I was chuckling to myself today as I blended up some celery to hide in the chilli I was making, that hiding vegetables is a becoming an art form. It’s the most cunning way to get fussy eaters to get their 5-a-day without the tantrums. Parents up and down the country are chopping, slicing, dicing and blending to disguise healthy ingredients in children’s dinners. The hidden vegetable secret is shared in whispers at the school gate lest the kids cotton on.
I’m sure the Earth Mother fraternity will have something to say about this. It is perhaps not ethical to trick your children into eating things that they don’t know about, or want to eat? Is it an infringement on their human rights to tell then that a bit of swede is a carrot, just to get them to eat it? Perhaps so, but for me, and lots of others, hiding healthy stuff in our kids’ dinners is a way to ensure that your child is eating well, and lets you feel like you are being a good parent.
I have overstepped the mark a few times when the offending vegetable ingredient wasn’t chopped small enough to disappear from sight, or had a distinctive taste that I couldn’t mask with the sauce. Fennel, for instance is not going to be able to don any sort of disguise and get away with it. Over the years my son has finely honed his radar for things he doesn’t like, and can now identify a hidden mushroom from the other side of the kitchen, no matter how small it is.
Yet, I can still get away with hiding vegetables so long as I act smart and know my limitations. Onions, celery, anything that can pass for carrot, cauliflower, courgette and so on are all staples in my book. Chopped to oblivion in the food processor I challenge anyone to pick them out of a shepherd’s pie.
My finest moment in the Hidden Veg Oscars was when I added Aubergine to a lasagne. Despite its distinctive dark colour it got with the joke and snuck into the shadows of the lasagne, never to be found by the hungry children. I could barely contain my glee, sitting eating my veg-packed layered baked dish with the rest of the family, knowing what only I knew… ha ha ha.
So, what is your finest moment in vegetable hide and seek? Broccoli anyone?
Is your New Year fitness resolution becoming a challenge? Are your fitness goals looking unrealistic?
Joining a gym just isn’t for me. I was put off years ago at the sight of sweaty muscle men grunting as they lifted an impossible bar of weights, and by the ladies in the changing room that paraded around naked as they got changed, and then put on a full face of make-up before heading home to bed. I just don’t fit in.
Aerobics and steps classes are not my scene. I’m the one who steps left when everyone else moves right, and I just don’t feel like I’m part of the in-crowd. I’m worried that Zumba would be a step too far, and Salsacise just reminds me of food.
I’ve tried Spin (crazy cycling to music for 30 minutes) but I mistrust that anyone else EVER raises the resistance level on their bikes when the instructor says so. They can’t possibly keep peddling against that level of resistance and still be able to walk out of the room at the end of the session.
Pilates and Yoga have also had my custom, and I got on OK with them, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was lying down for an hour and not really getting a workout. (note – I now understand the difference between cardio and strength training!) But now there aren’t any classes nearby that fit in my busy week.
If like me you just can’t (and don’t want to) keep up with the glamourous, co-ordinated fitness extroverts, then there are other options for keeping up your New Year fitness regime.
Set your own fitness goals
Setting fitness goals can feel a bit like you’re setting yourself up to fail, so for me the important thing is to set goals that are right for me. They might be too much or too little for the next person, but this is not a competition – it’s about you and no-one else. In running, it’s all about the Personal Best (PB), which is an individual measure and a great principle to transfer to any activity you do. Personalise your fitness goals to suit your expectations and no-one else’s.
Build activity into your normal day
I try and run, walk or cycle if I’ve got errands to do locally. I did look like a bit of a loon this morning jogging with a carrier bag full of clothes to take my Next returns back to the local retail park, but it killed two birds with one stone. Cycling is fun – you feel like a teenager all over again and the sense of freedom is great.
Count your steps with a pedometer or a phone app as that really makes you realise how sedentary you can be – on days that I’m office based I can just get over 2,000 steps – no-where near my 10,000 daily steps goal!
Join a team
A few years ago I joined a local netball club at the same time as a friend. I hadn’t played netball since school, and initially wasn’t very good at it. She’s since moved on to other things (and is awesome at them!) but I have kept going and now can hold my head up on the court. I’m not a great player but am doing OK through perseverance and the lucky circumstance of being slightly taller than average.
As well as fitness and challenging myself to develop a skill I’ve met so many lovely women and broadened my social circle. There’s a wonderful initiative by England Netball called Back to Netball that is a great entry point for people new to the sport, or those who haven’t played for years. If netball’s not for you then search for women’s basketball, football, korfball or a racquet sport. Teams and clubs are great motivators to keep going with a sport.
Run rabbit run
I started running a few years back, after various post-children health problems were sorted out, and whilst I haven’t always stuck with it I have definitely now made running part of my life. At first I could only jog 100 yards before walking for a bit, but now I am running 5k twice a week, and really love that chance to get out on my own with just music for company. There’s loads of couch to 5k apps that can help you on this journey, and I’ve found Runkeeper and ParkRun to be great motivators to set your own PB goals and keep going with them.
Work on your Apps
I have a few free apps that I use a lot to motivate and track my activity. I’ve already mentioned Runkeeper, which also lets you track activities other than running. You can find friends so that you can see each other’s activities, or you can share your achievements on Facebook if you want to be really shouty about it.
Withings Health Mate is also good as it tracks weight, activity, blood pressure and sleep (you need extra gadgets for some of those). I use it to track weight and activity. It takes data from Runkeeper and also my daily step count, and it gives me a daily step total.
Daily Abs Workout is a free app that gives you a quick 5 minute workout for the core muscles that you can do at home any time of day. The videos show you how you should be doing it, and gives you a count-down for each exercise. The upgraded version is not expensive and gives you more workout options and removes the annoying adverts! I am just getting back into this after a break, and I remember that last time I used it regularly the exercises definitely got easier as time went on, which means my core muscles were getting stronger.
Myfitnesspal is an app with a massive library of foods and recipes, so if you are calorie counting this one is for you. I used it for a while to see what my calorie intake was, which really helped to understand portion sizes and make informed decisions about what I was taking in as fuel.
Find your perfect moment
Finding the time for exercise is a challenge when you’re a busy working mum, but once you’ve identified a slot or an opportunity then you can build exercise into your routine. For instance: Jog whilst your child cycles to school/clubs; Liftshare to drop your kid off at a party and jog back home; Go for a swim whilst your child is at Brownies/Scouts; or do some crunches whilst the kids watch TV.
Any activity is better than none, so don’t beat yourself up if you are not initially meeting your high expectations. A short run is better than none at all, and swapping a car journey for a cycle will notch up some miles.
I don’t know about you but I tend to get the munchies around about mid afternoon. If I’m at home then the biscuit tin starts calling me. If I’m out then I’m like a homing pigeon seeking out the nearest Greggs for an emergency flapjack or rock cake.
My lastest plan to save the pennies (wallet) and pounds (weight) is to stock up on home-made healthy flap jacks to take with me every day.
This recipe is an adaptation of one I have had for years – a recipe card from Safeways (whatever happened to them??) but I have cut out lots of sugar and added more interesting ingredients to create my alternative to the traditional flapjack… the Chewy Flapjack Power Bars! Even though these are quite sweet I am able to convince myself that they are healthy due to the amount of ‘good stuff’ that I pack into them.
I add a whole selection of nice healthy (and tasty) ingredients – pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaked almonds, raisins, red berry mix, chopped dates. In the past I have added dessicated coconut, chopped nuts or chopped dried apricots. The choice is yours!
The bars will keep for about a week in an airtight container or you can freeze individual bars to make them keep longer.
Chewy Flapjack Power Bars
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Makes 15-20 depending on how you cut them!!
150g (6oz) low fat margerine
375g can UNSWEETENED Condensed Milk
15ml (1 tbsp) golden syrup or honey
350g (12oz) porridge oats
200g (7oz) healthy dried frut, nuts, seeds
Pre-heat the oven to 180 C / 350 F / Gas Mark 4
Line a baking tray (18 x 28 cm / 7 x 11″)
Pleace the margerine, condensed milk and syrup/honey in a medium pan and heat until margerine has dissolved, stirring continuously for 5 mins.
Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients.
Press into the prepared tin – but don’t squish it down too much or you will remove air from the mix an end up with a very dense flapjack. Decorate the top by pressing in pecans or walnuts.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until the top and edges are golden.
Allow to cool before cutting out and wrapping up in baking paper as individual take-away snacks!
These can be frozen to make them last longer, just make sure you defrost them before you try to eat them!