Like many parents, I spent the last few weeks of the summer holidays trying to stretch out the days whilst dodging the inevitable back to school preparations. Ultimately, time caught up with us which meant that I no choice but to shop with my children en masse. Admittedly, we’d left it a bit late this year but we obviously had blocked any previous memory from our consciousness of back to school shopping hell. Because why else did we choose to shop at a time when the stores are full to brimming of other late starters? Oh, the joy of shopping alongside other panicking families, scrambling around in search of missing school uniform and stationary. There was nothing quite like shopping for the Holy Grail of school shoes, ones acceptable to parent, child and school, whilst in the surroundings of other stressed out families. I lost count of the number people we witnessed losing the plot after hearing the fateful words of ‘out of stock’ one too many times.
Ready or not, the new school year waited for no one despite many of us still trying to deal with one of our child’s most important pieces of kit. Of course, I am talking about sustenance and the annual guilt-laden dilemma of school lunches: to pack or pick?
There has been much focus lately on our environmental footprint and how to reduce food waste in the UK. According the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) charity, the amount of household edible food that is put into our bins and wasted every year is in the region of 5 million tonnes and worth an estimated £15 billion. Wasting food not only contributes to global warming, deforestation and the growing worldwide problem of how to deal with unnecessary packaging waste. It also keeps you out of pocket. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s interest to stop our food from turning into rubbish.
There are many ways that we can cut down on our amount of avoidable food waste (see Spoiler alert). In an ideal world, we would simply not buy more food than is needed and use up every last morsel before it spoils. It has to be said, that this is far easier to do if you have teenagers living at home because their raving appetites makes it more difficult to buy too much food. Even the most packed fridge and cupboards can be quickly depleted, especially if they have brought along their friends.
We are almost halfway through GCSE and A level exams and like many parents, I am finding that the stress levels in my household are still rising. It is difficult for any child to escape from the enormous pressure on them to perform and as parents, we cannot help but get stressed too. Which means that tempers often get a little frayed…It is difficult to gage the mood of most teenagers at the best of times. However, when you add in the extra burden of sitting their final exams, you cannot even attempt to anticipate their reaction to everyday life. Now I must walk on eggshells when I ask about their day and how their revision is going.
Stress can transform even the most innocent comment into something loaded with sarcasm, creating a misunderstanding and the perfect opportunity to blow off some steam. Texting is even riskier. One forgotten winky emoji and now you’re being aggressive. It is no wonder that like most families, we are counting down the days until we reach the summer break.
Although it is difficult for parents to get through their children’s exams unscathed, help is at hand. There are some simple steps that you can take to help them cope better with exam stress. The biggest difference that you can make to their well-being and stress levels is to look at what they are eating and drinking. Are they eating a healthy diet at home? What about at school? Are they skipping breakfast? The Eatwell Guide is a good place to start to see if their diet is up to scratch. In fact, a healthy diet that includes nutritious, balanced meals and snacks will give them long-lasting energy needed to revise and stay focused on their exams. Fuelling up with the right foods will also keep their blood sugar levels steady which helps to keep their mood and stress levels in check.
I had a bit of a double-take the other day when I read about two recent diet-related news stories. The first headline referred to a report on a French study that showed a link between ultra-processed foods and cancer, suggesting that the more of them you ate, the greater your chances were of getting cancer. So far, no surprises there and even my own children’s response when I shared this news with them was a sarcastic shrug and a ‘Yeah, I know?!’ They were not alone in dismissing this as ‘news’ because despite the best efforts of the newspapers and tv programmes who featured the story and tried to whip up interest, the lack of controversy meant the story quickly died away. However, just because it is widely believed that the more processed something is, the worse it is for you, it does not mean that you will change your behaviour. It is also true that not everyone who eats a diet full of ultra-processed foods necessarily chooses to do so. Which brings me to the second piece of news that I read with interest.
With our Christmas tree down and the accompanying paraphernalia long packed away, our empty house and bare walls only emphasise a clean start to the new year. Change is in the air. At least, most hope things will improve on many fronts in 2018. Meanwhile, on an individual level, many have already made a change for themselves and are halfway through January as a teetotaller, vegan, raw water drinker or exercise fanatic. But even if you haven’t joined the masses and embraced a new food or exercise fad, you will still have to contend with the repetitive commercials and programs focusing on diet trends and quick weight loss. Amongst all this comes the news that parents are failing their children, again, when it comes to a healthy diet. Yes, it’s a cheery Happy New Year from Public Health England (PHE) who have launched their latest campaign even while the remnants of Christmas stockings are still hanging around many households.