For the first time in many years, British weather forecasters have accurately forecast (albeit just a few days in advance) a BBQ summer which, for many of us, means the chance to eat outdoors and enjoy a range of foods that don’t necessarily require a knife and fork. And if asked to name the most popular of BBQ foods, chances are many people will suggest either a burger or a sausage. They’re tasty, simple to cook and, in many cases, highly affordable.
But like many fast foods, they’re not exactly the healthiest of food choices. Burgers, in particular, have come under considerable attention in the past week or so with the recent news of a burger made from beef grown in a laboratory – by researchers at Maastricht University. The £215,000 research project is part of wider strategies to look at ways of meeting growing global demand for meat as more and more countries adopt a western-based diet.
Fast Food Generation
Yet, the biggest irony is that this new lab-created burger has been unveiled at a time when there is a global epidemic of obesity, particularly in childhood, and at a time when whole generations of children are growing up on a diet of fatty fast foods, fizzy drinks and sugary sweets and cakes. And all of this is coinciding at a time when 21st century children are less active than their parents.
We know from a whole range of research that children are still not getting sufficient exercise or eating enough healthy and nutritious foods. Here at Eureka! our new All About Me gallery, which opened in March 2013, helps children and families explore the important link between making the right choices around food and building plenty of physical activity into their daily lives. Feedback from a wide range of families and schools has shown that the gallery is helping them discuss issues which might not otherwise come up in school or around the family dining table – such as obesity, body image and exercise.
For many families, balancing work, home life and school means that fast food is a quick and simple solution. But the reality for a growing number of children is that they are missing out on foods that are based on wholesome, natural and healthy ingredients – with many not understanding where these ingredients come from. This is hardly surprising given the massive onslaught of fast food outlets that continue to grow – despite attempts to educate children on fresher, simpler, purer foods. Next year, when it opens a new chain of restaurants in Vietnam, McDonalds will have 34,492 restaurants globally in over 116 countries. And a new survey by the Soil Association in conjunction with baby food brand Organix, , revealed that even now most of the UK’s high street restaurants are still largely offering burgers and nuggets as part of their menus to children rather than healthier vegetables and salads.
A third of children think that pasta comes from animals
Next year, Eureka! aims to complete the second and equally important phase of All About Me entitled the Power of Plants, which will play a critical role in helping children make the vital link between plants, food, everyday household ingredients and medicine. This may sound obvious to older generations but recent research (June 2013) from the British Nutrition Foundation, in what is believed to be the largest poll of its kind (27,500 children aged 5-16), found that a third of 5-8 year olds think that pasta comes from animals while 21% of primary school children have never visited a farm. Furthermore, 16% said they never ate fish while 6% admitted not eating breakfast.
In All About Me our Let’s Get Active area is dedicated to helping children and families explore how to build healthy meals simply by selecting a range of possibilities around popular ingredients in two interactive picnic tables. So for breakfast, for instance, they might gain a higher health score for choosing porridge rather than a sugary cereal or for choosing fruit rather than jam on white bread. These are very simple ways of creating curiosity and helping children learn to make judgements at a very early age, and also to engage their parents in the process too.
Hopefully, with our forthcoming range of schools workshops based on helping children become genuinely fascinated and curious about the origins of food, we can do our own part in weaning a generation away from fast food and to enjoying the simple pleasures of vegetables and fruit.
So, this summer, while the occasional beef burger or sausage on the grill is the perfect way to enjoy our rare summer weather, why not mix it up a bit and enjoy experimenting with vegetables, pulses, wholegrain rice and try to do more cooking from scratch. Of course it takes more time, but the discovery and exploration of food makes for an entertaining and educational time in the kitchen.
Our Top 5 healthy food ideas:
- Crunchy Vegetable Kebabs:
Choose your favourite vegetables and cut them into chunky pieces. Slide different combinations carefully onto skewers and brush them with a tasty healthy sauce before putting them on the BBQ. Combine crunchy peppers, mushrooms, courgettes and cherry tomatoes.
- Low-Fat Garlic Mushrooms
Spray a large square of tin foil with low fat cooking spray. Add some sliced mushrooms, a clove of crushed garlic and create a tin foil parcel. Put the parcel on the BBQ for about 15-20 minutes. Open carefully and enjoy on wholemeal or brown bread.
- Pick and Mix Rice
Make some freshly boiled wholemeal rice. Dice some mushrooms, tomatoes, pineapple and peppers and also have some peas, sweet corn and pineapple chunks available – use your imaginations to create your own tasty pick and mix combinations using the rice and the other ingredients.
- Garden Pasta salad
Mix sliced peppers, shredded carrot and tomatoes with wholemeal pasta. Add tinned spring water tuna or cooked chicken or flavoured baked tofu for a tasty BBQ salad.
- Fruity fun
BBQ a healthy dessert using fruit! Put on slices of pineapple, peaches and nectarines or wrap bananas (in their skins) in tinfoil and place on the BBQ for about 10 minutes for a sweet banana treat!
Just a simple search on the web will provide you with an array of sources of inspiration but one website that you might want to spend some time on is Jamie Oliver’s Better Food Foundation which is an incredible starting point for families looking to get closer to the food they eat and to understand the importance of good simple ingredients.
Keep it simple, keep it pure!
So, our advice for the remainder of the summer is to keep it simple, keep it pure, and enjoy slow food – it could be cheaper than you think. A read of Eric Schlosser’s 2001 polemic Fast Food Nation provides the perfect read while waiting for your casserole of ratatouille to soften and a look at the websites of any of the major supermarkets will provide you with a range of easy recipes for all the family whatever your budget.
This blog originally in edited form as a column in the Friday 16 August 2013 edition of the Halifax Courier.
Posted by Tom Warman at Monday 19 August 2013
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Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child's soul." - Friedrich Fröbel