I see it as a blessing and a curse that for so much of my life I have had to get creative in the kitchen due to tight purse strings and therefore a limited range of edible ingredients.
Obviously it sucks not being able to breeze through a supermarket, picking up random, exciting new food stuffs and chucking them in the trolley to try later, willy-nilly. But, that kind of shopping can also breed a kind of mindless existence and empty relationship to our food.
When we engage with ingredients, we sniff, we taste, we squeeze the flesh for example we connect to our nourishment and find a deeper sense of what it is to be alive, and thankful for the ingredients the earth can continue to grow for us.
During the current health crisis, supermarket shelves are barren as humans lose their sense of shared responsibility for one another and the selfish madness glares from their eyes. We are all in this together. We need to care for one another and let’s begin this care with food.
1. Are you out of pasta?
Us too! And it’s the toddler’s favourite! But it’s okay! Rice and cous cous are not only super versatile grains but they also tend to lurk in a forgotten corner of the cupboard until desperation calls. Perhaps these items are not popular in the land of some kids but I’ve seen some frankly genius recipes out there on the web for rice balls and cous cous spheres which transform a potentially “weird” ingredient into something fun and exciting! Also, it’s cracking for self-feeding if it’s toddlers you’re isolating with. Pair up with a simple pasta sauce of tinned tomatoes, garlic and onion and you can even call them “meat” balls or Planets with Universe dipping sauce!
2. Running low on meat?
Meat stocks seem to be low right now and it can be handy to remember that substituting meat for tinned pulses, roughly chopped mushroom or chunky veg is a tasty meal replacement in itself. Pair with whatever you have, again a tomato sauce is good but this time chuck in a teaspoon of random herbs, you know the ones, hiding in the far reaches of the cupboard, next to the cous cous. If you do have meat supplies then great! Can you try using a 1/3 less than usual and making what you have go further by adding some extra bread on the side of your meal or extra frozen veg into the sauce?
3. Be flexible!
Who said meals need to look a certain way? That rice only goes with curry or bread only goes with soup? GET CREATIVE! One of my favourite meals is what I like to call, ‘War Effort Wonder’. Chuck random ingredients in a pot, like veg and spices and a tin of butter beans, top up with stock and lace with a grain of your choice, or even a mixture of grains! Make those 5 pieces of pasta count as they neighbour the spoonful of quinoa you have left from that time you thought you might fancy getting into health foods. When it comes to serving up you can make sure the preferred kid’s ingredients go to their rightful recipient.
4. If in doubt COVER WITH CHEESE!
If you use the smallest section on the cheese grater a little looks like a lot and it will eek the cheese stocks or for longer. Cheese covered anything generally gets a good reception in our house, hopefully it will yours too.
5. Meal planning
Plan your meals for the week so you know that every ingredient you can get your hands on won’t be wasted by rotting in the fridge. Kids love a sense of routine so why not put the list up on the fridge so they can see/you can explain what dinners are coming up this week, add pictures for the little ones or even better, get them to drawer the meals! There are great websites out there also which allow you to input your ingredients and it will conjure up a recipe for you, just do a Web search for “ingredients /recipe maker”, to find them.
6. Get the kids involved!
Can they think of some fun new recipes to try? For example, energy balls, these are great and so versatile! Pretty much anything goes. But the base recipe is dates and oats (or another cereal, I’ve not tried corn flakes but I wouldn’t deny the challenge of trying!) These are brilliant because all you need is a stick blender with the chamber on the bottom and some random long-life cupboard ingredients. I love adding lemon zest and juice to give an extra kick of flavour but the options are endless: dessicated coconut is delish; left over dried mixed fruit from Christmas supplies; honey if you like things extra sweet; tahini if you fancy an earthy tone. Basically, whizz everything together and set to work shaping the mixture into balls before putting in the fridge. They can be as big or small as you like but think of chocolate truffles as a rough size guide. They will firm up in the fridge after a few hours and make for a great, healthy treat for all the family. You can even add that spoonful of cocoa powder that’s nestled in the base of the tin, stopping you from throwing it out! The texture is usually quite velvety (add a higher percentage of dates to make even more smooth and indulgent) so it’s basically a brilliant chocolate replacement to keep the kids on a more chilled sugar level during these times of possible cabin fever. Although these do still contain natural sugars.
7. Always freeze leftovers.
There’s often a whole meal left once dinner’s been eaten and instead of chucking it in the bin scoop into a tub or wrap in clingfilm and bung in the freezer for another day.
8. Sharing is caring
With each meal you prepare can you siphon off an extra portion and deliver it to your elderly relatives, neighbours and friends?
From a socially responsible distance of course, such as leave it on the doorstop safely and hygienically packaged. Be it a simple soup or a hearty veggie curry, the gift of food has never been poorly received in my experience and mostly people remember the act of kindness and are really touched.
Is there anything growing in your garden you can add to dinner? You can teach the kids about growing food at the same time. We have a lot of nasturtiums in our garden and I had no idea that the leaves are edible! In fact, last year I spent the summer living off nasturtium pesto, just sub the basil leaves in a normal pesto recipe for these and it gives a little kick of heat too. Full of vitamin C and iron as well, it’s a good all rounder! You can even use it for salad leaves.
In these strange times we need to think outside the box and see the potential in the situation we find ourselves in. Instead of seeing the dismally empty supermarket shelves take a walk in the garden and research growing your own veg! Get the kids involved in setting up a patch of their own and let them learn the joys and wonder of growing their own food! You can buy lettuce plants already started which might help with the tricky waiting-for-seeds-to-shoot phase. Another brilliant one is perpetual spinach, which just keeps coming back the more you cut and use it!
The world is a bloody incredible place with so much nourishment to offer if only we open our eyes to a new way of doing things! Go on, give it a go!