Monday, 18 June 2012

The Value of Food

Poor Martha Payne. What started off as a school project blog to record what she was offered for school dinners each day has grown arms and legs, sprinted off down the road and become an overnight internet phenomenon. The blog was brought to a wider audience when on Friday, in a spectaculat display of total incompetence, Argyll and Bute Council decided to ban Martha from taking more photos. This behaviour is not surprising to anyone who has had the misfortune to deal with Councils in any respect, but what it has definitely done is get everyone talking about school dinners again.

When you look through Martha's blog, one of the most interesting aspects is looking at the school meals from around the world which have been uploaded onto the site by readers. Every single one looks more appetising and has more nutritional value than the rubbish we are happy to feed British kids. If other countries can give their children a healthy, tasty meal at lunchtime, why can't we?

Now, there's not doubt that Jamie Oliver cares deeply about his kids and truly wants to change the way school dinners are served in the UK. In Scotland, Martha's campaign is being supported by Nick Nairn, who is known for his passion for locally sourced ingredients and great food for people of all ages. The problem isn't Nick, Jamie, Martha or even the Council, it's the attitude of us Brits to food in general.

Despite the amount of cooking programmes on television, the UK is the most obese nation in Europe. We may know how to rustle up fresh pasta with tomato sauce, but we are shunnung it in favour of the chippie or kebab shop. Home economics in schools has all but disappeared, with children instead being taught "food technology" and learning packaging design rather than how to balance protein and carbohydrates or how to make a pan of soup. We have a whole section of society who can't cook, won't cook, and who thinks cooking is something alien.

How did we get into this state? How are we so different from our near European cousins like the French, Italian or Spanish where food is such an important part of their culture and an essential component of family life. Italians all sit together round the table and share a bowl of pasta, whereas a survey in 2010 showed 26% of British kids eat their evening meal on their own in their bedroom, and that just 20% always eat sitting around a table. Shocking.

I truly applaud what Martha, Nick, Jamie and the rest of them are trying to do and would love to see school dinners higher up the political agenda. But until we as a nation start to think of food as important family time and something which is worth making an effort for, nothing is going to change.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Jubilee Cake!

The whole of the UK seems to have gone Jubilee crazy and the extra bank holiday has certainly helped. We're not really into street parties in Scotland - it's usually too cold for a start - but the kids have certainly got into the mood with parties at school and bunting making sessions at Rainbows.

Now, any occasion has to be marked by a cake in this house and I have been waiting for an excuse to use my nifty silicone heart shaped cake mould from Ikea. I have had bad experiences in the past with silicone bakeware, sponges stuck and the finished cake bore no resemblance to the shape it should be. This one came out rather well, and despite the wonky icing, it looks pretty acceptable.

Very pleased with the cake shape from this mould, and all it took was a tiny amount of sunflower oil smeared around the base to stop it sticking. I can see this mould coming out again for parties in the future. Need to find an excuse to go to Ikea and see if they have any other shapes in store.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Meat Free Mondays?

If you were asked to compile a list of famous vegetarians, chances are Sir Paul McCartney would be right up there. (Probably just behind Adolf Hitler, but he's less of a role model when it comes to life choices, I feel). The McCartney family are evangelical about their vegetarian lifestyle, but at the same time accept that us meat eaters like our meat and aren't prepared to give it up completely. That's where the Meat Free Monday concept came from.

Meat Free Mondays is a campaign designed to get people thinking about eating veggie at least once per week. According to the website, if more people made veggie choices CO2 emissions would be cut dramatically and carbon footprints lowered. This is due to the fact that it takes far more resources to raise a cow then it does to grow some carrots, for example.

It really doesn't take much effort and thought to go vegetarian once per week, and the other thing I've found is that it is often cheaper too. We don't always stick to Mondays for our meat free day, mainly due to the fact that Mondays is a busy day with Cubs, dancing and so on and I don't have time to get creative in the kitchen.

This week, we're having meat free Wednesday. And the meat free option is a guaranteed crowd pleaser of home made pizza. I have recently cracked making my own pizza base dough and it's really not that difficult as it's just warm water, flour, yeast and a bit of olive oil. Ready made passata is the perfect tomato sauce base, and for toppings my kids prefer plain cheese, with the occasional addition of something really exotic like sweetcorn. They're not the most adventurous kids when it comes to pizza, but the beauty of pizza is that it is a great dish to use up what you've got left over in the fridge or freezer.

Not sure what we're having for our next meat free day, but there is a bag of green lentils at the back of the cupboard which is rapidly approaching its "use before" date. Suggestions please?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

About this Blog

Food is incredibly important in this house. It's not simply about fuelling the body with energy, it's about spending time together as a family, eating nourishing, well-cooked meals, and giving the kids the opportunity to try lots of different foods.

It's not always been this way, and although I was brought up my parents who were interested in cooking and food, it took a while for me to come around to their way of thinking. I'm not such an ardent foodie that everything is covered with foams, reductions and veloutes, but I do appreciate good ingredients, simple recipes and tasty food. Since having kids this interest in food has been pulled into even sharper focus; for the first time I'm responsible for feeding not only the adults in the house but the little people too. I want my kids to grow up healthy and with a good knowledge of food and cooking.

And that's what this blog is all about. Food, cooking and kids.  I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

School dinners or packed lunch?

I have two school age children and since they have started school, we have done a mixture of school dinners and packed lunch. During the depths of a Scottish winter I like to think they've had something hot, freshly cooked and nutritious to see them through the afternoon, and as the menus are sent home, I can look through to see what's on offer.

This week for example the kids are being offered chicken curry with rice or hot dog on Monday, mince pie with mash or tomato pasta on Tuesday, pork loin with wedges or pizza on Wednesday, roast chicken or beans on toast on Thursday and fish and chips or chicken grill on Friday. So far so nutritious.

Just before Easter however we had a letter home informing us that the cost of a school lunch would be going up to £1.90 with immediate effect. A quick survey among my Facebook friends showed that this figure was towards the lower end of average, with most people paying over £2 for their school lunches. So is this value for money?

I don't think it is. My 6 year old adores pizza and begs every Wednesday to have a school lunch. However, for my £1.90 she gets two tiny slices of pizza straight from the freezer into the oven, a carton of milk, slice of bread and some fruit salad or a yoghurt. No wonder when she does money lunch she comes home starving. I understand about overheads and costs, but this is seriously poor value for money. Two children in school having school lunch every day would cost me £19 per week, and I doubt if I spend a third of that on providing a packed lunch.

Portion size was also highlighted recently by the blog of a 9 year old, Martha Payne, who started uploading pictures of what she was offered at lunchtime. Martha lives in the next door county to me, and what she is offered is indicative of what Scottish schools are dishing up to kids. My kids don't get offered seconds either. The publicity created by Martha's blog has shown that things really haven't moved on since the Jamie Oliver campaign demonised the Turkey Twizzler.

Is it really too much to expect that our kids have access to a well-cooked, healthy and value for money lunch at school?