Saturday arrives and the kids were up nice and early to get started on their first meal of the day: Spelt pancakes with white chocolate chips taken loosely from the Skinny Bitch in the Kitchen recipe book. Charlie managed to read the ingredients and they both pour everything in, with the exception of the baking soda and powder – that’s still my job as precision is key. Although if nothing else is precisely measured, I suppose those don’t have to be!
They grabbed their cooking stool and headed over to the stove to do the cooking and flipping. They’ve both been taught before not to touch anything except the frying pan handle so the pancake making goes rather well – although my leftie son had some troubles with the spatula and the pan handle. Charlie’s made pancakes before, but Milo’s not been allowed to do his own flipping so he was totally thrilled to be allowed to flip and have perfectly browned pancakes.
Lesson learned: Do not trust children with an open jar of maple syrup on the table.
Verdict: Best pancakes ever.
Next up was a lesson in preparing ahead – before they dashed off to their ballet class, they had to make the sauce for their lunch gnocchi. My favourite kind of kid cooking – just place the giant pot, tins of tomatoes and basil on the floor and let them dump it all in. If it spills, who cares! I think this is key to cooking with kids – you’ve got to let them make a mess and really get into the food. If you’re too careful or hovering, then they won’t enjoy it and neither will you.
The pot on the stove, the kids off to ballet. When they got home, the sun was shining and they just wanted to ride their bikes so Charlie asked very kindly if I would put the pot on to boil for the pre-made gnocchi. Simple step so I was happy to comply. I called the kids in when it was done and Charlie served up for everyone with their delicious homemade sauce.
Lesson learned: When they make it and serve it, they give themselves the biggest portions.
Verdict: Perfect meal to fill up before an afternoon of gardening.
Again a lesson in prep – if they wanted pizza for dinner we’d have to start the dough in early afternoon so before we went off to the allotment we (Charlie and I – Milo was lured by Lego) got stuck into some dough making. Charlie’s been hooked on Paul Hollywood’s Baking show the past few weeks so she was full of kneading and flouring ideas!
Both of my kids have been fascinated with dough lately and will spend an hour making it into different shapes. They never spend this much time with play dough – I think it’s the appeal of knowing they’re going to eat what they’re making. Charlie decided that just letting a ball of dough rest isn’t quite good enough so she made a duck in a nest to rest. When we got home, to everyone’s surprise the duck had been absorbed back into the rest of the dough.
This kicked off an epic dough shaping session where they both seemed to forget that the objective was pizza. Charlie argued that they could add the topings after their creations were cooked, so that’s exactly what we did. They put all the potential toppings (sauce, courgette, peppers, etc) into bowls and after their bread was cooked, we all just dipped and smeared.
Lesson learned: Creativity and fun trumps tradition every time.
Verdict: Still tastes like pizza if the toppings are added after – yum.
Overall, the day was a roaring success. They learned about planning, prepping, cooking and serving and throughout it all took incredible pride in being in charge of the entire days’ worth of food. They’re both eager to do it again and I would trust them to do so even more next time, such as letting them go around the supermarket with even more freedom and giving them more challenging recipes. It may not become a weekly event, but certainly a bi-weekly or monthly event.
I asked Charlie for her thoughts on the day and she said: “Mummy, I’ve always wished for a day like this.”
I think every parent should be doing this regularly with their children – the confidence built and the skills learned are invaluable. The most important thing is that you’re in the kitchen cooking and the kids are seeing you do this and helping you where they can. Here are some of the simplest ways they could help out:
- Measuring ingredients
- Snipping herbs with scissors
- Pouring out tins
- Peeling bananas
- Pouring ingredients into jar to make salad dressing
- Shaking dressing.
Any of these would involve minimal supervision depending upon your child’s age and will actually help you out. But keep in mind that just as it took them a while to learn how to ride a bike and you had to push them along those first few goes (hours), so it is with cooking. Focus on one skill at a time and give them your attention when they’re first learning. Eventually you’ll get to a point where they’re skilled enough that it’s enjoyable for all. As my son said about recently learning to ride his bike: “ I’m not doing it for practice anymore, I’m doing it for fun!”
After about two months of practising their knife skills, they’re both able to be trusted to create a salad entirely on their own and frequently help chop up items for the dehydrator.
Because of this, I thought it was time to step things up a little and give them some ownership over their food. The challenge: Work together to plan, shop for and prepare an entire day’s worth of food. It had to be somewhat healthy, not include any ready meals and be enjoyable by the entire family. And come under £28 for all ingredients (very generous budget!). Added incentive: they could use any leftover money to buy toys.
The menu they came up with:
Breakfast: Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Lunch: Gnocchi with homemade tomato basil sauce
Dinner: Homemade Pizza with Sweet Potato Pie for pudding
Slightly heavy on the carbs, but overall not too shabby especially if supplemented with raw fruit and veg for snacks. And keep in mind they need to cook everything themselves! I will help with the dangerous things, like draining the gnocchi and taking the pizza out of the oven, but other than that they’re on their own!
So with the menu planned and the grocery list written, we headed to Sainsburys. Milo carried the money, Charlie the shopping list. First to buy the flour – the pancakes we make are made with Spelt flour and so that took a while to read amongst dozens of types. Then, to the other side of the supermarket to find soya milk. Then BACK to the baking aisle for chocolate chips. They were filling their baskets in the exact order Charlie had written it down in, so for the next half hour there was an awful lot of back and forth! All I did was follow along and help when needed, such as reaching high items. They got plenty of smiles from other customers in their hunt for food.
Once they had everything, it was to the checkout – the kids went into one aisle and I went into another to give them privacy. Charlie had a panicked moment when she thought she’d packed her eggs at the bottom of her bag, and Milo was more interested in splitting the change than helping pack, but otherwise they did brilliantly!
Now all the groceries are at home awaiting cooking day tomorrow!
There’s so much in the media today about schools not teaching children to cook and the fact that the next generation (not to mention this one) are losing an awareness of the basics surrounding healthy meal planning and preparation. I totally get this – schools should be doing much more than they are. Use some of that green space to grow some peas, encourage after school cooking clubs, sell them apples instead of Haribos at the school disco. But at the same time, shouldn’t we as parents also be responsible for teaching our children these basic life skills? How often have we read a book to our child compared to read a recipe with them?
Do we make food one of the focuses of the time we spend with our children or do we treat it as something that needs doing quickly so that we can get back to the important activities?
I think that basic food skills are just as important as learning to read, ride a bike and learning the value of saving money. Over the past few months I’ve been making a conscience effort to begin to teach my four year-old son Milo and 6 year-old daughter Charlie how to plan, shop for and cook healthy meals. I’ve learned to:
- Turn the small things into big things. If you’re going to buy them a chopping board or a knife, make a special trip and make a big deal out of it. Let them choose ones in their favourite colours. We had some odd looks at TK Maxx when I let them purchase two small, but very sharp, knives, but that just added to the excitement that they were getting something other adults didn’t think they were old enough to have.
- Expect enthusiasm and be surprised at the skill. No one will spend quite as much time chopping a tomato as a child with his own knife. The precision that goes into it is amazing. Just don’t expect that salad to be done in five minutes.
- Don’t expect perfection. Children are little people and they will approach things in their own way. You may not think that green onions should be sliced lengthwise, but they might!
- Don’t ever, ever leave them alone. At such a young age, you’ve got to watch them like hawks so that they gradually learn not to put fingers under knives or just suddenly lose interest and wander off to the lego with a knife.
Give it a go – it might not be something that you want to do at every mealtime, but by starting now one or two days a week you’ll be building up skills like any other and eventually you’ll be getting some valuable help in the kitchen!
April Raw Food Challenge – Day 1 and a fresh start…
Day 19 into the raw food challenge
It’s been a funny week – dinner parties, husband out of town, kids off school, travel to London, illness < yes, all in one week!
Day 12 and going fairly strong.
Went to a party on Saturday and had a couple of drinks which I paid for by sneezing all night, but other than that it’s been raw all the way.
The biggest discoveries for me thus far, other than the fact that I’ve managed to stick with it, are:
1. It’s okay to be a bit hungry – in fact, your body prefers to be hungry before you eat! I think in the past I was eating whenever I was even just a tiny bit hungry and as a result never really was. By having my smoothie in the morning and then waiting until lunch for my next meal I certainly appreciate it more. Being hungry before I eat is something that I will continue to practice throughout these 30 days.
2. The perfect alternative to a latte at Starbucks is the vanilla Rooibos tea with foamy soy milk. Sprinkled with cinnamon. Looks like a latte, but without all the caffeine.
3. I love anything in a sushi wrap. The perfect 5-minute raw meal is to create thin, long slices of whatever veg I’ve got in the fridge, add some avocado and roll it all up in a nori wrap. Filling and fast.
On the personal health front, my allergies are under control again and
I don’t seem to be hitting any sugar lows or having shakiness between meals because my meals are so nutritionally filling and they seem to keep me satisfied for much longer.
I think I’m past the worst of the detox now and seem to be finding it very easy to keep this up now that I’m not longing for the things I cannot have. And really, which is tastier – a bowl of strawberries or a bitter cup of coffee?
It hasn’t been nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be – in the first few days I had mild headaches from the lack of caffeine, but that’s it.
Five days into raw and I’m still going strong.
The plan I’ve been following is based on two large fruit/green smoothies a day plus a large veg-based dinner.
The things that are challenging:
1. Not ordering coffee in a cafe. I do a lot of work on my laptop in cafes and I still think that paying for coffee is better value than paying for a cup of herbal tea. In reality, this isn’t the case as coffee is just as cheap and all cafe drinks are kind of a rip off. So this actually involves just going to cafes less – better for me and better for the budget.
2. Getting through the mornings. I’m up at 5:30 am for my workout and have a litre of lemon water followed by a rooibos tea when I’m done that. At about 8:30am I’m out in the forest gathering wood and so it’s not until about 9am that I have my first smoothie. Ravenous at that point!
But it seems that if I can hold off until lunch (something that’s getting easier) then I can easily sail through the afternoons. At dinner I think I’m so happy to have food I can chew that it fills me up until bedtime.
3. Not even being able to eat at a vegan restaurant! I’m committed to this for the 30 days and I keep on saying that I can certainly stay out of restaurants for that time, or just order a large salad. So this is really not a huge challenge.
What I’m really enjoying:
1. Having someone else tell me what to eat. In our house, I am the food boss. Seriously. I decide what, when and how much. Now and then, this gets a bit tedious and I have found it really refreshing to just follow a plan and eat what I’m told. It’s like a brain break.
2. Mono-meals. For some reason, I’m really loving just having a huge bowl of one type of fruit for breakfast/lunch on the days I haven’t had the smoothies. It’s simple, simple, simple.
So that’s where I’m at now. I think I might be through the first stages of the detox, now I just have to get past the initial ‘thrill’ of being on a new foodie adventure and see if I can keep it up past the honeymoon period.
How will a nutritionist do on a raw diet?
As an evidence-based nutritional consultant I frequently find myself recommending to clients that they begin a slow progression to a whole foods plant-based diet. This approach varies depending upon what they’re trying to achieve and how urgent their situation is. Frequently getting someone off of the processed and junk food they’ve been eating for years is enough to help their body start to heal itself.
One of the hardest parts of this process is helping clients through the first four weeks of adjusting to a new way of thinking about food and supporting them through the detox phase. For many clients, there is almost a period of mourning for what they ‘can’t’ have and it suddenly seems as though the entire world is made up of Cadbury’s creme eggs.
This transition through detox is certainly something that I’ve seen time and time again, but I’ve never actually experienced it myself. In the past, I’ve always taken transitions to different diets very slowly. I was a vegetarian for almost two years before becoming vegan. I’ve cut back on coffee at times, but have never fully quit.
So I thought that in order to be able to fully empathise with my clients, I would try to make a large change to my own eating habits by going on a 30-day raw food detox.
Admittedly, this is also an attempt to lose a few extra pounds that joined me over winter and also help break some habits that were getting out of hand – night time eating and larger than required portions of sweets such as figs and dates. Sometimes it’s easier to make a big break than a small break.
I’m also looking to improve my allergies – my litmus test of how well I’m eating on any given day – and begin to balance my hypothyroidism a bit better.
And of course, I’m hoping to achieve all the ‘extras’ that raw food diets promise – energy, great skin and an enthusiasm for more raw food!
So for the next 30 days I will be eating only raw fruit, veg and nuts/seeds. I’ll keep you posted on how this little experiment goes and whether raw is just one step too far or not.
I was going to write a friendly post about cookbooks today but in today’s nutrition news I discovered a new prescription product just approved for use in Europe that has made me so furious that I just had to protest about it. The product? The AspireAssist.
Unbelievably, this product is a tube-type device that is implanted in your stomach so that you can empty the contents of your stomach after a meal. Marketed at obese people who may not want to go down the route of gastric bypass or other extreme surgical method of weight control.
The website for the product says it gives people control over their weight loss. Certainly. What it doesn’t do is give people control over their eating or provide their body with the nutrients it needs.
Think about it – if you had a straight shot from your mouth to the toilet, would you eat the carrot or the cheesecake? The pizza or the salad? Would you limit what you eat to healthy portions?
The website touts the benefits of the product, stating that in clinical trials people lost 49% of their weight in the first year. OF COURSE THEY DID. It also mentions that although they will provide advice on making lifestyle changes, no dietary changes are required for the product to work.
And who will speak for the rest of the body if someone has this? No nutrients, no fibre? How will those organs function? How will the person function? What will happen to their mental state?
I would like to think that I live in a world where people (and doctors) are smart enough to realise that the AspireAssist isn’t going to solve a single problem for someone with obesity and although it’s not the easiest path at times, a person’s life would be far better enriched with a healthy diet than a get-out-of-jail-free food tube.
It’s taken me nearly a week to stop being so afraid of my new Vitamix blender. At first, it was like, WHOA! Power. The first thing I tried to make was just a simple smoothie but it scared me so much that I literally thought the machine was going to self-implode.
Of course, this was shorty following an incident with my previous blender that had smoke pouring out of the bottom. £17 does not a good blender buy.
But now, after a week of making anything that will blend including smoothies, three kinds of nut butter, lentil flour, oat flour, apple sauce, nut milks, ice cream, and grinding my coffee beans I’m a fully committed Vitamix convert. I love it. It is my friend, but the sort of friend that says ‘don’t worry about that, you just sit back and I’ll do it for you’.