UK children are progressively becoming over weight.

Over the years children’s eating habits have become one of the most discussed topics in the UK.

The combination of eating high fat and sugar foods, such as crisps, chocolates and fizzy drinks together with a "couch potato" lifestyle is contributing to the substantial rise in the number of children over-weight in this country.

Hcan you prevent your child from becoming over-weight in today’s environment? More importantly how can you introduce a healthy eating plan to your child without making him or her feel self-conscious about their weight? You have to be extremely careful as putting your child on a specific weight-reduction diet can cause more harm than good. Aside from your child feeling self-conscious, cutting down on food can cause deficiencies in protein, vitamins and minerals that at a young age are vital for growth.

It is far more effective to concentrate on introducing a healthy eating plan and encouraging your child to do more exercise - aside from the usual computer games and videos! Making sure your child eats from all the food groups is your first priority, as introducing a healthy eating plan is much easier to control if you are familiar with the various food groups. Suzannah Olivier is a leading author on the subject of nutrition and is also an adviser for comments: "If your child eats from all the food groups regularly then he or she should be getting a balanced diet."

The food groups to consider are protein rich foods including meat, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, Soya foods orlegumes (beans, lentils etc). Calcium rich foods ranging from pineapple, banana, spinach and garlic. Fruit, vegetables, grains and starchy foods (bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes) plus fats and oils (small children need calorie dense meals for optimal growth.)

Children also need sufficient liquids in their diet such as water, diluted fruit juice or sugar free squash. Sodas should not be counted towards liquid intake and milk should really be viewed as a food.

Milk is a rich source of calcium, but other foods make ideal alternatives such as tinned sardines, cheese, Tofu, enriched soya milk, broccoli, kidney beans and whole wheat bread to name but a few. Suzannah Oliver comments: "Between the ages of two and seven youngsters need 600mg of calcium a day and therefore foods such as oranges, sunflower seeds, dates and carrots should be introduced to the child’s diet."

Introducing a healthy eating plan for the whole family is one way to ensure your child doesn’t feel isolated and it also benefits the family as a whole. In general avoid fried foods grill, bake or steam instead. If you have to put butter or margarine on foods then make sure it’s only a small amount and use low-fat spread or margarine on bread. Cut out or reduce sugar on breakfast cereal and use fresh fruit for desserts and snacks. Ideally crisps, chocolate and puddings should only be eaten occasionally and introduce sugar-free squashes and fizzy drinks. Children over the age of five can drink skimmed milk or alternatively replace cow’s milk altogether with soya milk, which is also rich in calcium.

Many children take packed lunches to school so rather than packing chocolate and pre-packed sandwiches try including a roll or bagel with a filling of tuna, egg or cold meat but leave out the mayonnaise. Try to also include sliced tomatoes, cucumber or cress too. Follow with fruit, a muesli bar or low-fat yoghurt and also encourage your child to drink more water.

Exercise plays a fundamental role in the overall health and fitness of a child, but in this day and age computer games and television are top priorities in most children’s lives. Try to encourage your child to participate in out door sports or alternatively introduce a family exercise such as swimming, which is something the whole family can enjoy together.

Eating a variety of fruit is the best way of reaping the health benefits, but it is also true that specific fruits have different advantages. Fruit Rich in Good for

Apples Quercitin Antioxidant useful for lungs
Pectin A fibre which helps to detoxify pollution
Berries Proanthocyanidins The dark red colouration supports immune health.
Especially good for lungs and heart health.
Vitamin C Antioxidant, used for energy production,
needed for immune health, needed to make collagen
(necessary for skin and bone health).
Citrus Vitamin C (see berries above)
Bioflavonoids Makes vitamin C more potent
Limonene Helps liver to function
Cherries Vitamin C (see berries above)
Proanthocyanins (see berries above)
Iron Builds blood
Bananas Potassium Brain function, nerve cells and water balance
Cantaloup Beta-carotene Eye, skin and lung health
Grapes Ellagic acid Antioxidant
Magnesium Nerve function and bowel health
Kiwi Vitamin C (see berries above)
Mango Beta-carotene (see cantaloup above)
Galic acid Good for bowel health
Papaya Papain Digestive enzyme which helps digestion
Vitamins A, C and E The three main antioxidant vitamins
Pears Pectin (see apples above)
Pineapple Bromelain Digestive enzyme which helps digestion
Vitamin C (see berries above)
Iron (see cherries above)

Cows milk should never be introduced before the age of one, before which formula milks should be used if you are not breast feeding. After the age of one if your child is allergic to milk, strictly speaking he or she does not need milk, though calcium and a good calorie intake is needed. Milk is a rich source of calcium, but other foods can fit the bill.

Other sources of calcium include:

Tinned sardines 1 small tin 400 mg
Enriched flour 100 gms 200 mg
Cheese, cheddar 25 mg 200 mg
Yoghurt, low fat, natural 100 gms 200 mg
Tinned pink salmon small tin 150 mg
Tofu (calcium enriched) 100 gms 150 mg
Enriched soya milk 100 mls 140 mg
Milk 100 ml 100 mg
Spinach, cooked 100 gms 75 mg
Broccoli 75 gms 75 mg
Almonds 25 gms 50 mg
Soybeans, cooked 75 gms 50 mg
Orange 1 medium 50 mg
Kidney beans, cooked 75 gms 50 mg
Blackberries 100 gms 35 mg
Leeks 50 gms 30 mg
Cabbage 50 gms 30 mg
Carrot 1 medium 25 mg
Dates and raisins 35 gms 25 mg
Egg 1 large 25 mg
Whole wheat bread 1 slice 25 mg
Peanut butter 2 tbsp 25 mg
Apple 1 medium 20 mg
Green beans 50 gms 20 mg
Kiwi fruit 1 med 20 mg
Sunflower seeds 15 gms 20 mg
Pumpkin seeds 10 gms 15 mg
Lentils (cooked) 55 gms 15 mg
Cauliflower 50 gms 15 mg
Pear 1 med 10 mg
Cantaloupe 100 gms 10 mg

Between the ages of 2 and 7 youngsters need 600mg of calcium a day. If they have a varied, whole-food diet sufficient calcium can be obtained. Even tap water from hard-water areas or still mineral water provide significant amounts of calcium.

This menu will give around 600mg of calcium:

2 eggs 50mg
Handful of dates 25mg
1 orange 50mg
1 carrot in matchsticks 25mg
1/2 portion broccoli spears 35mg
Sunflower seeds (can be ground as cereal 20mg
topping but avoid if your child has nut allergies)
1/2 small tin pink salmon 75mg
1 calcium enriched soya yoghurt (on cereal) 100mg
2 slices wholemeal bread (or bread sticks) 50mg
2 portions of green vegetables 80mg

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