The War on Sugar
New guidelines released by Public Health England (PHE) have called on the food industry to try and help reduce the amount of sugar children consume. With a third of children leaving primary school overweight or obese – a health problem that’s likely to carry on into adulthood – and tooth decay on the rise, PHE wants 200,000 tonnes of sugar to be removed annually from the UK market by 2020.
“This Government believes in taking a common-sense approach to improving public health and that includes changing the addictive relationship our children have with sugar,” said public health minister Nicola Blackwood. “Many companies have already taken impressive steps to rise to this challenge but it’s important that everyone steps up.”
The School Food Plan sets out the standards for all food served in schools. Launched by the Department for Education, it has become mandatory and aims to make it easier for school chefs to create imaginative, flexible, nutritious and tasty meals every day.
Take Stock brings you some tips on how to help fight the sugar war in preparation for the new September term…
The challenge is to get children to eat more fruit and vegetables. “It’s all about introducing new products to children and if there is a fruit or veg they don’t like then hide it in something,” said Jose Davies Kochakkadan from Marston Green Infants and winner of the Highly Commended Dessert prize at the LACA School Chef of the Year 2017. He conducts blind taste tests with pupils from his school council to gauge their reaction to reduced-sugar dishes. “My carrot muffins contain half the sugar content of normal muffins and our pupils are surprised when I tell them that it’s the carrot that helps to sweeten it. It was the same with the butternut squash cake; not only had most of them never seen a butternut squash before but they didn’t realise a vegetable could be sweet.”
Children need sugar, carbs and protein in their diet, however it’s about monitoring the amount. It is OK for them to have treacle syrup pudding and custard if it is the correct portion size. Half the battle when reducing sugar is to manage balance and portion control.
If you’re struggling for ideas, visit the The School Food Plan website which has a hub of tried and tested recipes. These include vegetables and fruit that can be used in place of sugar and other natural sweeteners such as milk; it’s just about experimenting and trying out different flavours until you find the one that works.
A sweet tooth
Sadly, no chef is going to solve the sugar addiction overnight and children will still crave sugar. The answer? Give them a healthier version of the pudding they love! Lots of school chefs now only use a third of the recommended sugar in chocolate pudding, so children are still getting their sugar fix but at a lower level. “When I bake I reduce the amount of sugar a recipe says it requires, because I know with some things it won’t alter the taste,” explained Tracy Healy, head chef at Ravensthorpe Junior School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire and LACA School Chef of the Year 2017. “It’s all about common sense.”
Incorporate lower sugar fruits, such as lemons, limes, watermelon, cantaloupe melon, blackberries, raspberries or kiwi to add natural sweetness. “The key is to educate children about sugar, and to encourage them to eat more fruit and vegetables where natural sugars can be found,” said Jose Davies Kochakkadan. Twice a week Ravensthorpe Junior School serves 50% fruit-only based desserts. “Apple Crumble and Eve’s Pudding are both made with apples so provide a natural sugar,” added Tracy Healy. “However, it is our Pear and Chocolate Pudding that is the children’s favourite – and they are none the wiser that it is a ‘healthier’ choice!”
Peartree Spring Primary in Stevenage has been taking part in a trial, courtesy of Hertfordshire Catering Ltd (who prepare its school menu), to see if children are able to notice the difference in sugar-reduced meals. The company is cooking dishes (mains and desserts) from scratch to establish where it can reduce or substitute sugar. “We invited the parents in for a taste test to show them what dishes had been tweaked and ways they could do the same at home,” explains Michael Goulston, mobile catering manager, who cooks the same meals for his own children at home. “So far, the reaction has been positive with pupils hardly noticing a difference.”
Opt for ready-made sauces and products with a lower sugar content. The McDougalls range is naturally low or lower in sugar (per 100g as bought). Heinz has launched No Added Sugar Beanz and Heinz 50% Less Sugar & Salt Tomato Ketchup.
Think about having a sugar-free day in school. Promote the event with fun posters and on the school website and make sure the teachers are participating too so they aren’t even allowed sugar in their tea or coffee! Ravensthorpe Junior School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire holds a ‘Sugar Smart Day’ when the only desserts available are sugar-free or contain a natural sweetener; one dessert option is cheese and biscuits or yoghurt. “At first the children missed their regular puddings but they soon got used to it, and now they don’t even think about it,” said Tracy Healy.