Rob Rees MBE DL @foodworksaus

It’s tough being a parent. So much to think about getting right for our children. Yet nothing can be more confusing than the endless information about what food we should feed our children. I am in the food world, having been a chef in amongst other things for 29 years, and yet even I am confused about so many mixed food choice messages. While many people are involved in getting our children’s food from plough to plate – ultimately the final responsibility ends with us.

While our focus has been on sugar, there’s another white additive we unfortunately can’t afford to ignore. Salt. Over fifteen years ago as a chef, when I learnt about the health problems associated with salt, I decided to stop adding it to my cooking at work. Ten years ago when I became a parent, my wife and I made the decision not to add any salt to our cooking at home. I thought this was the key to making sure our salt intake was low. Wrong. It was making sure we used as many fresh foods as possible.

Even as someone who was meant to know a lot about food, I was shocked at the salt in so many day to day items in our shopping basket. Bread, cereals, mayonnaise, tomato puree, jars of big brand sauces, cheeses, hams and sweet things like muffins and donuts – the list just goes on. I would watch chefs at work make a cheese and ham sandwich with mayonnaise and still give a good generous twist of salt and think, wow imagine eating that on a regular basis and the impact it would have on your blood pressure and heart. Particularly, for little people.

It just takes a little rethinking and planning but you can find ways to lower salt for the whole family. Little changes to our diet now can make sure our children grow up as a generation who don’t have a taste for salt or live with the risks of the damage it can do to our health. And as adults, if we can make changes ourselves and be people that our children aspire to be then that’s a fantastic achievement to be proud of.

It is us as mums, dads and carers who set the benchmark of health for our children for the next generation – it truly is. If we can get it right as best we can in those early years, then our children have a higher chance of eating better and doing better throughout their lives. In the UK, we knew that if you ate at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day (here in Australia its 5 n 2) it reduced the chances of any diet related conditions by nearly 20%. Similarly, if we reduce their salt NOW, then they are far less likely to consume too much in adulthood.

Start by planning your meals – perhaps around the term times, months or seasons. Think about those natural fresh tasting items that are great value in terms of taste, nutrition and price at the time. By doing this you can coordinate your shopping lists making label checking more timely and learn to combine seasonal fruits, vegetables, fish and meat with great wholesome grains, cereals and high fibre items.

In addition, you can start to slowly introduce different flavours in the form of herbs and spices as well as oils, vinegars, nuts and seeds. No one in the family will miss the salt! Not even Dad!

My biggest advice though, is to make the change with your children. Bring them alongside you in the planning, shopping, preparing, tasting and eating. Tell them what you are looking for when selecting good food. Trust them to provide feedback and interactivity to help you refresh your ideas and as a family go on a journey towards a lot less salt!

Rob Rees is a leading UK chef, food campaigner, educator, columnist/writer who recently relocated to Victoria with his wife and two young children.