Food blogger and journalist Lucy McDonald has always fed her own kids home cooked food, using good quality ingredients. But, after taking the 2014 Organix No Junk Pledge, (to cut out junk by 'eating and feeding your family only real ingredients you can recognise or spell'), she has discovered all sorts of hidden junk in her family’s food.
Lucy and her sister Claire write the family food blog, Crumbs. We asked Claire to interview Lucy to find out all about the Organix No Junk Challenge, and her worries about the amount of nasties hiding in our family's meals...
Claire: Why did you do the No Junk Challenge?
Lucy: I was already thinking about improving our family diet, because my youngest daughter had been poorly. When I was approached by Organix to take part in the No Junk Challenge, it was a good opportunity to look at what we were really eating.
Have you signed the No Junk pledge and why do you think it’s important?
Yes, I have signed the Organix No Junk pledge, because what began as a week of cutting down on the junk has led to a real change in how we eat. There is still a space in my heart for bacon sandwiches on white bread, but not for sugary fruit yoghurts. And it may or may not have been related – but after (amongst other things) following our healthier diet, my daughter got better. But we are going to carry on with the changes because I feel better too.
How much junk do you think there in children’s food?
I was surprised by how much junk is hidden in products that most of us buy from the shops. I always thought we ate well as a family, and that I knew what was healthy.
But when I started to read the back of packets and analysed (get me!) what the four of us actually ate, compared to what I thought we ate, guess what? I wasn’t as Gwyneth Paltrow as I had thought.
I realised I am more likely to reach for a Jaffa cake, than a Jaffa orange. When you look at what is in the average biscuit, there are so many ingredients - colourings, flavourings, preservatives, or just heaps of un-necessary salt and sugar - that we don’t even notice.
Do your kids eat lots of fruit and veg?
We eat well but we weren’t eating five fruit or vegetables a day, unless you include ketchup and posh lemonade. I did the No Junk Challenge during a busy working week, so I didn't have time to work out new recipes.
Instead I boosted the vegetables in foods we already ate by adding grated carrot, peas and sweetcorn, and I served cucumber sticks with every meal. I also noticed the kids like eating vegetables they can eat with their hands - corn on the cob and edamame beans in pods. We had a piece of fruit with breakfast, I grated apple into pancake batter and I put little bowls of chopped up fruit on the table when we were playing, so it was just there to dip into.
One of the No Junk challenges is to read labels on food packaging. Did any surprise you?
I think children's yoghurts are the worst offenders. You think they are healthy - full of calcium and goodness - but actually they are loaded with sugar. Once I started examining food labels, I found it really hard to find sweet snacks that didn't contain shedloads of sugar.
So what snacks did you give the kids?
Instead of sweet snacks, I gave them savoury ones, so cheese, rice cakes, hummus or cucumber sticks instead of a biscuit or a yoghurt.
My kids love food in packets with smiley faces, but I refuse to buy them. Any tips for explaining why you won’t buy junk?
I haven't stigmatised the junk options - as I don’t want them to feel guilty about what they eat - just introduced healthier options at home. But there is an ice-cream van outside the school most days and to avoid conversations about whether they can have one, Friday is ice-cream day - no quibbles. They know that, so they don't ask for an ice-cream every day. The rest of the time, I choose the treats wisely, so natural fruit juice lollies over sugary ones, and snacks like hot cross buns or oat bars over chocolate biscuits.
Do your kids help with shopping or cooking?
I HATE taking my children supermarket shopping as there are aisles and aisles of junk food and I feel horrible for not letting them have what they want. Instead I take them to the greengrocers and bakers and butchers and do the rest of my shopping online. Or if we do all go to the supermarket together, I have a list which we stick to.
My children love cooking and as part of our 'no junk' week, my eight-year-old cooked us salmon (I helped with the hot bits) and decorated everyone's plates with cucumber. It was her highlight of the week and very tasty too!
What is your best tip to cut the junk?
I made sure that whatever I bought, I looked at the back of the packet, and chose food as close to the food I would cook in my own kitchen, and made with ingredients that I recognise.
Why should people sign up to the No Junk Challenge?
The No Junk Challenge helped me to get back to back healthy eating, that's why I am supporting it. You can pledge your commitment to feeding your family using real ingredients and try to avoid foods with artificial colourings and flavourings, or foods high in added salt, fat and sugar at organix.com/nojunk. If you need some No Junk inspiration, there are recipes from us, Holly Bell, Leon, River Cottage and Riverford at organix.com/nojunk.
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