As a personal trainer, journalist and busy mum to two continuously ravenous and growing girls, people often ask me how I square the circle of family feeding versus keeping in shape and keeping my energy levels high enough to cope with the daily onslaught.
With all of us living such hectic lives it’s easy to see why so many of us reach for high fat, high sugar and salt - pre packed and processed supermarket foodstuffs. Because there’s no denying a shop bought shepherd’s pie is a fast and easy way to put a filling and substantial meal on the table with little effort bar the tussle with the packaging.
But more often than not these foods have little or no real nutritional value and the immediate result from eating them is to render us feeling sluggish and functioning well below par. So the time we’ve saved ourselves by eating out of packets is probably not being used effectively or being put to any good use at all. That post evening meal slump leaves us yawning and reaching for another quick fix by way of a sugary snack. Then in turn, another sugar hit ensues followed by a much longer period of virtual torpor.
As a single mother, I really do understand the demands of life today for many of us juggling work and family – the continual fight just to keep body and soul together is enough in itself – these everyday pressures really do take their toll on us all. And it’s particularly tough for those of us who’re single parenting – out there in the world every day staging honourable attempts at being super heroes. But it’s time to take stock. I’m the first to admit that at the end of a busy day, the very last thing I feel like doing is a poor impression of a caffeinated Jamie Oliver around my kitchen. So how should we be feeding and nourishing ourselves and our families to help us cope with modern living and to get back our va va voom?
Well the answer is surprisingly quick, simple and easy to achieve. A little tweaking in our thinking and with little or no effort, you can eat your way to health and vitality and best of all feed your family on foods that will really make them flourish. And in the end that’s what we all want as parents and we owe it to ourselves as individuals too; the security in the knowledge that we’re doing the right thing by them and ourselves in terms of nutrition - in what can be a tough and uncompromising world.
Today, I can say with confidence that most experts in nutrition agree on one thing at least and that is that there are dozens of easy to find, easy to prepare super foods that can ward off heart disease, cancer and dangerous cholesterol levels – all available under one roof at the supermarket. And let’s face it – the one stop shopping experience of a supermarket is how most of us time poor people have to shop. Seasonal vegetables are a good choice to make but take heed that the pre-packed varieties always come at a premium – so bag up your own from the value ranges. You’ll pay up to half the price or even less for these. Here’s another quick word of warning too; supermarkets spend millions on understanding consumer behaviour so that they can make trillions in return - and they know that we as consumers see bulk buying as a cheaper way to shop. But I have found several times in the recent past – and I’m not alone here – that single items are often actually cheaper than the bulk ‘deals’. Supermarkets know that many of us simply don’t have time to compare products and prices – and so in some cases we’re being taken advantage of.
And remember too you don’t have to shell out for exotic edibles to ‘super’ feed yourselves. Absolutely not – as some of the most ordinary fruit and vegetables have now been promoted to the super food category and it’s all too easy to forget the innate health giving properties of, for example, the humble tomato, organic, vine grown or not – the nutritional value remains the same. Imagine a food so powerful it can lower your cholesterol, reduce your risk of heart disease and various cancers – and best of all to boot – put you in an upbeat and more energetic frame of mind - in short - a better mood. There’s nothing worse than spending your days feeling as though your life force has been sucked out of you. And there’s no reason you should have to put up with feeling like that either.
Curious to understand more about the so called ‘Super Foods’ we read and hear about in the media, I consulted Sara Stanner from the British Nutrition Foundation. Here’s her take on the subject: “Super Food is a term that was coined by the media rather than scientists and has no agreed definition. The concept is not very helpful as there is no one food that offers more proven benefits in terms of health than others. Those usually called a Super Food are particularly rich in antioxidants or a specific nutrient but overall dietary intake is more important than just incorporating one specific food. The main message for fruit and vegetables is to eat a variety as this ensures a good mixture of a wide variety of nutrients and antioxidants. The Super Foods idea unfortunately doesn't really promote this.” It was a relief to me to hear this – essentially all fruits and vegetables can be welcomed into your homes and stomachs – the key is variety.
If you’re short on time and energy at the end of the day, then one answer is to ditch the cooking pots and oven in favour of flavours raw. And as much as this might sound like penitence, believe me it’s quite simply not. Raw fresh vegetables add crunch and vibrancy to any meal – and there’s a thousand ways you can add flavour to them with sauces, dips and dressings. Munch on a nutty floret of cauliflower with a lemon and garlic vinaigrette, or dip carrot chunks into a tomato salsa and you have a truly zingy and healthy taste sensation that’s going to be quick to serve and nourishing. But like everything – raw foods in moderation please - a diet of only raw produce could be downright dangerous.
Preparing and eating food should be a pleasure not a punishment. Cooking seasonally available fruit and vegetables will promote good health as well as reduce your grocery bill. Steer clear of processed food stuffs as far as you can – and you’ll be quickly back on track to feeling fitter and more energetic. If a lack of time means you can’t exercise as regularly as you’d like then try walking at a pace to work or school, taking the stairs rather than the lift and cleaning the house and car to an upbeat music track. You’ll be amazed at the positive effects – and you’ll very quickly benefit in terms of mood and energy levels.