I don’t do healthy eating. I try, but I’m a lazy cook and a chocoholic, and I was brought up in an age when crispy pancakes and deep fried chips were a perfectly acceptable meal to give a child.
My sister is the foodie in the family. Her children eat humus through choice and would take veg over chocolate any day. She makes healthy muffins and stews and slow-cooked curries. She bakes her own bread. And she works all day in an office.
I want to be like that, I do. But I find it hard to lead by example. Even though I’ve started baking a bit more, I make white bread and scones, banana loaf and chocolate cake. Watching the half-a-bag of white sugar and half-a-slab of butter go into the bowl ready to make cookies doesn’t prevent me from eating them all, although I do try and limit how many I give to the children.
Since my first child was born (six years ago already – how did that happen?!) I’ve tried to move away from white bread and crisps to a healthier diet, but with limited success.
I do make my own bolognaise sauce from scratch (most of the time), especially as it’s the only thing both my fussy children will eat. I buy fruit and vegetables, and the children sometimes even eat them. I scour labels for sugar content, and try to make sure the children have a break from their sugary breakfast cereal at least one day a week by making them eat Weetabix. They mostly only drink water and milk (although fruit juice is allowed.)
Despite my half-hearted efforts I realise, some days, that my son has only eaten wheat: for breakfast, lunch and dinner (cereal, toast and pasta), with a bit of cheese and a bottle of milk thrown in for good measure. Thank goodness he isn’t dairy or gluten intolerant. My daughter does better, as she loves berries, but it’s tough keeping up with that habit in the winter without taking out a second mortgage.
Recently I realised, even by my poor standards, things have taken a nose-dive. The children are having chocolate biscuits and crisps for their snacks instead of rice cakes and muesli bars (the low sugar type, not the ones that claim to be healthy and yet have 40% sugar content). The problem is they’re getting more vocal, and fussier, and – with hubby out of work last year when I was watching the food budget more – I realised crap food is so much cheaper.
But it’s February and I’m still shattered. The doctors don’t know why I’m tired all the time. I know Christmas and then my daughter’s birthday month always take their toll, but I’m in the middle of a stinking cold, and my children are on their second each of 2015. Something has to give.
Then I heard an interview, by accident, on Radio 2 a couple of weeks ago, with a woman called Ella who suffered from an illness that left her sleeping sixteen hours a day and unable to walk. She cured herself by switching to a whole-food, sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free diet.
Normally I try and ignore such interviews.
When it came out a few years ago that sugar was the new smoking, the new thing we all have to quit, I hid under the covers. I can’t vaguely imagine giving up sugar. I might just be able to give up refined sugar, although breakfast would be hard as I’m a cornflakes girl, but giving up fruit? Bananas and fruit smoothies are the only healthy things I enjoy. I might as well give up breathing. Giving up smoking when I found out I was pregnant was a doddle in comparison. (Besides, I did that for someone else, not for me.)
But the more I listened to Ella talk, the more I liked what I was hearing. Still being able to eat pizza and chocolate brownies? Surely too good to be true? Was there a way I could feel better and still stuff my face with chocolate cake on that fourth week of the month when my hormones demand their human sacrifice? Better still, was there a way I could sneak vegetables into my now-much-too-savvy children’s diet?
After the interview was over, I ordered the cook book. Me and thousands of others apparently. That was when I realised I had inadvertently jumped on a bandwagon. Apparently Ella is the daughter of Mrs Sainsbury and a former Cabinet Minister and her blog has had 17 million hits. Ho hum. I never have been that much up on the zeitgeist.
When the book finally arrived last week it was more like a study book than a cook book. Not that I would know – I only have a couple of cook books and I don’t think either of them have ever been used. My few recipes come from the Co-op free magazine or online. But when I opened random pages in Ella’s book, I didn’t find easy-to-make healthy recipes, I discovered essays on the wonders of quinoa and chickpeas. So I stuck it on the shelf next to Jamie Oliver and the Woman’s Own tome and ignored it.
Fast forward a week, past my daughter’s craft party (which went really well, thankfully), past three days of feeling so awful it took all my energy to take the children to school, and I had a change of heart. I needed something to make me feel better and coffee and chocolate just weren’t doing it.
I started out searching for smoothie deals online. I keep seeing them in Groupon emails – you know, for the bargain price of £59.99 (reduced from £249.99) you can have a dozen tiny bottles of fruit juice, guaranteed to make you feel better.
I didn’t have sixty quid for three days’ worth of juice. So I went to the supermarket and bought some instead, including lettuce and beetroot juice.
And then I started having porridge for lunch. And that reminded me of where I came in to Ella’s interview on Radio 2. How she was such a sugar-monster that she had to hide fruit in her porridge when she first started out on her quest for healthy eating. It sounded familiar.
And it made me pick up the book. And read the first chapter. And write a shopping list of things I’ve never heard of, like buckwheat flour and tahini. That’s as far as I’ve got, well apart from making my porridge today with coconut oil and honey instead of sugar and treacle. I won’t be going dairy or gluten free any time soon, but if I can manage one meal a week (a month!) from Ella’s book, it will be a good start.
I think that’s what is different with Deliciously Ella. She was a self-confessed sugar-monster student, and she managed to make the change. If she can then so can I. Maybe not all at once, but bit by bit. She isn’t preaching, she isn’t being holier-than-thou (or she certainly doesn’t come across that way in the book’s introduction) and that’s very encouraging.
When I started out self-publishing, there were those who said ‘you can do it’ and those who said, ‘you must have an editor and a proofreader and spend thousands or you’re ruining it for all of us.’ Thankfully I listened more to the former (although the latter left scars) and I followed my own path.
Hopefully I can apply the same logic to eating. It doesn’t matter if it’s one thing, one meal, one ingredient. It’s better than nothing. And if it allows me to get through the school holidays without being asleep all the time, then it will be worth the effort.
I’ll keep you posted!