Parenting comes with much joy, and much responsibility. For example, none of us would let our children walk along the pavement unaided without first teaching them how to cross the road safely. Why? Because it is not safe and we want to protect them from harm.

And yet, together heart and circulatory diseases kill more than 161,000 Britons every year, and it is well documented that our lifestyle and food choices contribute to that, so why aren’t we taking what our children consume every day more seriously? Is our avoidance – (ignorance?) – setting them up for a lifetime of obesity and health problems?

NJC Campaign LogoOrganix, pioneers of organic food for babies and toddlers, is launching a campaign next week (April 28th – May 4th) to promote healthy alternatives to the junk that may be lurking in the food being marketed to your children. The No Junk Challenge is calling on mums and dads to make a pledge to feed their family using real ingredients and to try to avoid products packed with artificial colourings and flavourings – not to mention food high in added salt, fat and sugar.

It will support parents with recipes to help them cook with real and simple ingredients, going back to basics and flavouring with herbs and spices instead of the E numbers that the food industry tend to favour.

But you have to ask yourself, what are these lab-grown ingredients doing in our food in the first place? The answer is worrying. Parts of the food industry – ever keen to make more profit – are cutting down on the quality of the ingredients they pour into their products. That, in turn, obviously affects the taste. So the only way to disguise the poor quality, is to add salt and sugar, or to boost it with artifical colourings, flavourings, and preservatives.

It’s enough to make you swap those ready meals and colourful snacks for home cooked food. And that is exactly what the No Junk Challenge is about.

As a mother to a 20-month-old toddler, I do my best to cook from scratch using natural ingredients, herbs and spices. But it’s the snacks, the lunches, the meals eaten on the run which many of us can’t avoid yet are packed full of these lab-grown ingredients.

A 2009 Which? survey revealed that there could be up to 12 teaspoons of hidden sugar in children’s lunchboxes. And this is all from snacks that parents would consider a ‘healthy’ choice, not even taking into account the E numbers.

The fact is that we think we’re all trying to make responsible choices for our children, but we need a degree to work out what’s really inside most of these products. Quite rightly, parents are worried. In a recent survey, 90% of mums said that they were concerned that children eat too much junk these days.

Many people do read the labels on food packets to see what is inside, but the problem is, many of us (37%) admit we simply don’t have a clue what half the ingredients mean. It is estimated that 33,000 tonnes of flavourings are used in UK food and drink – that is a huge amount that we consume without even knowing what it is. A ‘strawberry’ flavouring for example, might contain up to 30 flavouring substances, plus a flavouring preparation.

Children are most likely the highest consumers of additives – colourings and flavourings, because they are found in confectionary, sweet and savoury snacks.

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As parents, we know that these additives can affect our children’s behaviour – 37% of mums Organix questioned said that they see an impact on their children’s behaviour following certain foods. More than half of the mums surveyed try and avoid buying food with artifical flavourings, although four in ten say avoiding artificial additives is almost impossible.

Luckily for the food industry, they are able to label them in ways that parents are unlikely to be able to comprehend, because if we really did know what they were made from, chances are their products would stay firmly on the shop shelves.

So whose responsibility is it to safeguard us from poor quality food disguised with salt, sugar and artificial additives?

53% of the mothers Organix questioned believe the government should take more responsibility to ensure the food industry is accountable. It would clearly take years of training for us as parents to identify all the ingredients on the back of packaging – much more so than a quick glance at the sugar, fat and salt content – so it isn’t a battle we mums can fight alone.

8% of mums questioned have no faith in the food industry whatsoever, and 71% of mothers questioned believe it is driven by profit rather than the health of our children.

So the only people who we can rely on to have our children’s best interests at heart, are well… ourselves. That’s why Organix is trying to empower parents by helping them to understand the ingredients that can be found in the food they buy, how to read the label, the dirty dozen ingredients to avoid, as well as providing simple recipes to try at home.

The No Junk campaign is supported by a team of mums and parenting bloggers led by Holly Bell (finalist in the Great British Bake Off and blogger for ‘Recipes from a Normal Mum’) as well as the Crumbs Sisters (creators of the popular ‘Crumbs’ TV and blog). Along with River Cottage, Leon, Riverford and Organix, each will contribute a day of recipes during the week, making it easier than ever for us all to make the change.

If you want to get rid of the junk in our food, sign up here www.organix.com/nojunk

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