Summer struggles for parents

Gary Pope, ceo and co-founder of KI, discusses the problems with meeting the key foundations of good nutritious food and engaging stimulation.

The Romans called it bread and circus. And while preschoolers are not (always) a baying mob to be controlled by Petit Filous and back to back Bluey, giving the most important people in our world good nutritious food and engaging stimulation are two of the most important foundations for a happy and healthy childhood.

And the problems with these two foundations have been playing quite heavily on my mind of late. The cost of living crisis is making eating well and, just as importantly, playing well ever more expensive – especially now we’re in the midst of summer. There’s little food security for many families at this time of year without free school meals provision, the added expense of wraparound childcare and then of course there’s the age-old summer conundrum of exactly what to do with the kids.

Last year The Broken Plate Report shared that nutritious food is nearly three times more expensive, per calorie, than unhealthy options: £8.51 per 1,000 calories compared to unhealthy food at £3.25 per 1,000 calories. Given the complete financial toilet the world is currently bathing in, families will do what is necessary to feed their children and being full is better than being hungry, even if it is empty calories. We know the significance of nutrition in the early years of childhood. This just can’t be right.

I work in marketing and here’s a statistic that gets my goat every time: about ⅓ (32%) of food and soft drink advertising is spent on promoting HFSS foods, compared with 1% of the budget spent on advertising fruit and veg.

In June, the UK Government announced that they were going to delay enforcement of the regulations regarding HFSS for a further year. Therefore, from October 2025 there might be a ban on multi-buy offers (buy one get one free and 3 for 2) in the UK. From January 2024 there is supposed to be a ban on advertising junk food before 9pm on TV and online but that’s unlikelyto happen too. I do understand that families need to eat, and it’s cheaper to eat ‘bad’ food, but more could and should be done to support healthy eating.

One of the things we can be sure of though is that in a crisis us Brits tend to come together over a cup of tea. And there are cafés (and supermarkets) all around the country offering free food for the kids. Many of them are in parks – weather permitting – and it does look like the weather might give itself a bit of a talking to and sort things out for the next few weeks.

So, what’s a young family to do this time of year? Childcare, in all its guises, costs a fortune – and rightly so. It takes skill, care, love and commitment to be a nursery or early years professional. They do a fundamentally important job and need to be looked after. However, child care must be made more affordable for families, and nowhere is it more obvious than in the summer holidays. It would be nice if those that lead us (by the nose) thought a little more deeply about this stuff – especially at this time of year. But we are where we are so I had a cast around and found that there are just a myriad of free experiences for families all over the country right now.

Google ‘free stuff to do with the kids’. It’s brilliant – there is so much. The newly invigorated Young V&A, a walk in the woods with The Gruffalo or, of course, you could take the whole family on the world’s first fully accessible art trail and find each of the 56 special Morphs produced by the remarkable Whizz Kidz charity. Honestly, it’s a wonderful day out (and not just because Kids Industries did the creative).

That the foundational years of childhood are the most important is beyond doubt. Feeding children well and keeping them stimulated doesn’t seem like too much to ask in 2023, does it? If the Roman Emperors kept a lid on an entire populace from revolting and feeding them to the lions through the simplicity of bread and circus, then surely our ruling classes can make these fundamentals available for the most important people in our society? You’d hope so.

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