Longtime readers of this blog will know that I volunteer as a Food Revolution Ambassador for Toronto. Which, in part, involves encouraging others to take part in Food Revolution Day each year. But being an Ambassador goes beyond that one day. It’s a journey – encouraging others to get back to basics and cook from scratch, healthier, more affordable meals and it’s one I’ve been thrilled to be on over the past three years. Each month we receive informal “challenges” from the Food Revolution team to help keep the motivation for the Food Revolution going through the year and beyond just the Day. I’ve been completing these challenges on and off, infrequently over the past year and have made it a goal to work on these more regularly and blog about them in the hopes of inspiring others to cook more – maybe even with (their) kids! One of this month’s challenges was to talk about what inspires us to “eat real”.
Because of this blog, I cook and bake. A lot. It’s funny, you know – writing about food has made me much more open to trying new things, both eating them but also cooking and baking and, in turn, it’s made me so much more confident in my abilities. Not to say that I don’t always end up with “perfect dishes” – those of you who have been reading for a while, will know that I admit to, and have posted, my fair share of, shall we say, not-so-successful dishes and I hope you, my readers appreciate that honesty. This is definitely not a blog where you will find perfection in every post. Because that’s not reality, right?
Writing this blog has seen me cooking and baking a lot more from scratch than I ever did and, in turn, eating better (real) food. I was never really one to use a lot of processed foods in my cooking but over the past few years, I have found the courage to try making so many more things than I would ever have dreamed possible – bread, charcuterie, pastry – five years ago, I would not have imagined making such things from scratch in my own kitchen (let alone photographing and writing about them!). But there you go. Never say never. And it’s definitely meant eating better in our house.
That’s not to say that I make everything from scratch all the time. For me that would not be feasible with the lifestyle I lead. But an increasing knowledge of how to cook from scratch has definitely seen me thinking twice about what I am buying and what I am choosing to make from scratch these days. I also think that for a lot of people who want to eat healthier, the whole idea of making everything from scratch is intimidating and instead of just doing what they can, they decide it’s “too hard”. I mean if the choice is between a fast food meal “because it’s quick and cheap” or cooking up some pasta and adding a jarred sauce to some veggies, I’d definitely choose (and recommend) the latter. Mostly-homemade is better than fast food. Of course this leads to much label-reading in my world. There are definitely “better” pre-made products than others, so it’s important to know what to look for in terms of ingredients and nutritional information on a label. But many people don’t know how to read a label, or what to look for. This combined with the fact that many people choose fast food over real food because they don’t know how to cook with what they’ve got means my job as a (cooking) teacher is so important.
Ah yes, my job as a (cooking) teacher. Something that has really influenced the way I approach cooking and baking and encouraged me to take risks and try new things in the kitchen is my boys’ cooking club, Les Petits Chefs. Over the past four years, I’ve learned kids are so much more fearless in the kitchen than adults because, in general, they have no concept of something being “difficult”. They just jump on in there with every intention of things going as they should, as the recipe says it will, and that the dish will turn out like the picture!
Working with the boys has also made me more aware of the importance of education about better food and home cooking and it’s made me determined (even in my small way), to help my students understand that “real food” (including dishes they love to eat like pizza!) doesn’t have to be complicated and that it tastes better than store-bought (not to mention it’s better for them!). And that cooking is fun! I hope that through our lessons, I am teaching the boys to learn to love cooking and eating better food too!
In terms of “better food” and eating real, something I am working on trying to incorporate more of in my daily routine in Toronto is the idea of shopping more frequently for smaller quantities of food each time. This was something I used to do when I lived in Paris (having a bar fridge meant this was not only preferable but necessary!) and a it’s habit I adopt when I spend my summers in France.
Shopping more than once a week is a great way to eat fresher food and I love the French way of buying products in a number of different stores – it’s rare to go to one store and buy all your groceries – but it’s a habit, especially in the crazy days of back-to-school (and, let’s face it, a lot of the time), that is too easy to let slip. Buying smaller quantities of fresh, local produce every couple of days is definitely a goal this fall and beyond. This way, not only will we be eating seasonally, but also eating fresher. And that can only be a good thing, right?
But you know what? I’m not perfect, me. I don’t always cook from scratch. Sometimes we’re too tired to cook and we’ll go out to eat. Or order in.
But that’s ok, because like anything worth doing, this “eating better” thing requires some planning. And it isn’t always easy. But like I say to my students, it’s the process, not the product, right? The Food Revolution is a journey, not a destination.
Small changes, often, moving towards eating better most of the time is better than changing the way we eat for just a day or a week then reverting back to old habits. I cannot stress this enough. When the mother of one my students told me “We made pasta from scratch but sssssh – we used a bottled sauce because we ran out of time” I rushed to reassure her that it’s ok. More than ok, actually! Your kid made pasta from scratch. And he’s interested in cooking! Focus on that!
So tell me, what inspires YOU to “eat real” and what changes are you making (doesn’t matter how small!)?
Many of you will know I’m in France for most of the summer. While I will be slowly blogging about things I do here, the best way to keep up with me will be by following my photos which you can do on my Summer 2014 set on Flickr or Instagram where I am @eatlivtravwrite (if you don’t have the app on your phone you can still check out the photos online.