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Healthy Bodies, Happy Planet. How to introduce an eco-friendly diet

Here’s some very good news… The diet that is best for health is the same as the one that supports planet sustainability. Cheering crowds! Waving flags! Hurraaay!

The balloon-popper is that an eco-friendly diet is not one most of us are eating and this is having a dramatic impact on our poorly planet.

How come? Well for one, it takes a lot of water, energy and farmland to produce food and in many countries around the world, big percentages of that food are being wasted — 20% of dairy, 20% of meat, 30% of cereals, 45% of fruit and vegetables are thrown away either during production or at home. In fact, if you add together all the farmland that is being used to create the food wasted, apparently it would be the size of China! The other big thing to consider is that the production and consumption of meat accounts for 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

As the human population is projected to increase by 2 billion by 2050 (to 9.7 billion), clearly things have to change. It’s all about increasing the calorie intake from better food, so that we use less (and, arguably, spend less), thereby helping to minimise the energy expended and pollution created in the giant process of feeding us humans.

And it's not that hard. It's all about the Secret Seven.

Seven easy steps towards an eco-friendly diet…

  1. Consume more plants, less meat.

  2. Choose foods according to the season and region — this cuts down on fossil fuels used in transportation.

  3. Preserve your food by pickling, freezing etc.

  4. Choose organic food wherever possible. It contains more nutrients and has less of the processing that commercial foods undergo for preserving them for transportation.

  5. Introduce more pulses, nut products and soy which offer high levels of protein and are cheaper than meat, and more wholewheat and wholemeal.

  6. Throw away less. The best-before date just shows when the food stops tasting its best. The use-by date is when it’s unsafe to eat. Don’t serve up more than a child can eat — you can serve more afterwards if anyone’s particularly hungry, and freeze any leftovers. If you don’t like eating older, brown bananas, they are still perfect for making banana bread or ice cream.

  7. Select food with minimal packaging to reduce plastic in landfill and in our oceans. Packaged fruit and veg are often sold in multipacks, which means you may be buying more than you can eat. If they’re bought separately, less goes to waste.

Seven ways to encourage young children to eat eco-friendly meals

  1. Make eco-awareness part of your lives: introduce the new three R’s — reduce waste, reuse resources and recycle materials; let them see you switching off appliances and lights when not in use; go on nature walks and show them how much you value tiny insects, plants, trees etc; take public transport; grow veg in pots.

  2. Discuss what organic means and why it’s important. Keep it fun — for example, decide what the funny shapes of organic carrots look like!

  3. Let them see you shop, give a toddler a basket to carry, so they learn the importance of choosing the good stuff and feel part of the decision making.

  4. Allow a young child to host a very simple “dinner party” for someone special, so they can learn to consider the foods we eat.

  5. Encourage meatless or less-meat meals.

  6. Cook with a toddler and make it fun — no scolding when things get spilled!

  7. Make the most of the bright colours of vegetables and fruit to attract your toddler.

Seven teeny tiny words of caution

  1. A vegan or vegetarian diet may need to be supplemented by vitamin B12. This can be found in breakfast cereals and some yogurt and dairy-alternative milk. However, please note that there is some concern about giving babies soy formula because soy beans contain a small amount of natural oestrogen, which in theory could have impact on a child's reproductive organs and maturation. The common consensus among health organisations is that when breast-feeding isn't possible, cow's milk formula is best unless special situations exist, such as lactose intolerance.

  2. If no fish is being eaten, omega 3 can be found in flaxseed, ground chia and hemp seeds.

  3. A meat-free diet can have its iron intake supplemented with dark green vegetables, dried fruit and fortified cereals.

  4. A vegan or vegetarian diet can be high in fibre and care should be taken that a child doesn’t feel full up before they’ve taken in enough calories and nutrients. Therefore, it might be wise to limit a child’s wholegrain and wholemeal intake until they are 5 years.

  5. If you think a child is not getting enough energy, offer higher-calorie foods such as hummus or full-fat yoghurt.

  6. Nuts can be an important part of an Eco-friendly diet but should only be introduced after the age of 6 months and then only if ground up. If there is any history of nut allergies in the family, a GP should be consulted first. Whole nuts must never be given to children under 5 years.

  7. Palm oil is found in everything from bread to ice-cream, but its production is destroying the Sumatran rainforest. Have a glance at labelling and avoid where possible.

Happy eating everyone!

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