Tuck in - how to get the kids to eat well over Christmas

Getting children to eat nutritious food is never far from the headlines. This Christmas is no exception with further bans on social and online media advertising junk food to children.

What is the problem with junk food?

Figures show three quarters of children now leave school either overweight or obese[1]. This poses serious problems for their health both now and in the future. Medical conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and arthritis are much more common in overweight people and at an increasingly younger age. Eating junk food on a regular basis is associated with a poor diet and weight gain. Junk food is high in fat, sugar and salt and includes lots of products which are popular at Christmas, such as chocolate and sweets, crisps, cakes, biscuits and sweet, fizzy drinks.

Top tips for eating well over Christmas

Try to stick to eating three meals a day. This is really important for children as they will be less likely to snack in between meals. Begin the day with a good breakfast. Cereal with milk (for example Oat Drink), served with fruit provides a good start to the day. Christmas dinner provides a well balanced nutritious meal of meal and vegetables. Many children don’t like a traditional Christmas pudding, so a fresh fruit trifle with custard and a little cream is a popular alternative.

Leave space between meals

It is important to leave space between meals to build up an appetite to enjoy your very special Christmas meal. Eating a few savoury snacks while waiting for the Christmas meal to arrive can be a treat.

What to do about chocolates, confectionary and savoury snacks

It is important to talk to your children about these foods and how they can affect their health. Agree some guidelines about when to eat them and how many. A few chocolates for example could be eaten after a meal or instead of pudding. Put these foods out of reach as the temptation to keep eating them may be too great for some. Research shows that if people have to get up from their seat to find food they eat less of it. It is important not to let snacks and confectionery spoil a child’s appetite for a nutritious meal.

What about fizzy drinks?

The problem with fizzy drinks is they can contain a lot of sugar which can affect a child’s appetite and add ‘empty’ non nutritious calories to a meal. Sweet drinks can also ‘prime’ the taste buds to prefer very sweet food. You could make your own fizzy drinks or non alcoholic cocktails from carbonated water and freshly squeezed vegetable or fruit juice.

The balance between eating and exercise

Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are keystones for maintaining healthy weight. If you and your children eat more than usual counter balance this with doing more exercise such as jogging, cycling or swimming. Aerobic exercise that increases your heart rate, gets you breathing more and uses up the extra calories you have eaten. For example: the average pick and mix type chocolate contains about 60 calories. Running vigorously for 6 minutes will use up 60 calories.

Watch out for passive over consumption

Consumption of high-fat, energy-dense foods prompts over eating because they do not provide the physiological signals to your body to stop eating. Instead children may carry on eating them until they have finished the packet or begin to feel unwell. This can lead to rapid weight gain.

Eating while watching TV

When watching TV metabolic rate falls and children use very little energy. Also eating while watching TV can lead to ‘mindless’ eating where children lose track of what they have eaten and eat too much. TV watching coupled with eating snacks and confectionery can lead to rapid weight gain unless there is an increase in physical activity to compensate. So choose your TV programs carefully, stick to eating regular meals, wrap up warm and go out and do lots of exercise. Then you can eat drink and be merry over Christmas!

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[1]* Health Survey for England (HSE)

A Healthier Lifestyle