What a lovely day it is today, springy and zesty with its temperamental switching between sunshine and darkly pregnant clouds.
My little man is currently having a snooze, after his power lunch of mackerel, broccoli, beans and yogurt. Mackerel is a perfect food for little ones: full of wonderful magical oily fats for brain development, packing a great nutritional punch while also being quite a strong distinctive taste and allowing the palate to develop and enjoy different taste sensations. But due to the mercury content it’s something I shouldn’t really give him more than a couple of times a week.
One of my current worries is getting enough protein into him without relying on the same foodstuffs day after day. He hasn’t yet had very much red meat, and I’ve been pondering a lot about how often to introduce it. I know the health benefits of red meat, plenty of iron and zinc, great for building the blood and immune system, loads of B vitamins and other minerals essential for health. But I was a vegetarian for ten years before falling off the wagon at university due to the allure of post-night out bridies (mince meat pastry pie) purchased in the early hours from the all-night bakery in Edinburgh, or hangover-soaking bacon sandwiches…and I have ever since felt ill at ease with my meat consumption purely from a guilty animal welfare point of view, and the global impact that modern mass meat production has made me increasingly unsure about meat as a staple. Not to mention the diminished health benefits (and taste…) of meat that is not grass-fed and free range, living a healthy life before it heads towards our plate, where muscles have a chance to fully develop and strengthen by roaming, and feeding on the grass that nature intended.
If cutting out red meat isn’t an option, make sure that you choose locally farmed, free range, organic if possible, meat. This will not only benefit the environment, but will also have a greater health benefit as the meat will be richer in nutrients and in taste. Red meat that has been mass-farmed and grain-fed rather than grass contains very different types of fat which are broken down differently in our human systems after consumption, and can lead to all sorts of health woes if we’re not careful. I won’t get too technical here, but if you want to know more, have a look at this site: http://www.balancedconcepts.net/grass_grain_animals.pdf
So…with all this ambiguity going on in my mind about meat as part of my own diet, it is amplified when thinking about giving it regularly to the little man.
There is a Meatless Monday campaign roaming around the world at the moment, and so here are my ideas for trying to take this on board, if not every week, then some ideas for when it feels right and appropriate for you.
1: Swap meat for hearty beans and pulses. Cooked beans, peas or lentils give just as filling and tasty a kick as beef or lamb in dishes such as chilli, soups and sauces.
2. Meat is a rich flavour, which satisfies the craving for what the Japanese call “umami”, one of the five basic flavours that the human tongue seeks out: roughly translated as “pleasant savoury taste” (the others are sweet, bitter, sour and salty). This savoury hit can be satisfied with big meatless flavours such as mushroom, aged strong cheeses such as Cheddar or Parmesan, edamame beans, sweet potatoes, nuts, tomatoes….
3. Have a different perspective on your regular favourites and this will help to develop your palate and also challenge you to lift yourself out of an unchanging unthinking routine when it comes to food: so rather than a beef burger, make yourself a spicy bean burger, or spinach fritters (my mum makes an AMAZING spinach fritter…), seafood rather than beef stir fry (but try to make sure your fish is from a sustainable source…), use diced tofu or paneer cheese rather than chicken in a curry. It just takes a little bit of thought but your body and brain will reap all the benefits. And you might start to make a little bit of difference in lessening the global impact that mass meat production is having on our environment and on our health.
Must go, have to think about what I’m going to make for the little man for his tea!