Nutritionist on ‘cost-effective’ health hacks for kids and how to manage ‘fussy eaters’

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The British Nutrition Foundation explains that a child’s diet should consist of a variety of foods in the proportions shown in the Eatwell Guide. This guide states that children should be aiming to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg each day in addition to starchy foods, milk and cheeses, beans, pulses, eggs and fish, unsaturated oils and spreads and a small amount of fat. This is all accompanied with at least six to eight glasses of water or fluids a day.

The NHS states that children aged seven to 10 years old also need lots of energy and nutrients because they’re still growing. Hobson backs this up, telling that child’s nutrition is all about “growth and nutrition” instead of disease risk prevention, which is what an adults diet concentrates on more.

He goes on to add: “The problem often is that kids often eat small portions of food, so you really need to try and get nutritious food into them. These are foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals that are essential for growth.

“This includes vitamin D, vitamin A, omega-3, and omega-6 are really important, so it is just making sure that you have a good quality diet to ensure that you have a good quality diet to support brain health, bone health and immunity.”

Going on to explain the importance of omega-3 and omega-6, in particular, Hobson explains that omega-3 is a group of fatty acids which include PA, and DHA, found in oily fish, and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), found predominantly in plant-based oils. Whereas, the essential omega-6 fatty acid is called linolenic acid (LA), which can be found in foods such as nuts, seeds, and plant-based spreads.

“Omega-3 and omega-6 are needed for growth and development of children,” Hobson stresses. “It is also important to help keep and maintain normal cholesterol levels, especially as these things can support us in later life.”

A strong advocate for children, especially getting their omega-3 and omega-6, Hobson has teamed up with FLORA, an alternative to dairy butter which can help parents to save money and “add extra flavour into a variety of everyday meals”.

He said: “FLORA is an excellent way for children to get more omega-3 and omega-6. FLORA also contains vitamin A which contributes to normal vision. Fats help with the uptake of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K.”

Supporting a cost-effective brand, such as FLORA, when asked for his own personal tips and tricks to help parents who are feeling the strain of the current cost of living crisis, Hobson suggested the following.

“You want to look at your essentials first and then new ways of cooking. Exploring things like canned foods, beans, pulses, lentils, which are all a really good source of protein. Meat is really expensive so maybe keep that for your Sunday roasts and think of ways to reuse that meat across the week.

“Still trying to get your five a day is really important. There is nothing wrong with canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, and they are a bit cheaper. Look at discounted foods. Sometimes you can buy discounted berries that are half the price and stick them in a bag and freeze them.

“It is just about thinking of new ways of cooking and storing food, and finding new ways of using cheaper versions of food you like to save a few pennies.”

Overcoming the next obstacle in terms of feeding children is the dreaded “fussy eater”, which Hobson also provided some top tips for how parents can overcome this.

“You need to provide children with food little and often,” Hobson begins. “You also need to not chastise them for not eating something, do not make a fuss about it. It is also really important that you sit with your kids as often as possible to eat and instil eating behaviours at an early age.”

Hobson mentions the importance of “positive social modelling” which refers to research that suggests that parents who sit with their children to eat or do general things will influence their children to copy certain behaviours and pick up specific traits.

He continues to say: “Positive social modelling is an effective way of promoting healthier diets in children, including observing the eating behaviours of adults and peers. Research shows that children’s intake of fruit and vegetables increased after watching adults and their peers consume such foods.

“There are many health hacks for adults to do with children or for children to do with their friends that can help them to explore the fun side of healthy eating this summer, without spending a fortune.”

In collaboration with FLORA, Hobson has created the following “cost-effective summer healthy food hacks” which can be used all year round if needed:

Breaking the fast

Breakfast is often referred to as the most important meal of the day and sets children up for a day of activities and learning. Instead of boxed breakfast cereals, which can be expensive and full of sugar, make a refreshing and nutritious batch of overnight oats with only four ingredients.

Mix oats, apple juice, dairy-free milk, and lime juice together and soak overnight, not only is it rich in fibre, but these ingredients also have key nutrients to support children’s growth and development, such as iron. And it will typically cost a little over £1 for five portions. It’s a great way for children to explore interesting and cost-effective toppings like grated apple or tinned fruits.

Homemade lemon, lime, or orangeade

This is a refreshing (and cost-effective) drink to make with your children in the sunshine. Not only is it a good source of vitamin C but you can also limit the amount of sugar that’s used. As well as being tasty, keep the peel and place it in jars to catch pesky flies in the house, proving a great way to educate children about the usefulness of food waste and nature. If you’re not feeling thirsty, slicing up a whole orange as a refreshing snack for your children helps them get more vitamin C from fruit.

Feeling fruity

Try jazzing up water with fun ice cubes made with berries, cucumber, fruit chunks and mint leaves. Choose seasonal fruits like peaches, apples and pears, or use canned or frozen fruits to help keep costs down. Adults can make the most of these by using chopped cucumber ice cubes and fresh herbs to make a summer gin and tonic or cocktail! You can even have a go at growing your own herbs with the kids such as mint and basil before adding these to your fun ice cubes to make a refreshing and different flavoured drink.

Banana and yoghurt fruit pops

This is a tasty treat to enjoy with children in the summer heat. Peel and cut large bananas in half and skewer them on a wooden lolly stick. Dip them in your favourite flavoured yoghurt then place on greaseproof paper and freeze. You can make them in batches to save time and it’s cheaper and healthier than packaged ice creams.

Edible jewellery

To get children to explore and eat more fruit and vegetables, lay out bowls of vegetables and choose seasonal vegetables to keep the costs down, such as, courgette, carrots, and tomatoes, to create necklaces, rings, and bracelets they can eat throughout the day. Use what’s left over to make tasty and healthy veggie fritters to remove waste.

Don’t get in a flap about snacks

Batch cooking healthy snacks with store cupboard essentials is a great and cost-effective way of keeping children full during the school holidays. Making your own low-sugar flapjack recipe utilising bulk bags of rolled oats and dairy alternatives, such as FLORA, will help your children get some omega-3 and omega-6 in their diet, and baking is also a fun activity for the whole family which keeps everyone entertained with a tasty reward at the end.

Load up on plant-based protein

Switch animal protein for canned beans, pulses and chickpeas when cooking lunch and dinner recipes such as curries and salads. Not only are these foods a good source of plant protein and provide key nutrients and minerals including fibre, zinc, iron, and magnesium they help keep costs down in the kitchen. Try batch preparing a delicious Moroccan couscous salad, packed full of vegetables and chickpeas. This recipe can also be replicated with most vegetables to avoid food waste.

Rob Hobson is a Consultant Nutritionist for Flora and shares a selection of budget friendly summer food health hacks for kids, focussing on why Omegas 3 and 6 are essential for growing children.

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