My view on the new government eating guidelines

cook pasta

I’m guessing by now you’ve seen the new government report and guidelines from Public Health England to tackle obesity. I saw the report yesterday and was raging at how much they miss the point. So I’ve written about what I think is the best solution to the problem of obesity. And it’s not that complicated.

The problems these guidelines are trying to tackle is undeniable

They state that 60% of adults are too heavy to be healthy and obesity levels in children are storing up real problems for the future. Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE said ‘We have more obese children in England than ever before – we have one in five children arriving in primary school already obese or overweight and one in three leaving primary school obese or overweight”.

The report concludes that the problem lies in overeating and the food industry selling unhealthy foods. It says that on average, overweight and obese boys consume up to 500 excess calories a day while girls who are overweight or obese consume up to 290 excess calories a day. On average, adults were found to consume about 200 calories beyond what is necessary a day.

What they want to change to tackle the obesity problem

In a nutshell, these are the main recommendations:

1. Big food manufacturers will have to cut calories in their food by 20% by 2024

2. We should be more conscious of the calories in our food – limiting children to 2x 100 calorie snacks a day and limiting the calories of our main meals. Adults should have 400 calories for breakfast and 600 calories each for lunch and dinner. With drinks and snacks making up the rest of women’s 2,000 and men’s 2,500 calories per day recommendation. A four year old should eat 1,300 calories a day.

The issues I have with their approach

More people will eat processed food

Many people find it easier to calorie control if they eat more processed food, which has to be labelled by law. Calculating calories on a homemade meal isn’t that easy. So this actually pushes people who are not confident about cooking or knowing what to eat to eat more processed food. And let’s not pretend that the big food companies will suddenly start making more wholesome products – they will cut calories in the most cost effective way – by cutting pack sizes and adding more artificial sweeteners and additives.

Calories are not all equal

Calories whilst useful, don’t tell the whole picture. A bowl of homemade porridge and fruit may have a few more calories than a breakfast bar, but it will keep you full for longer, cost less and have less additives and sugar. A low calorie ready meal vs. a bowl of homemade pasta sauce and wholegrain pasta may have less calories but it also has less nutrients, more packaging and costs more.

Cook from scratch and you don’t need to count the calories

The only real way to solve the problem is to help everyone, whatever their budget and circumstance to cook from scratch more often, and to understand how to create balanced meals that fit their lifestyles. This isn’t a job for the clean eating brigade or the big food companies. It is a job for cooks and cooking teachers.

If the government won’t teach children and families to cook, then someone must

If the government won’t share strategies for families to cook from scratch or bring back cooking in school – and by cooking I mean actual practical cooking rather than food technology – then I’m going to do all I can to get people cooking again. People need day to day recipes that they can trust, that the whole family will eat, that fit with their busy lives and their budgets. My recipes and meal plans always have those rules at their core.

Even though I’m not about calorie counting, I thought it would be helpful to illustrate the guidelines with real food, so this week I’m sharing recipes and tips for unprocessed breakfasts, lunches and dinners that can be made for a whole family – assuming parents are working – that follow the new guidelines for calories. I’ll share them on here and via my newsletter and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook so be sure to follow me so that you get them. I’ve already written about healthy snacking and you can read my tips here.

How you can help

Tell me what you think. Do you find the new guidelines helpful? What do you find the hardest when choosing what to eat and cook? Which of the recipes do you find most useful in your home.

Maybe you aren’t concerned about obesity in your immediate family and you’re already cooking the types of meals I’m sharing. But you can help by liking, commenting on and sharing my posts about this on social media so that your followers and friends see them. That way we can get more people seeing these common sense tips.