The battle to maintain healthy eating and cooking by a time-stretched Mum
I am interested in food and whole-heartedly advocate healthy eating and organic food. I grew up in the countryside, half a mile from where we have now settled, with a mother who was the original Domestic Goddess. Sadly, my mother’s talents seem to have skipped a generation. I love my garden but one of the things Claire and I have in common is our ability to kill everything we attempt to grow – even the almost-impossible-to-kill cacti plants refuse to thrive in our care. Gardening and our little vegetable patch have been outsourced. I also love eating healthily but I am an average cook who has lost both the will and the incentive.
With three small children (aged 12yrs, 10yrs and 5yrs), we generally exist on nursery-type meals. Spag bol, cottage pie, pizza, chicken wraps, fish fingers and casseroles are our staple – cheap, easy and not too ‘mucked out’ for my fussy brood. We love baking and have two waffle machines and a cupcake maker to prove it but that’s a story for another day and some may feel flapjacks don’t fall under ‘healthy eating’. The children have always been great at eating their greens and fruit so I know they are getting their ‘five-a-day’ (more like 3 but who’s counting?) but they will not be trying Syrian lentil soup or mussels with harissa and coriander (as advocated by chef Claire Thomson, author of The Five O’Clock Apron, and nemesis of nursery food) any day soon.
When we made the move back home after 16 years of living in East Africa, I had a brief dream that once I returned to England as a stay-at-home Mum, I would have all day to bake. I had visions of homemade damson jam bubbling on an Aga, natty Kilner jars bursting with fresh, home-baked granola and mouth-watering suppers put together with ingredients foraged from the garden, fields and forests around me. The kids would greet each meal with open mouths and cries of great joy and we would all hold hands and laugh around a cosy, kitchen table. Reality set in very quickly: no Aga, no time and not even the satisfaction of getting past my first challenge: to see how long it would take before I stopped making homemade fish fingers and resorted to Captain Bird’s Eye? The answer: one week. Seven measly days to register that eating healthily all the time is not only hard work but also often expensive and seriously time consuming.
We do, however, have one other weapon in the war against preservatives and additives: our location. Ludlow, with its great choice of restaurants and a butcher on practically every corner, is renowned as one of the top UK Foodie destinations. The town is home to the well-known Food Festival which takes place every year in September and we are surrounded by quality, local producers: farmers who produce their own cuts of meats responsibly, artisan bread bakers, a local brewery and small companies that produce home-made oils, spirits, jams, chutneys and mouth-watering cakes using their own eggs and the best ingredients.
When I am fed up of buying mass-produced packets of biscuits and feel it’s time to put our healthy eating back on track, I either walk up to the market or make the 10-minute car journey to the Ludlow Food Centre, my family’s foodie Mecca. The LFC biscuits are as close to homemade as you’ll get and always a great hit with the children: the “best Mum in the world” title is awarded whey they get home from school, root around in the cupboard and find Eccles cakes, brownies and freshly-baked soda bread (yes it can be found outside of the M25). The shop also offers a preservative-free range of ready made meals, cultivates their own cheeses, grow their own veges and even boast their own butchery. So, until there are more hours in the day, we will stick to our boring, old menu but continue to use good, fresh, basic ingredients and hope that as the children grow older, time management will be easier and we all become a little more adventurous.
Next week, another adventure in the Yellow Peril as Claire and I undertake the tough task of reviewing all our local farmshops…