Food for thought: Healthy living shoudn't be a chore

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The Independent Online

If your child is heading off to university, the chances are that they will be living away from home for the first time. They will become responsible for looking after themselves and their health, and what's more, they are expected to do so on a budget. Here we take a look at how you can best ensure that you give your child the nutritional advice they need before they fly the nest.

How can I encourage my child to eat healthily when at university?

The first step is to ensure that they don't regard healthy eating as a chore - instead it should be a way of life for them, which they achieve without even noticing. The best way to do this is to incorporate a balanced diet into the food they eat at home, instilling good eating habits before they leave. Having a healthy balanced diet means you should try to:

* Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables - a variety of at least five portions every day

* Base your meals on starchy foods, such as potatoes, rice and bread - go for wholegrain varieties which are more nutritious and filling

* Have moderate amounts of meat and fish and alternatives like beans, lentils, eggs or nuts

* Eat moderate amounts of dairy foods such as cheese, milk and yoghurt, ideally choosing reduced fat varieties or eating smaller amounts of full-fat products

* Limit foods and snacks that are high in fat, sugars or salt. Limit drinks high in sugar - such as fizzy drinks and squashes - and keep them to mealtimes only

* Drink plenty of water

* Get active and try to maintain a healthy weight

Your children should be made aware of the benefits of eating healthily. For example, it's a myth that eating fried foods and chocolate causes spots but it is true that what you eat can help you look your best. Skin cells are being replaced all the time, so make sure that your children are getting all the vitamins, minerals and the good stuff they need.

Not getting enough iron, from good food sources like red meat, wholegrain bread and baked beans can leave you feeling tired, lethargic and run down. Young women are most at risk from being low in iron, so it's very important they eat enough iron-rich foods.

What should they avoid?

Young people should limit their consumption of saturated fats (found, for example, in cream cakes, meat pies and pastries) as this can raise cholesterol and block the arteries in the heart. Instead encourage them to eat tasty foods that don't contain saturated fats such as pasta, rice or oily fish. Healthy eating is all about balance: as long as they are eating plenty of fruit and vegetables the odd packet of crisps won't do any harm.

Eating breakfast can help your child face those important lectures as well as provide them with some of the vitamins and minerals they need for good health. Missing breakfast can often lead to hunger pangs before lunchtime, making it tempting to snack on foods that are high in fat and sugar such as biscuits and pastries.

Alcohol can also be a big part of student life, so it's wise to make your child is aware of the recommended limits. Women are advised not to drink any more than two to three units of alcohol a day, and men three to four units a day, to avoid significant risk to their health. One unit is half a pint of beer, a pub measure of spirit or half a glass of wine. Alcohol is high in calories, so make sure you also let your child know that cutting down could help control their weight as well as well their bank balance!

Will it be difficult for them to sustain a healthy diet on a small student budget?

Quite simply, no. It is a myth that eating healthily is more expensive than not, there are plenty of cheap ways to maintain a healthy diet on a budget. Here are a few tips:

* Processed food can be an expensive option because you are paying for the processing. It's cheaper and can be more nutritious to buy basic ingredients and make your own meals

* Baking potatoes are great value and versatile. Cost-effective fillings for baked potatoes include cheese, tinned tuna, and baked beans. You can also boil, roast, mash, sauté or fry them

* Rice and pasta are good sources of starchy carbohydrates, easy to cook and inexpensive

* Tinned tomatoes can form the base of all sorts of sauces, are low in fat and count towards your daily portions of fruit and vegetables

* Carrots are one of the cheapest vegetables around when bought loose; add them to soups or casseroles, or snack on them raw

* Beans on toast is a classic student dish and is a healthy option, especially if you buy beans with reduced sugar and salt

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