Food prices are rising and many families are concerned about their weekly shopping baskets and are budgeting more carefully in these frugal times. But limiting the more expensive items could have repercussions for child health.

Two factors contribute to the decision to reduce meat in our diets. Firstly, we are trying to encourage more healthy diets for our children. This can mean both reducing the junk food (such as burgers and fried chicken) which children like and reducing the amount of red meat in general. Secondly, many families are trying to reduce the effect of rising food prices by limiting the amount of red meat in their weekly shopping baskets.

But, almost imperceptibly, small changes can affect the RDA or recommended daily allowances of vital nutrients for children. Removing foods which they will actually eat without nagging, (such as burgers and fried chicken) is a good step towards greater health but only if vital elements such as iron are replaced in another form. This can be tricky to do with picky children, and yet it is important if we are to avoid health risks such as anaemia.

Iron deficiency anaemia can creep up on us as we lower the amounts of meat in our diets. This is not so serious for adults, but children do need to get their daily intake of iron or anaemia can result without us noticing. The symptoms of iron-deficiency anaemia in children are usually mild and difficult to put a finger on, but they can explain a lot.

Children who are anaemic can become inexplicably weak, tired, or even breathless and pale. Lacking energy, they may lose interest in schoolwork as they become tired and sleepy. Dark rings under the eyes may sometimes be present along with a constant feeling of being generally "under the weather." Suspected symptoms of anaemia should always be referred to a doctor who can advise about dietician recommended iron-rich foods for children. Iron supplements should not be given without his direction although iron-enriched breakfast cereals are usually fine. Instead, boosting iron rich foods will probably be recommended.

In general, these are - red meat, eggs, liver, dark green leafy vegetables, dried apricots, sardines, Calabrese, pulses, yeast extract products and wheat-germ enriched breads. Unfortunately, the list contains many foodstuffs such as "greens" and eggs, which many children find unpalatable. Indeed, spinach (a rich source) even takes a few days to release its iron. In addition, boosting Vitamin C intake through fresh fruit can help children to absorb the iron. Without the ingenious creativity required to invent tempting menus out of these ingredients though, we may have to compromise.

Perhaps, some fried chicken accompanied by a healthy salad and a baked potato would be a good start. Or maybe pasta and tomato sauce made with lean minced steak? Some parents may even have to resort to allowing the occasional burger or chicken bucket back onto the family menu once or twice a week. When Junior says "No" to iron-rich alternatives he may well mean it! When considering junk food options, we may have to choose between a rock and a hard place!