn the main principals behind eating well and feel confident you really are making healthy choices with your diet.

Dinners, Recipes

Friday Night “fake-away” Lamb Curry

I love to batch cook “take-away” dishes for a Friday night feast. I was a huge fan of a weekly take-away for years, but the truth is they never make me feel very good. There may well be good take-aways out there, but many tend to be filled with hidden sugar, flavour enhancers, and for me – cream and gluten, all of which are just unnecessary for a great curry in my opinion… In addition, the tendency is to over-order, and the portion sizes are always huge which leads to over-eating, let’s be honest!

So I’ve adopted a “here’s one I made earlier” approach to take-aways. I batch cook a big batch, and freeze it in portions ready to grab out of the freezer on a Friday night. My kid-friendly but also good enough for grown-ups chicken korma is always a big hit, but my favourite has to be this spicy lamb curry. Turn the heat up or down by using more or less chillies, I think I’ve achieved a middle-ground here that will suit most.

Serves 6 (so three ready meals for two), serve with brown rice, extra yogurt (especially if it’s a little too hot for you), some fresh coriander and/or mint, maybe a couple of popadoms if you’re happy to bend the healthy rules a little for the weekend 😉

Ingredients:

  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 5 cm piece of ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground black peppercorns
  • 4 tablespoons plain natural yogurt or coconut yogurt if dairy free
  • 750g diced lamb
  • 2 medium white onions
  • 2 peppers (red/orange/yellow best for colour)
  • 4 birdseye chillies, deseeded
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2-3 red onions
  • 1 additional pepper (green works well)
  • seeds from 3 green cardamom pods
  • 3 cloves / 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 tsp hot chilli powder (optional)
  • 3-4 tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 x 400 g tin of plum tomatoes

Method:

  1. Grate the ginger (peel it first if it’s not organic) and crush the garlic, place in a large bowl with the turmeric, peppercorns and yogurt, and mix together with the lamb until it’s all coated. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour hour, preferably overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170ºC (150ºC fan)
  3. Peel and roughly chop the white onions, deseed and roughly chop the peppers and birdseye chillies and blitz in a food processor.
  4. Chop the red onions and green pepper, then gently heat the coconut oil in a large casserole dish (that has a lid) that can be transferred to the oven and fry them gently for 4-5 minutes, until they are nicely softened.
  5. Meanwhile, pop the cardamom seeds, cloves, cumin seeds and coriander seeds into a small food processor or coffee grinder, and grind to a powder. Add this powder, along with the cinnamon, paprika and chilli powder to the pan and stir to coat the softened onions and pepper.
  6. Add the blitzed veg from the processor to the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, then add the tomatoes, the marinated lamb and approx 250 mls water, and bring to the boil.
  7. Once boiling, cover with the lid and place in the oven for at least 2 hours. Stir occasionally and add a little more water if the sauce is thickening too much.
Recipes, Sweet treats

Chocolate mousse

A healthy chocolate mousse?! Packed with healthy fat (avocado) and antioxidants, this truly is a dessert you don’t need to feel guilty about! There’s no nasties, no refined sugar, just real food, and it tastes delicious.It also freezes well to create “chocolate ice cream” – I pop it in lolly moulds or silicon cupcake cases.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 banana
  • 3-4 tbsp raw cacao powder
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract / vanilla bean paste
  • 1-2 tbsp water
  • Pinch of sea salt

Method:

Combine all ingredients together in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Transfer the mixture into small ramekins and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.