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Add a little cunning to the menu for healthy eating

So the only difference between our eating habits 10 years ago and today is that now we know we're eating rubbish. Still doing it, just feeling guilty about it.

A new survey of the nation's eating habits reveals that, in spite of relentless Government campaigns and draconian food labelling legislation, the numbers who slump into obesity are almost exactly the same.

We're eating less wholegrain cereals and milk and more sausages and fizzy drinks — and just about nobody is managing to get their five-a-day.

Of the population surviving on empty calories and processed animal eyelids, teenagers — girls in particular — are the worst culprits.

Nearly half are not getting the recommended minimum iron or magnesium and only 7% are eating enough fruit and veg.

What are we — and by we I mean the adults who are on nodding terms with avocados, couscous and blueberries — to do about it?

We must do something. On getting the (excellent) results of a bone density scan recently, I was asked whether I'd been a keen athlete when younger.

No, I guffawed, nothing could be further from the truth. Turns out my healthy strong bones were the legacy of never being allowed fizzy drinks as a child.

But banning kids from having fizzy drinks won't work these days — they're on sale in most secondary schools.

Perhaps it's time for a radical change in approach.

The Government is never going to have the advertising budget of the mighty food corporations — witness the feeble, animated characters of the Change4Life campaign, as opposed to the alarmingly eye-catching caveman demonstrating Coco Pops Coco Rocks — which are, as you would expect, every bit as unhealthy as they sound.

My son, when nine, begged for processed cheese shapes till I made him read the ingredients in the middle of Sainsbury's and he had to acknowledge that, if you can't pronounce it, it's probably not natural.

But who's got time to go through that palaver over every marketed-to-death fast food?

Here's the plan. Instead of insisting that our children eat up their greens and reach for the fruit bowl before the Dunkers, we should put a premium on healthy stuff and instil a little mystique and prestige around it.

It's a high-risk strategy, but the evidence is alarmingly in favour of changing the status quo.

Girls between 11 and 18 always want to appear older than they are, so why not give them the impression that the adults are having all the fun by eating |exotic fruit?

It certainly worked at Sunday lunch last week — the kids were offered sorbets, the adults a huge bowl of chopped-up mango and papaya.

Soon enough, my 11-year-old daughter had sneaked the fruit into the other room, where the children ate up every scrap.

In restaurants, the kids' menu is often fish fingers or pasta from a jar, so by giving them the accolade of choosing something from the grown-up list they'll feel more sophisticated.

Of course, that won't work for alcohol — and 12% of girls between 13 and 15 say they drink at least once a week.

On that, a carefully nuanced argument about how it gives |one very un-supermodel-like stained teeth and cellulite might well help.

It may require more effort than nagging, but we owe it to the next generation to eat more healthily ourselves, then teach them how |to do it.

Even if it means being so uncommonly cunning that the little darlings haven’t a clue what it is that we’re really up to.

Belfast Telegraph