Month: August 2014

Free school meals!

From September 2014, all pupils in Reception class, Year 1 and Year 2 in state schools in England, will be eligible for free schools meals.SchoolFood-5957-low-res

This strikes a chord with me, as me and my sister (Pam) who also became eligible for school meals, not because the Government was taking a bold step to improve what children ate at school or to reduce childhood obesity like today, but because our Dad passed away suddenly reason: ‘myocardial infarction’.

I’m hoping today’s children have a very different experience than I did. My memories of school dinners are not good and include:

  • Soggy, foul smelling cabbage
  • Pasty semolina, made more palatable with a blob of jam
  • Frog spawn tapioca
  • Tinned tomatoes swimming in their own blood like juice
  • Lumpy s’mash scooped out with an ice cream scoop
  • Horrible cheese pie – Pam’s particular favourite!

How things change, now cabbage is one of my favourite veg, fresh tomatoes and smooth buttery mash are a treat, but I still can’t face a cheese pie!

From September things in England’s schools should be very different. Headteachers are going to be responsible for driving forward a massive culture change.  They are tasked with making dining halls more welcoming, with little queuing, and serving food that is both appetising and nutritious. The School Food Plan
has been designed to help head teachers achieve this vision.

The change is coming about because the country faces a serious health crisis caused by bad diet with almost 20% of children leaving school obese. Only 1% of packed lunches were found to meet nutritional standards and schools were losing money from having half empty dining halls.

The food to be offered at lunch time must now meet nutrient-based standards including:

  • limiting the amount of fat, saturated fat, sugar, salt and non-intrinsic sugar (added sugar).
  • minimum levels of nine nutrients; carbohydrates, protein, fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, and zinc.

I really do hope its a great success to help children to achieve their full academic potential, avoid obesity, and reduce the risk of heart disease that I know can devastate a family.  My good luck goes to heads, teachers and the army of dinner ladies (and men) who are the ones that can really make this work.




A is for Aspartame; B is for Barge pole!

There is evidence that more and more consumers are losing confidence in artificial sweeteners with 38% of people in a recent poll saying they actively avoided food & drink with artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame.  This figure is a rise of 7% since 2012 when 31% said they avoided it.


These concerns were reported in ‘The Grocer’ the on-line fast moving consumer goods magazine, who also referred to further evidence that 40% of consumers would potentially buy more diet products if they contained only natural sweeteners.

Aspartame is the artificial sweetener also referred to as E951. It is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, and has been used in soft drinks and other low-calorie or sugar-free foods worldwide for over 25 years.

The scepticism felt by consumers about artificial sweeteners, is backed up by a study in to the ‘Neurobehavioural effects of aspartame consumption’,  published April 2014. This particular research found that those consuming high-aspartame diets, exhibited more depression, more irritable mood, and performed worse on spatial tests. It didn’t however link aspartame consumption with impaired working memory.

There is a whole host of other research focusing on artificial sweeteners, some saying it’s harmless some saying the complete opposite. The Food Standards Agency however outlines that the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) set for aspartame is 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. This is equivalent to 2800 milligrams for an average British adult and means that an adult would have to consume 14 cans of a sugar free drink every day before reaching the ADI. That is assuming the sweetener was used in the drink at the maximum permitted level.

Whatever the evidence or ADI, it appears that many consumers wouldn’t touch artificial sweeteners with a barge pole.


References & links:
The Grocer 23.8.14 Artificial sweeteners: consumer suspicion on the rise.

Lindseth, GN., Coolahan, S.E.,  Petros. T.V., & Lindseth. P.D. (2014) Neurobehavioral Effects of Aspartame Consumption, Research in nursing and health.

Move more and have fun!

This summer Change4Life has teamed up with the global brand ‘Disney’ to encourage families to move more and have fun.


Over 225,000 families so far, have signed up for the 10 minute shake up campaign, and with roadshows taking place across the country there is still time to sign up and join in the fun:

As a student nutritionist I am keen to encourage people to be more active and make better food choices to achieve a healthier lifestyle. Making small changes can reap big rewards.

Here are some suggestions from the Change4Life Great Swapathon campaign:

  • Swap sugary fizzy drinks for water, milk or pure fruit juice
  • Swap fry-ups for ‘grill-ups’
  • Swap the sweet jar for a bowl of fruit
  • Swap snacking on the run for three proper meals every day
  • Swap the big plates you eat off for smaller ones, to help keep portion sizes in check
  • Swap white bread sandwiches for wholemeal ones
  • Swap four wheels for two feet
  • Swap sitting around indoors for racing around outdoors
  • Swap the lift for the stairs
  • Swap vegging on the sofa for a swim at your local pool

These swaps and the ’10 minute shake up’ don’t just apply to kids!

I went for a quick swim straight from work today, and as well as getting some exercise I got chatting to a lovely mum about her young daughter and food allergies. That was way more interesting than watching TV.



Ugly fruit and veg – perfect for juicing!

Vegetable juices are a great way to start the day! Ingredients such as cucumber, celery, spinach, kale, courgettes (zucchini) and crisp granny smith apples make for a vibrant green drink packed full of drink

A good way of sourcing fresh, organic produce for juicing is to grow your own. If you already have, you’ll know that it doesn’t always look as perfect as the produce you find on supermarket shelves. Whatever it looks like though, the health benefits are the same and it’s perfect for juicing.

European Union regulations previously restricted the sales of fruit and veg based on size and shape.  This however was repealed in 2009 for 26 different types of fruit and vegetables, including asparagus, aubergines, sprouts, cabbage, melons and courgettes.

So what happens to the miss shapen or ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables’ grown by farmers, but rejected by supermarkets who turn it away based on the assumption that consumers just won’t buy it?

  • There are reports that farmers are routinely forced to throw away up to 40% of a crop because it is not aesthetically pleasing.
  • It is also sold off more cheaply and much of it ends up in soups, chutneys and ready meals.
  • Supermarkets such as Waitrose have reportedly recently started to sell produce disfigured by bad weather, which is said to be  good for farmers and customers alike. 

I found a great You Tube video highlighting a recent innovative approach by a French Supermarket to help minimise food waste, save people money and improve health. You can access it via the following link:


Hopefully we will get more of this in the UK, and the massive amount of fresh produce that gets wasted because of the way it looks, will be reduced dramatically.


Do look back!

This illustration pretty much sums up my last twelve months! It’s from my favourite birthday card drawn by my talented friend Rhian from Quack Animal Art, showing me with my head in a book studying for my degree, developing and health promotion to encourage students to eat more fruit and veg, and posing with my medal from my first ever Marathon.

Illustrated by Rhian from Quack Animal Art

Illustrated by Rhian from Quack Animal Art

Like lots of people I’m so busy getting on with clearing what’s on my ‘to do’ list, getting ready for a new challenge or planning what I’m going to do next, I forget to look back on all the great things that have happened and what I’ve achieved.

As part of our degree studies we are encouraged to reflect on our experiences and use what we have learned to shape what we do in the future.  This is really good advice as I sit here planning my final year dissertation. So, what have I learned in the last 12 months:

  • If I can train for a marathon, whilst working and studying I can do anything!
  • I love my subject area of ‘nutrition and health’ and am so happy that I decided to step out of my comfort zone and study for a degree at Edge Hill University
  • I’ve got a great support network, including lecturers, my boss, colleagues at work and lovely friends and family who encourage me and listen to my many and varied nutritional musings.
  • The health promotion ‘Nutri-juice‘ was a great opportunity to put my project management skills in to practice. It was a great feeling to see the initial idea come to life and winning the Edge Hill Student Enterprise Award, and my first trophy, will always make me smile. 
  • Don’t get overwhelmed when the pressure is on, just take small steps and don’t give up.

On a more personal note the sad loss of close friends and family members this year highlighted how precious life is and the importance of following your dreams. So my plan going forward is to continue to make the most of every day, be adventerous, and do what I enjoy.




Commonwealth Games 2014 – Inspirational!

I’ve absolutely loved the 2014 ‘friendly’ Commonwealth Games’ in Glasgow, with 71 nations entertaining us for the last 11 days and raising £5 million pounds for good causes. The games were said to be ‘the best games ever’ by the President of the Commonwealth Games in his speech at the closing ceremony. From my perspective anything that motivates people to be more active and live healthier lifestyles is definitely something to celebrate.photcwg stargames cw My Highlights were:

  • Jodie Stimpson winning England’s first gold medal of the Games in the women’s triathlon. I can’t even begin to compare myself with Jodie, but I have done a few sprint and super sprint triathlon’s and understand how hard it is to train for 3 disciplines. Jodie you are amazing!
  • The Brownlee brothers are my other triathlon hero’s. Watching Alistair Brownlee winning gold in the men’s triathlon followed by his brother Jonny getting the silver medal 11 seconds later. Superb!
  • Matthew Hudson-Smith helping win 4x400m men’s relay gold. So humble, out of his comfort zone and out of this world!
  • 16 year old Claudia Fragapane being the first Englishwoman to win four golds at one Games. OMG!
  • England’s 20 year old Zoe Smith beating Nigeria’s Ndidi Winifred and Welsh veteran Michaela Breeze to win the women’s 58kg weightlifting. Amazing!
  • Married couple Paul and Joanna Drinkhall winning the table tennis mixed doubles. How special is that!
  • Lizzy Armistead triumphing in the women’s cycling road race to win gold, only made possible by team effort especially Emma Pooley who went on to secure silver. Truly inspirational. Loved it!
  • England’s Nicola Adams beating Northern Ireland’s Michaela Walsh to become the first female Commonwealth Games boxing champion. WOW!
  • Jack Laugher and partner Chris Mears storming to victory in the 3m diving synchro finals. Brilliant!

The list goes on and on and on… I’ve loved the star shaped stage at the closing ceremony, Lulu, Kylie and a brilliant rendition of ‘Walzing Matilda’! Already looking forward to the next Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018! Val

Job shadowing @ Food Standards Agency

As part of my Nutrition degree studies I have just completed job shadowing with the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The FSA is responsible for food safety and food hygiene across the UK as well as nutrition is Scotland and Northern Ireland. Job shadowing was a great way to gain an overview of the FSA, its key priorities and structure.

I spent time with the Research and Analysis Division who gave me a good insight into the Agencies role in the ‘Food and You’ survey, which takes place every two years. This national survey involves interviews with members of the public to help understand how people buy, prepare, store food and their attitudes to eating in and out of the home. The 2014 survey is currently underway with interviews being conducted with randomly selected households across the UK. I would encourage anyone invited to take part and results of earlier surveys are available via the FSA website.

I also spent time with the Food Allergy Team and attended a meeting with the Department of Health which illustrated how they work together to determine policy based on research findings. I also gained an understanding of new food allergy labelling legislation being introduced later this year and the obligations of food manufacturers and food outlets under the new regulations

I really enjoyed my time at the Food Standards Agency and it was great to chat through my dissertation research proposal with Agency colleagues. Having reflected on the experience I now understand that although the subject matter may be very different, skills gained working in one government department or industry are easily transferable to another.

A big thank you goes out to the FSA for their welcome and support.