Following on from her recent webinar for School Food Matters, Jenny spoke to EdPlace about key nutrition considerations for parents during school closures.
5-a-day in the true context of the phrase
What you need to know about nutrition during school closures
We’re eating at home now more than ever before and while schools are closed, this means producing lunches every day for your children too. It's easy to find this task quite daunting especially as we're aware of the importance of a healthy diet in our lives. Nutrition plays an important role in your child's development, from feeding their brain to promoting healthy growth. But this doesn’t mean you need to get caught up in the detail. Nutrition guidelines - including the School Food Standards - are based on eating a variety of foods from different food groups to meet nutritional requirements.
The government’s Eatwell Guide recommends that a balanced diet contains over a third of vegetables and fruits; over a third of starchy carbohydrates; and the remainder is split between protein, dairy (or dairy alternatives), and a small amount of healthy fats (like olive and vegetable oils). It’s unlikely that each meal will include all five food groups; the aim is to achieve a balance across the day.
1) Fruit and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and fibre. Aim to include one portion of fruit and one portion of veg with lunch. To get the biggest range of nutrients, variety is key - aim to eat a rainbow of colours over the course of a week.
Fresh, frozen, tinned (preferably in water) all count towards 5-A-DAY. Dried fruit, fruit juice, smoothies, beans and pulses (lentils and chickpeas) also count but only ever as a maximum of one portion per day. The sugar in fruit juices and smoothies is released from the fruit when it’s blended, becoming a ‘free’ sugar which can damage teeth, so limit portions to a small glass (150ml) per day.
2) Starchy carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and include vitamins and fibre (particularly wholemeal varieties). Aim to include a portion with lunch every day, this can include food like bread, bagels, wraps, rice, potatoes and pasta.
3) Milk and dairy are important sources of calcium for healthy teeth and bones. Aim to include a portion of dairy food with lunch every day. This could be cheese, yoghurt or a glass of lower fat milk (ie semi-skimmed). If your child has plant-based alternatives, it’s important to choose fortified versions to ensure they’re not missing out on key nutrients.
4) Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein are important for muscle growth and repair. Aim to include a portion with lunch every day, like fish, lean meat and plant-based options, like tofu, beans and chickpeas. Include oily fish, like salmon, mackerel and sardines once a week as part of your child’s lunch or dinner for omega 3 fatty acids. Some oils (like flaxseed, linseed and walnut), nuts and seeds, soya and soya products (like tofu) also provide omega 3 if your child doesn’t eat fish.
5) One nutrient we tend not to be able to get enough of through diet alone is vitamin D. It’s found in a small number of foods like oily fish, egg yolks and some fortified foods like cereals, but it’s unique in that our body creates most of our vitamin D through sunlight. This means that from early April until late September, most of us in the UK will get the vitamin D we need from sunlight but not from October to March, so a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of Vitamin D is recommended. Due to the current advice to stay at home where possible, and less exposure to sunlight, Public Health England has recommended that supplements should be taken for longer at this time.
6) When it comes to healthy hydration, water and reduced-fat milk (ie semi-skimmed) are the best options for children. Milk is a good source of nutrients like protein, some B vitamins, iodine and calcium. Aim to limit sugary drinks and high intake of tea and coffee due to caffeine levels. While sugar-free versions of drinks can be a better alternative, most contain artificial sweeteners, which, while safe, do not help to reduce preferences for sweeter drinks in the long term and fizzy varieties still impact upon dental health. The amount of liquid needed varies per child, depending on age, gender, the weather and level of physical activity, however, on average children should aim to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid each day.
Now might also be a good time to involve your child in food preparation - this process counts as ‘food exposure’ which is particularly helpful in encouraging children to try foods that they’re less familiar, or extra fussy, with. For lunchtime inspiration, visit Biteback 2030’s youtube page for daily cook-a-longs with Chef Jack, where all of the meals meet the School Food Standards. #CookWithJack