Wednesday 23 November 2011

Fruit flakes or fruit pastilles?

Like most children - and indeed many adults - my four year old loves sweets. He is particularly fond of the gummy, sugary, chewy type (I wonder where he gets that from?) and is having a current love affair with Fruit Pastilles. He is always starving when he comes out of school and because we almost never go straight home, I bring a snack bag - usually some sort of sandwich and a piece of fruit - to tide him over till his evening meal. I also always include some sweets.

Anyway, on to my story. The other day we had arranged a play date with one of his class mates and we paused in the playground so they could eat before going off to play. I pulled out the snack bag, as did the other mum, and the children dived in. When the other little boy saw the Fruit Pastilles he asked Oscar if could have some and Oscar (reluctantly) handed him a few. His mum though, didn't want him to have any, explaining that he was allowed sweets only on Saturdays and she made him give them back and pulled out a bag of Yoghurt covered Fruit Flakes and offered that up instead. She also offered one to Oscar who took it, tasted one then gave it to me making a face (I don't like it) before running off to play with his Fruit Pastilles.

Later on at home I found the bag of Fruit Flakes in my pocket and, as I always do, glanced at the ingredients out of curiosity. I shouldn't have been surprised by what I read - I should know better. But I was...

Fruit Flakes with a yoghurt coating
Ingredients: For the yoghurt coating (58%) - Sugar, vegetable fat, whey powder, yoghurt powder, wheat flour, emulsifier, flavouring. For the fruit flakes (40%) - concentrated apple puree, concentrated strawberry puree, fructose-glucose syrup, sugar, wheat fibre, vegetable fat, gelling agent, natural colouring, natural flavouring. For the Glaze (2%) gum arabic, glazing agent.

Then I looked at the ingredients on the packet of Fruit Pastilles
Ingredients: Sugar, glucose syrup, fruit juices from concentrate (grape, apple, melon, blackcurrent, pineapple, lime, cherry), gelatin, gum arabic, modified starch, acids, acidity regulator, naturally sourced colours, flavourings.

Can you tell the difference? Because they look pretty similar to me!

Do you know what really gets me? What makes me furious and want to run around the playground tearing my hair out?

It's the fact that millions of well meaning mothers are being conned, day in day out, into buying what they believe are healthy snacks whilst in reality what they are giving their children is nothing more than sweets in disguise. Here they are, battling daily with their kids, banning and restricting sweets while unwittingly feeding them the very thing they are trying so hard to avoid.

I suppose it's a pretty easy mistake to make for a frazzled mum rushing around the supermarket. The Fruit Flakes with a Yoghurt Coating are sold in the dried fruit aisle (which is reassuringly miles away from the confectionary one). The packet features pictures of plump, juicy strawberries and a big splash of creamy looking yoghurt. So wholesome. There's a little red square on the front with the words "Ideal for lunchboxes" and a checklist on the back with outrageous claims that are presumably there to reassure parents that they are giving their child a truly healthy alternative. Let's take a closer look:
  • "Made with real fruit" - And? So are the fruit pastilles! It's also made with real glucose-fructose syrup but they don't mention that!
  • "Contains real yoghurt" - Oh yeah? The ingredient that comes closest in the list is yoghurt power and there's only 3% of that - not of the total ingredients mind, that's 3% of the 58% that makes up the 'yoghurt' coating. That's just about 1% of the total ingredients! I'm sorry, but this does not warrant a claim that this food contains real yoghurt. It's totally misleading.
  • "Natural colours" - Well thank goodness for that! I don't think there's a company out there making food for children using artificial colours these days. Even Smarties have gone natural! Oh, and so have the Fruit Pastilles...
  • "Great for energy" - Says who? What type of energy? The same type of sugar fuelled energy my son gets from the Fruit Pastilles?
I'm not finished. The Fruit Flakes cost more than than the Fruit Pastilles (about 30p more) and, frankly, they taste absolutely revolting.

The problem is that these Fruit Flakes are not the exception, they are the rule. There are literally hundreds of companies out there pedalling their wares as "healthy snacks" for children and they are nothing of the sort. The supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of so called healthy foods aimed at children which often contain as much as, or even more, sugar than sweets. Let's call a spade a spade - or a sweet a sweet. Shouldn't there be some kind of legislation in place to make sure these food manufacturers can't get away with it?

It's wrong. Just plain wrong.


  1. I have to hold my hand up and plead guilty to this. I give my girls a packet of these in their lunchboxes but only really for show, to be honest, because the school will confiscate sweets if they find them. (They do look misleadingly healthy though.) This from a head teacher who believes we should all get our children using the school breakfast club where 'they can have a healthy breakfast at the start of the day'. Yeah, white bread toast and jam but with 'spread' instead of delicious butter, because 'it's healthy'. Yuk. They get ready access to sweets when they get home, though! And crisps when I remember to buy them.

    Honestly, I gave my younger daughter various packets of things including a 'Yellow one' (found those yet? They're delicious!) one day in her lunch box but no sandwich because she hadn't been eating the ones I had been giving her, they had been coming back home again. She had her lunch box taken away and she was given a school lunch instead, which I had to pay for whether I liked it or not. I was really annoyed. If she is only hungry for what I knew she would eat then that is what I would give her. It's soul destroying making a sandwich only to have it come home again. Well you have to give her something starchy, maybe rice or a wrap instead, I was told.

    Oh, and those snacky biscuity things, like breakfast bars? They're OK according to our school. Only they're not if you bother to look at the ingredients. A straightforward biscuit has fewer ingredients (and probably less sugar in it too, even the full sugar ones). I've just looked at custard creams. Pretty much the same as you or I might put in them if we made them ourselves with the addition of stuff to give them a longer shelf life, that's all.


    'Fuming' in Bristol (otherwise known as Sharon!)

  2. I hear you Sharon and your post emphasises how pervasive the problem is. The fact that schools promote this kind of food over things like home made biscuits is so sad it breaks my heart. I hear so many mothers talking about giving their children "healthy diets" and then see them offering those snacky biscuit bars you mention and those super sugared "fraomge frais" without realising what they are feeding their kids. And the lunch box story is so sad too. This is why we need government legislation and education about what goes into these mass produced foods. Thanks for your comment and good luck with the lunch box!

  3. I had a similar situation with my son - made him a "healthy lunch" - sandwich, popped in a piece of fruit & a drink - he would literally not eat all day. So now he has a sausage roll or a subway, a bar of chocolate & an innocent smoothie - he eats a "proper meal" at home with plenty of veg, he's happy cos he gets to eat food that he likes & i'm not worried he's going to pass out from hunger.

  4. We are pretty lucky in our school, healthy eating is encouraged but homemade biscuits and buns, scones etc are allowed. If a child brings something that isn't allowed it isn't taken off them, repeated offences might result in a note home, I'm not sure as I have never been in that position.
    J - Wexford - Ireland

  5. Brilliant post.

    This kind of thing really gets up my nose, especially because the so called 'healthier' options usually taste foul and people believe they're a better option. From my experience with clients and BC, I don't think you can trick the body with 'substitutes' or 'food swaps' ever. If you want something sweet, eat proper sweets!

    On a related note, I am also very annoyed about the current Nutella advert. Nutella is not a healthy food, but the advert is practically telling parents it's the healthiest kids breakfast around! Don't get me wrong, it's in my cupboard and I am happy to eat it, but it is what it is; a very sugary chocolate spread. If it's so full of nuts and milk (as the advert purports) how is it able to sit in your cupboard (unchilled) for so long? Sugar!!

    Rant over.

  6. This sort of food-nazism has been going for a long time ... No.2 daughter couldn't eat breakfast right from a tiny child but her school wouldn't let me send anything more than a piece of fruit for her mid-morning snack and I really worried that she was having to last all morning on one piece of fruit ... nothing I said convinced that that a sandwich would be more sustaining for her at that point ...
    I can understand if parents were sending children in with a lunch-box full of chocolate and it was causing the children to freak out on sugar over-load all afternoon causing disruption to the rest of the class .. but how likely is that? Most parents know what their children will/won't eat and most are concerned to give them enough to eat to keep them going through the school day - I don't think schools should police lunch boxes or prevent children eating at break times if they need to.

  7. No such thing as hyperactivity caused by sugar. Read the medical literature if you don't believe me (Or watch Jo Frost's Extreme Parenting).

    But one thing that really irritates me is that people also think that "natural" sugars (i.e. fruit juice etc.) won't do anything bad for your teeth.

  8. I have to say we are lucky to home educate and our children can eat what they want when they want.

  9. Yes, yet another advantage of home ed. Thank you for the lunch stories. It's all new to me and I can see I'll be talking more about this. I'd loe to hear more experiences about how food is dealt with in your children's schools.


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