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The Jillian Bolger Column - Obesity

Never afraid to speak her mind, our intrepid columnist JILLIAN BOLGER says bluntly that if we want to get to the bottom of the obesity problem there's no point in blaming restaurants. The problem - and its solution - lies a lot closer to home. And this month's column is aimed squarely at parents.

As a parent, food writer and restaurant reviewer I have a keen interest in healthy eating. The legislation to include calories on restaurant menus might seem like a good response to the obesity epidemic, but it's not really addressing the root cause.

With almost two out of every three adults, and one in four children, in Ireland overweight or obese calories on menus might help serial offenders think twice about ordering the fattiest, most calorie-laden dishes on a menu. However the fact remains that most kids don't get fat in restaurants or cafes – they get fat at home.

It's not fair to lump the blame at the door of the take-away and fast food outlets either, although they do play a part. A dial-a-pizza dinner, or burger and chips combo is going to pack more saturated fats and calories than a home-cooked Shepherd's pie or bowl of spaghetti bolognaise, but not many families could afford to feed their kids on a daily diet of chipper and pizza deliveries, even if they wanted to.

The obesity problem starts at home, stemming from a diet of highly processed foods, which lack nutrients and are frequently loaded with saturated and hydrogenated fats, high sodium and sugar content, as well as artificial additives.

We're talking about chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, microwave dinners, sugary breakfast cereals, jars of cooking sauce, cheap sausages, even white bread. Chicken nuggets or goujons, are surprisingly simple to make at home with flour, eggs, breadcrumbs and chicken fillets, yet that can seem like a step too far for so many. A grilled chicken breast is less work; it can be cooked as quickly as the shop-bought frozen nuggets and is infinitely better and tastier.

If your kids are showing signs of being overweight you need to take a long look at yourself and your shopping habits. If your child is in primary school then you are fully responsible for what they eat and how they eat.

You can try offloading the blame, like arguing that you can't control how they snack when you're not there, but the fact is that good eating begins at home.

If you're loading up your trolley with snacks, fizzy drinks and processed meals weekly then you are placing temptation in your children's way and leaving them open to putting on weight. You may defend your practice by arguing that A, you can't cook; B, it's cheaper to buy convenience food than make fresh food; or, C, you are too pressed for time to cook from scratch, but to defend your choices is to kid yourself and do your children a disservice.

Convenience food makes a poor choice, especially for growing kids, and a diet of ready meals supplemented with weekend take-aways is irresponsible and likely to contribute to weight gain. Fill your shopping trolley with crisps, fizzy drinks and biscuits and you're doubling the chances of your kids piling on additional pounds.

The good news is that it's never too late to set your family on a healthier path. You, as a family shopper, have the power to steer your children away from obesity issues. Rather than terrify them by announcing a strict new health regime, start with small, gradual changes, like replacing processed cereals with porridge.

Learn to cook simple things like oven wedges instead of deep-fried chips and foolproof recipes like vegetable soup (unbelievably simple, cheap and so nourishing). If you still believe that convenience food is cheaper than fresh ingredients take inspiration from www.wholesomeireland.com, a blog by an Irish mum who lost her job during the recession and had to feed her family on a dwindling budget. In the battle of the bulge knowledge really is power, but first you may just need to accept that you are part of the problem.

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JillianJillian Bolger is an award-winning editor and journalist specialising in food and travel writing. A member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild and former editor of Food & Wine magazine (1999-2003,) she writes for The Irish Independent, Image, Food & Wine Magazine, Image Interiors and The Herald and is editor of Irish Brides magazine. She has worked with Georgina Campbell’s ireland-guide.com since 2008 years and is the Dublin Editor. Jillian has won several awards for her travel writing and holds an honours degree in the Arts. Her love of travel has seen her live in Australia, Sri Lanka, the USA and Germany. She lives in Dublin with her husband and three young children. Follow her on Twitter at @JillianBolger

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