I don’t go in for food-fads. My dress size hovers around a UK 8-10, & I never do yoga in a bikini on the beach. If going gluten-free is the cure for all human ailments, I’m going to be falling into a blissful bread-induced coma any day.
That said, we eat well and happily in our house. These are the practical and sensible rules we cook and eat by.
1. Buy the best quality of the things you eat the most. AKA, no point having an organic avocado once a month but always eating horrible longlife bread. If you can’t afford to buy everything in brilliant quality (who can?), prioritise what you eat the most.
2. No single-purpose gadgets. I’m looking at you, salad spinner / pasta maker / egg poacheriser. There’s always a trick or skill to learn in it’s place, and in the end you’re a better cook because of it.
3. Really really good knives. No, I mean, really good knives. Most people’s knife ownership tends to follow the same path: as a student you buy the cheapest Ikea set and struggle through. Then at some point you’ve enough disposable income or have started to cook enough Saturday Guardian recipes that you decide you need to buy better ones, and so go to somewhere like John Lewis and spend £150 on a new set. Here’s what I’ve discovered: they’re not good knives either. Really good knives will cost you about £150 each. On the plus side, they’ll last you forever, save you time and energy in the kitchen and you’ll probably only need a couple.
We bought ours from Blok Knives and it’s been a total revelation. The waiting list is a year or so long, I think, but he does a flash Friday sale every week where you can jump the queue. When you watch chefs cook on TV and wonder why you can’t chop like them, it turns out it’s 90% because you have crappy knives. Great ones change everything.
4. As whole as possible. I was so disappointed when I heard about the whole 30, only to discover it was actually nothing to do with wholefoods at all. Here’s the actual definition of a whole food: food that has been processed or refined as little as possible.. We buy and work with as much whole food as possible, with an aim to reducing the amount of processing that happens before it hits our kitchen. So, an apple is a whole food, but a carton of from-concentrate apple juice is not. If we juice apples ourself at home, that ticks the box again for us.
5. No obsessing. What I want most for Orla is her to grow up with a healthy, well adapted relationship with food. Not to be too picky or frightened of new things; not to exert control over her life through regimented limitations on her diet. Food is one of the few pleasures we haven’t stripped away from our busy daily lives, and I feel so strongly that we should all be free to enjoy and embrace that. So, we buy cheap dried pasta from the supermarket, because life is too short to do any of the alternatives. Orla’s really into those hideous Peppa Pig yoghurts that are no doubt full of sugar, but she also eats hundreds of organic carrots, so I reckon it averages out. So, on a similar note;
6. Food has no morality. Foods are not inherently good or bad, clean or dirty. Something might have no nutritional value – a packet of Haribo, let’s say – but that doesn’t make it or the person eating it bad. You’re not ‘being naughty‘ if you eat these foods, and you don’t become a more nice & worthy person by eating brown pasta and juicing everything. Food has nothing to do with morality, and using it in this way is really just a 21st century form of guilt and penance.
7. Except for reformed ham. Reformed ham gets me exceptionally angry and therefore I shall declare it is the devil’s work. If you live in the UK and ever buy supermarket ham, you are almost definitely buying the reformed variety. That means ham that is minced, fluffed up with salt and water, then re-moulded to look like an original joint of meat with fat veins and all. I, like I’m sure many of you, have known this for years, but being the obsessive type, I always read the tiny print on the packaging. Our local Tesco does not sell any non-formed ham; the deli counter, the Finest range, all of it is ‘formed‘. Even actual joints of meat, like gammon – “formed meat from selected cuts of cured pork leg with added water”. This gives me such rage because it totally messes with rule 4, sneaking an awful lot of extra processing steps onto our tables without most people realising. It’s gross and sneaky and puts profit above taste, texture and pleasure, and I don’t know why it isn’t classed as false advertising.
If you want real meat, head to a butcher or one of the budget supermarket chains. Aldi and Lidl sell a surprising selection of affordable, un-messed-with meat.
8. No table manners.
Were you raised with the concept of ‘table manners’? My lovely Grandparents were quite strict about it – no elbows on the table, no drinks with meals, always use the back of your fork. Nowadays I’m fascinated by these archaic social constructs – the idea that I could be rude by simply resting my arms; the complex counterintuitive use of cutlery that was designed to be simple. I’m not teaching Orla any table manners, other than don’t be gross, and wash your hands. That’s enough, surely?
9. Eat together. On week days we’re too busy to have breakfast and lunch together, so at dinner we sit down together and eat the same thing (or an adapted version for Orla – usually before I add the chilli kick!) at the table. It comes back to that pleasure thing – so while there are times when I like nothing better than to mindlessly consume calories in front of the TV, when it’s something we’re sharing together, we try to do it mindfully.