In the past few months, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a rising backlash against the many healthy eating fads. Back in April, I read an interesting story entitled, ‘Fed up with food trends pushing parents back in the kitchen‘ by Kerri Sackville. Kerri is a wonderful writer who always keeps it real, and never fails to make you laugh along the way. In this particular piece, she talked about feeling guilty at the supermarket because she had pre-made hamburger patties, lasagne and chicken schnitzels in the trolley.
“This is no longer acceptable. We mothers are no longer expected to use pre-packaged foods,” Kerri wrote. “With the advent of the Thermomix, and Paleo, and organic, and ‘clean eating’, it isn’t even enough just to cook anymore. We are expected to cook all of our food ourselves from base ingredients, otherwise we have failed our children. We are somehow sub-par.”
This made me feel sad, but I understand where she’s coming from. I’ve felt the same thing. And I’m a Thermomix-owning mum who (usually) loves to cook. I do get pleasure from making things from scratch. But let’s face it: most of us simply do not have time (let alone the inclination) to make EVERYTHING from scratch, even if we own a Thermomix and every whiz-bang appliance out there.
If you ask me (which of course you are), I think the clean eating movement (paleo, IQS, JERF etc) has done some good things. In particular, it has shone a light on how much crap many of us in the Western world were eating: too much sugar, refined carbs and highly processed food, in particular. Undoubtedly, obesity is a huge problem. Food education, particularly for young people, is important and I’m a big supporter of initiatives from Stephanie Alexander and Jamie Oliver to teach children about food and cooking. But demonising people who serve a pre-made lasagne and salad for dinner is not the answer.
The pendulum has swung too far the other way. People are becoming obsessed and judgmental. Instagram feeds are filled with bone broths, green smoothies, and sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan brownies filled with sweet potato and zucchini. And all those things are great, but they’re not the only way to a healthy diet. For many, healthy eating and cooking from scratch has morphed into orthorexia, “an extreme or excessive preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy” (thanks Wikipedia). There’s an interesting article explaining it here.
Here’s the way I see it. If you’re serving up (mostly) home-cooked meals with plenty of vegetables and fruit, there is nothing wrong with taking some shortcuts. You don’t need to be baking bread, making yoghurt, whipping up watermelon sorbets and activating almonds to have a healthy diet.
In the interests of solidarity, I thought I’d share my favourite kitchen shortcuts with you: the products I regularly buy to make life in the kitchen that little bit easier.
1. BBQ chickens
Ah, the good old BBQ chook. These have saved my life on many occasions. Serve them with vegies and you have a salad. Whack them into a wrap with cheese and avocado and you have a burrito. Envelope them in rice paper with crispy vegies, noodles and herbs and there’s a rice paper roll. These days you can even get them organic and free-range, of course.
Yes, I know pesto in a cinch to make. I even have a recipe here. But a jar of basil pesto (I like the Barilla or Aldi brands best) is permanently in my pantry. If I run out I feel a little panicky. That jar of pesto is a saviour when my day has gone to @#$% and I’m feeling desperate. The kids all eat it, and topped with cherry tomatoes and cheese, you’ve got a balanced(ish) meal.
3. Schnitzels, sausages, patties, and kebabs
My number one piece of advice to anyone looking for quick and easy meals is: find a good butcher. Unless you are a vegetarian, in which case skip to number four. Not only are butchers always up for a flirt, they usually have an excellent range of ready-made meals. Sausages, kofta, kebabs, schnitzel, Kiev, roasts, marinated chops – they’re all there. Cook the meat, throw some vegies on the side and ta-da! Dinnertime solved.
4. Lasagnes, ravioli and other filled pastas
You can go as basic or as fancy as you like with filled pasta. Whether it’s from the supermarket or the deli, there’s something enticing about enveloping meat or spinach and ricotta in a pasta pillow. Kids love them, too.
5. Wholemeal pitta bread and wraps
Keep wraps and breads in the freezer and a burrito, quesadilla or souvlaki is never far away. They’re great for filling up little tummies.
6. Frozen vegies
Experts say that frozen veggies are actually better for you, because they lock in the nutrients when they are snap frozen soon after picking. Serve with sausages from your friendly local butcher (see above).
7. Puff pastry
Pastry making can be therapeutic, but puff pastry? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Keep it in the freezer for last-minute tarts and quiches. Puff pastry can also be turned into a drool-worthy dessert faster than you can say tarte tatin.
Anyone who knows me knows that dumplings are one of my (many) weaknesses. I stock up at my local Asian supermarket, choosing a variety that contains no preservatives or hidden nasties. Dumplings can go from the freezer into boiling water, then onto to the plate, in less than 10 minutes. Serve with noodles and stock for a nourishing soup, or simply dunk them into my favourite dipping sauce of ginger, soy and black vinegar.