When I see spritely pensioners with a twinkle in their eyes and still living life to the full even in their 70s, 80s and beyond, I can’t help thinking they have benefited from better nutrition than our current generation of children. So why is that the case? In this blog I explore the difference between 1950s kids’ diets and diets today and what we can do to address the balance.
Many grannies and grandpas contact me sharing their concerns about the fragility of the younger generation of today. They can see massive mental health, behavioural and developmental problems as well as a rise in allergies and fussy eating in our children, that were never apparent in the old days. It is often a grandparent who books their grandchild into our clinic, as they have made the link between the child’s poor diet and their poor energy, pale skin and lack of sparkle and zest for life. The grandparent generation has the benefit of viewing life today with all the experience of people who have seen food trends come and go. And many have spotted the connection between the rise in children’s developmental issues, and increased fussy eating, with modern-day parents increasingly relying on convenience foods to meet children’s demands.
Now science has the evidence to back our worries up. For example, we now know that ultra-processed foods cause chronic inflammation in the body – something that can start from a very early age (even in the womb). You may not be able to see this inflammation but chronic inflammation affects all sorts of things in the body and can lead to a broad range of issues ranging from eczema and asthma, to type 2 diabetes to autoimmunity and even mental health issues like depression, according to research from Cambridge University.
Did you know that most post-WW2 children in the UK were better nourished than many of our kids today?
In 1950, red meat was an important source of iron, but by 1992 most iron came from fortified sugary breakfast cereals. Vitamin C came mainly from vegetables in 1950, but from ultra-processed soft drinks in 1992. Children in the 1950s drank milk and ate butter and cheese, and their diets contained high amounts of calcium to keep bones strong. Post-war kids were also given cod liver oil to boost up their omega 3, vitamin A and D. Malt was also on the menu to provide extra minerals and B vitamins.
Lord Woolton worked tirelessly through his rationing system during and after the World War II to ensure every single child in the UK was getting the nutrition, they needed to keep happy, healthy and well. Some will remember that in 1944 he also made it compulsory for local education authorities to provide a free lunch for children in state schools. This contained a minimum of 1,000 calories a day and 30g of fat for each meal – very different from the maximum 530 calories and 20g of fat guidelines for primary schools today. In 2013 Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent of Leon Restaurants, with the help of a panel of experts, produced a School Food Plan for the government, which highlighted that only one per cent of packed lunches met the nutritional standards that applied to school lunches. So, as you can see, in most cases the nutrition kids are getting whilst they are at school, now falls way below that of the 1940s school children.
So, are our kids getting enough good stuff?
If we eat a diet relying on ultra-processed foods and refined sugars then it is likely that we are going to eat less of the good stuff in our diet, as there is only a certain amount of food that we can eat each day. As well as displacing nutrient-dense foods, it is also thought that processed and refined foods deplete nutrients from other foods that have already been eaten. This scavenging effect can lead to nutrient deficiencies that affect the way we extract energy from food, and this could easily be the root of many of our modern-day health problems.
One study looked at the diets of over 33,000 adults and children and found that those eating predominantly ultra-processed foods and refined sugars, ended up with less of several important nutrients which we need to stay healthy, including: protein, fibre, vitamins A, C, D, B6 and B12, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, as well as zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and they recommended eating more home-cooked food as the solution.
Experts think this nutrient poverty is one of the reasons why our kids are having even more health, behavioural and learning problems. I believe that feeding children nourishing home-cooked food is the starting point to building up healthy, happy kids. In my experience as a children’s naturopath, kids that live on processed convenience foods are simply not as resilient, switched-on or happy as those whose parents roll their sleeves up and cook from scratch.
My bestselling cookbook, The Good Stuff features over 100 wonderful recipes that all contain the nutrition and goodness that growing kids need. Some of them will be recognisable across the generations, but still have a modern twist and taste that kids can’t resist. Many of the recipes are inspired by my mum’s cooking, so it really is a case of ‘Grannies Know Best’ when it comes to kids’ food and nutrition.