Calorie counting kids? No thanks Change4Life!

Happy New Year everyone! The first blog of the year is a bit of a rant unfortunately. In fact quite a lot of my blogs are ranty – sorry about that – I’ll try and find some funnier stuff to write about this year! Anyway, I hope you find it interesting, please do leave your comments either at the bottom of this page or on any of our social media channels. N x

Public Health England (PHE) has this week launched a Change4Life campaign focused on children’s snacks. I’m really pleased that this issue has been raised but once again with PHE I’ve got some serious misgivings about a lot of the information put forward. The general idea, they say, is that you should limit intake to 100 calories snack a maximum of twice a day. This will hopefully reduce their sugar intake.

During the early years children must eat little and often in order to meet the huge energy demands from the body. Remember when your baby was (or perhaps still is) only having milk? Remember how often they needed to feed? And then during early weaning babies eat some solids alongside all their milk. Once milk starts to tail off this is replaced by bigger meals and, once a feed is dropped, often a snack. All of this is to ensure there are enough nutrients to support this massive time of growth especially when you consider their comparatively small tummies!

However, there has been an increasing trend over recent years for children to be constantly ‘grazing’. And whilst even older children can have high energy demands at certain times it’s important that they learn to eat when hungry rather than for other reasons. This grazing approach also means that many children are not eating nutritious fulfilling meals because they are simply not hungry. This is often interpreted as ‘fussiness’ (and of course with children there will always be an element of this alongside power play!) and as a result, food offerings are limited to the things that parents know their children will eat – snacks – most often sugary.

But what is it with this focus on calories? I’m pretty sure my Grandparents didn’t have labels telling them the energy density of their food? And yet their generation didn’t have a third of primary school children leaving school obese. We seem to have lost all notion as what, when and how to eat. It’s very clear from research that not all calories are equal and this fixation that ‘calories count’ causes issues later in life when foods are judged simply on their calorie count. In my mind this recommendation is nothing short of a ‘diet’ plan.

Foods should be picked because of their overall benefit as well as their taste of course(!), and PHE seem to have missed this point with the reference to ‘packaged snacks’. At Happy Tums we say that snacks should be viewed as ‘mini meals’ to help open people’s minds to what they can offer their children. Clever marketing means we seem to think a snack must be something from a packet. This is one of the reasons why we advise against the use of prepacked ‘healthy’ kids snacks. It creates a precedent that snacks come from packets and once a child passes the stage when ‘Organix Goodies’* are no longer appealing what then? What else comes in an easy access wrapper? Crisps, chocolates, sweets, fizzy drinks.

Some of the suggested snack foods given by change4Life included malt loaf, lower-sugar fromage frais, and drinks with no added sugar. And as if to add insult to injury you can also get money off to try these new snack foods. Its’ not clear what they mean by lower-sugar fromage frais but my blog post on kid’s yoghurts is a good read if you want some clarity on how healthy flavoured yoghurts are. Surely a better option is a full fat natural yoghurt – with some fruit if needed? Malt loaf contains 17.1g sugar – some of it from the raisins but also from partially inverted sugar syrup. And it’s so sticky; not great for the teeth. And no added sugar drinks. No added sugar because they contain two artificial sweeteners. So, we’re not teaching children to choose less sweet foods we’re just tricking them with chemicals. And actually, what about promoting just water and milk?

There are plenty of options for healthy snacks that don’t require calorie counting and pack a punch with the nutrients, including things like a boiled egg, an apple with peanut butter dip, home-made banana and almond muffins, rice cakes and hummus, breadsticks and cream cheese, half a slice of cheese on toast, cheese and grapes, oat cakes and avocado, mini babybel, cold pasta salad etc.

Of course, some of these options require a little more forethought but it’s just habit and the sort of habit I’d love to see all our parents and kids adopting in the future. We need to start early if we want to influence the dietary habits of our children.


P.S. I’d love to hear from Tesco as to their plans as part of this campaign to promote healthier snacks. How are they going to choose what to include and how much of it will be fresh, unpackaged options? Let me know if you come across any promotions in your local supermarket – I’m interested to see how it’s working!

*just one example of the many branded snack foods aimed at children.

#Change4Life #PublicHealthEngland #PublicHealth #Sugar #Snacks #Minimeals