29 January 2015

Sugar and spice...

Have been reading a number of articles recently about food, nutrition, diets etc...since Baby started weaning a few months ago and it's really made me stop and analyse our family menu. Toddler was weaned in the exact same way that I've been introducing things to Baby and so far it's going really well but it's always good to try new things and adapt our approach if something healthily or easier comes along so I've been giving it some serious thought.
As some background info, I can tell you that Toddler eats pretty much anything that's put in front of him, within reason, and loves cooking in the kitchen. I have a lot more success getting him to try new things when he's been in charge of chopping or stirring, and after he's had a hot dinner for lunch at nursery sometimes getting him to eat some tea at home can be hard work. He gets a lot of satisfaction and pride when he is measuring, making decisions about flavours etc and adores making cakes for Husband...this love of treats is one of things that made me stop and re-assess our habits and cupboards!
We have a lot of opinions about mealtimes themselves, and that's not really my focus today. In a nutshell, we go for a 'try it and see' approach and a 'if you choose not to eat then there's nothing else until breakfast/lunch/snacktime...' kind of stand and so far it's working quite well. We know when to put our foot down (if he's asked for seconds and then decides he's full, not on!) or when to let him follow his own tummy. I guess eating well most of the time means that when he does decide to pick and choose it's not a massive deal!
My concern has been the amount of sugar that our family consumes. I guess I was naive in my thinking that sugar was only contained in sweets, chocolate, fizzy pop etc...and nowhere else but recent reading, and the huge, recent focus from the media, has alerted me to the fact that actually, we are not a particularly sugar-free family.
I've never been particularly sweet-averse. Toddler had tastes of chocolate, cake, icecream etc...at an early age and we practice 'everything in moderation' on the whole. If we head out for coffee with girlfriends then a scone or a teacake is pretty much a given. But it's not at every meal and it's not every day so...
I guess where we have fallen down the most is in the 'snack' zone. We have become consumers of wrapped snack bars, packaged fruit roll-ups, cereal bars and yoghurt covered raisins etc... A parenting blog that I love to read once mentioned the fact that 99% of her lunchboxes and snack pots were 'packaging free', meaning exactly as it reads, nothing had to be unwrapped during prep or when they sat down to enjoy it! In direct contrast, our lunchboxes contain Babybel, a cereal bar, fruit drops, fresh fruit, maybe some crackers, a yoghurt pot or tube...pretty much everything has to be unwrapped. Now, while this is mainly to do with ease and portability, it is easy to see the correlation between sugar-free/healthier eating and foods that aren't packaged!!
So, I decided to undertake an experiment. My gut instinct was to empty the snack box into the bin, declare the entire household sugar-free and embark on a nazi-style regime of homemade smoothies and...something else that doesn't contain sugar (see? I can't even name something? Plain fish?) But in a totally uncharacteristic move, I decided to take my time and phase things out slowly. I have refused to replenish the snack box in the cupboard, have quadrupled the amount of fresh fruit that we buy and am slowly transferring Toddler over to fresh fruit juice instead of squash. I am also making a concerted effort to include at least 3 vegetables in every meal. This one is proving the trickiest - I just need to buy a big bag of mixed frozen veg and I'm there but for some bizarre reason I have forgotten on the last two big food shops I've done!
I appreciate that these small changes don't make my family sugar-free. Far from it as apparently fruit and juices are two of the biggest 'culprits'. But that wasn't really the aim of my experiment. It was more a personal challenge to analyse our own family's diet, identify our weak spots and make some small changes that would hopefully benefit us all long term.
Looking at our everyday actions is something we forget sometimes. They become so routine, so mundane, so unimportant that we forget they need reviewing, refreshing and updating. At the moment we change our meal planner in Summer and Winter, but maybe my next big project should be to add in 2 more variants for Spring and Autumn? Now we have two growing boys I'm going to need as many ideas as I can to keep them interested and enthusiastic about food, as well as not lose my mind cooking the same 28 meals over and over again!!

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