“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are” (Adelle Davis (1904 – 1974))
Food is one of the main pleasures in life as well as human fuel! Without it, body and soul would suffer. It is therefore, in my opinion, really important to have an opinion and appreciation of food! I adore food! The scents, the colours, the taste, the feeling and yes, even the sounds! Look at babies – they have got it sussed! They get in there with hands and face! Great!
I know many find food shopping and preparing stressful and lack the inspiration to plan and cook “yet another” meal. If you are at home with the children or work full-time it can seem a chore rather than a nice part of the day. Children grabbing your legs, not wanting to walk in the supermarket, begging for sweets and toys through the aisles…..
Today’s blog is all about the sensory experience of food! If you keep these thoughts with you when you are shopping and cooking then hopefully you may have a different perspective – even if only slightly then I will be pleased!
What have your senses got to do with food? Do you use all five, or six even, when you are shopping, cooking and eating? If you do not you are seriously robbing yourself of half of the experience that is food!!
Your sight is absolutely critical when you are dealing with food. Imagine doing your weekly shop, even if online, without looking at what you are putting in your basket? Your eyes will automatically alert you to what looks tasty, ripe or bruised. They will tell you if meat has gone bad as the colour will no longer be deep, dark red but grey and lifeless, and if fish is really fresh – are they eyes shiny? The scales glistening? If packaged fish, are the liquids that surround it clear? They will also quickly alert you to mold in a pack of philadelphia in your fridge that should have been binned a long time ago!
Next time you are shopping, try to switch your eyes on! Really look at what is around you. Fruit in particular, and eggs (are they broken!)… Make games with your children to pass the knowledge on – can they spot the best banana? The best pack of strawberries?
How about when you are eating? Some dishes will draw you in by their colours….Japanese food does it for me! It is as beautiful to eat as it is to look at! Try and think about how you will present the food you cook – a simple bolognese can become a feast for the eyes if placed in a stunning bowl on the table and sprinkled with something green. A child is also more likely to eat something that looks fun! Make eyes, nose and mouth out of sausages and mash and veggies for example… Let them try!
When you shop and cook, do you smell the food you are buying and preparing? A fish monger’s shop should not reek of fish, if it does, walk out quickly! Pineapple and melons are ripe and at their best when you can smell their sweetness on the skin. The gorgeous aroma of fresh coffee brewing and of bread baking in the oven on a Sunday morning really set the scene for a great day. How about the smell of burning food on the stove or in the oven – your alarm bells ring instantly!
Next time you are shopping, think about how food smells. As much as you can, try to buy food that is not pre-packaged – meat, fish, vegetables. It is horrible to come home, prepare to cook some nice salmon only to open the sealed package and find it has gone bad. And when you cook and eat, close your eyes and savour the scent of your dish – when you add fresh herbs, when garlic goes sweet… Play the guessing game with your children – cover their eyes and see if they can guess what is on their plate! Make dinner time fun!
Touching your food is another very important element of the “food experience”. Your hands will know, if you practice and think about it, exactly when an avocado is ready to be eaten, when a mango has potential or if it will never be ripe and if a melon will taste good (it should be soft at either end if you press it lightly!). They will know if dough needs more flour, if play dough is ready to come out of the pan and be given to the children and if potatoes are ready or still hard! Your sense of touch guides you on temperature – if your food is too hot or cold – and on consistency – potatoes ready? pasta ready? bread too crusty? cupcakes too heavy, too dry?
You may think that hearing has little to do with food but you actually use your ears more than you are aware of. It happens automatically. Porridge bubbling away – the sound changes as it gets thicker and ready. A pot of tea in an old-fashioned kettle hisses at you, the click of the kettle when water has boiled. The sound of a steak as it sizzles in the pan, of butter as it melts. I cannot imagine being without my ears in a kitchen, or at the fruit and vegetable market! The best offers are usually shouted at you!
Taste – let’s not forget this! The final sense and to some the most important. This is where we filter the food that we have seen, touched, smelt and heard, the last hurdle before we indulge. It is how we know if what we have cooked or bought is too sweet, too salty, too fatty? Too bland? Maybe it is perfectly crisp, al dente, tangy….
Often, too many flavours kill a dish as it becomes impossible to enjoy and really taste what it is made up of. A really good meal, for me, is one where few ingredients are used so that each one stands out and comes to its full potential. Babies are always introduced to foods one by one to allow them to appreciate each one – very wise!
A fun tasting game with children is to blind fold them and let them taste three sweet things and three sour things and let them guess what they are tasting! It takes a lot of trust to accept the spoon…
The final sense, your sixth sense, is what you use when you bring all of the above together! It is what tells you that you have cooked a successful meal or that you have bought the right vegetables and fruit.
Use your senses to really enjoy cooking and shopping! Teach your children about them. Appreciating good, fresh food starts at home, and it is never too early to begin teaching this! As you shop, let them pick the fruit and vegetables, let them taste them, let them hold your shopping list and lay things in the trolley. When you are tempted to throw frozen fish fingers and chips into the oven, don’t! Make your own with some fresh fish strips and potatoes and prepare a fresh, healthy meal that the children will understand where came from!
Finally, when you cook, let them stir, roll, pat, pull, stretch, sprinkle, lick and look! It makes it all much more interesting and fun – for everyone!