As part of developing resources to help parents encourage their children to eat healthily, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Becky Beasley of Two-Teaspoons.
Becky founded Two-Teaspoons in 2012, teaching culinary skills to children of all ages and I absolutely love her passion for real food and her no-nonsense approach to the art of cooking. She is an inspiration, catering for five nurseries a day and teaching toddlers to teens to cook on a regular basis. I couldn’t do it, but she truly believes that anyone and everyone can cook and there’s no doubt in my mind that if you have any doubts, she’s the person to show you how!
RFN: Hi Becky, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. Can you start by telling me when was it you yourself learnt to cook, and what was it that sparked your passion for good food?
BB:I learnt to cook from my Mum, who also worked full time as a teacher. My parents were incredibly social, often inviting guests to eat, and the passion really came from the early recognition that learning to cook made life more fun. I always tell teenagers in my pre-uni classes that if they can cook a meal, they will never be short of friends!
RFN: Have you had many fussy eaters through your door and how did they find the cooking experience?
BB: Absolutely, from the mildly fussy to the quite extreme, but they all enjoy the cooking experience and often enough that they try the food at the end too.
RFN: That’s amazing – how do you do it?
BB: I think there are two key values that I always instil throughout a class:
1. It’s social – my classes are not “classes” as much as “experiences”; it doesn’t matter what is being cooked or whether or not it is liked as much as the whole event itself is fun. This helps the children form a more positive relationship with the dishes we’re making. I’m not the parent in this scenario, I really don’t have any vested interest in whether or not the children I teach eat the food they make, and once they know that, and there’s no pressure to try new or disliked foods they tend to relax and enjoy themselves. 2. There are no “good” or “bad” foods – I never put more value on one particular food above another. Sometimes we cook with chocolate, other times it’s broccoli; neither is more or less delicious than the other, they are just what’s required for the recipe and the focus is on enjoying the cooking experience.
RFN: That’s some very powerful psychology and a great attitude to have for building a long-term healthy relationship with food. Have you learnt anything from the children you’ve taught to cook?
BB: I never cease to be amazed by the skills of the children I teach – they always surprise me with their ability. That and never teach a couscous class unless you really love cleaning up!
RFN: I hear you there… Ok, so what’s your favourite dish to cook with kids, and why?
BB: I can’t really say I’ve a favourite dish to teach, but I always enjoy teaching them to cook things they think they’ll hate. There’s nothing more satisfying than turned up noses at the start of a class, and clean plates at the end!
RFN: And what’s the most popular class or dish for the kids, and why?
BB: Probably bread making, which I also love to teach. There’s so much fun to be had in being so tactile with the food – it’s fun, messy and a complete sensory pleasure. I also get to be a bit theatrical pouring oil on the table which also adds to the fun dynamic of the class!
RFN: That does sound like brilliant fun! And finally, can you share your top 3 tips for getting children cooking?
BB: Yes… 1. It’s important to get enthusiastic as a parent. That also means getting comfortable with chaos and mess. Cooking needs to be fun rather than a series of “telling offs”, regardless of how frustrating that sometimes is to do! 2. Let them have a say in what they want to cook. If they want to bake cookies, then bake cookies. You can also make something healthier to go alongside. Once children have taken ownership of a task, their attitude changes and that brings an enormous sense of pride and achievement. 3. Find a time when you have that capacity to cook with your kids (perhaps a Saturday afternoon rather than a Tuesday evening!) so that you’re not under any pressure, and remember that it doesn’t always need to be a huge activity – the smallest of “jobs” like peeling potatoes and grating cheese can also be great fun for children.
RFN: and I imagine that will help enormously with points 1 and 2 as well! Thank you Becky for that invaluable insight and please keep helping our kids learn to love cooking!
If you’d like your children to try out a cookery class with Becky, you can head over to her website: Two-Teaspoons to sign up. All classes are mixed age and ability (from 4 years upwards), which she says is fantastic for bringing the best out in everyone, and goes to show that it’s never too young to start cooking.
There are also some great family friendly recipes on the website that I’ll be trying out, and Becky’s shared with me a couple of her favourite gadgets to alleviate our fears for young children getting too involved. I’ll be testing these out with my kids too and will let you know how I get on.
Sadly, the headline was not helpful at all. Rather than
offering support to working families or those with children that are classified
as overweight or obese, it just caused upset, guilt and anger. I took to
Instagram live and was pleased to see that that was helpful for a lot of
parents, but for those of you who missed it, here’s a written summary…
What the paper said
The research was a paper published in the scientific journal SSM-Population Health, with the title “The impact of maternal employment on children’s weight: Evidence from the UK”. It tracked 19,244 children born between 2000 and 2002, measuring their Body Mass Index (a measure of weight relative to height) at 9 months, 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14 years. The premise of the paper was that both childhood obesity and the number of mothers is paid employment has risen dramatically since 1975. The hypothesis set out to test if there was a causative effect between these two factors, rather than them both being independent statistics that happen to show the same trend.
So was there a
The paper statistically concluded that there was, however it did also fairly summarise the other available research on this subject. What it found was a number of research papers that also supported the association, and an equal number that did not. It also offered two possible contradicting explanations as to how and why a mother’s employment status might link to their child’s weight:
Working mothers have less time to prepare and
cook healthy food
Working mothers may be able to afford better
quality food for their children
The study also asked two additional questions of the
children / their carers:
How many hours TV did they watch per day during
term time? This was to determine how sedentary children of working versus
stay-at-home mums are
How often did they skip breakfast? To act as a
measure of children’s healthy eating habits
So how robust does that make these findings? In my opinion, the existence of other conflicting studies do seem to undermine a strong statistical significance, and these additional questions do take rather a big leap between what is being asked and the conclusions drown. There are, however, some useful take-aways from it.
What can we learn?
Rather than single-handedly blame working mothers, the paper concluded that steps should be taken to better involve both fathers and childcare providers in the day-to-day childcare activities and responsibilities such as eating and exercise, something which it recorded as still falling largely to mothers regardless of employment status. It noted that, whilst again not statistically significant, children who also lived with grandparents tended to have a lower BMI, suggesting that it is this aspect of time and capacity to care for and teach and provide food for our children that was the key factor.
What about working
This was a huge objection from the audience, so to cover off why fathers were not considered in the study, this was legitimately due to a lack of data. Father’s working status was also recorded, however only about 10% of the total fathers were not in employment at any stage of the study, so sadly any conclusions drawn about fathers specifically would not be statistically significant.
A word on BMI
The main measure used to determine whether or not a child was overweight or obese was BMI, which is calculated by taking a person’s weight in kilograms and dividing that by the square of their height in meters (if you’re interested in finding out yours, I would suggest popping over to the NHS website and using their handy calculator tool). When it comes to children, this is then applied against a population average that places your child at its appropriate percentile against the population as a whole. A healthy weight is deemed to be between the 3rd and 95th percentiles.
Is BMI helpful? It does give a measure across large populations and a way to track trends, so using it to show that on average childhood obesity is increasing over time is relatively helpful. However when it comes to the individual, things are less clear cut. Total weight does not take into account heavy muscle mass or lighter fat mass such that, for example, a healthy athlete may have a much higher BMI than an elderly adult who has lost much muscle mass and gained in unhealthy fat mass. Similar can be said of children – they are all so very different, and medical professionals do not usually consider BMI alone as a measure of good or poor health.
What to do if your
child has a high BMI
Children in the UK are measured at school, and that BMI
measure is then communicated back to their parents for follow-up. First of all,
if you’ve received such a letter, I would say not to panic. Please consult a
medical professional who will be able to tell you whether or not there is
something of concern.
Depending on where you live, there are varying free support services available to help you to make changes to diet and lifestyle if needed. Many Registered Nutritional Therapists such as myself, are also able to offer help and support in this area: click here to find an NT near you.
I think it’s safe to say that we’re not going back to pre-1975 and looking to retire the majority of mothers from the workforce. Ethics aside, even if this was feasible from a financial perspective, I doubt it would be in any way successful. So many factors in our lives have changed in the last 45 years, many of which have contributed to a poorer diet and increased levels of obesity. So here are my alternative ideas for healthy change:
There is no difference between kids’ food and
of my biggest bug bears is this notion of “kids’ food” versus adult’s food.
Where did this come from? I’m not advocating weaning babies and young children on
restaurant dinners or suggesting that we can’t occasionally enjoy richer or
spicier food alone, but most of the food I cook and eat is not designated for a
single-sized human, and that’s how it was until very recent history in the
grand scheme of things.
It has become the norm to only
offer children fish fingers and chips, mac and cheese or chicken nuggets in
restaurants. Also normalising the omission of any type of vegetable in many
When we promote foods as a
“children’s dinner” in a world where working parents often are eating
separately out of necessity and timings, it’s easy to see how we can get caught
in the trap of feeding our children their own food at their own dinner time.
But actually, was this a conscious decision? Or has it just happened due to
marketing and following what peers do? Ask yourself this question – would you
eat what you’re serving your children?
My challenge to you is – can you stop? Can you prepare the same food, even if it’s eaten at separate times? Or can you ensure that childcare providers that are providing this food eat the same foods with the children in order to model good eating habits? Depending on how ingrained habits are and how old your children are, this may take some time to transition, but perhaps weekends would be a good starting point – a family meal that is fun, but also healthy and suitable for all ages.
2. We don’t always need snacks
My mum always scoffs at kids’ snacks and asks when on earth did this become the way to eat? Certainly not when I was a child apparently (and we’re not even going back 40 years then either, not quite!) This is an additional area of marketing for the food industry – if children need snacks then they can sell them. And it’s completely become the norm again without many actually stopping and thinking about whether or not their child really needs a snack. If my boys eat a decent breakfast, they are rarely hungry again by 10am and actually asking for more food, unless that is, they see it, and/or their peers are eating it.
Try starting the day with a healthy and filling breakfast, and see how long your children last without asking for or visibly needing food. You may be surprised! And always take a back-up snack that is full of fibre and protein and not high in sugar.
3. The food industry is an industry
The clue is in the title – food as an “industry”. Food became a “technology” subject at school and we stopped being taught how to cook and instead learned about how to produce “food products”. Do you see the difference? We stopped leaning about how all the wonderful nutrients in our bodies really work there in a way that made them appetising, and focused instead on the art of analysing our food as products to sell. We were subconsciously trained to buy food products rather than cook them ourselves, and indeed many people I meet genuinely believe that cooking is far more difficult than it actually is (ok I may not be Michelin star standard, but what I produce is more than “edible”!) and that processed packaged foods are just as nutritious as homemade one (they are not).
There is more and more emerging evidence that processed foods are not healthy for us, regardless of how many vitamins and minerals are artificially added, and the UK is one of the biggest consumers of highly processed foods in the world (certainly lengths ahead of our European counterparts). Perhaps this change in how we learn about food, rather than the increase in working mothers, has actually driven down the route of buying more unhealthy processed foods?
4. Food labelling is too complicated
In addition to buying in to the
food industry itself, we are also being constantly conned by food labelling. It
is there in the guise of making it easier for consumers to make healthy
choices, but oftentimes this very labelling is making it much harder than it
really needs to be to make a judgement on a food’s nutritional value.
My golden rules for reading labels
are very simple:
If it has more than 5 ingredients, it’s probably
If you don’t recognise any of the ingredients
listed, or your grandparents wouldn’t, it’s probably not healthy
I teach the fundamental principals of good nutrition in my EAT TO THRIVE programme, and it’s so rewarding to help people make sense of reading food labels. There’s often a traffic light system to help busy people make good choices quickly, but this does not reflect a product’s propensity to spike blood sugar levels, and “healthy” artificial sweeteners aren’t really a healthy choice despite keeping that traffic light number in the green.
We need to approach food labelling
with a more cynical eye, and increase our own confidence in reading labels, cooking
and choosing healthy foods so that we can pass those skills on and model them
to our children.
What can we do?
I put that question to you, and the response was fantastic, so…
1.Teach our children about food; teach them how to cook it, teach them what it does in their bodies, get them involved in every aspect of what they eat from choosing it at the supermarket/market, to growing it, chopping it, cooking it.
If you’re not preparing the food for your children, speak to those who are about doing this too. Find your most knowledgeable friend or neighbour and rope them into volunteering at your child’s school or nursery to do food-based activities with them, there are endless possibilities
2. Brush up your own knowledge and skills. It doesn’t have to be a chore to learn how to cook, there are loads of great cooking classes out there. Sign up, take a friend, learn to love cooking real food from scratch so you don’t have to rely on processed meals
3. Surround yourself with supportive friends and talk about nutrition. For older children surrounded by peer pressure, how can we help them? In all honesty I’m not there yet, but I am doing everything in my power to model good eating habits to my children and surrounding our whole family with like-minded people so that they have a group of peers in exactly the same boat.
And I talk about it! Yes, I am probably that annoying nutrition friend, but we can all do it – if you learn something, share it, talk about it. Headlines like this try to divide the working mums from the stay-at-home mums but we shouldn’t let them. If you have challenges, ask your friends for help – chances are they are experiencing or have experienced the same issues too.
4. Provide a healthy breakfast. This was the key area that consistently came up as challenging – what to serve your children for breakfast that is quick, easy and tasty, and not a high-sugar breakfast cereal that won’t support their energy levels over the course of the morning and will likely lead to more pestering or bad choices at “snack time”. So I’ve pulled together five recipes that I use on a regular basis – you can download them by signing up to my mailing list.
I hope that helps, but if you’ve any questions or requests, please do post them here, and let’s continue the conversation about how to help turn around the childhood obesity epidemic regardless of how many hours mums spend per day in paid employment! And if you’re in the Wimbledon area are would like to learn more, my next Children’s Nutrition Workshop will be taking place on 18th May.
I love to batch cook “take-away” dishes for a Friday night feast. I was a huge fan of a weekly take-away for years, but the truth is they never make me feel very good. There may well be good take-aways out there, but many tend to be filled with hidden sugar, flavour enhancers, and for me – cream and gluten, all of which are just unnecessary for a great curry in my opinion… In addition, the tendency is to over-order, and the portion sizes are always huge which leads to over-eating, let’s be honest!
So I’ve adopted a “here’s one I made earlier” approach to take-aways. I batch cook a big batch, and freeze it in portions ready to grab out of the freezer on a Friday night. My kid-friendly but also good enough for grown-ups chicken korma is always a big hit, but my favourite has to be this spicy lamb curry. Turn the heat up or down by using more or less chillies, I think I’ve achieved a middle-ground here that will suit most.
Serves 6 (so three ready meals for two), serve with brown rice, extra yogurt (especially if it’s a little too hot for you), some fresh coriander and/or mint, maybe a couple of popadoms if you’re happy to bend the healthy rules a little for the weekend 😉
8 cloves of garlic
5 cm piece of ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground black peppercorns
4 tablespoons plain natural yogurt or coconut yogurt if dairy free
750g diced lamb
2 medium white onions
2 peppers (red/orange/yellow best for colour)
4 birdseye chillies, deseeded
2 tbsp coconut oil
2-3 red onions
1 additional pepper (green works well)
seeds from 3 green cardamom pods
3 cloves / 1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons paprika
1 tsp hot chilli powder (optional)
3-4 tomatoes, quartered
1 x 400 g tin of plum tomatoes
Grate the ginger (peel it first if it’s not organic) and crush the garlic, place in a large bowl with the turmeric, peppercorns and yogurt, and mix together with the lamb until it’s all coated. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour hour, preferably overnight.
Preheat the oven to 170ºC (150ºC fan)
Peel and roughly chop the white onions, deseed and roughly chop the peppers and birdseye chillies and blitz in a food processor.
Chop the red onions and green pepper, then gently heat the coconut oil in a large casserole dish (that has a lid) that can be transferred to the oven and fry them gently for 4-5 minutes, until they are nicely softened.
Meanwhile, pop the cardamom seeds, cloves, cumin seeds and coriander seeds into a small food processor or coffee grinder, and grind to a powder. Add this powder, along with the cinnamon, paprika and chilli powder to the pan and stir to coat the softened onions and pepper.
Add the blitzed veg from the processor to the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, then add the tomatoes, the marinated lamb and approx 250 mls water, and bring to the boil.
Once boiling, cover with the lid and place in the oven for at least 2 hours. Stir occasionally and add a little more water if the sauce is thickening too much.
A healthy chocolate mousse?! Packed with healthy fat (avocado) and antioxidants, this truly is a dessert you don’t need to feel guilty about! There’s no nasties, no refined sugar, just real food, and it tastes delicious.It also freezes well to create “chocolate ice cream” – I pop it in lolly moulds or silicon cupcake cases.
1 ripe avocado
3-4 tbsp raw cacao powder
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract / vanilla bean paste
1-2 tbsp water
Pinch of sea salt
Combine all ingredients together in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Transfer the mixture into small ramekins and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.
Time to get into the festive season! If you’re anything like me, whilst you’re enjoying the excitement, school performances and parties, you may be getting a little overwhelmed by the amount of sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods being offered to your children… But Christmas is a celebration, and eating treats really is a part of it, I really don’t believe in any food being completely off limits (within reason of course!) so I wanted to share a recipe with you that ticks a lot of the boxes when it comes to enjoying treats in moderation.
These biscuits are made with:
Wholemeal spelt flour – higher in nutrients than refined white flour, and slower to digest thus reducing the sugar spike.
Unrefined sugar – again, slightly slower to release it’s glucose, and also still retaining some lovely minerals to support overall health.
Black Strap Molasses – did you know that this is actually a rich source of iron and calcium?
Cinnamon – helps to naturally balance blood sugar levels
Raw cacao – this retains its healthy antioxidants in a way that processed chocolate bars just don’t
Natural fruits, nuts and seeds – beautiful and healthy at the same time
(makes about 20)
350g wholemeal spelt flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
125g unsalted butter
150g unrefined sugar (I used Biona Rapadura, Billingtons also make unrefined cane sugar or you could use coconut palm sugar)
4 tbsp black strap molasses
Mix together the flour, bicarb, ginger and cinnamon and put into a food processor. Add the butter and blend until well-mixed and resembling fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar.
Lightly beat the egg and treacle together, slowly add to the food processor and pulse until the mixture clumps together. Tip the dough out on a floured surface, and knead lightly into a ball. Place in a covered bowl in the fridge, and chill for at least 15 minutes
Preheat the oven to 180C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 5mm thickness, then using cutters, cut out the biscuits and place them on the baking trays.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Leave on the tray for 10 minutes and then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.
For the chocolate buttercream:
50g unsalted butter
50g maple syrup
50g raw cocao powder
1tsp vanilla paste
To decorate: Dried fruit such as cranberries, desiccated coconut, seeds such as sunflower seeds, nuts
Blend together the butter, maple syrup and vanilla paste using a mixer, then slowly add the cocoa bit by bit, adding in some milk if needed for consistency and texture. The buttercream needs to be reasonably thin in order to be easily piped.
Once the biscuits are cooled, decorate using the chocolate buttercream and toppings. I used cranberries, desiccated coconut and sunflower seeds
I hope you enjoy baking them, with your little ones or without, and please leave me a comment if you like them!
My kids call this broccoli and stilton “green cheese” soup, it’s their favourite and they have absolutely no idea where the green colouring comes from! For the last batch I used about 400g broccoli, then made up the rest of the weight in Brussel sprouts and spinach, but vary the mix to what you have in abundance.
Knob of coconut oil or butter
1 onion or leek, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crsuhed or finely chopped
600g chopped broccoli or other cruciferous veg
1 l stock (veg or chicken)
2 bay leaves
160g stilton cheese, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt and pepper to season
Heat the oil then fry the onion/leek and garlic for 2-3 minutes on a low heat so that they don’t burn (they should just go soft and translucent)
Add the chopped veg, stock, bay leaves, cheese and salt and pepper, bring the boil, cover and simmer for approx. 20-30m minutes until the broccoli is cooked through and tender. Stir occasionally.
Remove the bay leaves, then blitz to a smooth consistency in a food processor (in batches) or with a stick blender (careful, it is hot!), and serve with some crusty bread.
Not just a sauce for Halloween, but I thought this picture might be inspiring today! I’ve topped some mini pizza bases with the sauce, some grated cheese and “spiders” made from olives (but trust me, it tastes just as good without the additional work of painstakingly slicing and arranging olives ha ha!)
This recipe makes a batch that can be frozen in glass jars and used for pasta dishes, pizza sauce, or as a sauce on other dishes… It’s a great way to get a variety of veg into fussy eaters (you can substitute with other veg too), and is such a versatile batch cook to keep in the freezer.
1 large onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ butternut squash, finely diced (or use some pre-cooked leftovers if you have them)
2 sticks celery, diced
1 red pepper
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 400ml jar passata
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
2 tsp mixed Italian herbs
1 tbsp olive oil for frying
Gently fry the onions on a medium-high heat in a little rice bran oil for 5-10 minutes until softened but not burned.
Add the garlic, celery, butternut squash and red pepper and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring gently.
Add the tomatoes, passata and herbs and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes until everything’s nicely cooked and soft.
Leave to cool slightly, then blitz in a food processor and use immediately on pasta, or allow to cool and freeze in glass jars.
Friday night take-aways are a bit of a tradition, aren’t they? From “Fish and chip Friday” to that end of the week feeling of not wanting to cook, just kick back and relax. The problem is that take-away food is often high in added sugar, high in bad fats (think deep fat fried in sunflower oil!), high in refined carbohydrates and low in vegetables. For me, it’s like the perfect storm for feeling rubbish on waking up Saturday morning, even though I completely support taking a break from cooking and spending some time chilling out and relaxing.
So in our household, it’s usually a Friday night “fake-away”, that’s a classic take-away style food, but homemade so just as nutritious as it is delicious. And today I want to share with you a winner of a curry that satisfies the whole family. It’s not super quick to make, but you can either slow cook it over the course of that afternoon and simply dish it out, or make it in advance and freeze portions to reheat quickly. It’s also free from gluten, dairy and of course, refined sugar, and can be made nut-free for those with nut allergies too.
Here I’ve served with some brown rice and a cheeky poppadum (because my kids think everything tastes better on a poppadum!) Peas are also a great accompanying flavour, so mutter paneer cheesy peas or simply some plain peas on the side for the kids.
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1 tbsp approx. grated fresh ginger
1-2 tsp grated fresh turmeric
2 tbsp korma powder
600g chicken – breast and thigh meat are both good, just as long as there are no bones, diced into large chunks
2 sweet potatoes, diced into large chunks
2 red peppers, diced (optional – this makes it less traditional but tastes great and adds another veg to the mix!)
300-500 mls chicken stock
400 ml tin of coconut milk
50 ground almonds (optional, use a little corn flour to thicken if needs be if you’re nut free)
Small handful chopped fresh coriander to serve
Preheat the oven to 150C (fan). Heat the coconut oil in a large casserole pan, and fry the onion for 1-2 minutes on a low heat without burning it. Then add the garlic, grated ginger, turmeric and korma powder, and cook for a further 1-2 minutes to release all the flavours, stirring well so that it doesn’t stick.
Increase the heat to medium and add the chicken. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring and turning the chicken pieces until they are all white and the meat is sealed.
Add the sweet potato chunks and red peppers if using, chicken stock and coconut milk, cover and bring to the boil.
Transfer to the oven and allow to cook slowly for at least 1 hour, checking and stirring occasionally to ensure there is sufficient liquid (top up with stock or water if the sauce is getting too thick. I often leave for two hours to make sure it’s extra tender and melt in the mouth, but it will need more liquid for this.
Remove from the over when the sauce is fairly thick and the chicken is well cooked and falling apart. Stir in the ground almonds if using, or thicken with a little corn flour if not, and serve.
Commercial white bread is what is known as a refined carbohydrate – it turns very quickly to sugar in the body (in fact in the mouth!) so I would never recommend consuming much of this to anyone. And even wholemeal commercial breads break down to sugar reasonably quickly, so shouldn’t be a main-stay of our diets. They are, however, a lovely, practical and traditional food that can be a good source of nutrition (and certainly a great vessel for good nutrition!)
What I am focusing on today is the fact that commercial breads are often highly processed and filled with artificial preservatives (to prolong shelf life) and not really that great for our health. Coupled with the news that they will now be fortified with synthetic folic acid, I feel there’s yet another reason to opt for homemade breads (consumed in moderation!) and despite being a bit time consuming, it turns out it’s not actually difficult to make (some equipment may also be desirable…)
So today I’m sharing with you my Mum’s wholemeal spelt bread recipe which I successfully made with my three year old as part of yesterday’s afternoon entertainment – I do love to kill two birds with one stone – healthy food, entertainment, and education (so three then!)
I rarely eat wheat at all these days, and I follow a low gluten diet generally for my own health (but that’s a whole different blog post that I really must get around to writing and sharing). Spelt is an ancient wheat-grain that contains a slightly different form of gluten, and is better tolerated by many (did you know the wheat we eat today has actually only been around in its current form for about 40 years? Our grandparents really did not eat the same wheat we do today, remember that when someone tells you non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is not a real thing!) Its gluten is not as robust as that found in wheat, hence it does not rise as well and needs more gentle treatment in terms of kneading and rising. This is the reason I have also added an egg to the mix, to help it all stay nicely together in a slice. It does have a lovely taste though, more nutty, and I have no doubt that you will love this slathered with butter and dipped in a warming winter vegetable soup!
500g wholemeal spelt flour (UNFORTIFIED!)
7g / 1 tsp / 1 sachet quick yeast
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp honey
1 egg, beaten
250mls (approx.) tepid water
Using an electric mixer with a dough hook, slowly combine all the ingredients in a bowl, then leave on a slow mix for 6 minutes to knead the dough
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave somewhere warm to rise until double in size (approx. 2 hours)
Return the risen dough to the food mixer and again “knock it back” on a slow setting for 1 minute only
Transfer to an oiled bread tin, cover with the damp tea towel and leave to rise again for approx. 30-40 minutes when it should be about doubled in size again. With spelt, unlike with wheat dough, it’s important not to over-knead it or to leave it to rise for too long
Score the top with a few lines using a knife, then put it in a preheated oven at 220C (fan assisted) and bake for approx. 30 mins. When done, you can tip it out of the tin and tap on the bottom – you should hear a hollow knocking sound – if not, pop it back in for a bit longer
Cakes are a great way to sneak veggies into kids right? And ourselves, not to forget – I’m all about maximising the nutrients from my calories. We’re coming to the end of the courgette season now, but I’ve had a bit of a glut in the final weeks so this was a great way to use some up in a batch. Most of the brownies have gone into the freezer, ready for a quick dessert or to add to a lunchbox.
120g softened unsalted butter or coconut oil
125ml olive oil
200g rapadura (unrefined sugar cane) or coconut sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
3 eggs, lightly beaten
125ml milk or dairy-free milk (I used oat milk)
350g wholemeal spelt flour (or gluten free flour)
2 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp cocoa powder
450g courgettes, peeled & finely grated
50g hemp seed hearts
70g dark choc chips (optional)
Preheat the oven to 190C (fan), and grease and line a 20 x 35 cms baking tin
Put the butter / coconut oil and olive oil in a bowl, add the rapadura (or sugar) and vanilla bean paste and beat until well combined and fluffy (the colour will lighten) – I use an electric mixer for this.
Add the eggs gradually whilst mixing, following each with a tbsp flour to help prevent them curdling, then add the milk and combine well.
Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into the bowl and gently stir in, then finally add the grated courgette, help seed hearts and dark choc chips (if using) and fold gently together.
Pour the mixture into the baking tray and lightly smooth for an even distribution. Top with some extra 100% cocoa dark choc chips to make Insta-worthy (but cause loud objections from your children) and bake for approx 40 mins until a skewer comes out clean.
Cool in the tin, then turn out, chop into bite-sized pieces and enjoy. They are delicious served warm with a little ice cream or frozen yogurt, but also nice cold (easier to remove any offensive 100% cocoa chips from the top!)
Please do leave me a note to let me know what you think of these! I love the hemp seeds for extra texture (and nutrients – a great source of omega 3), and using the chocolate chips gives it a more authentic brownie decadence but actually adds a few extra antioxidants too. These have definitely stopped the kids lunchboxes looking “too healthy” but they’re a treat I’m very happy to see eaten with joy!