Children, as we know, are like sponges, soaking up everything from spellings and new languages, to maths formulae and physics as part of everyday life in school. And, of course, they go on absorbing information away from the classroom too.
This was bought into particularly stark focus when, during a recent class assembly I was delivering, a little eight-year-old boy was keen to speak up.
“Miss, Miss,” he told me excitedly. “We’ve given up carbs at home. The doctor on the television said it was good for you.”
It was one of those moments when I genuinely did not know what to say and was rivalled only when a mother told me why she had stopped talking about her efforts to slim down in front of her children.
“It was after I discovered my 10-year-old daughter trying to find the calories on a packet of washing powder in the supermarket, to make sure it was OK to put in the trolley,” she explained. “It was a wake-up call. I realised my calorie obsession had gone too far.”
As grown-ups if we decide to go wheat-free, tinker with our macronutrients or try a three-week cleanse to balance the excesses of the festive season then that’s up to us.
But it’s worth considering that children can pick up on the conversations surrounding such choices, absorb the tensions these regimes may sometimes bring and observe that as grown-ups, we’ve begun to eat differently to them.
Whatever New Year’s resolution-fuelled messages children are picking up outside of school, we have to ensure that pupils have access to intrinsically nutritious and balanced menus that support optimum development and performance, as well as physical and mental wellbeing
While our bodies can probably weather the physical, emotional and psychological stresses that come with an intermittent fast, a 14-day juice regime or a burst on a high-protein plan, children at all stages of their growth and development require a steady and stable flow of nutrients and a sound framework within which to establish and maintain a healthy relationship with food.
Whatever our personal views on ketogenic, low-carb plans, children need starchy carbohydrates at every meal to fuel energy requirements and help them concentrate, exercise and grow.
Whether we prefer high- or low-protein, animal or plant sources of this nutrient, children need a decent serving at each meal to maintain optimum development.
And they require an ongoing and reliable source of every essential mineral and vitamin, whether it is iron and calcium for focus and strong bones, vitamins A and C for immunity and wound healing, or B vitamins and iodine for a robust nervous system and metabolism.
There’s widespread confusion, fuelled by mainstream and social media, as to what makes a balanced style of eating, but across the globe, the evidence-based guidance is consistent and clear. It focuses on the essential tenants of starchy carbohydrates (preferably wholegrain), lean protein, vegetables and fruit (at least five a day) and dairy or fortified dairy alternatives daily.
Whatever New Year’s resolution-fuelled messages children are picking up outside of school, we have to ensure that pupils have access to intrinsically nutritious and balanced menus that support optimum development and performance, as well as physical and mental wellbeing.
We must also back this up with information that helps pupils understand the phenomenal power of food on the body and mind. A combination of eye-catching marketing materials, nutrition-focused assemblies, interactive classroom activities and parent/pupil workshops will help them make their own, informed choices.
At CH&CO Independent, we believe that combining knowledge with great food and an inclusive approach to mealtimes, where children are encouraged to interact and share experiences, will foster long-term positive relationships with food. That’s one New Year’s resolution we fully support!