I am usually fairly immune to food fads, but just lately I have become aware of the trend for clean, unrefined food – low in sugar and traditional white carbohydrates. I’ve flicked through all the books and magazine articles currently doing the rounds and it all looks lovely and it’s definitely a good thing. But a lot of it also strikes me as being overly idealistic, time-consuming and expensive.
As a family we eat a reasonably healthy diet and I make most of our meals from scratch. But I find that, these days, cooking for the family feels like a chore and I like to keep things as simple as possible. Which is why, when I look at a recipe for flax-seed bread, woven with cacao nibs, served with a side of heritage grains, I just feel rather depressed and inadequate. Half the ingredients aren’t available in the Fenland wilderness, and my children would probably not thank me if they were.
I think most families would always like to eat a little better, wouldn’t they? But does anyone really manage to eat fantastically well every day? Especially when they’re also tired, stressed and trying to stick to budget. I have decided to share an honest account of what we eat on weekdays. It may not always look insta-pretty, but it’s what we actually eat. It doesn’t usually involve recipe books, but depends on what’s in the fridge and what mood we’re all in! I get a big shop delivered with lots of useful things, but don’t plan out every single day.
Monday: Quick Fish Pie
I love fish pie but rarely have the time to make a proper version (poaching fish in milk, then reusing your milk for the béchamel etc), but I sometimes like to make a simplified version. I had a packet of ready chopped fish pie mix in the fridge (a mix of salmon, cod and smoked haddock as I remember) and popped this, uncooked, in an ovenproof dish and mixed it up with a béchamel sauce (I make mine from scratch which takes about twenty minutes, but you could easily buy a pot to save time). Season, and then top with thinly sliced raw potatoes. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, until it’s golden and bubbling – the fish will happily cook in the sauce. Serve with vegetables.
Everyone enjoyed this – especially James and Gabriel . Sliced potatoes do not work as well as mashed potatoes, but this saves so much time and mess – essential on a Monday night! My four year old, Tom, is being very fussy at the moment but did manage to eat a reasonable amount.
Tuesday: Chicken, chorizo and chickpea stew
This a favourite of mine because it is so quick and simple. Fry the chorizo then basically bung everything else in the pan – leeks, sweet peppers, chicken breast pieces, a can of tomatoes and a can of chickpeas. Top up with a little stock (I used a beef Oxo cube as I’d run out of chicken stock cubes, which worked fine). Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer fairly briskly for about an hour and a half. I started making this at about 4pm and it was ready to eat at 5.30. We served this with brown rice but no extra vegetables as I forgot. Tom enjoyed the chickpeas, Gabriel less so.
Wednesday: Sausage, Egg and Chips
This was a long day. I can’t really remember why, but it was, and I wasn’t in the best mood. The packet of sausages in the fridge was just begging for the frying pan, and a tray of chips was tossed in the oven. I find frying sausages strangely therapeutic and felt much better after half an hour of turning and poking them. Funnily enough, every one ate this meal with great gusto and nobody complained.
Thursday: Cheesy pasta bake
I was going to do a tomato pasta bake, but realised at the last minute that I’d run out of tinned tomatoes and only had about six cherry tomatoes. So this was a bit of a thrown together meal with what was left in the fridge. We had loads of cheese, so I made a cheese sauce. This was combined with brown whole wheat pasta and mushrooms, and topped with sliced cherry tomatoes and grated cheese. This actually came out pretty well and everyone enjoyed it. Tom had an almost clean plate which was rare for him at the moment. I’ve managed to switch over to wholemeal spaghetti and pasta without anyone noticing – it’s a small, family-friendly change but it does actually have a much lower glycaemic index.
Friday: Smoked ham tortellini with cherry tomato sauce.
This was courtesy of Waitrose, as I was having a completely pants day. Cadbury’s Mini Eggs for pudding = everyone happy, which is all I was asking for after such a terrible day.
My verdict: everything looks rather beige and a little 1970s, but I think we did OK. It’s hard to please everyone at once, and very difficult to try something new when there’s a chance two small people won’t eat it!
What are your Monday to Friday mealtime lifesavers?