Healthy Town is focussing mainly on healthy eating and nutrition at the moment and there were a couple of events I thought worth checking out. Firstly I went along to a supermarket tour in Super Valu where a dietitian from the Irish Heart Foundation brought a group through the dos and don'ts of healthy shopping. She was an extremely pleasant mine of information.
To be honest I went along thinking “I’ve got this covered, I shop pretty healthily” but what I found was that while I know your basics about the food pyramid - spend a little more time in the fruit and veg aisle and a little less time dawdling through the cake and biscuit section - there were some details that I was overlooking that could make all the difference.
This is where some analysis of food labelling comes in. She gave us helpful tips on comparing products and keeping an eye on salt, sugar and fat content and advised taking a closer look at some of the products we think are healthy.
At this point I have to confess that I found it a little hard to meet the dietitian’s eye as, just before I arrived there I had made a decidedly unhealthy birthday cake for my five-year-old. My kids ate a level of sugar and fat complements of buttercream icing that would turn the dietitians hair curly! I decided that I had to live with the shame so I neglected to mention it when she spoke of blood sugar spikes and clogged arteries!
Not only that but I sent about 12 teeny tots home on a sugar high from party food and cake later that day. I felt like a fraud at the Healthy Town events so I vowed to chalk it up to a “party induced misdemeanour” and set about making soup and filling them with fruit the next day to counteract it!
Providing healthy foods for kids can be a bit of a battle sometimes. I try to get the vegetables in sometimes by stealth - and give fruit as a snack but we are bombarded with unhealthy foods at every turn and the array of sweets and treats that are under their noses in shops and restaurants are hard to resist.
We brought the children on a trip to the cinema on a wet weekend and there were only two ads before the film, one was for a fast food chain and the other was for a brand of chips! I think the key is not to give in to it and stick to your guns - ok a party is a party but I’ll go by the 80/20 rule. I think I would be happy with 80 per cent of our foods being healthy and let the buttercream and jelly slide for now.
The other event was in An Tairseach Ecology Centre in the organic farm that is right in the centre of the town. Cullen's Butchers partnered with the chef from new restaurant La Matisse and a personal trainer from Pura Vida to talk about a healthy lifestyle and eating simple, seasonal and locally sourced foods. Robert from Cullen's naturally spoke about lean protein and cuts of meat but he also spoke about making small, simple changes to your diet and lifestyle such as adding your own fruit to natural yogurt thus cutting out sugar laden fruit flavoured versions and maybe choosing porridge over salt rich cereals for breakfast.
As Alan from Pura Vida spoke about organic foods and seasonality it struck me how many of my parents’ generation typically ate organic and seasonal foods because it was simply all that was available. While Jose the chef prepared a delicious smelling meal, they spoke about a total healthy approach including managing stress, getting enough sleep, exercising as well as eating well. A lot of food for thought if you’ll pardon the pun!
So what have I learnt? Keep it simple and unprocessed, read my food labels, utilise and support the resources that we have locally - people who love good food and healthy living and provide great produce. I’ve also learnt that I might be better served trying my baking skills out on high fibre bread and less on luridly coloured cakes - I’m not sure that is a lesson my five-year-old is ready for yet!