28/10/2013 08:03 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Family Dinner - Together Is Better by Far

Have you just finished dinner? Did your children eat the same meal as you. If the answer is yes, well done you. I am sure you managed to cook the meal from scratch, refused to buy the pink sliced slime with faces of teddy bears or the highly processed children's lunch box snacks from the chilled compartments in the supermarket and a takeaway is a rare treat for special occasion. You should be extremely proud because what you're doing is best for your kids.

Research Time

The latest research from the University of Edinburgh clearly demonstrates that children who are fed the same food as the rest of the family do eat more fruit and vegetables, less fatty and salty foods and are inclined to snack less. It's great to see this research because parents need to hear that the hours they have spent carefully shopping, preparing, cooking and serving the same healthy meal to every member of the family are doing it right. After all, it really is easier to fill the children up with the junk food that they think they want thanks to the marketers who spend £25 billion aiming their products at children from the age of two.

What Should They Be Eating?

According USDA My Plate a balanced meal for children and adults consist of up to 40% vegetables, 10% fruit, 25% protein and 25% grains.

Each meal should be low in salt, low in saturated fat and low in sugar, with a portion of dairy.

Homemade v Shop Bought?

So it is proven that it is better to all eat the same food. However sometimes convenience plays a role and we reach for the shop bought version. I decided to take a look at cottage pie and see whether homemade or shop bought is better.

Cow and Gate Creamed Cottage Pie Baby Jar

125 gr

  • Baby-Grade Vegetables (38%) (Sweet Potato, Green Peas, Courgette, Carrot, Swede, Onion)
  • Cooking Water
  • Beef (10%)
  • White Beans
  • Potato
  • Wheat Starch (Gluten Free)
  • Corn Starch

At first glance all looks well - an acceptable percentage of the meal is derived from a good variety of vegetables. The words baby grade reassure the shopper, after all the word 'baby' has connotations of a premium product. Even the low percentage of meat is not a major cause for concern as we're frequently told that too much red meat is not good for you.

Taking a second and longer glance at the label, the list of ingredients tells us more.

Baby-Grade Vegetables (38%) (Sweet Potato, Green Peas, Courgette, Carrot, Swede, Onion)

Not understanding the term 'baby grade' did not make me feel confident about the source of vegetables in this jar. All my research failed to discover what this grade represented. Is this a marketing ploy?

Sweet potato being the first veg on the list means that the meal will be sweeter than home made. This product is aimed at 4-6 months plus. It is a little too early for sweet flavours. I would also like to see the percentage of sweet potato.

Beef (10%)

The nutritional label on the jar stated that contents contained just 3.4 grams protein and 2.5 grams fat (1.1 grams saturated). Babies still obtain most of their protein from milk so this small amount wasn't a great worry, however there was nearly the same amount of fat as saturated fat, which makes me wonder what cut of meat was used in the meal. It certainly wasn't a lean piece of beef.

Cooking Water, White Beans, Potato, Wheat Starch (Gluten Free), Corn Starch (52%)

Over 50% of the meal was made of cheaper ingredients especially the starch, used as fillers and thickeners. These ingredients offer fewer nutrients and too many empty calories.

Home Made Cottage Pie for the family

Fresh Ingredients using lean mince steak.

With a small bit of effort, you cook can one meal which caters for both you and your baby/children. A cottage pie made for a family with a young baby should be seasoned and the stock added after a portion of the dry fried mince, carrots, peas and onions has been removed. Refrain from adding saturated fat (butter) to potatoes when mashing. Once the portion of ingredients have been removed for the baby in the home, place 25% mince, 25% plain potatoes and 50% of vegetables with a little low fat milk in a food processor (or use a hand blitzer ) to get the correct consistency. Serve warm. Freeze leftovers in pots. There is certainly no starch fillers in home made.

Nobody said it was going to be easy feeding a family but the facts are clear - homemade meals using wholesome ingredients is best. And am I not correct in saying that only the best is good enough for your children?