Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The packed lunch debate: it's about food quality

Good Lord! Once again parents are being targeted for their negligence. This time its parents who send their children to school with packed lunches which, we’re being told-off, are nutritionally inadequate.

Nonsense. What’s inadequate here is the argument and the results? A complete lack of common sense from the Government agencies and reporters looking for headlines rather than delivering informed guidance.

If you’ve not caught up with the story, the facts are that research from The Leeds University Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics (funded by the Food Standards Agency) and hi-jacked by The School Food Trust (TSFT – setters of the exacting nutritional standards for cooked school dinners post the Jamie Oliver campaign against turkey Twizzlers in 2006) has been used to highlight that only 1% of packed lunches taken into school meet these standards.

Well rest easy. These standards assume that children would not by any other means obtain the ‘right’ nutritional benefits (ie breakfast and evening meal) from their daily food intake. Reading a little deeper into the research findings it’s clear that most packed lunches from homes that care about what their children eat (the majority, surely) are perfectly adequate. In some cases perhaps replacing a sugary drink with water or adding a piece of fresh fruit or including a few carrot sticks, would help. But that’s not the message from TSFT who think that all children should switch to school-cooked lunches. Nor is it what the headlines have been screaming at us today (eg from The Telegraph: 48% of packed lunches are un-healthy).

Undoubtedly the majority of school-cooked lunches are now well balanced – some are even delicious and excellent. But they’re still pricey. And undoubtedly there are kids sent to school with little more than packets of crisps, chocolate bars and sugary drinks. But by and large, parents do care about what their children eat are doing a great job producing packed lunches from their own kitchens.

If you’ve not already spotted it, our Anne Caborn has launched a home-made packed lunch revival  full of hints and tips to inspire us to make the most of what we have at home (see below) so you don’t have to rely on the food manufacturers flogging us lunchbox-sized over-sugared and fatted food replacements for our kids lunches.

Basically, children will eat what’s packed for them, including fresh and dried fruit, chopped vegetables, creatively up-cycled leftovers, and definitely home-made cakes and bars. They get hungry at school. It’s a well known fact. And as part of an overall balanced diet – which most parents strive towards – yes, we do care and can manage our families’ diets – a packed lunch can usually consist of simple things that don’t need a nutrition or culinary degree to produce. And kids will eat it.

Let’s shift this argument to what’s really going on here. 1) Having set-up standards for school-lunch nutritional standards, the Government wants all children to pay for a school-cooked lunch. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but not everyone can afford it. 2) Bereft of a ready market for turkey twizzlers, food manufacturers have switched attention to the lunchbox. This has all happened very quickly. All we have to do is not buy rubbish processed food – stuff like cheese strings and expensively packed sugary bars. Instead we need to make or prepare food that children will eat and enjoy from fresh and not necessarily expensive quality ingredients.

I make banana bread, cherry loaf, flapjacks and even, occasionally, rice-crispie mallow bars for sweet interest to follow a protein and salad seeded-wrap with pesto or mustard and mayo and chuck in at least two pieces of fresh fruit. Not a morsel wasted or the slightest worry she’s being nutritionally short-changed.

But you know what? According to TSFT even this kind of balanced food doesn’t meet their exacting standards for a ‘balanced’ meal and my carefully prepared home-made food does not fit their idea of a nutritionally adequate packed lunch. Why? Because there’s no dairy included. For heaven’s sake! She has milk on her cereal in the morning (and often when she get home from school) will occasionally make herself a milky drink and we use dairy products the rest of the time in a normal balanced manner. She gets enough dairy and way more than your average Japanese or Chinese student who, amazingly enough, have completely dairy-free diets!

By the way, we’re currently running a competition to win one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new Everyday cookbooks. You just need to let us know your healthy and cost-saving lunchbox tips, so follow the link below for your chance. Bring them on. ClareOB


Thursday, 7 January 2010

Brrrr - but a warm feeling inside

I was listening to the radio this morning when somebody reflected on how you don't have to go that far back to remember a time when people wore balaclavas in bed and used drills to get parsnips out of the ground in the really cold weather - now there's invention for you!

Certainly in the UK we've got used to relatively mild winters. It came as a complete surpise to my 18 year-old daughter that an "adverse weather warning" meant, well, a warning of adverse weather. (The end result was she took a train to visit a friend out in the countryside and was trapped there for a couple of days.)

The lady on the radio was harking back to the winter of 1947, a bit too far back for me personally. But I remember the cold of  1963-64; giant icicles glinting like daggers on the trees, frost on the insides of windows and the smell of slightly warm milk in my junior school cloakroom as staff valiantly tried to defrost crates of frozen-solid, half pint bottles of milk on the radiators. They had only  been delivered earlier that morning.

Now, inside our centrally heated cocoons, we lead rather charmed and warm existences.

But the recent periods of harsh winter weather have also bought out the best in people. Complete strangers stopping to help you get your car out of the ice. Neighbours digging routes down frozen pathways for older residents. Now that gives you a really warm feeling - on the inside.

Here at MIAMI Towers, Hilary emailed to say it had taken 4 people an hour and a half to dig a path to the top of her drive, but in the process they'd met new neighbours and lots of people walking down the main road. "It was a real Blitz spirit."

I've also noticed a lot of smiling faces. We Brits love to discuss the weather and we've taken to new ways of describing degrees of cold with enthusiasm.

Yet, under it all, there is a thoughtfulness. Suddenly Mother Nature's reminding us who has the upper hand - central heating or no central heating.

Chances are you all have stories to tell and tips to share. Anybody got a knitting pattern for bedsocks? And what should we do about frost blighted vegetables?

In the meantime we've got some cold and flu remedies, tips for keeping your home warm and fuel bills down and if the fridge is looking a little bare because you can't get to the shops, now is the time to start cooking with leftovers.

I've got to go. I've just heard my daughter's key in the lock and I haven't seen her for a while.


Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Sew far not sew good!

There was a snippet in the Mail this weekend that caught my attention.

Lauren Booth explained how she had bought a sewing machine for her daughter for Christmas.  A great choice of present and a fantastic way to get our kids into sewing, but….and here is the big but, none of them could work out how to use it.  As she pointed out, the new fax machine was ready and assembled and sending and receiving faxes all over the world and yet here was a seemingly simple piece of equipment that seemed to be destined to remain a mystery to them all.

One of the main complaints she had was that none of them could work out how to thread it properly or how to manage the tension.  She wanted to know why the sewing machine industry hadn’t kept pace with technology….a fair point.

She's not alone.  Only the other day a friend of mine admitted to throwing her sewing machine away because it kept chewing up the thread; she assumed that it was broken.  It hadn’t entered her head that it might be a problem with the tension or a mismatch with needle, thread and fabric.

It seems to me that this is a widespread problem.  Lots of people out there want to take up sewing, but are being put off by the problems they encounter with their machines.

So what to do? I'm looking for people to share their hints, tips and experiences on getting started with a sewing machine.

  1. Do you have any pearls of wisdom that you think would help the novice seamstress?
  2. Did you encounter problems when you first started sewing?
  3. How did you overcome them?
  4. What sort of projects did you start out with?

Please let us have any comments, ideas, stories, examples, answers by commenting below or emailing us at info@makeitandmendit.com
Let’s get people sewing again!