In Britain, we eat more junk food than in any other country in Europe, spending an average of pounds 2.5 billion each year on burgers, take-away chicken and processed pizza. British children are exposed to the highest level of food advertising in Europe and children's television is dominated by advertisements aimed directly at younger audiences for sugary, fatty foods such as sugar-coated cereals, sweets and soft drinks.
Children and parents may try to ignore this barrage of television advertising but manufacturers have other ways to tempt the young. These include celebrity endorsement, as in the Salt and Lineker crisps, cartoon characters like Power Ranger used to sell tinned pasta, on-pack promotions and free gifts in packets.
Manufacturers seem to think that if children don't immediately like something, they should be offered something sweet instead. The latest gimmick to entice children to eat are Wacky Veg. This is a range of frozen vegetables flavoured with things children are perceived to like such as chocolate-flavoured carrots and baked bean-flavoured peas. Are vegetables so awful that their true flavour must be disguised? The biggest worry is that children brought up on artificially flavoured food may never acquire a taste for the real thing.
HEALTHY `JUNK' FOOD
n Home-made chicken nuggets. Dip bite-sized chunks of chicken into seasoned flour, then into lightly beaten egg and finally into a bowl of crushed cornflakes. Saute the chicken in vegetable oil or drizzle with a little oil and bake in the oven.
n Mini Pizzas. Use muffins, mini pittas, crumpets or French bread as pizza bases and place under a pre- heated grill for a few minutes, until lightly browned. Spread with a little tomato sauce and top with your child's favourite vegetables and a sprinkling of cheese. Return the mini pizzas to the grill and cook until the cheese is bubbling.
n Oven-baked vegetable chips. Pre-heat the oven to the highest setting which, usually around 230C/450F. Scrub a variety of vegetables like sweet potatoes, parsnips and potatoes, and cut lengthwise into wedges. Brush a baking sheet with olive oil or sunflower oil and lay the vegetables in a single layer. Brush the vegetables thoroughly with more oil and season. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, turning halfway through until the vegetables are tender inside but crisp on the outside.
These burgers can be made from lean minced beef, lamb, turkey or chicken and have a moistness due to the grated apple and carrot. I like to serve them with sauteed onions and oven-baked vegetable chips. They can also be served in a bun with some salad and relish. (Suitable for freezing.)
Makes 12 burgers
450g/1lb lean minced beef, lamb or turkey
1 small onion, very finely chopped
1 large or 2 small Granny Smith or Cox's apples, peeled and grated
1 small (about 112 oz) carrot, grated
1 chicken stock cube dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water
1 teaspoon Marmite
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon cold water
a little freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil for frying
Mix together all the ingredients for the burgers and form into about 12 small patties. Shallow fry in vegetable oil until nicely browned and cooked through. Alternatively, dot with a little margarine and grill or barbecue, turning them halfway, until completely cooked.
A PASSION FOR FRUIT
There's one treat that children will rarely say no to and that's an ice- lolly. As most shop-bought lollies are full of artificial colours, flavourings and sugar, I prefer to make my own using fresh pureed fruit or fruit juice.
It looks very attractive to make a two-tone ice-lolly, which has to be done in two stages. Simply fill the ice-lolly mould halfway up with one mixture and when frozen pour a different coloured fruit mixture on top and return to the freezer.
Pureed, sieved summer berries mixed with blackcurrant juice makes a delicious ice-lolly mix, as does fresh passion fruit (recipe below).
Makes 5 ice-lollies
250ml/8fl oz fresh orange juice
5 passion fruits
Cut the passion fruits in half, scoop out the seeds and pulp into a sieve and strain off the juice. Mix the passion fruit juice with the orange juice, pour into a lolly mould and freeze.Reuse content