Food Labelling: What Food is Safe for Children?
If you want to know what you're buying, then be reassured that in some cases the names of foods we buy, such as chocolate or orange juice, are protected by law, and must comply with certain regulations on ingredients.
But for items like fish fingers, for example, there may be no such standards, although the food still needs to be described accurately and should not be misleading.
To Ensure A Healthy Diet, the main concerns for toddlers and younger children are for sugar and salt levels. There's actually no need to add salt to your toddler's food: from the age of 1 to 3, children should be having no more than 2g a day. If you're buying processed foods like pre-packaged meals, even those aimed at children, remember to check the information given on the labels so you do choose those with less salt.
As a guide, these are the maximum amounts of salt children should have in a day according to the Food Standards Agency:
- 1 to 3 years – 2g a day (0.8g sodium)
- 4 to 6 years – 3g salt a day (1.2g sodium)
- 7 to 10 years – 5g a day (2g sodium)
- 11 and over – 6g a day (2.4g sodium)
What if my Child has a Sweet Tooth?
Don't make it any worse! There's no need to add sugar or honey to food for your toddler, and don't give sweet drinks such as fizzy drinks and fruit squash because they cause tooth decay. If you do give fruit squash or sugary drinks, make sure they're well diluted with water and drunk at mealtimes. Between meals, it's better to give water or milk to drink.
Fruit has enough natural sugar in it for a child in a day, so choose that as a healthier snack over sweets.
What Should I Look for on Labels?
The Food Standards Agency has issued a nutritional 'traffic light' system, which is used on many brands and supermarkets products. This provides a quick-glance guide to how much salt, sugar, saturates and fats are contained in the product.
Some of the UK's biggest food firms, such as Kraft, Danone, Kelloggs and Nestlé, also include details of guideline daily intake amounts (GDAs) on the front of their packets, too, which explains how many calories and fat should be consumed by adults per day.
Understanding E NumbersAs well as the levels of sugar and salts, additives known as E Numbers still feature heavily in a lot of foods, despite the speculation that they trigger autism, ADHD and hyper activity.
Here's a list of the main culprits, what they are used for, and what they might do to your child.
Sulphur dioxide (E220) and other sulphites (E221, E222, E223, E224, E226, E227 and E228) are used as preservatives in a wide range of foods, in particular soft drinks, sausages, burgers, and dried fruit and vegetables.
Food labelling rules now require pre-packed food sold in the UK, and the rest of the European Union, to show clearly on the label if it contains sulphur dioxide or sulphites at levels above 10mg per kg or per litre (or if one of its ingredients contains it).
Benzoic acid (E210 and other benzoates (E211, E212, E213, E214, E215, E216, E217, E218 and E219) are used as food preservatives to prevent moulds and yeasts, although they do occur naturally in fruit and honey. Benzoates may worsens the symptoms of asthma and eczema.
Tartrazine (E102) is a yellow colour used in a range of foods including soft drinks, sweets and sauces. Studies have shown that eating foods or drinks containing tartrazine can cause dermatitis (an allergic skin condition), nettle rash (urticaria), rhinitis (runny nose) or asthma in a small number of people. The use of tartrazine has decreased in recent years.
Obviously, there's no substitute for fresh fruit and veg, so if you want to avoid any additives and E numbers, wash fruit and veg thoroughly (to get rid of any pesticides) and make it your child's only option – if you don't buy processed foods, they won't eat them!