When my 6-year old son came home from school a couple of weeks ago with a little certificate saying he had successfully completed the ‘Eatwell Plate’ challenge by choosing a selection of healthy foods to for his plate, my heart did a little jump. So proud was I that he was following in his mother’s footsteps. He’d even been given a laminated sheet to show which foods he had chosen. I was quite impressed: clearly they had been encouraged to select a variety of foods featured on the aforementioned ‘Eatwell Plate’. His selections included broccoli (which he hates!), peppers and pineapple, as well as some tuna, kidney beans, oatmeal and…bison? Thankfully nothing from the ‘junk’ section: well done me. Overall, not bad.

Then I turned the page over and looked at ‘The Eatwell Plate’ as recommended by the Food Standards Agency, and I was distinctly unimpressed by what our children are being taught in school about healthy eating.  The plate is divided into 5 sections.  

Why I don’t agree with ‘The Eatwell Plate’:

1) Fruits and vegetables 

Clearly I do not disagree that fruits and vegetables play a vital role in our health. With more research emerging about the benefits of eating 7 or more portions of fruits and vegetables a day, and Australia adopting the ‘Go for 2 + 5’ message, we really need to update our recommendations. I’d like to see this increased from a third to half of our plate being taken up with fruit and veg, with greater emphasis on vegetables, and the likes of fruit juice and tinned fruit taken out of the recommendations completely.

2) Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods 

This section of the plate is heavily reliant on refined carbohydrates such as corn flakes, bagels, white bread/rolls, white pasta. Have we really come no further than this with all the findings on the links between refined carbohydrates and type 2 diabetes and heart disease? It astounds me. There are so many other wholegrains available that are not made of (processed, nutrient-poor) wheat, and which do not cause massive spikes in blood sugar. Oats, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat (no relation to wheat), rye, pearl barley are all wholesome grains which have a ‘slow-release’ effect on the bloodstream thus improving energy and concentration levels. 

3) Milk and dairy foods 

Pictures of big slabs of cheese, fruit-flavoured yoghurts, semi-skimmed milk and processed soya milk. We are a nation obsessed with loading our children full of dairy products to ensure they are getting enough calcium. There are plenty of other foods which provide just as much, if not more, calcium than dairy products. Green leafy vegetables (have you tried kale chips?), sesame seeds, tahini (lovely on toast or in a smoothie), sardines, salmon, almonds (check out this snack) are all great sources of calcium and provide lots of other nutrients too. 

4) Meat, fish, eggs, beans (and other non-dairy sources of protein)

Yes, protein is essential especially for children and their growing bodies and immune systems. ‘The Eatwell Plate’ recommends about 15% of the plate be made up of non-dairy protein: I usually recommend more than this and offer more vegetarian sources of protein such as lentils, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, avocado and quinoa. Not all protein has to be meat-based.

5) Foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar

Why is this section even on the plate? We all know that kids are going to eat treats such as a cakes, sweets, chocolates and biscuits but they certainly should not form part of an ‘essential’ portion of their daily intake. There’s even a can of Cola on there. That’s like telling a child  it’s perfectly OK for them to drink a can of it every day! Replace this section entirely with more vegetables and protein! With childhood obesity on the rise, children do not need to see giant slabs of cake and chocolate on a supposedly healthy plate.

I’d really like to see this plate updated in line with recent research to give our children a much more varied education in nutrition than juice, bread, yoghurt and meat.

What do you think about ‘The Eatwell Plate’?