Knowing how to feed ourselves is one of the most important skills we’ll ever learn! Food is our fuel. Just as a car needs petrol to run, we need food. But not all food is equal – some food helps the body grow strong and healthy, some food does not.

One of the best and most simple ways to decide if a food is going to help your body, rather than hinder it, is to apply the test – is it ‘real’. Is the food as close to its natural state as possible, rather than food that has been processed – for example, a strawberry rather than strawberry sweets.

Fruits and vegetables Ready-made meals, sauces
Nuts and seeds Crisps, cakes, sweets
Milk Flavoured milk drinks
Meat (e.g. chicken, beef), fish Bacon, sausages, salami
Honey, dates – these are made from bees and trees! Sugar, sweeteners – these are made in a factory
Whole grains (oats, brown rice), beans and legumes (chickpeas, lentils, peas) White bread, pasta and rice - to make them white the bran is removed which takes a lot of the nutrition away
Butter, coconut oil, olive oil – these are stable when heated so much safer to cook with Vegetable oils like sunflower and corn oils - these are easily damaged when heated so should be used to cook with 


A top tip for figuring out how ‘real’ something is, is to check the ingredients labels….the longer the list, the less healthy it is likely to be, and if you don’t understand some of the names, then it most likely processed and chemically altered.

These chemically altered foods (also known as ultra processed foods – UPFs) are relatively new to our food environment in terms of history. In the 1940s we ate seasonal fresh food, growing over half of our own fruit and veg and buying the rest from grocers and butchers; rationing continued into 1950s but then fridges were invented and the demand for more convenience began (in 1959 13% of homes had a fridge and by 1970 this was 58%). The 60s is when the rise in convenience food really started to grow and it has exploded since.

In 1980 around one third of our shopping baskets were UPFs. Now it is over 60% and "most children in this country start their lives on 100% ultra-processed food", says Dr Chris van Tullekan. They are cheap, addictive, readily available and not good for our health. A review in 2020 found a clear association between UPFs and poor health outcomes, including obesity and cardio-metabolic risks; cancer, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases; irritable bowel syndrome, depression, frailty conditions; and all-cause mortality….“The authors did not find any studies evidencing an association between ultra-processed foods and beneficial health outcomes”

What can we do? Fear not, here are some ways to help avoid UPFs in your family food:

  • Cook from scratch as much as possible and teach children how to cook – this is absolutely essential. If kids don’t know how to cook then they will have no choice but to rely on ready meals and take-aways when they are older!
  • Look at ingredients labels – the front of a packet may say ‘one of your five a day’ or ‘high in fibre’ but still be an UPF. If you don’t understand the ingredients on the back and/or there are loads of them, best to avoid it!
  • Consider how real something is before you buy or eat it – i.e. how many processes has it undergone. Squeezing oil out of olives to make olive oil isn’t a problem, but the more ingredients something has and the less it resembles its real state, the better it is to avoid it.
  • Set kids a challenge to try new fruits and veggies each month – find a seasonal food chart and let them choose what they want to try. You can download a free seasonal wall chart from our website here.
  • Get some cookbooks out, choose your favourite recipes together and commit to a time to making them together – perhaps allow your child to choose one dinner a week, make it together and then eat it together as a family – it may turn into a family tradition that you end up loving and making lots of memories doing. Try our cookbook here which is also packed full of fun activities for kids!
  • Find healthy alternatives - homemade chicken nuggets, refined sugar free ketchup (Dr Wills do a great one), fruit teas instead of squash (we love Small and Wild), replace sweetened yoghurts with natural yoghurt and chopped fruit etc
  • Avoid breakfast cereals – opt for porridge, pancakes, boiled eggs, homemade granola etc
  • Replace shop bought snacks with healthy homemade snacks – apple slices or dates with peanut butter, fruit and yoghurt, cheese and grapes, carrot and humus
January 28, 2022


Sarah said:

This is so important – thank you so much for your wise words and the influence you are having x

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