This Friday, May 17th, is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day, “a global day of action for people to make a stand for good food and essential cooking skills.” So to celebrate that, I figured it’s a perfect time to start sharing a bit about the food revolution happening around our house, one that’s embracing cooking and eating fresh. And, one that’s reducing my stress around putting food on the table.
I’d honestly never paid that much attention to what I ate. But then I read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and this book transformed the way I think about food. Our Western society has become so caught up in eating fast, that we’re forgetting how to eat well, instead filling our bodies with chemicals, preservatives, and junk. And we’re passing these habits onto our kids.
While Pollan’s book opened my eyes and made me think twice about everything I eat and where it came from, I still found it difficult to incorporate his ideas into my everyday life. I made small changes like buying organic and local, reading ingredients and avoiding as many processed foods as possible. Cheddar cheese is not naturally bright orange people! But on a daily basis, I was still struggling with what to eat for dinner each night, finding it all too easy to just order a pizza. And I found myself cooking the same things over and over, getting bored, failing to incorporate enough variety and certainly not including five a day. Cooking has never come naturally to me and I’ve never been a “foodie” so I always found it a chore.
But now with a child, I realize that making sure that he (and I) develop good eating habits is one of the most important things I can do for him as a parent. His food education is my responsibility and if I’m not teaching him about healthy food choices, where else is he going to learn? Who else is going to teach him about the importance of eating fresh versus processed food and about eating a variety of foods? And if I don’t lead by example, what kind of message does that send?
When he was first learning to eat solids, I actually found it easier, simply making all of his baby puree from scratch. At this stage, Annabel Karmel was a gift, mapping out his entire meal plan for months. But once he began eating regular foods, I again found myself taking the easy way out, resorting to frozen fish and chips all too often. Fundamentally, I knew I needed to put a wider variety of healthy foods on the table but when pressed, I’d go with the foods I knew he’d eat, fish and chips, cheese sandwich, plain pasta. And I’d find myself sitting around on a Monday morning stressed out because I knew we had nothing to eat in the house and yet I had no plan for what to get at the store or what to cook. Something had to change.
Enter my friend, Laura, who suggested I read French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. This book really set things in motion. Le Billon reinforced that kids don’t have to eat junk and that it’s up to me as a parent to make the rules about what kind of food gets put on the table. I find myself repeating one of her key messages, “You don’t have to like everything, but you do have to try it.” And I’m finding the more often he sees something, the more likely he is to try it. Salmon with pesto sauce? Turned his nose up at it the first time, scraping all the pesto off. Now he eats it up and asks for the “green sauce.” Beetroot salad? Who knew he’d eat that? I didn’t until the day I decided to just put some on his plate. There really is no reason why kids can’t eat what adults eat.
I’m not going to sit here and say I only eat healthy foods and never touch junk food. Put a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints in front of me and I will eat the whole thing, in one sitting. I know my weaknesses. My only defense is to keep these things out of the house. If they’re not available, I don’t eat them. This is the same strategy I use with my child. He never asks for sweets and junk food on a daily basis because these things are never in the house. I don’t offer them to him and don’t use sweets as rewards for good behaviour (he’s happier with robots anyway). And when we want a treat in the house, we make something like banana cake or cookies from scratch so I know what’s in them. This doesn’t mean he’s never allowed junk foods like crisps and sweets. It just means I don’t encourage them on a daily basis. I leave the junk for days like when we’re out at Legoland or birthday parties.
So What Does Our Food Revolution Look Like?
As I started down this path of revolutionising what we ate, I actually sat down and wrote a list of what I was trying to accomplish. My key goals were to:
- Cook healthy meals for us on a daily basis to encourage eating a wider variety of foods and making healthy choices.
- Reduce the stress involved with meal planning and shopping by planning ahead and staying organised.
- Teach my son about preparing food so that he’ll understand where food comes from.
- Develop good mealtime and eating habits by eating together.
How to I make this work?
Planning and Organisation.
On another tip from Laura, I found Kacie of A Collection of Passions and her menu planning series. This is where everything I’d been reading about making good food choices finally came together in a practical, actionable form. Her tips on how to get organised and make a monthly meal plan have been like gold. Instead of getting stressed every week because I don’t know what we’re going to eat, I set aside time one day each month to make a plan for the next month. Yes, it takes a chunk of time to do this. But overall, it takes me less time and, more importantly, less stress than having to worry about it weekly. My Monthly Menu Plan for May shows you how I plan this out. I do it once each month and it’s done.
This process also means that I prepare my grocery list for a month at a time. I’ve created my version of a shopping list that works for me and how I shop. I fill this out each month with the food I need to buy each week and, as I’ve already got a list, it’s easy to add things as we run out. I do one bulk purchase each month for all the non-perishable pantry items, then buy the perishables once a week. This system isn’t perfect, I’m finding that meals sometimes have to get shifted around when things come up like unplanned days out with friends. And I also know that I need to make more of an effort planning variety in breakfast, it’s hard to break the cereal habit. But that’s OK though as these first few months are all about experimenting, about trying new things, and about getting more comfortable in the kitchen.
One thing I did at the start of this was invest in a few new cookbooks. Besides the fact that my current collection was uninspiring, the process of converting the recipes from my US cookbooks into metric equivalents was just adding another layer of complexity that I didn’t need in my cooking. And it was destroying my soul.
I’ll save cookbook reviews for another post but I will say that Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food is the first cookbook I’ve had that really made cooking accessible and from which I regularly cook. His simple recipes have given me the confidence to try new things. Chicken tikka masala? Never even heard of it a few years ago, much less cook it. Now it’s a staple thanks to Jamie.
It’s important to me that I get my son involved in this process when he’s willing to take time out from his robots. When we shop, I get him to help pick out items from the grocery store, especially the produce. And he helps with small tasks during the cooking. Yes, I can get things done faster and with less mess if he doesn’t help me, but he’s not learning if I do it all myself.
I’m also finding it helpful and inspiring to share in the food revolution with friends, fellow parents who believe as much as I do in eating healthy and helping our kids learn about good food choices. A few of us have started a small dinner group where we cook at each other’s homes once a month, sharing some of our tried and true recipes and expanding our collective cooking repertoire.
Want to Join the Food Revolution?
- Head over to the Food Revolution site, it’s full of ideas and activities to get you involved in cooking at home, work, wherever.
- Give monthly menu planning a try. Kacie writes this up fantastically and you can grab a blank template from her as well. I pretty much use this with some minor changes.
- Download my Monthly Shopping List template. (I print this double-sided so that I have all 4 weeks on one sheet that I always have it with me.)
- Get cooking!