Once upon a time I didn’t really care about eating a healthy, balanced diet. I just loved food, in all its wonderful forms. If I liked the look of something, I would just eat it, without a second thought about what it was doing to my body, let alone the planet.
Our childhood memories and experiences often shape the way we eat. As a child, I was regularly fed snack foods, almost as a staple, and I know that this is why I still crave them
as an adult. Every day in primary school I had a packet of chips for morning tea, and often a small white-bread sandwich, usually smeared with margarine and topped with ‘plastic’ cheese. To this day these are two of my guilty pleasures — except I’ve replaced the margarine with butter in the sandwich, and I fry it all in a pan until the cheese melts. After that lunch though, Mum usually made us lovely home-cooked meals for dinner, and we always sat around the table to eat them. We never had dessert, so I find I have little interest in sweets as an adult, and only very rarely do I make dessert at home.
Early on in my career I was writing recipes based purely on the look and taste of the food, without much of a social conscience. But, as with most things in life, you learn with age.
A REAL FOOD REVELATION
In 2015 at a Swedish primary school in Malmo I witnessed something extraordinary: children being fed ‘real food’ — vegetables and legumes, fish and meat, flavoured with spices and herbs — ‘normal’ healthy food that adults would eat, and not a separate, dumbed-down menu full of processed, unidentifiable things.
The children were featuring on the TV show Destination Flavour Scandinavia, and the food memories and positive associations being established would ensure good eating habits carried through to adulthood. And all this was done in a sustainable way, with an emphasis on totally organic ingredients.
Would this ever be possible to achieve in other countries, I wondered.
One year later, I gave birth to my daughter, Harriet. Wanting to give her the best possible start in life, I was determined not to expose her to some of the junk that is seen on kids’ menus, and I did my best to give her an improved version of most foods. She is my greatest inspiration and motivation starting three veg and meat.
Since starting up the culinary department at Marley Spoon Australia (a company that delivers meal-kits to homes) in 2015, I’ve also learned a lot about the flavours Australians enjoy and what they really want to eat, especially on weeknights.
As a recipe writer, I’ve become increasingly interested in creating more nutritionally balanced recipes for people to enjoy at home every day. What do we really need to consume for our bodies to receive the right amount of nutrients? What does ‘balance’ actually mean?
MEET THREE VEG AND MEAT
For all our lives the majority of us have been told that red meat is the source of iron, dairy is the source of calcium, and that we must eat meat, meat and more meat to satisfy our bodies’ desperate need for protein. But health authorities are now saying that most of us consume an over-abundance of animal-based products and that instead our diets should be made up of at least 75 per cent plant-based foods, and that vegetables should fill up 50 per cent of every plate we eat.
We know that vegetables are good for us, but do we know in what ways? As the Ambassador for Nutrition Australia’s Try for 5 campaign I feel very strongly about the alarming statistics around vegetable consumption in Australia, and it doesn’t look too different abroad in the US and UK. We encourage Australians to increase their vegetable intake to the recommended five serves per day. According to the latest national health survey 2014-2015, only 4% of us are consuming enough vegetables each day, with the average Australian eating only half as many vegetables as they should. Unfortunately, the statistic is even worse for children, where 99% of kids aren’t consuming enough vegetables each day. We are all missing out on the essential nutrients they provide. This has all sorts of effects on anyone’s health, but particularly growing kids. Eating plenty of vegetables can help to maintain a healthy body weight, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as protect us against chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. More recently, research reveals there is a link between diet and mental health. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can reduce the risk of depression, improve overall mood and well-being, as well as memory and learning.
LET’S HIT THE RESET BUTTON
This book is designed to flip the balance of our meals, pushing the meat to one side of the plate and making vegetables the star — ramping up all the nutritional benefits of eating plenty of vegetables, without compromising on flavour, taste and texture.
The best ‘diet’ in life is a sustainable one. For me personally, becoming vegetarian or vegan, or abstaining from certain food groups for extended periods, always backfires, and I tend to over-compensate for any ‘sacrifices’ by bingeing — making up for lost time. And sometimes, if you crave a certain food, chances are your body needs it.
By putting more of the right ‘stuff ’ on our plates, we are doing so much better by our health, our weekly budget and the planet, while also contributing to a more sustainable way of life.
FROM VEGAN TO FLEXITARIAN: SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
In the three veg and meat cookbook you can expect to find your favourite dishes and ‘junk food’ classics, reimagined. There is something for everyone, whether you are vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, an omnivore, or prefer to eat dairy or gluten free. And if your household contains a mixture of all these eating styles, you will find plenty of solutions for your family, with a huge variety of base recipes that you can easily adapt for vegetarians and even vegans.
More than 50 per cent of the recipes are either vegan, or vegan-able (able to be adapted for vegans). About 70 per cent of the recipes are dairy free, or offer dairy-free alternatives, while about 65 per cent of the dishes are gluten free or gluten-freeable (able to be made gluten free).
WHEN LESS IS MORE
I like to know where my food comes from, which is why I buy good-quality meat whenever possible, be it free range, organic or grass fed. When it comes to chicken and eggs, I only buy organic. This is the trade off: I prefer to eat less of these items and buy only the best quality. We might be able to buy cheap meat that comes from factory farms, but is that what we want to be eating? This is why I enjoy dairy in moderation too.
The meat recipes in this book use a smaller quantity than the 150–200 g (5 –7 oz) per serve of animal protein that many of us are accustomed to, but I have also included plant-based protein sources whenever possible.
NUTRITION AT A GLANCE
The primary message is to eat more plant-based foods in the form of vegetables, so I offer different solutions for how you can do this. The nutritional analysis, both on this website and in the cookbook was conducted using Xyris software (FoodWorks). Every recipe in the cookbook has a nutrition circle showing how many serves of vegetables it contains. Under each recipe you’ll also find notes highlighting other nutritional benefits — whether it’s high in a particular vitamin or mineral, or low in saturated fat (2 g or less) or cholesterol (20 mg or less) — as opposed to counting calories only.
I have written the recipes to make it very easy to obtain your five daily serves of veg — remembering that breakfast and lunch are also opportunities to consume some vegies, not just dinner time. It is always good to be aware of what you have eaten throughout the day so that you can balance out your daily diet overall and ensure you are consuming enough of everything else you need, too.
WISDOM OF THE FRENCH
I think it would be even better if we could adopt the French way of eating. In France the main meal of the day is lunch (when you most need the energy), followed by a much lighter dinner. I find this approach keeps my weight in check, and I sleep much better too. I realise this isn’t practical for many people, especially those who rarely get a decent lunch break. Still, the more time our food has to digest properly, the better. For this reason, I prefer to eat a light dinner with my daughter around 5–6 pm.
SCALE IT BACK A BIT
I came from a family where second helpings of dinner (and sometimes thirds!) was normal. I’d eat until I was bursting — partly because I loved eating, but also because I thought
that was the thing to do: eat until you were full. If I wasn’t full, I wasn’t satisfied. I still struggle with this today, and it has certainly been a contributing factor to weight issues throughout my life. The Chinese say we should stop eating when we are nearly three-quarters full. I may have Chinese heritage, but sadly that valuable advice didn’t filter through to me!
Over the decades, our waistlines have been expanding, and even the physical size
of our plates has grown. The more food you serve your family, the more likely it is that they will eat it all, which might be more than they actually need. If this sounds like your family, using smaller plates is a great idea.
BREAKING IT ALL DOWN
How often have you eaten a slice of cake or quiche and really thought about the ingredients that went into it — how many eggs, how much flour, butter or sugar? It’s very easy not to think about it when it tastes so good. This is something I carefully consider when creating three veg and meat recipes. I want to ensure the ingredients (and quantities) in recipes are nutritious, so you can feel confident that you’re not blowing out on the nutrition and calorie scales, and that you’re getting your five serves of veg a day — often by unexpected means!
The recipes in the cookbook also use minimal dairy. I know most things taste better with butter or cheese, but if I am going to use dairy, I’d rather use just enough of the real thing to retain the character of a dish. I never recommend hydrogenated oils, such as margarine, as they contain nasty trans fats.
Similarly, I use as little sugar as possible, particularly in desserts, drawing instead upon the natural sweetness of fruit and vegetables. Yes, you’ll find the odd teaspoon of sugar (in various forms), because I feel it’s important to balance flavours within a dish, but it’s never excessive and you will know exactly how much you’re putting in.
I also recommend seasoning food throughout the cooking process. Of course, we need to
be really careful with children, because their little kidneys can’t process a lot of salt, but when cooking for your family you can control how much salt a meal contains. Seasoning your food with a pinch here and there, from the beginning of the cooking process, helps to unlock the flavours of your ingredients and is minimal compared to the high sodium levels of processed foods, especially in many kids’ foods.
There is so much to consider when we are feeding ourselves, let alone several other bodies too. It’s a big job! And I realise that preparing more vegetables can equal more work in the kitchen, but please don’t be put off. Think of it as an investment in your family’s wellbeing, both short and long term.
To lighten the workload, I would highly recommend purchasing some form of food processor or hand blender, if you don’t have one. You can find inexpensive hand blenders very easily these days or pay a little bit more and they usually come with various useful attachments, like slicers and graters. It will save you a load of time and then you can throw it into the dishwasher afterwards.
Can it really be as simple as this? Yes it can. Eating a ‘rainbow’ of vegetables each day doesn’t have to be tedious. Junk food might be fun, but healthy alternatives to all of our favourites can be of buckets fun! Once you get started, I hope that you enjoy and see value in this new approach to cooking and eating.
As Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, wisely says:
‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’