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Most of us are familiar with the Elf on the Shelf Instagram trend that took the world by storm just a few years ago, but my wish is that from this year we have an equally impactful (though perhaps less novel) children’s phenomenon of ‘Health on the Shelf.’

Whilst the Elf on the Shelf trend provided a good dose of Christmas cheer for little ones, there’s nothing cheery about the state of the UK’s supermarket shelves when it comes to children’s food.

Despite many studies demonstrating time and time again that what we feed our children in these formative years can determine their physical and cognitive development, shape future eating habits and generally establish health patterns for a lifetime, UK retailers just don’t seem to be taking note!

Children’s nutrition should not be overlooked or shortcut, a poor diet in those early years increases the risk of diseases such as asthma, diabetes, obesity and heart disease in later life. So why is it that in 2021 the baby aisle is still lined with ambient food that has quite possibly existed longer than the child in question it’s designed to nourish?

Babies grow more rapidly in their first 1000 days than at any other time in their life, and good nutrition is instrumental to this development.

I set up my namesake food business brand for this very reason, to help set up good healthy habits for a lifetime and reverse the heart-breaking global obesity crisis by developing healthy affordable meals for the young children of busy parents who don’t have time to cook.

Although I maintain that nothing beats a homecooked meal, the reality is that in this fast-paced world that we live in it’s often not feasible to whip up a meal from scratch every night.

Plus, throw into the mix the Covid pandemic, and studies have found that the consumption of fresh foods declined during lockdown despite families spending more time together.

When it comes to children’s nutrition it often feels like the prevailing mantra is that ‘convenience is key,’ and whilst I, despite what my chosen career might suggest, agree that there’s no need to slave in the kitchen daily, I also firmly hold that convenience shouldn’t come at the expense of nutritional value and diversity.

Supermarket aisles are swarming with unhealthy but convenient options for children such as pizzas, pot noodles and chicken nuggets, but where are the healthy, fresh options?

On the flip side, the market for ‘adult’ produce is dominated by a multitude of easily navigable healthy choices, whilst parents are often left having to wade their way through piles of products in pursuit of a healthy option for their child.

The onus is on retailers to play their part in the fight against obesity, especially in light of the fact that one in three 11-year-olds are overweight or obese in Europe.

Combine that shocking statistic with the scary reality that, according to a recent YouGov survey, as many as 55% of children aged four and under have two or fewer portions of vegetables a day in the UK.

Very little space is given to healthy ready meals for children and the choice is limited. I often hear that kids’ meals are a very small and insignificant aspect of a buyer’s portfolio.

So where do we go from here?

By training the next generation to eat healthily, and indeed making healthy foods more accessible to all, we are saving lives and helping to cut the future health care costs entailed in dealing with obesity-related diseases and ailments.

Our Frozen and Chilled Meals have been carefully created to count towards a child’s 5-a-day and are free from additives, preservatives and low in salt, so that parents can rest assured that their child is getting access to a well-balanced meal.

It’s not just about scarcity, lack of variety is another key area of concern. At Annabel Karmel we don’t pander to stereotyped kids’ food, in fact, our best-selling ready meal for children in retailers is our Chicken Tikka Masala for one-year-olds!

As the old adage goes, we are what we eat, and this saying rings particularly true for growing children in those all-important formative years.

So fingers crossed that this year sees a movement towards ‘Health on the Shelf’, though not as a fleeting novelty trend!

© 2021 Annabel Karmel Group Holdings Limited
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