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Chef Jamie Oliver has long been a champion of healthy food and helping others eat better, even on a budget. He spoke with TODAY Food about his Food Revolution movement and shares his tips for small changes we can make in our diets and in our children’s diets while still eating really delicious food.
What type of food are you advocating for people to eat?
The Food Revolution is about everyone around the world changing our eating habits to ensure that our kids, the next generation, do not inherit or continue to breed the bad habits we have adopted. So what does that mean literally? I want people to eat healthy, nutritious and tasty food! A great starting point is cooking meals from scratch yourself — this doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming.
How do you respond when people tell you that eating healthy, whole foods is just too expensive?
Sure, there is always a craze or a fad for expensive healthy ingredients that are hailed as super foods, but a lot of real super foods are thing you can buy cheaply at your local super market. It’s more about making sure you eat lots of fruit and veg, keeping your diet balanced and cooking meals yourself at home so you know exactly what is going into it and there is no hidden sugar or salt. Keeping your home stocked with eggs, fresh fruit and veg, nuts and grains is all easy to do on a budget. Meat and fish can be expensive but tofu, feta and eggs are all great substitute sources of protein at a lower cost.
Do you have any words of wisdom for those who want to change their diet but haven’t had the support to do so?
Start small. Think big. Change can mean getting your kids in the kitchen and cooking from scratch or inviting your loved ones around a table to enjoy good home cooked dishes – there are loads of ideas of simple recipes on my Food Revolution Hub. If we can come together and unite we can make genuine positive change!
What are baby steps a parent can take to get their kids to try and eventually like healthier, whole foods?
You can start by swapping subtle things that make a difference, like choosing whole-grain carbohydrates over white refined carbohydrates, or going for the low-fat dairy option. Try to avoid having unhealthy snacks in the house, like chips and cookies. Instead load up on seeds, dried fruits and nuts – these are really tasty and colorful so kids enjoy them. It’s also great to involve your children in cooking and baking from an early age – things may get messy, but there will be a big payoff in the long run!
What’s a simple way to get more veggies in a kid-friendly meal?
Vegetable soup is a good way to “hide” vegetables, especially if you mix some brown rice in with it to make it more substantial. Veg that you can pick up and eat is also usually a hit with kids – things like green beans, asparagus and chunks of delicious sweet potato or squash.
If there were only one change someone was willing to make in their diet, what would you advocate for?
SUGAR. It’s a killer, literally. Sugar causes a lot of health-related diseases like obesity and diabetes — and is also unnecessary as you can eat delicious food and make great meals without them being loaded with sugar. I’m not saying cut out sugar completely — everything in moderation! You can get the sugars you need from fresh fruit and vegetables, so it is added sugar you want to avoid. To avoid consuming unnecessary amounts of sugar, start checking the labels on all the foods you buy – you might be surprised! TIP: It can sometimes be tricky to spot, so look out for agave nectar, corn sweetener, dextrose, honey, corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, glucose, and molasses, which are all alternative names used for sugar.
What are pantry/fridge basics you’d recommend for someone who wanted to eat healthier without sacrificing flavor?
There are so many basics that are nutritious and delicious. Eggs are great to always have in the house – a fantastic source of protein and packed with lots of vitamins and minerals. Feta is also a fave of mine – cheese gets a bad rap, but when used sparingly it’s an excellent non-meat source of protein and also contains a number of essential vitamins, minerals and bone-building calcium. Lastly, the humble sweet potato is a veritable powerhouse of nutritional goodness. The most prominent nutrient in sweet potatoes is vitamin C: one large sweet potato contains more than 70 percent of our daily recommended intake, more than double that of white potatoes! And, unlike regular potatoes, these vegetables do count towards your 5-a-day because they are lower in starch than other carbohydrates.
What do you hope to accomplish with Food Revolution Day, and do you think you’re any closer to achieving it than when you first started?
Right now, 41 million kids under five are obese or overweight worldwide. At the same time, another 212 million children are so undernourished they’re unable to grow properly. These are crazy stats, and simply go to show that we’re not feeding our kids the right food they need to grow healthily and happily. The aim of Food Revolution is educating and empowering people to cook from scratch, and to lobby governments to change the way our kids access good, fresh, real food. If we each take a few these small steps to shift the way we grow, distribute, purchase, prepare and prioritize food, the ripple effect would be enormous. Governments will react with change in policies, businesses will change practices and therefore entire generations will be equipped with the skills, knowledge and resources they need to eat good, nutritious food for a healthier, happier life. Those who are interested can sign up here.