Red meat is one of those things that causes huge controversy in terms of its impact on our health.
I know lots of families that have completely cut red meat out of their diets and just avoid it all together. When I asked them why, the bulk said it was because red meat is bad for you.
Is that true?
What’s all the fuss about?
It feels as if there are always one or two foods in the spotlight. We are almost being told of something on a daily basis that is now bad for us or has something deadly within it. For parents trying to feed their families well, it can become very confusing.
Red meat has been in the spotlight once again recently, and experts fear that the nutritional benefits have been overshadowed by misleading negative views. To cut through the confusion, the Meat Advisory Panel, an independent group of health and nutrition experts, is partnering with BritMums to promote red meat in the diets of children.
What are the consequences of scaring people off red meat?
It seems that the health risks from NOT eating red meat are actually worse than the suggested dangers of eating it.
Lean red meat plays an important part in a balanced diet and can help supply vital nutrients. However, some of these nutrients are consumed in lower than recommended amounts across the age spectrum, as a result of families NOT eating enough red meat.
Infants and pre-school children – Studies show that diets in this age group can be low in vitamin A, vitamin D, iron and zinc. We know from experience how hard it can be to raise iron levels in children when they get too low.
Pre-pubescent children – Diets were found to be low in vitamin A, magnesium, iron and zinc. Boys tended to have higher intakes of iron and thiamin than girls.
Teenagers (13 to 18 years) – 30% of teenage girls have low iron stores putting them at risk of iron deficiency. 20% of teenagers are clinically deficient in vitamin D.
Including red meat in family meals
Feeding children is not an exact science. Any parent of a fussy eater will know just how soul destroying it can be when children won’t eat what you lovingly prepare for them. Noses are turned up, plates pushed away, food ends up on the floor and ultimately in the bin.
Finding healthy recipes that your children love is the holy grail of parenting. Something that all my children have always enjoyed is spaghetti bolognese, or some variation of that, made with lead red meat – beef mince normally. Sometimes it’s used in a lasagna, and sometimes incorporated into ‘taco night’.
I consider this a healthy and tasty meal for the whole family, which ticks a number of boxes. It provides a range of important nutrients that are often low in toddlers and children – including iron, zinc, B vitamins, selenium and potassium. The bonus is – they love it.
The great thing about bolognese is that it is such a versatile dish. There are so many ways to make it and you can add as much or as little ‘extra’ stuff depending on what you can get into your children.
My children all love carrots, so I know I can always put them into a dish and they will eat it. Mushrooms are a bit hit and miss, and only the older children will regularly eat them. Peppers nearly always get refused by the boys. However, I do throw in a handful of chia seeds, which are undetectable, yet pack a massive punch when it comes to goodness. Chia seeds are rich in nutrients and fibre. They are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, rich in antioxidants, and they provide fibre, iron, and calcium.
Meatballs are another way I can get healthy red meat into the children, they love them with rice, pasta, or even just a side salad. The children all quite like their mince spicy too, so I can even get away with chilli, as long as I don’t put kidney beans in as none of them will eat those.
The bottom line
Dr Emma Derbyshire, a public health nutritionist and mother, says: “Including a small portion of red meat in the diet a few times a week after weaning can help to bridge nutrient gaps and so help to maintain good health through childhood and beyond.”
For me, as a mother it’s really important to ensure my children get the nutrients they need. We can’t expect our children to work hard and sleep well if we don’t fuel their bodies with what they need. Trying to get a balance of foods into our little people can be very stressful at times, but for me it’s always been about riding out those difficult times, even when they feel like they are going to last forever. One day, you will be glad you persevered and so will they!
Each time there is a new food health scare, it’s really important we listen to the experts before we change our family’s entire diet over propaganda.