Saturday, 11 May 2013

Fresh Week: the Meal Plan (ish). And thoughts on processed food

So, yeah, you know, we've pledged to give up processed food for a week, but that's like, so easy, because we don't eat any processed food anyway.


I had an interesting conversation with the kids yesterday. Tefal Fresh Week runs from 13-19th May, and I have pledged my support. You can read more about that here, where you can also find out how to sign up yourself. 

This also coincides with the first week of a 3 week stint of single parenting as the Husband is conveniently buggering off to the Middle East on Monday. Not only that, it is Pink's much awaited 7th (yes, 7. How did that happen?) birthday on Friday, and the Husband will still be away for half term. Not that I'm making a note or anything.

There has been a reasonable amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth about this (not least from the Husband who isn't necessarily looking forward to the prospect of 3 weeks sitting in a desert) so I thought the challenge of Fresh Week would be a good distraction, for me and the kids at least.

"Next week, we're going to stop eating processed food. What do you reckon?"

"What does that mean? What's processed food?"

"Well, it's when food has been turned into something else." (hastily looking for an example) "Yes, like those" (points at sugared cereal purchased in moment of weakness, and the subject of much self-loathing & inner recrimination since). "And ketchup. Ketchup is processed."

"Is cheese processed?"

"Well, yes"

"And marmite?"

"Yes, marmite"

"What about chutney?" (Blue always has chutney in his sandwiches)

"Well, yes it is processed, but I made it from the fresh ingredients, so it's less processed than shop bought chutney. That would be OK."

"But will I be able to have cheese?"


You get the point, Even though I like to think that we don't eat processed food, the reality is that it's really hard to avoid all 'processed' food unless you only eat meat and vegetables. 

Looking around for some definitions, what it seems to come down to is that  food processing is any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it's available for us to eat. Frozen peas. Dried pulses. Boiled eggs. They have all been processed.

To exclude everything that has been processed seems to me to be taking things too far and not actually within the spirit of Fresh Week. We're not being asked to limit our diet simply to fresh vegetables, and meat, and to eat them raw (cooking, after all, is a 'process'.) It's about cooking from scratch, rather than opening a packet and shoving it in the microwave. It's about chopping your own carrots and grating your own cheese (did you know that those who package pre-grated cheese actually add potato starch in to it - I have no idea why. I mean, really - why would you do that?? And is it really quicker to buy it like that?). About starting with raw ingredients and getting your dinner on the table that way.

That said, having had the conversation with the kids, I realised that we do use more processed food than I would perhaps like to admit, albeit that I have mentally sanctioned them as 'OK'.

So here's where we're going with this in the RJ household. Cheese, milk and natural yoghurt are definitely in. So is dried pasta during the week (for my own sanity), although we are going to try making our own at the weekend (the hours are going to fly by...). Home made chutney and jam are in. Maltesers - selected by Pink as the desired decoration for her cake - will have to be in. But only for birthday cake. Within those parameters, as far as possible, I am not going to use anything with 'additives' (artificial or otherwise) - although I may well add seasonings and flavourings as necessary from my spice cupboard. 

Wine. Is. In.

In agreement with the children, breakfast will be porridge, toast made with homemade bread, or eggs. Eggs and bread can be combined into eggy bread (Pink's favourite) or as boiled eggs and toast soldiers. 

Eggy bread. And Ketchup.

Home made bread

There is also homemade jam (a freezer fail on Thursday meant I had to process a whole load of fruit that was in the freezer, so I made raspberry and blackberry 'fridge jam', courtesy of a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall idea in River Cottage Everyday). 

Jam, jam and more jam
We will be eating proper butter rather than the organic butter/sunflower oil spread we normally use. Fresh fruit will be available as usual. Also cooked rhubarb. The garden is full of it. 

On Friday, the 'big birthday' day, there will be breakfast pancakes (providing I can get myself organised - watch this space).

Lunches - well, packed lunches will be as they usually are. Sandwiches (homemade bread - allow me to polish my halo). Blue will be able to have his beloved cheese and chutney combo - after all, I made my own chutney. Tomatoes, cucumber chunks, carrot sticks (peeled and sliced by my own fair hand - no purchased pre-sliced sticks here, thank you very much). Cheese will be sliced from a block of organic cheddar. Hardboiled eggs & cold cooked pasta will feature.  

I have no idea why this photo is upside down either

There will be cake, although the cake for the week has yet to be determined. I'm thinking a lemon drizzle using swede puree which also features in the Harry Eastwood Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache book I got the orange & rosemary cake from. 

One day a week, they have a school dinner.

For me, well, it will be the usual - soup, salad, made fresh depending on what's in the veg box.

Dinner/ tea/evening meal - This will depend a little on the contents of the veg box that I get delivered on a Tuesday evening from a local small holding. That aside, I'm planning realistic meals that reflect what we usually eat, hoping to show that it is easy as a working parent (which I am, although I do have the advantage of working from home) to cook fresh every day. 

There will be a vegetable pasta bake. 

There will be real fish fingers and homemade chips. I may yet make my own ketchup, but don't hold your breath.There will most definitely be an egg based dinner (on that day, there will be no eggs for breakfast) given that with the improvement in the weather, the chickens are laying like mad, and there's only so much cake I can make. Pink has requested chicken fajitas at some point, and to make an occasion of it, we'll make this meal together at the weekend, using our own spice mix and including making the tortilla/flatbreads. And in an attempt to think of another cooking based activity for the weekend and avoid us sinking into the doldrums, the kids and I are going to make our own pasta. 

Puddings - well, I'm guessing rhubarb will feature. Natural yoghurt with jam or honey. That sort of thing.
Blackberry & apple with natural yoghurt, anyone?
  So what do you think? Is this unprocessed enough? Is this fresh enough? Are you taking the challenge? 

I'd love to hear how you get on - and if you take the pledge you will be in with a chance of winning your own Fresh Express Max and a Riverford Organic Box. We've just heard that there are 2 more packages available to win before 19th May. Can't be bad.

And if you want more inspiration, keep reading, and check out my fellow Tefal Innovation Panel Bloggers as they take the pledge: Madame Gourmand, Boo Roo and Tigger Too, Mother Geek, Jacintaz3, Emmy's Mummy, Red Rose Mummy, Romanian Mum, Seasider in the City, Crazy with Twins, Attachment Mummy and The Mad House .


  1. Boiled eggs aren't processed - they are just cooked. As with frozen veg - it hasn't had anything added to it. Same with dried fruit - they are whole foods. They have been dried, but not processed.

    Processed food is usually food that is bought containing unnecessary additives, flavourings, preservatives etc.

    Sadly sausages and bacon are processed as they have salt and other things added to them.

    Cheese isn't usually classed as processed unless it is bought ready grated (as preservatives are added then) or reshaped with stuff added - like cheese slices.

    Adding stuff after you have bought it however - doesn't make it processed. That makes it fresh. So fire away with the herbs, spices and NATURAL flavourings.

    I have had to research processed food a lot - it all has salt added to it - which is why I can't have any of it!

    Good luck. I had to start mine a week early. But mine's not just fresh eating - I can't have anything containing dairy, salt, fish, rice... or pretty much anything that tastes good :(

    1. You've probably read into it much more than I have - I certainly saw some comments that suggest freezing and cooking do amount to processing although agree that really that would be an extreme view to take. I am in awe of what you are having to undertake, Emma - good luck x

  2. shame OH's trip clashes with Pink's birthday, and just blinking typical in my experience! Didn't know about Fresh Week - sounds like you're well sorted, lovely to have your own eggs and plenty of fresh fruit and veg. Think your menu's perfect - if you went more Paltrow unprocessed you might have trouble on your hands!
    (btw we are all addicted to your flapjacks. This is not a good thing!)

    1. I am having to limit the flapjacks to a batch a week - but not this week because of the tinned caramel :-(. I'm also thinking this might be a sort of trial run for doign the £12 challenge with you next year - in that it;s a good way to assess what we're eating and how it can be changed.

  3. I had a chat to the people at Tefal about this - I suggested they might be wanting me to grind my own wheat to make flour to bake bread with. They replied that everyone's ides of avoiding processed food will be different - for some people it will simply be avoiding microwave ready meals, others will go right back to first principles.
    When I thought about it, even as someone who cooks "from scratch" I do rely on a lot of things that have been processed in some way - tins of tomatoes and pulses, a tube of tomato puree, olive oil, butter, cheese, bacon, bread, dried spices - I don't breed and slaughter my own livestock - I don't milk my own cows. We are all dependent on food processing to some extent - the idea of Fresh Week seems to be to try to make us all that bit less dependent on it.

    1. Yes, it was a little vague when it was introduced to us at the Innovation Panel day, but I agree with you that this is what the aim is - not to go to some extreme lengths to get back to basics but to take a step back and think about what we are eating a little bit more. This has to be a good thing, I think.

  4. I think your week sounds well thought out & delicious.
    The more extreme (no cheese, no tomato past etc) view of processed food makes modern innovarions redundant - and life really really hard for working people. As long as you're eating food that doesn't contain anything nasty, I can't see why you can't use it.
    Will there be a rise in food costs?

    1. Thanks - I'm not sure about the food costs. I've already done a 'big shop' for the month and will see what the veg box brings on Tuesday before buying anything else. I'm hoping that it might be a little cheaper if anything.

  5. Your bread looks AMAZING! I'm taking the term 'Processed' lightly, I don't think there is anything wrong with using cooking oil, butter, tinned tomatoes, flour etc and I will be using these items during the week as normal. I never use jars and packets when I'm cooking but I do buy jam, ketchup and chutneys and if I need to use these items I will be making them instead (fingers crossed I don't need to though)

    1. You sound like you're taking the same approach as me. I have to say that I have a load of tomatoes in the fridge (left over from a scout cook out the husband ran last week) and I've found myself wondering more and more how easy/successful it would be to turn them into ketchup.

      My bread has been massively improved since I went on a River Cottage bread making course last winter. Totally inspiring.

  6. Wow...come to think of it, I think I have more "processed food" in my house than I realized! Thanks for the detail explanation. I think I need to be more careful when I go grocery shopping next time. :) I love your meal plan of the week. Very organized. I'm definitely checking more information out about this challenge. THanks for sharing.

    1. It's an interesting one - made me think quite a lot about what we're eating

  7. So I made our own pizza last night (with processed bases- didn't have the energy to make scone or bread base.) made with own tomato sauce and fresh veg.
    OH is no way going to give up his cornflakes or Marmite, but as I usually make fresh cooked breakfast of one kind or other for myself, I will try my best with the Marmite! Riverford have delivered a great salad box this morning.
    My home made bread attempt failed a few months ago, but I might top up our bread bin with scones or try pancakes later in the week. I'm going to allow minced beef -as it's from Laverstoke Park!- and make a bolognese or burgers, but otherwise it will be fish or chicken and fresh salad or veg. And I've got jacket potatoes for the times when I just can't do anything! Got a large bag of apples too, so I'll make a crumble (or my mixer will!)

    1. Minced beef definitely allowed, I'd say, esp Lav park!

  8. I really want to make my own bread, but have no idea which breadmaker to buy. I keep looking then get overwhelmed by all the options available.

    1. Don't hate me - but I just make it all by hand. I work at home which helps, but I've just got into a routine of making it and it doesn't take very long as long as you break it down into stages.

  9. I pretty much cook from scratch most of the time so I'm with you all the way on this one. I'm buying into your list of allowed processed foods too, particularly the wine and the maltesers. Life wouldn't be worth living without maltesers! Your bread looks AMAZING RJ!

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