We’ve got back from a week in Brighton and my children are calling me ‘Maman Non’ because I spent 99.9% of my time saying no to their requests for ice creams, sweets and fizzy drinks. I’m in need of a long weekend in a 5 star spa hotel with ‘the girls’ to recover from the full on week of monitoring and balancing their meals……
I am dismayed every time I return to the UK and believe me, I love going ‘home,home’ as I call it and certainly do not wish to Brit bash. What has happened though? Since when did eating become a day long fest of snacking? What has made the British morph into such a nation of milk guzzlers with their endless consumption of creamy coffees and iced drinks? (No self respecting continental consumes milk in their hot drinks after breakfast time – mon dieu!)
The number of overweight children is noticeably higher in the UK than in France where it’s still relatively rare. I don’t think that excessive abdominal fat is a good look on anyone over the age of 7 years old and I’m shocked by the number of children and adolescents with sizeable bellies on them.
Let’s be clear. As parents it’s so important to ensure that our children know how very much we love them, exactly the way they are. It is because we love them so much that we want them grow into healthy, strong and happy adults and this is why we try to ensure they eat nutritious food. 75% of overweight children will grow up to be overweight adults which puts them at greater risk of health issues as well as social issues such as bullying and a lack of confidence. Though it has to be done sensitively and gently, weight issues in children really do need to be addressed. The best approach usually is to involve the whole family in a healthy eating and active lifestyle programme. The child should never ever be singled out or made to feel uncomfortable about their size in any way.
Navigating this highly obesogenic environment with our children is a parent’s nightmare. We need adverts of Cameron Diaz and Ryan Reynolds look alikes running round on beaches munching on broccoli and berries. What we get instead is relentless and cleverly targeted advertising of sugary and highly processed foods. There’s still very little help from either the government or the food industry (and pretty please, this simply has to change soon) so us parents have to act as the guardians and protectors of our children’s diet and this is an exhausting, relentless and thankless task……
So – here’s a peek at a typical day’s ‘battle’ to stick to the basic healthy eating guidelines while on holiday with my children…..
8am – Get up early to buy croissants, fruit salad and greek yoghurt. Kids happily devour everything and I’m reasonably happy that they’ve had a balanced breakfast.
We spend the morning in the Aquarium. I start hearing the usual ‘Mum, I’m getting hungry’ or ‘Oooh, I’d love to try that’ as we pass the cafe. My standard response: ‘I’ve got water and fruit in my bag if you want anything’. Cue sullen silence….
(Guideline no 1 – no snacking between meals unless it’s a fruit or vegetable)
1pm – Fish and Chips on the beach. I order a salad and the kids and husband make the usual jokes about my rabbit food. I wipe the smiles off their faces by ordering 2 side salads for them to have with their lunch. Navigating the drinks menu is trickier. ‘Can I have a coke?‘ ‘Er – no you can’t’ . I order water for everyone and have to put up with 3 miserable faces.
(Guideline no 2 – water is the best drink for children (and adults!)
The kids have a 99 ice cream as we walk along the beach for their ‘dessert’ . I emphasis that this is the only sugary food they are getting today and they nod their heads like they understand (yeah – right!).
(Guideline no 3 – limit sugary stuff to no more than 1 serving a day)
Bang on cue at 3.30pm I start hearing the usual chorus – ‘My feet hurt and I’m hungry’ ‘ That cornetto looks good’ ‘I’ve never seen those sweets before – can we try some?’. Me: ‘No, no no……..’ I eventually decide it’s just easier to pretend I’m deaf.
(Guideline no 4 – Keep a sense of humour. Don’t give up and don’t give in!)
Head home at 6pm after a long swim and play on the beach. They are genuinely hungry as opposed to thinking they are hungry because various processed rubbish is dangled in front of their eyes! I put out hummus, raw vegetables and tortilla wraps for them to nibble on while I cook up spaghetti carbonara and broccoli for everyone. I get the usual ‘what’s for dessert?’ question to which I give the usual response ‘Fruit/Cheese/Yoghurt’
(Guideline no 5 – ply your children with as many vegetables and fruits as they can eat.)
Scores on the doors at the end of the day? Well, the children have had a relatively (!) balanced and healthy menu. As for me – well if I was to count the number of times I’ve had to say ‘no’ to a request for something to eat it’s probably going into 3 digits! I console myself that all this negativity however painful is essential for my children’s wellbeing. My role is the ‘Super hero protector’ of their health and it’s an underpaid and demanding job which I do willingly because I love them…….