I’m Sarah, I’m 35 and I have a 2-year-old daughter called Flora. I had a very bad pregnancy and a difficult birth, and in the months after Flora was born my health became very bad. I had a long list of symptoms not helped by sleep-deprivation and new-mum stress. This year I finally found out I have MS, which I went on to discover is a condition which many believe can be controlled by diet and lifestyle. I informed myself about nutrition with the internet and books about managing autoimmune diseases, and learned a lot of things I wish I’d known years ago – back in the days when I used to fret about my weight when I over indulged rather than my long-term health. So now I take care to make sure my family eats well so that Flora has the best start possible when it comes to the aspects of her health upon which I can have an effect. I’ve always been a very enthusiastic cook, but now I am a conscientious one.
Kinfo: Do you have a sort or routine at home during the week?
Sarah: I love cooking and I love to discover new recipes that I can adapt, for example to reduce sugar and gluten. So in our house we cook all the time and we try to only eat what we prepare. I have a set of base recipes, and I adapt them by adding meat, fish or other proteins like lentils and beans.
- Soups: soups are an excellent way to eat veggies and we put a lot of things in it. My daughter loves the Magic Green soup and she has it a couple of times a week. You start with a good base and you can pretty much add anything you like.
- Curry: potatoes and courgettes as a base then you can vary the spices and add whatever grabs your fancy.
- Roasted veg and baked meat and fish
- Meals we can feed a group of people with easily on a week night, like when we have my parents come over for dinner: spaghetti Bolognese, ratatouille, stir fry, kedgeree
Flora does occasionally eat a “beige” meal – potato waffle, fish fingers, pasta – but usually we inject greens into every available scrap of food!
Kinfo: How do you manage to get your daughter eat vegetables?
Sarah: We want our daughter to have vegetables at every meal so we made sure there was green in almost everything she ate from early on, so it would normal.
We also hide vegetables like cabbage: we slice it up very thinly, steam it and add it to mash or pasta. It’s very mild in taste and almost invisible, conveniently, because sometimes she will rebel and refuse to eat her veg. Luckily she likes broccoli, so we chop it up and put it everywhere. Oh, and by the way peas are not a vegetable but a legume, so they don’t really count!
Kinfo: What family friendly recipes would you recommend?
Sarah: On my blog you will find ideas for healthy recipes, and some slightly less healthy but definitely delicious ones too: Meetmeinthekitchen.co.uk. I have also shared some on Kinfo - my daughter loves them all.
- The Magic Green Soup
- Mild courgette and potato curry
- Choconut spread, as a replacement for Nutella, which is basically palm oil and sugar.
- Stir fry
Kinfo: Where do you get your inspirations from?
Sarah: I come from a family of wonderful cooks, so a lot of my recipes are stolen from my mum and grandma! But I have a big library of cookbooks, and I love the BBC Good Food website, as well as Pinterest! I use blogs for free-from recipes – there are so many, and I’m so grateful for all the people who share their recipes, that I wanted to do the same. Jamie Oliver is also extremely good for family-oriented meals.
Kinfo: Any advice for busy parents?
Sarah: as a working mum I need to be a bit organised, so here are a few tips:
- Batch cook and freeze! Make a huge batch of bolognese, divide into meal-sized portions and put it in the freezer. One cooking session and four meals!
- When you have the time try to involve your kids in the cooking process, and make entertainment out of it! Cooking is an important life skill, and it’s easy to want your kids out from under your feet while you’re cooking, so every now and then plan something they can participate in. Mexican food is great for that. Assembling fajitas is great fun! Healthy too – beans, avocado, coriander, meat and fish. Varied and nutritious.
- Make what my mum used to call a busy salad! Think salade nicoise, or quinoa salad with lentils and roasted veg.
- Omelette can be a lifesaver. You can put anything in it really, cheese, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, potatoes – sometimes I just dump a pile of leftovers in the pan and cover with eggs. Rice, stir fry – almost anything goes!
A few other tips:
When your children go out in the world they will be seduced by packaging and questionable food. When you have them at home take the opportunity to pay special attention to what they eat while it is under your control. Making sure you tip the balance towards nutritious food. This is an investment in their long-term health.
Try not to rely too heavily on one particular food, like pasta or chicken. Variety is key to good nutrition. Be a little adventurous, find new recipes, shop seasonally. The whole family will benefit and you won’t get fed up with making the repletion at meal times.
Sugar is catastrophic for the whole family. It should be an occasional treat, not part of the routine. I know it’s a battle these days because sugary treats are so cheap and readily available, but sugar brings you no benefits at all, but a host of health problems in the long term and the short term.
Don’t let your kids have a lot of juice. It isn’t normal to drink 8 oranges’ worth of juice – it’s not doing you as much good as eating an actual orange. It’s a strain on your liver, and you don’t get the fibre which is where a lot of the benefits lie. It also bathes the teeth in sugar.
Read labels carefully. You wouldn’t believe what there is in your food sometimes. For example, mayonnaise is about 80% sunflower oil, which is extremely bad for you. So make food from scratch when you can, and try to keep processed, ready-made food to a minimum.
Avoid pre-cut fruit and veg. They lose their nutritional value quite drastically when they are pre-prepared.
If you are interested in organic food but you are concerned that it’s prohibitively expensive, investigate the lists called the clean 15 and the dirty dozen. It’s a guide to which foods are safe to buy not organic, and which are more recommended to buy organic.
Many children don’t get enough omega 3 fatty acids, which are mainly found in fish and some meats. Tinned fish is a good quick solution, but try to avoid using too much tuna. Choose mackerel, or sardines with the bones as they have a lot of calcium and low mercury. Try to buy Wild Alaskan Salmon, it has a higher level of omega 3 without the chemicals of farmed fish.
It can take dozens of attempts to get your children to accept a particular food. Sometimes you have to just keep offering it gently, and eventually
It’s important to eat a variety in order to get the nutrients you need, so try to avoid buying the same produce every week. One way is to eat the seasons – buy foods that are seasonal. They will be more nutritious and it’s better for the environment.
Herbs and spices are very, very good for you – parsley is extremely high in calcium for example, rivalling the orange, and turmeric is anti-inflammatory.
Garlic is very good for developing the palate, and fabulous for health! Try and sneak it in so they get used to it! I just crush a little bit raw into what Flora eats when it will accommodate it.
Kinfo: Finally, where can other parents find you?
Sarah: I write on my blog on http://www.meetmeinthekitchen.co.uk/and you can find my recipes there.
Interview realised in November 2017.