Research by the University of Reading has found that couples with children have a poorer diet than those without. On average, statistics showed that childless couples ate 2kg more fruit and vegetables than families over a fortnight. The results formed part of a study that looked at the uneven distribution of unhealthy diets in the population. It also showed that regional variation in the demand for fruit and vegetables is pronounced, with the highest demand in London and the South East and the lowest in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Professor Richard Tiffin, Director of the Centre for Food Security at the University, said: “There are clear distributional implications for dietary health that arise from these patterns of consumption and also for the health of children. They suggest that targeted interventions are necessary in order to reduce the incidence of diet-related health problems in the future.” The study revealed that the presence of children in a household leads to a lower level of demand for fruit and vegetables and meat, and an increased demand for milk and dairy, cereals and potatoes.
The results also emphasised the role played by low incomes and socio-economic circumstances in poor dietary choices. Comparing an unemployed individual with an otherwise identical individual living in a household of two, the former consumed over 3kg less fruit over a period of two weeks. Similarly, for two identical households, a difference in income of 10 per cent can be expected to lead to a difference in demand for fruit and vegetables of around 500g.
Professor Tiffin said: “Our results imply that households which have a higher level of expenditure will tend to consume proportionately more meat and more fresh fruit and vegetables. Households in London and the South East have higher levels of fruit and vegetable consumption while it is reduced by the presence of children. “The dietary components that we have analysed have important implications for policy-makers in tackling diet-related chronic disease, which represents one of the most significant public health challenges of the 21st century.”
The paper, 'The demand for a healthy diet: estimating the almost ideal demand system with infrequency of purchase, by R. Tiffin (University of Reading) and M. Arnoult (Scottish Agricultural College), is published this month in The European Review of Agricultural Economics – http://erae.oxfordjournals.org/content/current
Researchers used the UK government's Expenditure and Food Survey (EFS) for 2003-2004. Participating households voluntarily record food purchases for consumption at home for a two-week period using a food diary. The sample is based on 7,014 households in 672 postcode sectors stratified by Government Office Region, socioeconomic group and car ownership. It is carried out throughout the UK and throughout the year in order to capture seasonal variations.
There are some tricks that can help make any fast food meal better for you and your family. Follow these tips to cut down on fat, sodium, sugar, overall calories and make your meal healthier:
- If you are ordering á la Carte items on the menu, find out if there is a child’s size available. Another option is to order the regular size and split the order and share it. Avoid ordering extra large portions just because they are a deal! These deals usually have the words jumbo, giant, super sized or deluxe in the name.
- Don’t be shy about making substitutions! Children love kid’s meals because it comes with a toy and it is usually in a cool looking box. Let them order it but ask to make substitutions for the fries and soda if possible. Many restaurants will offer milk or water as a beverage and apple slices instead of fries.
- Talk to your child before ordering a meal and give them a choice of milk, juice or water (make sure it is low fat milk or 100% fruit juice.) Explain to them that soda is high in empty calories that will just fill up their tummies.
- Let your child know that they can ask for items prepared a specific way. For example, salad dressing on the side, baked or grilled instead of fried, brown rice instead of white rice.
- Finally, set a good example by ordering a healthy meal for yourself.
What Can Parents Do?
By learning how the food is prepared, you will be able to make healthier choices ordering from a menu:
- Order foods that are not breaded or fried because they are higher in fat and calories. Foods that are breaded and deep fried include: chicken nuggets, fried chicken, fried fish sandwiches, onion rings and french fries.
- Order foods that are prepared by being steamed, broiled, grilled, poached, or roasted.
- Have gravy, sauces and dressings served on the side so you can control the amount you eat.
- Use salsa and mustard instead of mayonnaise.
- Use non-fat milk or low fat milk instead of whole milk or heavy cream.
- Order a salad with ‘lite’ or non-fat dressing instead of regular dressing.
- Choose a regular, single patty hamburger without mayonnaise and cheese.
Over the last few years, many chain restaurants have been adding healthier menu options. They also started providing nutrition information for all the foods on the menu, but you usually need to ask for it. Try checking their website as well for additional information.
Hamburger fast food restaurants are the most popular with children. However, other options are available such as Asian food, sandwiches, or Mexican grills. Keep in mind that every fast food restaurant has both healthy and less-healthy choices. Here are some pointers to remember that can help you make better choices when eating out at various fast food places:
- Choose grilled soft tacos or burritos instead of a crispy shell or gordita-type burritos.
- Black beans are a better choice because they have less fat than refried beans.
- Ahhh, the Mexican condiments! Salsa is low in calories and fat and it makes a great substitute for sour cream, guacamole and cheese.
- Choose lean meats such as chicken breast, lean ham or roast beef, instead of salami or bacon.
- Ask for 100% whole wheat bread for sandwiches. Skip the croissants and biscuits because they are high in fat.
- Add low fat salad dressings instead of special sauces or mayonnaise.
- Choose baked chips or pretzels instead of regular potato chips.
- Steamed brown rice has more nutrients and less calories than fried rice.
- Stir fried, steamed, roasted or broiled dishes are healthier choices than battered or deep fried.
- Sauces such as low sodium soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, wasabi, or ginger are better choices than sweet and sour sauce or coconut milk.
It’s OK to enjoy fast food once in a while, but try to limit the visits to no more than twice a month. An average meal at a fast food restaurant has around 1000 calories and does not have the vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients that your child needs to grow healthy and strong. While fast food consumption has greatly increased over the years there are several contributing factors why childhood obesity is becoming more and more prevalent. While all the above information is important, we need to keep things in perspective by understanding that the weight epidemic in this country is because of how much food children eat, rather than what food children eat.
If your family is going to have fast food for one meal, just make sure the other meals that day contain healthier foods like fruits and vegetables. Perhaps you could take an afternoon with your child and prepare a few homemade meals in advance that can be served quickly to avoid the temptation of getting fast food too often while at the same time teaching them some simple food preparation steps. Either way, just remember, it is not that difficult to eat healthy even when you don’t have much time.
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