When Michelle took up her post as Family Action’s Deputy Director of Services and Innovation National Services, she knew what excited her most about our charity – its reputation for delivering creative, dynamic services to the public.
It’s a passion that doesn’t end with the working day. Here she shares how our various food programmes have inspired her to get creative in her own kitchen.
I have always been creative and enjoy picking up different hobbies. I have taught myself dressmaking, made wall hanging weavings and, like many people, I’ve even started cultivating my own sourdough during lockdown.
This year, I have also set myself a new challenge, inspired by our Food Service Programme members, who often find themselves tasked with cooking with the unfamiliar ingredients in the food box they receive from us. My goal is to make a meal with a new ingredient each week. So far, I have cooked with exotic ingredients like celeriac, nduja and crab!
As my sister is a single parent we are in a support bubble, and the house is often full of children – both my toddler and my sister’s toddler, as well as her 10 and 11 year olds. Spending time with family has always been important to me, and growing up, food has played a central role in our family relationships. For example, our dad is a big believer in everyone sitting around the table to eat together. Now, as my sister and I are both parents, we try to continue this tradition.
Looking after both sets of children has always meant regular busy afternoons, and this hasn’t changed since lockdown. We’ve spent many happy days catching frogs in the nearby pond, followed by us all cooking lunch together – which is far cheaper than taking them all to the zoo! Together we have made rainbow pasta, spring rolls and we have even made our own hoisin sauce!
“The children were adamant that they didn’t like eggs, but when they made the recipe themselves, they changed their minds.”
My diet growing up was pretty unadventurous and it wasn’t until I went to university that my perception of food was challenged. I mixed with new people and tried foods from other cultures – so I’m pleased I can help my family experience different foods now. One of my winning recipes with the children has been Shakshuka (a poached egg and tomato dish). The children were adamant that they didn’t like eggs, but when they made the recipe themselves, they changed their minds. I think this was because it was something they had made themselves that it is also such a visually pleasing dish.
Pleasing fussy toddlers can be hard. I have taken some inspiration from the tv presenter Stacey Solomon’s ‘Fun food’ stories on Instagram over the past few months, she turns fruit and vegetables into exciting creations for fussy children, like kiwi-grape turtle snacks or watermelon pigs – which gets the young ones interested!
After being on a short waiting list, the council allocated me an allotment near my home recently, in the kitchen garden of an old convent. I involved the children in every stage of development and they even have their own notebook dedicated to allotment planning.
They’ve helped me design the growing site and chosen what they would like to grow. It is great for children to be involved in this process; they grow the food, pick it themselves and then turn their home-grown food into their dinner.
Because of the new lockdown rule we have had to stop cooking in-person together, and we have adapted by doing our weekly cooking sessions virtually. I now send them a list of ingredients and add a small amount to their gohenry cards (child-friendly bank cards) for them to buy any ingredients they don’t already have at home. They enjoy the independence and the certainty that comes from knowing that this is their Saturday evening activity. It is something that is guaranteed to bring them down from their rooms. They are always so proud of the meals they make and insist on sitting down to share them with their mum. Cooking with children can be hard but is well worth it! It is so lovely to support their creativity in the kitchen and to see their confidence grow.
Find out more about our food programmes and the work we do to support community sustainability.