The first of our blueberries

A morning’s bounty?

Ok so we won’t fill a punnet with these but it is so lovely to be able to pop out into the garden and pick a few blueberries for a snack. These are from the two plants I bought from Trehane nursery, near Wimborne in Dorset. We are going there later this week for pick your own blueberries and I think I might have to buy 4 more plants as they have a sale on at the moment. If you don’t live in Dorset you can order online and have them delivered.

Just to say too – Trehane haven’t given me any money for this promotion. I just think when so many of the supermarkets are selling blueberries from Poland and France (the latter is not so far but its still further than Dorset!) we need to support our UK blueberry growers. I have seen English Blueberries in one supermarket, which is great. If you do find UK blueberries for sale buy extra and freeze some for the Winter months.

What can be more local (and cheaper in the long term) than blueberries in your back garden or allotment? Oh and in theory, as long as you don’t use pesticides or fertilisers, your crop will be Organic in all but name!

Though a short search online have also just found Blackmoor Nursery in Hampshire where you can order blueberry plants online.

There has been a lot of focus on blueberries in recent years and their superfood status. With nutrients depleted over time and with exposure to air and light, the shorter the time between picking and eating, its likely, the better the nutrient content. And when it comes to so-called superfoods – its all about eating in season – each having its own foods that are high in anti-oxidants and other health-giving nutrients.

Why are they called super foods? Because they are contain relatively high amounts of antioxidant vitamins (vitamins C, E and betacarotene – the plant form of vitamin A) and bioflavinoids (including anthocyanin, catechin, myricetin, quercetin, ankaempferol and epicatechin).

Antioxidants “mop up” the free radicals produced when cells become damaged through oxidation. This oxidation causes and is caused by many of the degenerative diseases associated with age: alzheimers, Parkinsons, diabetes, Rheumatoid arthritis and of course cardiovascular heart disease and cancer. And there is research that has found that blueberries have a protective effect against these diseases.


Summer raspberry smoothie for breakfast

In the rush of the morning I didn’t get a chance to take a photo of this – will have to add later. Like most, getting ready and out the house is a chaotic dash and children add to the distractions.

I can’t leave the house without breakfast. This habit was instilled in me by my mum, who while others in the 80’s were serving up sugary breakfast cereals, always made us a healthy, cooked breakfast of some sort.

These days, I find it easiest to have a smoothie, juice or yogurt and fruit with granola for breakfast.

To get the right balance of ingredients use …
about 100g of raspberries (or other berries)
1 banana
about 100ml of apple juice
1 tablespoon organic Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds (for fibre and omega 3’s)

Being pregnant at the moment, I also mix in a teaspoon of an omega 3 oil supplement. Between weeks 14-18 the foetal brain is going through a crucial stage in development, though I take the supplement throughout pregnancy. Omega 3 oils (in the form of DHA rather than EPA) are so important for brain cell development.

Whizz it all up in the blender and serve – with a straw to protect your teeth from the fruit sugars. It’s also a good idea to have some water afterwards – to get rid of any remaining sugars in your mouth. Also don’t brush your teeth for up to an hour after having anything sugary as tooth enamel is softened and brushing will erode it.

This smoothie is high in vitamin C, vitamin B6 and provides potassium, folate and other vitamins and minerals. It contains a third of your (if you are a woman between 18-64!) recommended fibre intake for the day, and provides 2 of your recommended at least 5 a day.

I took mine in the car. Invest in a flask – if you leave for work/school run early in the morning before your appetite has woken up, it will stop you from reaching for that muffin or croissant when you are out and about.

If you want flask inspiration, my lovely friend, Kate has designed these vintage inspired flasks which she sells in her Brighton Shop, Bluebelle and Co.

Home-made vs ready-made?
Making your own is so much better than buying bottles or cartons of smoothies. Aside from being cheaper, its fresh so will will have maximum vitamins and minerals, bioflavinoids and other important health-giving micronutrients – and these get depleted in processing. If you look at ingredients in shop bought smoothies sometimes only about 12% of the juice is made up of berries – the rest being from cheaper fruits. If you make it yourself you know what’s in it.

Ups and downs of fruit sugars
The pumpkin seeds may make it a little crunchy (blend thoroughly). They provide fibre, which slows down release of the fruit sugars. Sugars from fruit are released more slowly than processed soft drinks with added sugar and so do not result in spikes in blood glucose levels, which lead to insulin release which in turn makes the body store sugar as fat. So a smoothie like this will have a low glycaemic index* which indicates that its sugars are released into your blood at a slow rate.

Now I am not going to lie to you – this smoothie contains 34g of sugar in the form of extrinsic sugars which means outside of the fruit cell. There are recommendations on how much extrinsic sugar you should have in your diet. As a rule – if you have a smoothie like this for breakfast you definitely shouldn’t have any more fruit juice. And in terms of extrinsic or added sugars – keep it to a maximum of 15g for the rest of the day.

The World Health Organisation recommends that extrinsic sugars (not intrinsic sugars from milk and in whole fruit) should make up no more than 10% of energy intake. This equates to about 50g of sugar for women. While industry Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA’s) which is what some retailers and food companies use on packaging – and is a standard devised by industry, recommends a maximum intake of about 90g for women. Bear in mind this is a standard set by industry (a 500ml bottle of coke would contain more than your maximum 50g sugar recommended under WHO guidance). So probably best to follow the WHO 50g maximum level for a healthier diet, as it’s set by the independent health organisation!

Dispatches this week
Whilst writing have been reminded of this week’s Dispatches exposé of how industry are misusing 5 a day claims. Have just watched it whilst writing this. I think the programme points are fairly common sense. It’s best not to rely on 5 a day claims on ready made foods. When you are working out if you have had at least 5 a day, focus on the meals and snacks that have included fresh fruit and vegetables that you bought yourself. As outlined in the programme too, the Government should be stricter on how these claims are used by industry.

Also worth remembering that the government set the level as at least 5 a day because they thought this would be achievable by the UK population. The benefits of eating fruit and vegetables have been shown in studies where people eat 8 portions or more so that’s what you should be aiming for!

My daughter often has some of the home made juice or smoothies I make. The trick with children sometimes is not to offer it to them – it makes them want to try it. Generally children should have fruit juice diluted 1:1 at mealtimes – this helps the body to absorb iron. Don’t give any drinks other than milk or water between meals to protect their teeth.

Also if you’re thinking this won’t fill you up – I didn’t need to eat anything until lunchtime.

*You can check the Glycaemic index of a food on this University of Sydney website. The website includes GI’s for shop bought smoothies and they are between 30-44 which are low compared to the measurement for the release of glucose which has a GI of 100. I would estimate that this home made smoothie would be towards the lower end of the GI because of its fibre content.

Summer roasted vegetable lasagne recipe

This is what we had for our Meat Free Monday supper this week. I had been wanting to post this for ages, but had to wait for courgettes to come into season – then forgot all about it until I made it for supper last week.

You will need…
3 peppers (red and yellow – green peppers don’t roast as well, though they can be used too) cut into 1cm squares
2 courgettes sliced, smaller pieces halved, larger pieces quartered
Red onion cut into wedges
3 garlic cloves crushed
Handful of basil leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
50g butter
40g flour
570ml organic semi skimmed milk
60g organic parmesan cheese grated
grated nutmeg
125g organic mozzarella or cheddar cheese grated

How to…
Heat the oven to 220˚C/gas mark 6
Prepare the veg, mix in with the olive oil, crushed garlic, and torn basil leaves, season and put in a roasting tin, making sure that all the veg are touching the tin. Season with black pepper and roast for 15 minutes until roasted – but not overcooked as you don’t want to destroy all vitamin C in the veg.

While the veggies are roasting make your béchamel sauce.
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan.
Add the flour and stir into the butter until well mixed.
Allow the flour and butter mixture to cook through for 2 minutes.
Gradually add the milk, mixing in well and keep stirring to prevent sticking and lumps.
Once all the milk is added bring to the boil and allow to simmer on lowest heat for 2 minutes maximum.
Add some grated nutmeg and stir
Take of heat and add 45g parmesan and pour into a measuring jug using a spatular to waste as little as possible.
Take the roasted vegetables out of the oven and put in a bowl.
In an ovenproof dish layer the ingredients.

My daughter delegated the tasks that involved getting mucky hands to me.

First spread quarter of a pint of the sauce on the base of the dish.
Next add about a third of the roasted vegetables followed by third of the grated mozzarella and a layer of lasagne.
And then go through the same process until you have the top layer of lasagne topped with béchamel sauce.
Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese.
Put in the oven and cook at 180˚C/gas mark 4 for 30 minutes.

Serve with a salad.

This dish will is high in calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 – with the salad it also makes up 2 portions of veg. Oh and it’s cheap too – we’ve had it for supper two evenings in a row with tomato and basil salad the first night and wild rocket, tomato and avocado salad the second. All the ingredients were organic (and British – the mozzarella was from Lavestoke Park Farm from grass fed buffalo) apart from the lasagne, red onion and wild rocket. For two night’s dinners it cost £10.50 or £5.25 for each evening meal – not bad.

Chicken Tikka Masala recipe from the Can Cook team in Liverpool

This is a great weekend family dish – its not too hot at all – my 5 year old daughter loves it.

I got this recipe from the Can Cook Healthier recipe book and we’ve made it several times. Can Cook is a innovative social enterprise in Liverpool that employs chefs delivering practical cooking sessions that inspire and impart good cooking skills. I was lucky enough to work with Can Cook when I was at the Centre of Food Policy, City University.

They recently launched their Teaching Liverpool to Cook campaign where chefs will be delivering cooking sessions all over Liverpool to community groups, schools, and businesses.

You will need…

250-300g organic chicken breast cubed*
2 tablespoons olive oil
200ml plain yogurt (I use full fat)
3 cloves garlic crushed
2 teaspoons grated ginger
3 teaspoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
Juice from half a lime
400g tinned tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
15g chilled butter
1/2 vinegar
20ml single cream
2 tablespoons fresh coriander chopped

How to…

Mix yoghurt, garlic, ginger, two teaspoons of paprika, ground coriander, ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon garam masala and lime juice.
Add the cubed chicken, mix well and leave to marinate for 2 hours in the fridge (but if you have less time don’t worry).
Heat the oil in a large pan and add the chicken and the marinade, cook on a medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring until the chicken is tender.
In another pan add the tomatoes and ground fenugreek, then cook for 5 minutes, until some of the liquid has evaporated.
Add the chilled butter, one teaspoon of paprika, half a teaspoon of gram masala, the vinegar and single cream, and cook for an extra minute.
Add the sauce to the chicken, stir in the fresh coriander
Season and serve with brown rice.

*I weighed what I was using on Saturday and it was just over 260 raw – so about 60g for my 5 year old daughter and then about 100g for adults. I had enough for a left over lunch for me today too.

Based on giving a quarter of the amount made here to a 5 year old and using brown rice – this meal will provide high levels of potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B3 and B6 and about a half of their recommended iron intake, a third of their recommended intake of vitamin B1 and vitamin B2 and calcium…not bad!

Michael Gove playing politics with children’s health

Michael Gove announced today that he has asked Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, founders of Leon, the healthy fast food chain to review school meals.

I met Henry Dimbleby when Leon was first starting up on Michael Von Straten’s LBC radio programme. He is lovely, and having eaten at Leon lots of times I do love their approach to food.

With the greatest respect though, they are not experts in school meals and nutrition, so I asked on twitter if they would be speaking to the original School Meals Review Panel that reviewed school food and set up the school food and nutrition standards back in 2005. And they will, alongside parents, campaign groups, School Food Trust and other stakeholders.

What is deeply concerning however, is that the Terms of Reference for this review makes no mention of nutrition standards. The stated aim of the review being to “ensure that all children eating in English schools are offered good food and given an education that cultivates in them an understanding of food and nutrition.” Again nothing about standards. It seems that Gove is side-stepping the whole issue of nutrition standards by initiating this review, and indeed, delaying doing anything about them until the review is published in 2013 – but if the it does not include standards in its terms of reference then surely this is purely a way of stalling any possible policy action.

I expressed concerns to Henry at Leon’s via twitter that all the public money that has been spent setting standards to-date would go to waste because academies do not need to meet the standards.

We need to remember why standards were introduced – because school meals were not nutritious enough. In the current economic climate, parents are struggling to feed their children, and teachers recently reported on twitter that children are coming into school hungry and worse. So school meals that provide at minimum a third of a child’s recommended intake of calories and key nutrients are a necessity now more than ever.

Michael Gove is very good at playing a political game. He has used delaying tactics since Jamie Oliver and public health campaigners first raised concerns about the lack of nutrition standards in academies. He said there was no reason to be concerned that academies did not provide healthy balanced meals that meet the standards.

But then the School Food Trust published research that found that there was a reason to be concerned. From a survey of 100 academies, a quarter were selling crisps and savoury snacks, 1 in 6 were selling confectionery, more than half were selling sugary cereal bars, and more than three quarters were selling soft drinks or squash. All food and drink banned under the nutrition standards legislation.

In April the School Food Trust demonstrated in its national study, the positive impact of school nutrition standards on teenager’s food choices at school. They found that since standards had been introduced, the percentage of teenagers eating chips at school lunch had fallen sharply from 43% to 7%. Despite this and improvements in levels of saturated fat in meals chosen and fruit and vegetables, the Trust recognises that there is still more work to be done.

And this is the crux of the matter. We need to build on the positive achievements to-date. It is a work in progress.

The latest announcement regarding the review has not been well received by Jamie Oliver, teachers organisations and Local Authority Caterers Association.

The Children’s Food Campaign published a scathing response to the review announcement stating that more reviews are just not needed.

The wonderful nutrition and food standards, developed by public health experts, are a necessary structure on which schools can develop good practice in food provision.

At the moment, while Local Authority run schools should meet nutrition standards, often food production is centralised, so fish cakes may be ready made, burgers may be ready made. But at least they have to meet good standards, for instance sausages have to have a high level of meat content, low levels of salt and under the legislation, contain no mechanically recovered meat. Local authorities, such as Hampshire only use free range eggs and use locally sourced foods in their school meal provision.

There are wonderful examples of good practice out there from Soil Association’s Food for Life to schools that have taken their catering in house, and we need more. The one common denominator between all is they use the School Food Trust’s food and nutrition standards. Allowing the increasing number of academies to provide food that does not have to meet nutrition standards will erode the work done to date.

So a having Leon founders look at school meals provision is great, in that they can lend their expertise on producing good quality, tasty meals made from fresh ingredients on a large scale.

The big question is whether a review is needed and whether Michael Gove will act on any review recommendations.

The introduction of statutory standards in academies should not be delayed by this review – the evidence that they are needed is there and the review is highly unlikely to find that they are not.

There are 100 MP’s from all parties that who want to see statutory nutrition standards in academies ask your MP to join them calling for healthy school meals for all pupils.