My almost-three-year-old daughter has, for the past few months, become somewhat obsessed with food. I have always encouraged us to cook together and she is by far the most adventurous eater in our family, which she recently proved by licking a sprat at the fishmongers. However, her fanatics have taken her into the realms of desserts. Puddings, or whatever it is that may be the ceremonious closing of her dinner, have become all-consuming and occupy her fizzing little brain 24-7. When reading, she hones into pictures of cakes, jellies, ice-cream and biscuits as if each illustration is a ‘Where’s Wally’ meets ‘Larousse Gastronomique’ lip-licking game. I tell myself that this is probably completely normal for a toddler whose time at home is spent huddled with her family around the cooker (yes we spend a lot of time cooking but the AGA is actually the warmest being occupying the house), but often she is disappointed and, frankly, let down by the end of a meal when a massive, cream-filled sundae isn’t plonked down in front of her.
The truth is, I worry about sugar. I’m being honest. Ok so I grew up chomping on 10p Chomps and gnawing at acid-coloured Irn Bru bars (and my god they were awesome, especially after you’d just smoked three fags in the forest next to the school and burnt your eyebrows in the process), and I still have all my own teeth and most of my own marbles. And, yes, I am aware that if you withhold or elevate certain foods you risk fetishizing them and, well, making matters worse. But sugar really is pretty bad for us physiologically, psychologically and sociologically (do your research, it isn’t hard to find the evidence against fructose, corn syrups and the like). So I’m finding a middle way as a parent, and I attempt conversation about food, its provenance, nutrition, what happens when people can’t afford to eat and why, so that my children are given as many of the facts as I can give. The fact that they are 2 and three-quarters and 9 months old summons the words ‘falling’ and ‘ears’ to mind, but there’s hope…
So we have fun cooking together in the meantime, including making stuff that contains just a little bit of sugar.
When looking for an easy-to-make-with-children dessert for dinner guests last Friday, I came up with a tangy, just sweet-enough Orange and Bay Jelly to round off a robust, wintry meal of jerusalem artichoke soup, oven-roasted plaice and braised root vegetables. It’s easy-peasy to throw together and a delight for both milky-toothed toddlers and grown-up children alike. Needless to say, my daughter was very, very happy when the wibbly wobbly pudding arrived.
Click here to read my recipe for Orange and Bay Jelly.