I'm a registered dietitian and run an Early Years' nutrition project working with tens of thousands of under 5s in the UK. And I'm sick and tired of Yummy Mummies bringing their fads and fancies into the Nursery, forcing their growing children to endure their parents latest 'craze'. No, fibre is not good for children of a very young age. No low fat milk is not suitable for under 3s. And no Organic is not always best - there - I've said it.
Readers of this blog will see the word 'organic' and associate it immediately with the very best in nutritious foodstuffs. But is it right for your child if they're under 5?.
Well, Organic doesn't mean that it's additive free - over 30 additives are permitted, some are used to fortify food with vitamins and minerals. Organic food doesn't taste any better. Celebrity chefs might think so, but research shows that the person in the street can't taste any difference between a wide range of organic and non organic produce. Organic food isn't residue free. Studies in the US found organic produce has around 66% lower residues than non organics - but they are still there. The health risks of residues are unclear, but it's thought, the lower the exposure, the lower any risk. There's a higher risk of food poisoning from organic ingredients. Some experts believe that organic methods make food more prone to contamination, for instance, organic eggs without a "Lion" stamp have not been protected against salmonella. Organic food is not more nutritious. A review of 41 studies found organic fruits and vegetables contained some extra Vitamin C and antioxidants, and organic milk had higher levels of essential fatty acids, but the increases were insignificant. Way back in 2003, The Food Standards Agency stated "organic food is no more nutritious than conventionally produced food." The extra nutrients just aren't enough to give a measurable health benefit. And don't forget organic doesn't guarantee locally grown. Around 44% of organic foods are imported into the UK, but there's nothing to say how it's transported. The ingredients to make a roast chicken dinner could have accumulated over 16,000 air miles to get to the UK. And finally Organic is certainly no cheaper: A survey in 2008 showed that a simple seven item shopping list cost £5.00 more for organic items than their non organic counterparts, and the price divide has increased since then.
So, you want the best for your toddler - we all do. But let's see what that means in real life. Start the day with Organic breakfast cereals? No because they're not fortified with vitamins and minerals. Iron is a very important mineral in the diet of young children, particularly vegetarians. Through fortification, non organic breakfast cereals are a very good source of iron, B vitamins, folate and Vitamin D. We now see under 5s with low vitamin D status increasing their risk of rickets. Children who get little unprotected exposure to sunlight are most likely to have low Vitamin D. With so few foods providing Vitamin D, fortified breakfast cereals are vital. Organic Fish? No - it's difficult to obtain organic white or oily fish in many areas. This limits the frequency and variety of fish that can be served. In our experience, we have never found an organic toddler's menu which achieves the recommended 2 servings of fish per week. And organic vegetarian options? Limited - there are limited varieties of organic vegetarian protein options available such as quorn and tofu. Organic beans and pulses are available, but children need a larger range than this to achieve their requirements of essential amino acids. Tofu and quorn rarely served in organic nurseries.
So? Exclusively organic has more restrictions than benefits to a toddler's menu. You will struggle to meet all the nutritional needs of the under 5s if you insist on a completely organic menu. Ultimately this is your call as a parent - but as a registered Dietitian - and working extensively with Nurseries throughout the UK, we've found a more flexible approach to feeding toddlers is by far the best way. Ultimately, children need the most varied and balanced menu possible to meet their needs. In my view, exclusively organic food just doesn't measure up.