With the summer holidays drawing to a close, and the return to school looming, now is a good time to look at what our children are eating and the importance of a balanced diet.

Whether it is packed lunches, school meals, or a family evening meal, a healthy, balanced diet is vital for growing children as it provides them with essential nutrients needed for their continued growth and development.

This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

The benefits of meat and dairy, as part of a well-balanced diet, are well documented.

Dairy is a fantastic source of calcium and vitamins that contribute to strong bones, while red meat is high in protein and iron.

As well as being a key source of protein, Welsh red meat contains a variety of additional nutritional benefits including iron, zinc, amino acids, vitamin D and importantly vitamin B12, which is only available from animal sources.

A lack of vitamin B12 in the diet can lead to extreme tiredness, reduced energy and muscle weakness.

Some people are now opting to follow a plant-based diet, believing it to be a ‘healthier’ option.

While it is possible to get protein from plant sources, these foods don’t contain the full range of amino acids needed for optimal health.

These nutritional benefits can only be found in ‘complete’ protein sources such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy.

Buying local food is also an extremely easy way to eat well all while doing your bit for the environment and supporting your local farmers at the same time.

Welsh farmers produce food to some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, all while enhancing and maintaining our natural environment.

Buying food from your local butcher or farm shop also means you are reducing your food miles, as well as knowing exactly where your food comes from and exactly what is in it.

If you shop in a supermarket, choosing Welsh or British produce from the shelves will also make a difference.

This is why NFU Cymru continues to work with local councils to provide public procurement options for schools, hospitals and other public sector services.

Public procurement is the purchase of goods and services on behalf of a public authority, such as a government agency.

The public procurement of food encompasses a spend of over £2.4 billion in organisations such as schools, prisons, the military and hospitals.

NFU Cymru’s policy priorities centre around ensuring the government is ambitious in its commitment to sourcing from the UK food and drink sector, including promoting and driving local and seasonal food purchasing.

This includes reinforcing and upholding Welsh and British food standards, driving food procurement away from purchasing on price alone.

We want a public sector procurement model that values domestic sourcing, is mandated by central government, and delivered regionally with support from local producers, enabling more Welsh food on our plates.