(Image from http://maincourse101.com)
I was in the cereal ailse, swearing loudly at the backs of packets. I can stoop, pick up the car-keys and return them to the kids on the trolley without breaking concentration, but it didn’t appear to be speeding the process up.
“This is STUPID!” I fumed. “This is the cereal aisle, not the added-bloody-sugar aisle! Will you LOOK at this one, all about fibre and healthiness, with 65g of sugars per 100g of breakfast! This should have a red traffic-light or something on it.”
I won’t repeat what the shelf-stacker said but he thought I was weird. I didn’t mind, but was a bit surprised to be alone in throwing such tantrums here every week, before sadly choosing Sugary Crapflakes, anticipating breakfastimes of guilt ahead. Didn’t the other parents do this too?
Anyway, not any more! This week I have found the Answer – what presumably every other parent who was bothered already knew. A retired GP speaking on Radio 4 described three widely available options that are, actually, really cereal. They are Puffed Wheat, Shreaded Wheat and Quaker Oats.
When Toddler was small, Hubby used to dress her in just a nappy for breakfast and put her into the bath immediately afterwards. I don’t have time for this – and besides, I hate scrubbing carpets – so Porridge is now off the menu. There is no Shredded Wheat. So I choose Puffed Wheat, an odd cereal completely lacking in density; it feels like putting your hand into a bag of polystirene balls. The kids actually love them.
It might have suprised regular readers that I care about added sugar in breakfast cereal (after the anti-dieting campaign and all), but I do believe that cereal was previously eaten without additives; that this was undoubtedly healthier and that if I decide that a mountain of extra sugar needs incorporating into my food, it is better to incorportate it myself, to taste. I am amazed how hard it is to buy food in a sensible form – and it doesn’t stop with breakfast cereal.
Why do we need sugar in our rice? In baked bloody beans? Why take the fat out of yogurt and put sugar there instead?
‘No I DON’T want low fat yogurt!’ I tell the dairy aisle. ‘Yogurt’s supposed to have fat in it! It comes from dairy cows!’
Toddler inerrupts. ‘No SHOUTING, Mummy!’ she says.
So that’s breakfast. I do confess to giving them processed soup for lunch and not checking the salt, fat or sugar content because there’s a homely hand-drawing of a vegetable on the front of the packet. But since so little soup actually makes it into the children’s mouths, I don’t suppose it really matters.
But I have been working on evening meals. I – yes, I, the one who won’t even do the custard at a communal meal in case she somehow makes it inedible – have been trying to cook healthy food for them.
The kids cling to the outside of the babygate across my kitchen door, Tiddler practising standing up and Toddler ‘helping.’
‘Not your kitchen, Daddy’s Kitchen!’ she told me, when i tried to protest. I hope she continues to see cooking as a desirable privelidge: maybe she won’t end up like me.
Anyway. Here’s what we have made:
1) Boiled Egg
Source: Beleive it or not, I could do this one even before Delia Smith taught the nation. It’s a novelty for us, because hubby has egg issues.
Method: See Delia, How to Cook
I thought: A bit runny. Nice.
Tiddler thought: Cram it into mouth with both hands.
Toddler thought: ‘Might hatch, Mummy!’
2) Tuna Fish Cakes
Source: Smart Recipes App, a government initiative to get people cooking. It’s about my level, avoiding hard-to-interpret phrases like: ‘brown the onions.’
Method: Get tuna, carrot, beaten egg, cheese. Onion. Modge together. Make Burgers. Bake.
I thought: A bit dry. So I served it with tinned tomatoes.
Tiddler thought: Cram into mouth with both hands.
Toddler thought: ‘Yummy yummy Mummy!……. *eating* ….. more, please!’ (held up plate: tinned tomatoes gone, fishcake untouched).
3) Fish Pie
Source: Smart Recipes.
Method: Buy fish-pie fish mix from Morrisons fish counter. Ignore the instructions on it: ‘put into oven proof dish. Take one pack of Morrisons fish pie mixture and spread on top….‘ – yes, honestly. I followed a recipe instead.
Tiddler: Crams into mouth with both hands
Mummy: agrees with Toddler. This app is promoting ‘healthy cooking’ and therefore has taken everything fatty out of the recipe in order to make it as bland as possible. People won’t cook if they think you have to make mash with low fat spread.
4) Leek and Ham Bake
Source: Smart Recipes. They are having an off-day. Six leeks? But leeks are £1.50 each…..!
Method: BOil leeks in large saucepan for 15 minutes. Wrap each leek in a peice of ham. Clearly they haven’t any conception of the size of leeks are that are sold in Morrisons. Three was plenty. Make a white sauce with mustard and cheese (and remember to use butter not low-fat spread this time). Pour over leeks. Bake.
TIddler thought: Cram it into mouth with both hands.
Toddler thought: ham and sauce OK. Two meticulously clean, untouched leeks handed back. ‘Don’t need these, Mummy.’
I thought: Slippery buggers, leeks.
5) Butternut Squash Curry
Source: phonecall to Mother-in-Law (if I ever forgive myself for not asking to learn to cook before my mother died, my wonderful MIL will be why).
Method: Involved simmering over a hob.
Tiddler: Crams it into mouth with both hands. Best mess yet.
Toddler: Not hungry, Mummy.
Mummy: Not hungry?
– looks around. Sees that while waiting for Mummy to remember how to chop a Squash, Toddler has found and demolished the entirity of the two punnets of grapes from the fruit box.
A glance in Toddler’s nappy confirms this.
Mummy: Not hungry any more, either.
6) Sea Bass
Source: The fish-counter: “I’ll take anything, but you’ve got to explain how to cook it and it’s got to be foolproof…..”
Method: Wrap in foil with butter and some spices. Medium oven, 20 minutes.
Tiddler: Had puffed wheat, instead. I’d made a mess of removing the spine: babyled weaning too hazardous.
Toddler: ‘Look Mummy! Eyes! Look! Fins! What’s that….’
‘That’s the brain, love.’
‘And what’s that…..’
Mummy: Enjoyed doing biology but I wasn’t impressed by the food. It tasted odd. Next time, I’m going to ask which herbs to use. I suspect that rosemary isn’t the correct answer.
Anyway, the experiment’s over next week because the chef returns from leave. Tiddler has enjoyed it. I have never known Toddler eat so little, but she doesn’t seem hungry at all so I trust that she’s between growth-spurts. I have been quite unimpressed, not least by my supermarket bill.
But it’s nice to feel as though I’m feeding my children ‘properly’ – and that I did learn something in Food Technology GSCE, besides how to follow the instructions for a readymeal. Our teacher said that we should always read food labels because, one day, some good might come of it.
And actually – she was right.