My passion for healthy food hasn't been a life long one. I've never been a massive junk food eater, or had a particularly sweet tooth. But when we moved to France, when the kids were four and six years old, I began to look at food in a fresh light.
I realised that I was hitting middle age an it was time to start looking after myself. But it was not just age, being surrounded by markets with amazing seasonal, locally sourced foods and supermarkets stocking only fresh produce with every fruit and vegetable you can imagine, it sparked a desire to consume more of these wonderful, colourful foods that looked so tempting and delectable.
There were times when I used to begrudge having to go and buy my baguettes daily as they wouldn't last more than a day or two, but actually how lucky were we to have freshly made bread with no additives as the norm?
Buying food was no longer a one stop trip to the supermarket. We were spoilt for choice for lovely local markets, our favourite being one in a field a mile or so from our house, where every time you turned up it would be a surprise as to what was on offer, depending on what had been harvested earlier that day. We'd come home laden with boxes of juicy, vibrant fruit just begging to be eaten. The tomatoes were bursting with flavour, and the meat was mouth wateringly good.
And nowhere to be seen was any plastic packaging or regulations of what shape or size the vegetables should be. Plus it was all really good value, the same price as the local supermarket or sometimes cheaper.
According to a report in the Guardian, "Half of all the food bought by families in the UK is now “ultra-processed” " and we eat more processed food than any other country in Europe. Quite shocking, but it was really noticeable even a few years ago, just comparing what was on offer in France to food shopping in the UK, which is much more convenience focused.
The French seem to instinctively know how to eat. Famously, despite all the pains au chocolat and mouth watering tarts, you rarely see anyone overweight and whilst cholesterol and dietary fat levels are quite high, heart disease levels are not. They value and cook from real whole foods which are often sourced locally and are seasonal so they're rich in nutrients as well as flavour. They take time and pride in meal times, coming together to eat for pleasure and as a social occasion, rather than fuel to be quickly consumed.
Don't get me wrong, Britain now has great food options too, with farmers markets, veg box schemes and wonderful independent stores and restaurants offering high quality foods which more and more people are embracing, They are however, often quite expensive and not always accessible for all, compared to France where most people have weekly access to fresh food at reasonable prices at their local market.
Yet where we do excel is that there's usually something for everyone, whatever your food requirements might be paleo, vegan, gluten free, vegetarian you can usually find someone to cater for you and gone are the days of being given a side dish of vegetables, "free from" dishes in restaurants, are now equal in taste, quality and finesse.
But it was whilst living in Lyon, the food capital of France my passion for healthy, real foods was ignited and set me on my path to change the way we ate as a family. It might take me longer to shop and to cook but I've decided the benefits to our health and the enjoyment of tastier more nutritious food outweigh everything else. But it hasn't always and still isn't plain sailing...
Follow me next week for my snack time struggles and ideas for what to feed the kids.