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June O'Sullivan, LEYF CEO

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Get off the diet kicks and learn to eat, serve and advise on nutritionally sound food.

9189594369_89f9aa6ca8[1]Admit it, you’re either going on a diet, thinking about a diet or have just given up a diet and busy trying to accept your muffin top or your beer belly. If you’re from TOWIE, you’re saving up for liposuction or a gastric band!

This was the opening conversation I had with three LEYF nursery managers from our Dagenham nurseries while we were offered free refills of Coke or Lemonade on tap and our meals came piled high with chips.

Every time you turn on the TV someone is telling you how to eat, exercise or overcome your food issues. From Fat Camp to BBC 2 we’re bombarded with how to stay thin. Did it ever occur to people that we stay thin by eating less and accepting the fate of most women over 35 which is to be constantly hungry and feel guilty when you do eat? I liked the programme Horizon: Eat Fast and Live Longer on BBC 2 which told us to eat what you like 5 days a week but restrict yourself to 500 calories twice a week and not only will you maintain the body of Elle McPherson you’ll also reduce the chances of  high blood pressure, diabetes 2 and a myriad of other illnesses. I was really up for that till I discovered 500 calories is three apples and a bowl of cabbage soup. Peter Kay, in his tour to end all tours, made me cry for laughing as he expounded on his terrace (his fat tummy) and why we shouldn’t shop when hungry because of the high chance we’ll have eaten 4 of the 5 Kit Kats before even reaching the check out. I ignore Kit Kats and head straight to the Curly Wurlys.

So here’s the irony, we who have so many issues with food, are probably overweight and delight in calorific foods, such as chips and wine (although red wine has anti-oxidant resveratrol which makes you more nimble), are responsible for the dietary wellbeing of so many children. Their parents listen to us when we talk of a healthy diet; a balance of carbohydrates, protein and vegetables. We know that small children lack zinc and carbohydrates and need a good tea, we also know that organic milk increases intake of omega three which has huge benefits for children.  We know much more than that, for example:

  • 28% of children aged 2 to 10 in England are obese. In London, the highest proportion are in Westminster, 4th are in Tower Hamlets and Kensington and Chelsea, and Lambeth are joint 8th (all places where we have nurseries)
  • 34% of children aged 11 to 15 in England are obese
  • Diabetes 2 (poor diet induced) is a growing problem in the UK
  • Children bombarded as they are by ads for fizzy drinks and fast foods are unable to distinguish between ads and TV content
  • A poll done by growingupmilkinfo.com found that 80% of children had eaten pizza and chips by the time they were two and 1 in 1000 parents had never cooked for their children
  • The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is calling on the Government to reduce obesity and ensure that children in nurseries and Children’s Centres are served nutritionally balanced food as well as being able to offer correct and helpful information about food and eating

At LEYF we have been campaigning and even wrote the Standards for a National Qualification for Early Years Chefs. We recognise that the person in charge of the food should have a lead role in understanding what to cook, how to serve it and how best to support colleagues and parents understand about good food.

Despite an overwhelming array of information about food, staff and parents remain confused and obsess about body weight which to some degree misses the point.  We need to grow a body of capable and well informed staff who can give sensible advice, provide us with highly nutritional food, challenge the unhealthy obsessions with losing weight and focus instead on staying healthy by eating sensibly. As my Grandma always said “a little of what you fancy never did you any harm”…it’s when you are eating 5 Curly Wurlys at a go you should start to worry!

  • http://gravatar.com/adetravels Ade Adewunmi

    Hi June. Reading this post reminded me of another one I’d read on body image and self-esteem: http://www.yorubagirldancing.com/2012/02/27/the-body-beautiful/
    (full disclosure, it was written by my sister). In it, she makes the point that her healthy body image and attitude to food was a consequence of (amongst other things) growing up in a home where no-one dieted and body size or shape was never a significant focus of discussion. The result was that she never developed the habit of linking food with her body image. I remember that growing up, the message was that food and its preparation were to be enjoyed and you ate when you were hungry, not when you were bored or upset. Discussions on food and healthy eating are easier when we separate it from body image as the latter impacts many people’s sense of self and triggers emotional instead of objective responses. Your post highlights the point that how we frame the discussion around food is just as important as the information that informs that discussion. Kids pick up on and absorb our various hang-ups and neuroses but lack the ability to effectively sift out the subjective nonsense. Definitely providing good food and exposing children to healthy food options is important; however, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the extent to which parents should be the focus of many of these education drives and how far schools and nurseries such as LEYF can shift thinking in this area. Without parents’ cooperation in this area success seems unlikely but with resources as stretched as they are, should schools and nurseries even try?

  • http://www.paddingtonfarm.co.uk Tiffany Kearton

    June your blog started me thinking so I just asked Kitty about her friends and her experience about eating around their houses and what they ate and she said they eat in their bedrooms and only ate things like fish fingers chips and baked beans. I never knew it was that bad. We have to do something. I asked Kitty what she liked about having a meal cooked for her every night and she said “I like talking to my family and its the one time we stop rushing about and listen to each other” Has it really got that bad, No wonder children are obese when they are left to comfort eat, what they want and in place of a healthy relationship with food with your family it just would not happen in Italy

  • http://www.paddingtonfarm.co.uk Tiffany Kearton

    The main focus of our work at Paddington Farm is to reconnect children to where food comes from and promote healthy eating. Its frightening how many children think eggs comes from Sainsbury’s and can’t tell the difference between a duck and a chicken. It back fires sometimes as one child refused to eat eggs after watching one of our chicks hatch. I did hear an alarming statistic that 20% of children eat their supper in their bedrooms and it made me feel sad.

    • http://www.leyf.org.uk June O’Sullivan

      Thank you Tiff. Its interesting what you say about Kitty’s friends spending time alone eating their supper in front of their TVs in their bedrooms. Its an absolute disgrace that we have abandoned so many structures that give small children a sense of security. I think eating a takeaway meal together is better than them eating alone. Food is so critical to helping us communicate and share ideas and chat.

  • http://kidsactiv8.wordpress.com kidsactiv8

    Where can I find more information about the qualification?

  • Joelle Lax

    Very infromative, perfect timing with lots of new families starting their LEYF journey. This will be displayed for all to see!

    • http://juneosullivan.wordpress.com June O’Sullivan

      Thank you Jo

  • Paddock, Shirley

    June
    As I was reading your blog I was eating a rather delicious nutty flapjack ( which had more calories than a chocolate bar ) did I feel guilty or did I feel guilty ☺
    Shirley Paddock
    Early Years Development and Safeguarding Manager
    215 Lisson Grove
    London
    NW8 8LF
    Tel: 020 7641 3929
    Fax:020 7641 1932
    spaddock@westminster.gov.uk
    http://www.westminster.gov.uk/children

    • http://juneosullivan.wordpress.com June O’Sullivan

      Shirley, remember a little of what you fancy always does you good. Its all about balance!

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