Sam and I were watching Mary Portas’ round-up of 2018 shopping habits the other night (What Britain Bought in 2018). One fact that she mentioned was that the average person spent £1000 a year on takeaways – about £83 per month. Some of the interviewees said they bought 2 – 3 every week. We were genuinely surprised that people buy-in food so often. Then the following morning the BBC had a headline article entitled “Children ‘exceed recommended sugar limit by age 10’“. That’s a scary headline to read for anyone but especially as a parent. After seeing both of these, it made me start reflecting on what and how my family and I eat.So much so that I felt the need to put finger to keyboard on the subject. I must add though, that everything I write here is about me and my family. It’s not about what others do or passing any kind of judgement. When it comes to the food one eats, it’s each to their own. But here are my musings on what does and needs to happen in the Watling household.
Before Little H was born, we generally ate out more than getting a delivery. Typically we would go out once a week, with the odd Indian takeaway if we were zonked at the end of a busy working week. But as the years have progressed, we have stopped eating out so often and we now get a takeaway at most once every 3 weeks. We enjoy taking the girls out for lunch but we tend to only do it once a month or so because it keeps it as a treat. Also, it requires a certain amount of effort to deal with a baby in a restaurant! Consequently we eat a lot of meals at home.
Since Little Z was born, Sam has taken the reigns for adult dinners – he plans them every week and cooks the lions share whilst I finish feeding Little Z and putting her to bed. I tend to take on the lunches and the majority of dinners for the children. Fortunately I enjoy cooking but it can be hard work to be creative whilst keeping meals quick or low effort with two small people and so many other demands on my time. We’re not saints and we do eat pre-packaged foods but it tends to be for foods which are not so easily made at home such a vegetarian burgers etc. Coming into the New Year though, I have a renewed focus on making even more from scratch.
Principles is probably a strong word but I do have a few things which motivate me with regards to food and our diet:
- We must all get at least our 5-a-day of fruit and veg, with a strong emphasis on vegetables to keep sugar down.
- A mainly vegetarian diet is key. Keeping fish (the girls and I) and meat (Sam) consumption to a minimum (by that I mean 1-2 portions a week) is important to me from a moral and environmental perspective.
- Get as much diversity into our food as possible to get a full range of vitamins. I got an awesome chart from Liz Cooks Charts to help with this.
- Try to eat local produce where possible, and seasonally. I got another chart to help with that too.
- Salt is to barely be added.
- Cakes, biscuits, chocolate and sweeties are a treat. We try to avoid having them in the house because if you don’t have them, you don’t eat them.
- Carbohydrates are not a source of evil as often seems to be the trend these days and they must form a key part of any meal.
- Soft drinks are a no-no. We drink water, tea for adults, a little bit of juice and milk. That’s it. Well, except for the occasional treat of an Appletiser – only natural sugars.
- Food in plastic packaging is to be avoided if the item is not critical or where a plastic-free alternative is available. This means that we no longer buy berries or many pre-packaged snacks.
Since I started weaning Little Z, it has given me a renewed focus on making from scratch. This was something I lost during pregnancy when my energy levels waned. I have really enjoyed taking more time to consider what I’m serving my children. Unlike when I weaned Little H, this time I have tried to move to one meal that suits the whole family. So even with something like a casserole, I keep the vegetables chunky so I can take them out for Little Z to feed herself. My new children’s cookbook, Young Gums, has really helped inspire me with meal options which I can adapt to give us more variety. It also introduced me to a brilliant and quick recipe for baby-friendly flat breads which I have since adapted with different flours and used for various meals including homemade pizzas which are very popular!
One area I have always felt that there were opportunities to make more food at home is baked goods. If my children are going to have the odd cake, then I would prefer it is one where I know all the contents. The same goes for bread. Shop bought bread has a lot of sugar and salt in it and I’ve always wanted to make more at home. But kneading bread is messy and time consuming so I have rarely done it. So, when I was watching ‘The Great British Bake Off’ over the summer, I realised I really wanted a food mixer to speed up the process of baking and also allow me to machine knead bread. Sam got me a KitchenAid for Christmas and so far I have used to it make a number of cakes, breads and various other snacks. Getting the dough for a large white loaf from nothing to a first prove is a big game changer. With time I’d like to move into other breads so we can bulk freeze homemade wraps, pittas etc. Time will tell if I manage it!
As a household we are hungry folk though. Finding snacks that meet all our criteria is tricky because especially Sam and Little H want variety and dislike the same snack twice! We generally eat crackers, carrots, bread, rice cakes and some fruit. It isn’t hugely inspiring at the weekends so I do want to try and find some alternatives. It’s interesting how many options are taken away when removing the majority of plastic options!
I suppose one of the biggest underlying drivers behind all of this work as well is educating the girls to live and eat well. Little Z is learning to develop her palate so needs variety but is very much guided by me. Little H on the other hand is subjected to so many external influences now that it is getting much harder to do this. Sweets are the biggest challenge – at parties they are given sweeties and then the party bags have Haribo, chocolate coins and more spilling out to differing degrees. We don’t stop her having sweets but we are very restrained with them so she’ll be allowed 1 or 2 jelly sweets and the rest go in the cupboard. At night, we even take some out of the pot and put them in the compost to reduce the amount she eats. (Sorry Little H if you read this when you’re older – it was for your health!). At times it feels we are being so strict but then I read news like I mentioned above and I know that ultimately it’s the right thing.
I’m excited to see what I manage to do this year. As the girls get older I hope to find more time at the weekends or on my at home days. But only time will tell. I have yet to see how going back to work takes its toll on my energy levels and enthusiasm! I am so sure though that this year and the next few are the crucial ones for sending my girls down the right path with their food. So I am determined to teach them as best I can. And perhaps Sam and I will improve our diets a bit more along the way!