Do you find your experiences with food when you were growing up shape the way you cook and eat in your family now you’re a parent? I do. Massively.
When I was a kid my parents would always cook our tea from scratch, no matter how busy they were. We’d eat together at the table, as a family, except for on a Friday night when I was allowed to eat my supper in front of the TV.
Now I’m a mum I have a very similar set-up in my own family. We love to eat and both me and the NLM enjoy cooking. He’s the “experimental cook” and really enjoys getting stuck into making a curry or a paella or trying out a new recipe at the weekend. I’m the “functional cook” and do all the weekly cooking, as well as Sunday roasts or classics like Lasagne.
Food plays a key role in our family life, which is why I was keen to join natural baby food brand Organix this year as one of their No Junk Mums.
The No Junk Journey is all about challenging us as a family to cook with real ingredients, avoid “junk” as much as possible and to really look at what we’re eating. As a mum it’s important that my girls have a healthy, varied diet, with lots of fresh ingredients.
For me, this means trying to buy more of our food from local suppliers who are up front about where their produce comes from. Rather than always relying on the supermarket I’m keen to support more local traders this year and buy from our (brilliant) nearby butcher and grocery store, as well as growing more fresh fruit and veg at home. I’m lucky in that my parents have an amazing fruit and veg garden and they regularly give us plenty of delicious produce they’ve grown themselves, which encourages us to eat seasonally and try new veg we might not regularly eat.
Just like every other mum I know, though, I do sometimes rely on quick fixes. Friday night is a key one for us. I hate cooking at the end of the week and will often just chuck some freezer food in the oven for the girls and order a takeaway for me and the NLM. I’m only human, after all.
But when I’m buying said freezer food I try really hard to make sure the stuff I get is “honest” and not packed full of ingredients I don’t recognise. That’s why I was pretty shocked to read the findings of the Engineered Taste report commissioned by Organix, which has uncovered some scary truths about children’s food.
The report tells us that as foods move towards convenience they tend to become less “real”. Put simply, the longer the list of ingredients or if a product contains ingredients most people can’t identify, the less likely it is to be considered “real”. Much of this food is engineered to make it more tempting for children’s palates, meaning the line between “real” and artifical is blurred. In many cases the products appeal to parents because they promise to contain “natural” ingredients that, on closer inspection, have no “natural” role in the food.
For example, say you buy a packet of chicken nuggets with the words “100% chicken” on the front, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re giving your kids the healthiest version of convenience food possible, packed with pure chicken meat. I know I make that mistake on a regular basis myself, anyway. So it might be a surprise to find that 49% of each nugget isn’t chicken but breadcrumbs – breadcrumbs which contain salt, maize, oil and flavourings.
I’ve had a look in our own cupboards to see if I could find some examples of what the report highlights. Of all the things I found in our kitchen there’s one that stands out as being the biggest obstacle in my kids’ relationship with “real” food: tomato ketchup. My five year old is addicted to the stuff and will smother it on everything she eats, given the chance. And because she idolises her big sister and wants to copy everything she does, my 15 month old has started to reach for the tommy k too. This worries me because, as a nutritionist in the Taste Report points out,
If children learn from a young age that vegetables are only acceptable once smothered in sauce then they will take this taste preference and attitude with them through their life.
I don’t want my kids to be tomato ketchup addicts. And, after scrutinising the ingredients in the reduced sugar version we have at home, I’m even more determined to tackle the growing reliance on the stuff to get through every mealtime.
Even in the reduced sugar version there’s still a lot of sugar in there – along with dextrose and sucralose sweeteners. It’s not just the fact it’s not good for their teeth, but I can see that the more they eat of the stuff the more my girls seem to have a predisposition towards sweet foods. I don’t mind that if they’re eating “honest” sugar, like ice cream or chocolate for example, but if it’s a so-called savoury meal then I don’t think it’s a good thing to mask the real taste of the food with lashings of sugar-laden ketchup.
So this year, we’re cutting down on the tommy k, ramping up the fresh local veggies and locally reared meat and only snacking on the good stuff. That’s not to say we’ll never have fish and chips or ice cream by the sea (everything in moderation and all that), but the rest of the time it’s “real”, honest-to-goodness food all the way.
Organix sent us a selection of their snack range, which is packed full of organic ingredients without the junk. Current favourites include the sweetcorn puffs, cheese crackers and (of course) gingerbread men.
I’ll be sharing the No Junk tips I learn from Organix throughout the year, as well as coming up with recipes and activities to make healthy food fun. I hope you’ll join us on our No Junk Journey!
Thanks to Organix for inviting me to become a No Junk Mum. To find out about how I work with brands check out my Work With Me page.