Posts tagged feeding the family

What the ‘wellness’ bloggers are not telling you about happiness

Hasn’t the world of healthy eating become boring lately. With all the emphasis on particular ingredients, exacting methods of preparation and overwhelming ground rules, there’s just not much space left for food to be fun.

Remember the good old days, when you could tuck into a piece of Sara-Lee cheesecake and just enjoy it? Not any more.

These days it has to be a homemade raw cheesecake, made with organic ingredients that you’ve sourced ethically then churned and milled yourself. And the results are yummy, but the method so onerous that some of the enjoyment seems to slip away.

Cooking has become the latest way to prove your superiority, your discipline, your martyrdom. Despite our luck at being surrounded by so much plenty, we apparently need to abstain. Food seems to have become the latest guilt stick with which we are supposed to constantly beat ourselves.

And beat ourselves up, we will. Because, let’s be honest – who has the time to live with such holiness? It’s just not possible in my real world.

For each post I read about some an essential health concoction that I MUST make for my kids to thrive, my guilt increases as I inevitably end up in the supermarket buying the Friday night fish fingers (not every week – just the crazy busy ones). And I’ve kind of had enough of it.

For a thought provoking read, grab a copy of “The Gluten Lie”. I don’t agree with all of it, but it is an interesting reminder of how food messaging has twisted. There is now so much fear and guilt around this whole topic. We’ve lost perspective entirely, as we get caught up in the specifics of tiny nutrients – as if particular enzymes or antioxidants are the key to a happy life.

Just enough omega 3 and all your woes will be gone. You’ll get that job, have nicer children, be sexier.

And of course it’s not true.

When I started this blog, my focus was to find recipes that got fussy kids eating vegetables and enjoying healthy food. And as the years have gone by, it sort of hasn’t been ENOUGH anymore. But what about fermenting vegies? Or activating nuts? Am I considering salicylates? What about protein supplements? And how dare I use a teaspoon of sugar to make something more kid-friendly? Don’t I love my children? Don’t I want the best for them and my family? Don’t I want happiness?

But it turns out that I am quite happy. Focusing on positive and inclusive attitudes to eating has changed two formerly-fussy kids into ones who now enjoy a huge range of good food. We eat with glee. We relish life and all it’s bounty. Basic healthy eating and home cooking gives us the energy to walk on the beach, swim in the ocean, huddle together in cafe booths (enjoying whatever treat we want). We talk. We fight. We piss each other off. We achieve stuff as individuals and as a family. We get stuck into life with as positive an attitude as we can. Because food isn’t the only way to happiness in our household – balance is.

And even as the wellness movement dominates the food world, the fact remains that only one in 20 Australians eat enough vegies, so it seems to be a shame that the basic, simple message to eat right, has been hijacked. In our quest for individual health perfection, we’re losing bigger health war.

For me, healthy eating has become too complicated. And it just doesn’t need to be. Just eat lots of delicious food, full of good stuff. Every day. With joy and gratitude.

Here’s five basic recipes that introduce a bunch of vegetables that can start your kids onto a lifetime of happy (and guilt free) eating… (click the pics to visit the recipe)

Basic multi-veg mash.

Basic multi-veg mash.

mini meatloaves

These mini meatloaves are a complete hand-held meal (and they freeze well).

Noodle salad

Noodle salad for a flavour burst.

Easy to make. Easy to eat. Chicken pasta bake.

Easy to make. Easy to eat. Chicken pasta bake.

And I can see what vegies are in here, too, but the kids can't.

Cute little fish cakes – perfectly sized for toddlers.

Enjoy.

If you love slow cooking, you'll love my latest e-book!

If you love slow cooking, you’ll love my latest e-book!

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OMG, have I just become a paleo convert?

There is such a kerfuffle in food land this month, isn’t there! And on my Facebook page I’ve been receiving a bit of hate from both sides. Being moderate in my approach, I’m confusing people. So for the sake of transparency, I thought I’d be CLEAR on just what I think about the current Pete Evans/paleo ‘debate’.

I HATE that we are having a ‘debate’ at all, and that sides must be picked in a healthy food war. It’s silly and ridiculous that food has become so ‘either or’. Apparently if I am not eating paleo and drinking raw milk, I am sat on my fat bum eating as much processed food as possible, and washing it all down with Coke. The fervour of this debate exhausts me.

I LOVE that a person with such as large following as Pete Evans is inspiring people to lift their game, cook, eat fresh produce and rethink what goes in their mouths.

I HATE that he doesn’t share a bunch of recipes for free, online. They’re all in cookbooks, or in tv shows that he’s being paid to do. It makes me suspicious of the motives. Or just aware that he’s surrounded by very smart people. And hey, we’ve all got to make a dollar, and possibly I’m just jealous that he makes more out of a speaking engagement than I do all year.

I LOVE that he has such twinkly, lovely blue eyes. He’s quite handsome.

I HATE that certain foods are now ‘poison’. Even lovely foods straight out of the ground, like potatoes. Poor little potatoes.

I LOVE that he’s questioning the role big business plays in food production. Although there is a point where we DO have to feed everyone on this planet. Resources are strained, especially with all these healthy people living longer and needing to be fed for so many years.

I LOVE that the paleo/wholefoods movement is offering alternatives. I’ve read ‘Wheat Belly’ and have to agree that processed flour is overly prevalent and bad for us. There are other ingredients that we can use instead, although not in a sponge cake. Sad.

I HATE that food and fashion are so intertwined. Maybe I’m just jaded, but at 42 I’ve seen a bunch of fads come and go and I consider kale to be similarly aligned to shoulder pads in terms of taste and longevity.

I LOVE that Pete Evans is prepared to put himself on the line and be one extreme end of this debate. He’s shaking things up and I have a sneaking suspicion that the general consensus will end up resting somewhere in the middle between food evangelism and pragmatism.

I HATE that people are so uptight about food. It’s masking a bunch of problems. Heard of Orthorexia? It’s like a socially acceptable anorexia and it really concerns me. It comes complete with food group exclusion and obsession with what you’re putting in your mouth. I hate to see people being anxious rather than grateful over food.

I HATE that there’s no sense of humour around this topic. NONE. And this is possibly what I hate most, because while food definitely is thy medicine, so too is laughter.

So am I turning paleo? No. But there are some fantastic ideas in paleo in terms of ingredients and cooking methods that I’m happy to incorporate into my own long-term healthy approach to food and life.

So don’t hate on me if I decide to post a ‘paleo’ type recipe from time to time and don’t fret. Because next week it might be vegan, then sugar-laden, then vegetarian then raw. And that’s ok. I’m going to be the ultimate mum and not pick a side, but to urge you all to use your words, stop whining and play nice.

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They know a thing or two about food, don’t they, those Chinese…

I can’t help but feel touched by luck this week as the full weight of the auspicious number 8 has come my way. The Chinese love this number, so they’d be happy to see that my Facebook page clicked over 88,888 this week, which was nice. Thanks to all of you who’ve been with me over the past few years! And over on Instagram, my fledgling page hit 888, which seems quite alot, considering I post pictures of the sky, endless shots from my kitchen bench and random stupid things, like tree trunks that look like bums.

To celebrate I’m trawling the blog for some of my favourite Chinese-influenced meals. The salty flavour profile has always been hugely popular with my kids. There’s rarely spice, but always taste – a great combination, for a lucky week ahead.

Click the pics to go to the recipes….

vegie smugglers plum sauce chinese-style meatballs

Kid-friendly meatballs with a Chinese twist.

Vegie Smugglers sang choy bow

Lettuce delights for your munching pleasure

Ma po dofu dish

This kid-friendly ma po dofu smuggles tofu, carrots and capsicum

Get the kids onto wrapping these.

Get the kids onto wrapping these.

freeshipping

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There’s a touch of both worthiness and authority in every bite of this salted-cinnamon granola

The term ‘wholefoods’ kind of irks me. Partly because it’s imbued with such worthiness and partly because it gets thrown around so often, with such authority and I’ve never really known what it means (except that I’ll pay a hefty surcharge if I see it written on a packet).

Finally I looked it up and was pleasantly surprised to realise that ALL THIS TIME, I have been living the wholefoods dream and I didn’t even know it.

You know, those carrots I buy? WHOLEFOODS.

And the organic meat I cook with? WHOLEFOODS.

And the cashews I feed the kids after school? WHOLEFOODS.

Because wholefoods just means that you buy unprocessed ingredients and cook stuff.

I was, of course, stoked by this discovery and quite delighted by my unwitting cool-ness and ability to throw my new word into conversation, with both authority and worthiness.

I think the problem with much of the new health-food evangelism is that it is spouted by born-again healthy people. Extreme folks who used to drink 20 can of Coke each day, but after imbibing their first green smoothie four months ago, have now seen the light and have set a new mission to pervade the entire electronic world with their message. Which is, of course, is delivered with authority and worthiness.

For me, my food history is boring. I definitely eat better now than I did 10 years ago, but I’ve always enjoyed clean food and cooking. Which makes my story dull and less compelling. I have less authority and worthiness. Although now that I realise that I’m a wholefood-devotee of 40 years, without weight or health issues, perhaps I do have the chance to up my personal sell with motivational spurtings about ‘wellness’ and ‘holistic living’.

So while ‘wholefoods’ can be a blurry term, ’whole grains’ are quite a specific thing. According to the Whole Grains Council (yes, they exist) this is the definition…. “100% of the original kernel – all of the bran, germ, and endosperm – must be present to qualify as a whole grain.” The theory being that they deliver more fibre, nutrition and help prevent disease. (I’ll leave the science of all that up to the sciencey-people to quibble over.)

Paleo folks dismiss the entire grains oeuvre, but I’m still a fan. I feel good when I eat them. I feel nourished and happy and well. So I eat them. And I’m quietly delighted when I find a little gem of a book being published like Megan Gordon’s “Whole Grain Mornings”. So many lovely & original ideas for people like me, who still quietly eat carbohydrates (behind closed doors, of course).

Apparently she’s terribly famous for ‘Marg’s Granola’, and she generously shares the recipe. It’s a basic granola that you can twist & adapt to suit your own household, which is what I’ve done here…

vegie smugglers salted cinnamon granola

Worthy, authoritative, but most importantly, DELICIOUS.

Salted Cinnamon Granola

4 cups rolled oats
2 1/2 cups nuts & seeds (I like flaxseeds, pumpkin, sunflower, flaked almonds & pecans)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon (or cassia, if you can get your hands on it)
1/4 cup sweetener (seriously, don’t email me, just use whatever damn sweetener you like, or leave it out altogether if you’re born-again sugar free)
1/4 cup liquid fat (again, your choice, I like olive oil. Coconut oil also works fine) And just quietly, 1/4 cup barely does it, if you want serious crunch, you need a bit more.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a big deep oven tray. Mix all these ingredients together, pop them evenly into the tray and bake for about 35 minutes, stirring a couple of times along the way.

When cool, combine in with…

2 cups dried fruit (I like currants, sultanas & dried apple)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 cups bran bits. This is optional, leave it out for a wheat-free granola
2 cups puffed corn. Again, this is optional, but I like to pad my granola out a bit – it’s not a cheap breakfast, after all.

Mix everything together and ENJOY your breakfast, knowing that each spoonful contains its own little bit of both worthiness and authority. AND its delicious.

vegie smugglers cheese spinach sticks

Earlier this week I published an easy little recipe for cheese & spinach sticks. Did you see it? Click over to Mother & Baby for that one.

freeshipping

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Forgive me, for I have sinned…

Easy & delish. A treat that was instant happiness.

Easy & delish. A treat that was instant happiness.

Sunday morning and I have to confess that I’ve been a bit naughty, cooking again with flour and sugar. I popped the pic on Instagram last night and had several requests for the recipe, so here it is….

Irish Apple (& raspberry) Cake

(this is from “The Country Women’s Association Classics” cookbook, page 458, by Noela Macleod, from Essendon, VIC). It’s a super easy cobbler-type cake – one of those recipes that makes you look like a better cook than you are!

250g self raising flour
125g sugar (I used raw)
125g butter
3 cooking apples, cored, chopped (I didn’t bother peeling them)
1 egg, beaten,
1/3 cup milk (I found I needed to add a few extra splashes to get the mix to hold together)

I also added in about 2/3 punnet of fresh raspberries.

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a 20cm round tin (I have a springform one which is great).

Combine the flour & sugar. Cut in the butter roughly (no need to rub or cream). Add apples. Stir in egg & milk to form a stiff, lumpy mixture. Mix in half the raspberries.

Tip the mix into the tin, press it in evenly and push the rest of the berries into the top. Bake for 1 hour (I covered with foil at the 45 minutes mark).

Serve hot with icecream/cream/custard.

Serves 8.

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A meal plan for the week full of hungry mouths and no time…

Trying to see the silver lining in all situations, I’m happy to report that this year I find myself with about 5 hours a week of extra thinking time. This is, of course, due to the fact that my daughter has changed schools and being too nervous to catch two buses (she is only 10), I’m currently driving her both there and back each day. So the thinking time eventuates when I’m in the car, waiting for traffic lights to change colour.

Rather than getting flustered and irate as another cycle passes with the intersection blocked by cars from the other direction, I’m choosing to be all zen, drifting away instead to sweeter thought patterns that mainly revolve around chiseled abs, child-free nights and too many cocktails food.

Perhaps it’s lucky that I find myself with time to think and plan our week’s worth of dinners, since by the time that I finally get through the last fucking set of lights I’ve got bugger-all time left to cook anything.

Here’s how I coped last week….

Saturday

Silky smooth carrot, parsnips & cauliflower soup.

Silky smooth carrot, parsnip & cauliflower soup.

Silky roast vegie soup. Requested by Miss F, who cares not for seasons and was feeling hardly done by since it has been months since I last cooked her favourite meal.

Sunday

This will make friends with salad!

This will make friends with salad!

Steak & salad.

Finally the kids will tuck into a nice little piece of steak, which is making this dinnertime easy. I love the hit of iron at the start of the week, and I use all my secret salad tips, including a dollop of our current favourite dressing.

Monday

Saucy! Great for dipping into with bread.

Saucy! Great for dipping into with bread.

On my day off I had the slow cooker going and I also whipped up some nachos mince. I find cooking two meals on the one day is the key to keeping us healthy all week. The slow cooker meal was a lamb & pasta dish, which I’ve not had the chance to type up – try this lamb chop slow cooker recipe for something similar.

Tuesday

Nachos. Her latest favourite.

Nachos. The kids love it. The mince was made and awaiting me in the fridge, which was great, since I’d worked during school hours and we’d had cricket practice until 6.30. Whipped up in a jiffy and devoured by all.

Wednesday

Another work day, and swimming after school. I chucked some potatoes in the oven before we went. The kids and I had the innards of ours mixed through with tuna, cheese, olive oil, corn, mushrooms & fennel. Mr VS had the leftover nachos mix dumped on his, which he assured me was as satisfying as a cold beer on a sunny day while you’re looking at a pretty view (preferably with a pretty woman, too).

Thursday

Thursday was SAUSAGES NIGHT. I tend to do a big shop on the weekend, so by later in the week I’m onto the protein that keeps well for a curious number of days without spoiling. Tuna tins, ham hocks, sausages etc fill the brief nicely. To complete the vibe of our-life-is-from-the-70s, I whipped up these curried sausages, which are as mild as it gets and still hot enough to evoke comments from Miss F about burning tongues, the cruelty of her mother and how no-one really cares about her. The rest of us enjoyed them.

In an I-go-to-wholefoods-twist, we had them on cauliflower rice. Not because I give a toss about being paleo, but because it’s tasty and variety in all things is welcome.

Curried sausages & cauliflower rice

Curried sausages & cauliflower rice


Curried sausages

1 tbsp olive oil
1 granny smith apple, finely diced
1 spanish onion, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled, finely diced
8 sausages of your choice (plain or ones with added garlic & herbs are good)
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp flour
1 1/4 cups beef stock (hot)
1 tbsp BBQ sauce (I think this is the magic ingredient, but it’s optional, leave it out if you hate sugar)
1 cup peas (or green beans are also good)

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Tip in the apple, onion and carrots. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring every now & then, until the onion is browning and the carrots starting to soften. Remove the vegies and set aside.

Pop the sausages into the pan. Turn regularly and cook for 15 minutes until just cooked through. Also remove and set aside (but leave the fat).

Tip the curry powder and flour into the hot pan. Use a wooden spoon to stir for a minute or so, to cook off the flour and release the curry fragrance. Slowly add in the hot stock, stirring or whisking to get rid of any lumps. Add the BBQ sauce then return the vegies and sausages.

Pour the peas over the top. Mix through and as soon as they’ve thawed, serve over the cauliflower rice.

Cauliflower rice

1 head of cauliflower, cut into large florets)
2 tbsp olive oil (coconut oil also works, but I prefer olive oil with this dish)

Blitz the cauliflower in a food processor (I do two batches in my mini food processor). You’re aiming for a ‘rice’ consistency.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the chopped cauliflower and cook, stirring often, for 7-8 minutes until softened (you still want some texture, don’t over do it).

Friday

And for our dirty little secret? The kids ate fish fingers and chips, and I survived on semillon blanc, chips and a good bit of chatter with friends.

How was your week?

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The sixth food group – food created by Satan

Bless my Facebook page and the funny folk who pop by there, including the lovely dad who referred to ‘food created by satan’. Made me laugh for days, because HE’S RIGHT, some food, whilst edible, really just is evil.

What might be in that category for you will depend on your own tastebuds and experiences. Brussell sprouts seem to be pretty universal (just general grossness), others will lump in oysters (snot), peaches (furry texture), okra (slime), red meat (legs!) offal (ick!) polenta (slop) and many kids will include a long list of vegies for a variety of reasons.

And while this blog aims to help migrate many of these items over to the other five regular food groups, there will inevitably be an item or two that remains. And that’s fine.

There are ways to negotiate individual food preferences within a family setting. This Pesto chicken bake is a good example from my house. It’s a dairy-laden triumph that makes my lactose-intolerant innards shake with fear. So while my children see this and cheer with joy, I eat something from the freezer instead. It’s an easy fix to that 6th-food group problem. And while I advocate eating the same meal most of the time, a bit of variation is ok, so long as you’re all eating something healthy, together.

It look so innocent!

It looks so innocent!

Pesto & ricotta chicken bake

To pad this meal out to feed more people, feel free to add in a couple of cups of cooked pasta before baking.

Olive oil
600g chicken tenderloins, finely sliced (or buy stir-fry strips and save yourself a bit of prep time)
1 large onion, finely diced
2 cups finely diced cauliflower (I really hack away at it with my kitchen knife until it’s almost as if I’ve grated it)
1 large zucchini, grated
1-2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp pesto (store bought is fine or see my recipe here)
125g can corn kernels (drained)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
250g tub ricotta
Salt & pepper

Turn the oven to 180C. Spray a medium baking dish with oil spray.

Heat a large frying pan over medium/high heat. Add 2 tbsp olive oil and when hot, pop in the chicken and quickly stir-fry until just browned. Remove and set aside.

Turn the heat down to medium. Reheat the pan. Add more oil if needed and fry the onion and cauliflower, stirring regularly for 8 minutes or so until the edges of everything are browning and the onion is turning translucent.

Toss in the zucchini and garlic. Stir well and let the aroma of the garlic waft about to make everyone hungry. Mix through the pesto. Turn off the heat.

Add in the corn, half the cheddar cheese and all of the ricotta. Combine well and pop into your prepared baking dish. Scatter the rest of the cheese over the top and bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbling and golden.

Serve with salad.

Serves 2 adults & 2-3 kids.

 

Toddler Recipes: What (and how) to feed fussy eaters

New book out now!

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