The impending birth of our first child later this year has driven me to search for a theory on parenting, one that creates well balanced, happy and nicely behaved children. Inspired by a recent article I read on French children and their eating habits, I have located, and subsequently mentally subscribed to ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ by Pamela Druckerman. Not a theory in itself, but a series of learnings by am American journalist living and bringing up an infant in Paris. It details the underlying and assumed common sense parenting techniques that the French employ, that surprisingly are pretty different from those we see in the UK and US.
It’s a book I can’t put down, so I have no doubt that I’ll explore it more and detail other parts, but one of the first and most striking tenets it discusses, are the eating habits of French children, or more correctly, the framework that their mealtimes are built into. Instead of the ‘eat when hungry notion’, Druckerman illustrates how children, almost from birth, are instilled with a sense of timing and occasion with regards to food. Their mealtimes are at 8am, midday, and 8pm, with a snack at 4. There is a lot of information around this, such as how it can create better sleepers, teach children patience, and that they don’t need to eat all the time, or eat to feel comforted, or through boredom.
I want to do that. I don’t mean just for the child either, I actually want to be able to do that myself. As a grazer, I often kid myself that I eat little and often to keep my metabolism up and stave off a blood sugar rollercoaster, thats all fine, but sometimes I eat little and often IN ADDITION to 3 main meals a day! I had few rules around food as a child, which is in stark contrast to my husband, who brought up by an Italian mother, had much the same rules referred to by Druckerman. Needless to say, I struggle a little sometimes (ahem) with stopping eating, and he is very relaxedabout food, doesn’t snack and never overeats.
While I try to deal with longer term issues of boredom snacking, emotional eatingand just plain gluttony, I thought maybe healthier snacks would be a good thing to help me through the pregnancy. I like all snacks, salty, sweet, I’m not biased, but I do like them to help fill me up, and to taste like a treat (who doesn’t?)
I do however think snacks should be already prepared, have a decent shelf life, and be easy to store and transport. In my quest for optimum health I ruled out fried foods, anything overly processed and anything with unnatural ingredients. Popcorn, is where I ended up.
It’s a much debated grain, from the modified frustose syrup that you can be sure is doing you no good, to the fresh cobs steamed with a little black pepper- corn it’s has its pros and its cons. It’s little husk contains lots of soluble and insoluble fibre (hence why we need to chew it a lot), and when eaten in natural and unprocessed forms (in moderation), the soft yellow nuggets make a sweet and child friendly addition to the vegetable selection contaning anti oxidants, phytonutrients, folic acid, B vitamins and shockingly, protein! The hard little bullets of dried corn also provide the vehicle for a flexible, satisfying and not unhealthy snack.
I have often extolled the virtues of Coconut Oil, and here is no exception. To pop corn, you need to get oil to a seriously high temperature. Coconut oil is perfect here as its a much more stable fat and the meduim chain fatty acids are very heat resistant and more likley to remain safe and even healthy.
Once you have corn thats popped (as per the recipe below- though you can hardly call it a recipe) , you can add just about any flavour that will stick!
I like to make a few flavours from each batch, yes I’m fickle and self indulgent, but it stops me reaching for chocolate or fried snacks and feels like a snack of choice, rather than one guided by virtue.
I have picked, my staple base flavours that cover a few bases (recipes below):
- sweet coconut which kids love (and adults steal)
- the savoury and slightly sophisticated hot smoked paprika- great as nibbles with drinks
- the classic combination of salt and vinegar
- 100g popping corn
- 3 table spoons of raw virgin coconut oil
- seasoning (either shredded coconut and granultaed sugar, hot smoked paprika, or malt vinegar in a spritzer and sea salt)
Melt the oil in a large pan with a lid. Add the corn, give a quick stir and put the lid of the pan on. Shake the pan a couple of times, and leave it to pop, shaking every 30 seconds or so to make sure nothing burns on the bottom and all the kernels pop. When the popping is 4-5 seconds apart, take the pan off the heat and transfer the hot little clouds to a dish to cool slightly.
For the sweet coconut, melt 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and toss well through the cooled pop corn. When the kernels are well covered, toss through 3 tablespoons of a mixture of equal parts granulated sugar and dessicated/dried coconut.
For the paprika, just toss through the red powder until each little whilte cloud has a dusting of intense red, I tend to use about 3 teaspoons, but let taste (and what your guests like) be your guide.
For the salt and vinegar, put the malt vinegar in a spritzer (it sounds very Heston Bluenthal) and spray through the popcorn. Don’t let it get soggy, keep moving it. Add salt to taste, I find 2 teaspoons is fine for this amount of corn, but again, keep tasting and adjust as necessary.