Sunday 3 September 2023

Joyful Food - Crafting a diet that's both healthy and joyful

This year my word-of-the-year is "Joyful". Each month I have chosen a joyful focus to inspire me, motivate me, to keep me on track. August's focus has been on food and what we eat.  This focus didn't start abruptly at the beginning of August, it has been a more gradual process over the past few months but August has given me the opportunity to have a moment to think about how it's going, to re-access what is and isn't working.

Over the past few years, young children, and time pressures have meant that I have been turning more and more towards processed and oven ready foods. There has been a lot of media coverage on how harmful ultra processed foods (UPFs) are and it prompted me to re-access our diet and what I have been putting into my, and my children's bodies. What is more, it is clear to me that UPF's are not joyful. Whilst they might taste ok, and fill a hole the burden of additives, preservatives and fake ingredients doesn't kindle joy in my heart in the way a home made slice of cake, a freshly tossed salad with dressing, or a newly baked loaf of bread might.

Please don't get me wrong, I don't believe that our diet has been drastically bad over the years, we haven't been eating all ready meals, fizzy drinks and take-away.  We are all pretty healthy, but there is definitely room for improvement (my husband and I are definitely fatter than is strictly necessary!)

One area I've felt especially guilty about is that of organic food.  I haven't been making much effort to source organic food.  As a child my own mother went to great lengths to buy organic food for us in a time when it was much more difficult to come by and wasn't readily available in the supermarket. I remember spending hours wandering around farm shops in the middle of no-where waiting for my mum to buy her fruits and vegetables, she even set up her own food co-operative from our home, bulk buying organic whole foods like oats, raisins and beans which she split up with a few friends.  She felt like organic food was really important for us and I don't want to undo all her good work on my health throughout my childhood by buying chemical laden food from the supermarket now. 

Considering diet can be a very confusing these days, there are so many different approaches to what we eat, so many people saying their diet plan is the best, most natural, most nutritious, or most healthy one out there and there are often many conflicting studies and contradictory research which supposedly back up the benefits of each one. This makes finding the truth extremely difficult and has led me to rely more on my own instinct and intuition about diet and nutrition than relying on the advice of all the so-called experts and proponents of different diets that are out there. 

For me this has meant organic whole foods, food as nature intended.  

Eating whole foods naturally means cutting out UPF's because a processed food is not a whole food. Whole foods are foods that have not been processed, although I have been processing some of the foods myself at home to make them more enjoyable, making my own bread for example. Home made food feels joyful, not just the simplicity of the ingredients but the heart that has gone into it.

Over the months I have been gradually trying to cut out as much processed food as possible, by making more things myself at home and sourcing organic versions of the things I normally buy. This has had a mixed response from my family!

I have had some successes, making my own bread for example, (I have made my own bread on and off for years, but I really committed to it this time), we are really enjoying a weekly organic veg box, and I have had some failures, (no one liked the home made granola I made) but there have been some downsides too.

For me as a home educating mum, (meaning that I don't get paid for my work and I am very occupied), trying to eat organic wholefoods has been very expensive and time consuming. I have found myself waking up to children clamouring they are starving because I have neglected to make more granola or bread and there is nothing for breakfast, or we have decided to have egg mayonnaise sandwiches for lunch but I haven't made the mayonnaise, or I've simply just not known what to cook.  The whole thing quickly because an overwhelming burden. And that is not joyful.

This whole journey with food has forced me to admit that I can't actually have it all, I can't actually do it all! If my children were in school I would have more time to make all the food myself, if I worked I'd have more money to spend on organic food, but I don't, so, as my online name, Imperfectly Natural Mama reminds me, I'm imperfect, and I can't actually be perfect this side of heaven, I have to live in this middle ground, this half way, working towards perfection but never quite making it and having to accept that. 

I am learning to compromise.  There will still be home made bread but we might not be spreading it with home made organic jam.  I think this is where I can find the joy in my food, eating as much whole, organic foods as possible but not wearing myself to the bone trying to get to it, and perhaps more importantly, letting go of the guilt of not being able to do it all.