I don’t know about you but I’m not having what you’d call a Pinterest pandemic. No new hobbies or a house Marie Kondo would be proud of here. My day seems to revolve around feeding my family and fending off requests for snacks.
One of the biggest challenges right now is managing everyone’s emotional needs. We are a family of 4 and most days someone will be struggling a little, missing friends, missing family, a little overwhelmed by what’s happening, or just feeling a bit flat.
Keeping everyone on an even keel is easier when we are all well fed.
I know how busy you are. Whatever age your children, life is very different to a few months ago. So, here are my top 5 tips for keeping everyone nourished and happy - without spending hours in the kitchen!
1. Blood sugar rules
Hanger is real. When our blood sugar levels drop, we can feel more prone to anxiety, quicker to anger and more tired - whatever our age. The best way to avoid blood sugar drops is to aim to eat three meals a day that include the following:
- Some protein (e.g. lentils, beans, chicken, fish or eggs)
- Some healthy fat (e.g. nuts, seeds, olive oil, oily fish)
- A complex carbohydrate (e.g. whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, sweet potatoes)
Protein helps fill us up for longer, healthy fats slow down the metabolism of protein and complex carbohydrates deliver a slow release of energy. A winning trio!
This doesn’t mean cooking elaborate meals. On the contrary. Just think about ‘the winning trio’ whenever you prepare a meal. For example, if you’re making the kids their favourite pesto pasta, make sure you add in some protein – peas or bacon tick the boxes. Also look out for a pesto that contains olive oil, a healthy fat!
2. The big breakfast
If you just make one change next week, make it a better breakfast. You’ll be amazed the difference it will make to your energy levels. It doesn’t have to be a big meal, just focus on that magic trio. This will set you all up for the morning and fend off those constant snack requests that can start about 20 minutes after you cleared the breakfast plates.
This applies to you too, you’re much less likely to head for the biscuit barrel mid-morning.
So, what are a few easy options?
Pimp your porridge! Oats are a great base because they’re a complex carbohydrate but they’re lacking in protein so you might find you’re hungry an hour or so later. Add some peanut butter (nuts are a hit of protein AND healthy fats in one), throw in some chopped banana and you’ve upped the nutritional value of your brekkie. Or add some chopped up hazelnuts and grate in some fresh apple or pear.
Eggs. If you eat them, they’re quick, economical and a family favourite. A source of protein and healthy fat, eggs are a winner. You can scramble, fry or boil and have them on the table in under 5 minutes. I like mine with some whole-wheat toast or sourdough.
3. Shift the sugar
I know, it’s not easy but aim to keep sugar to a minimum. Sugar affects behaviour, anxiety levels, mood and concentration – all of which we are keenly aware of under lockdown.
The government advises that kids have up to a maximum of 19g of sugar a day – that’s around 5 sugar cubes. That goes up to 24g or 6 sugar cubes-equivalent for 7 to 10-year olds, then for anyone older than 11, it’s 30g or 7 sugar cubes. A teaspoon of sugar is about 4g – so when you’re looking at a list of ingredients, look at the amount of sugar in grams and divide by 4. That’s your teaspoons. It’s easier than you think to ramp up that number.
Reaching for chocolate or a few biscuits gives us a little short-lived mood boost but before you know it, you’ll be looking for more sugar to get that feeling back. This gets us into a cycle of our blood sugar levels going up and crashing down. When you have a whole household on that rollercoaster it can be a recipe for (even more) sibling bickering and a shorter fuse for you.
What to do? Light baking with or without the kids can be great. Swap sugar for mashed banana or apple puree (you can buy it in jars or make your own) or use a few tablespoons of maple syrup. You can also play with the sugar amount in any recipe you have, I often find it can be halved and no one notices.
4. Eat the rainbow
Supermarkets are currently well stocked with fruit and veg. The more we eat, the greater the benefit to our health. Packed with nutrients essential for our well-being including vitamins A and C, magnesium, iron and all those fabulous colours are worth making the effort to get into our meals. Fruit and especially vegetables feed the good bacteria in our gut. The healthier our gut, the healthier we all are.
How to get more in? Good options for younger kids are fruit skewers and smoothies. Carrots and peppers are great for dipping into hummus, tzatziki or guacamole. I find just putting a few dishes of colourful veg on the table before any meal guarantees they’ll graze. You’ll find yourself doing the same as you cook.
Another super easy meal is roasted vegetables, any variety of types and colours work. Just roughly chop them and throw into a roasting tray, add some olive oil, sea salt, or any herbs of your choice and roast for around 45 minutes. Add some protein (roast chicken, grilled salmon or just chuck in a tin of rinsed chickpeas for the last 20 minutes) and you have a meal.
5. Snack with style
If you or the kids fancy a snack remember my advice from tip 1. Aim for the winning trio. Here are some examples:
- Apple slices with some nut butter
- Dark chocolate with a palmful of cashews or almonds
- Roasted chickpeas – play around with flavours! Roast your tinned, rinsed and dried chickpeas in the oven for about 20-30 minutes on about 180 degrees. Add your flavouring while they’re still warm.
- Try olive oil with smoked paprika or lemon and salt. You can also try a drizzle of maple syrup and some ground cinnamon.
If you’d like more snack inspiration, I have plenty of quick, easy and nutritious recipes for the whole family. Just head to my website www.thaliapellegrini.com. You’ll get your FREE guide as a thank you when you sign up for the Knackered Mums quarterly newsletter. It’s packed with women’s health tips and you’ll be the first to hear about my latest offers and events.
Thalia Pellegrini is a Registered Nutritional Therapist (FdSc DipION BANT CNHC). Based in London, she is currently running her clinic online via Zoom. Known as the Knackered Mums’ Nutritionist, her passion is creating bespoke nutrition and lifestyle plans for mums.