Save money, time and feed your family better meals

A few months ago (it was the school holidays) I let things slip. In the relaxed and unstructured format of our holidays I broke away from my normal way of doing things. I forgot about family meal planning and just made it up as I went along. Which kind of made me feel liberated to start with but soon became a drag.

When I look back now, I can see from my bank statement that I was spending nearly double on my groceries, I was shopping several times a week for things I’d not bought in my weekly shop, and I had no idea from day to day what I was going to feed my family! Looking back, it felt like I’d fallen off the wagon. Things were out of control.

The meals I was cooking took forever as I faffed around not really sure what I was really making. If I’m really honest, those meals weren’t that great. I was making it up as I went along. It wasn’t until we got back to school and into our routines again that I was able to rationalise what had happened.

So, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learnt from this sorry scenario. I’ve realised that in my normal way of doing things, I wasn’t doing that badly. If you’d like to know some of the routines, tips and planning I use in my rountine day to day life then read on.

Meal planning makes everything easier

Yes it’s a bit of a drag to sit down and do, but it doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t have to be done endlessly, forevermore … once you have a blueprint of meals that work, keep the meal plans from successful weeks and repeat them a month or so later. Life is so much easier when you don’t have to think too hard about what you are going to make for dinner that evening! Here’s an example one:

family meal planning budget meals cooking frugal list shopping list balanced diet meals dinner

I plan it according the the activites in our family during the week. So for example I never plan a meal for Wednesday evening because my mum feeds my children then as she collects them from school on that day. On Thursdays I pay for school dinners because we rush around to clubs after school, so I either cook a quick and easy dish or we have a packed dinner, wraps, stuffed pitta or left overs of some sort.

I stick to a format when planning 

This really helps to make the planning easy. I either plan my family meals based around the protein or the carbohydrate content of the meal. I try to use a different source of which ever one I’ve chosen as my focus each day. This ensures that we are eating a variation of nutrients and our meals do not become repetitive. The main reason I do it though is because it stops my mind going blank when I’m trying to meal plan. You could focus on protein planning one week and carohydrates the next. Of course each meal should have a combination of protein, vegetables and carbohydrates, it’s just a way of keeping things fresh, balanced and varied.

meal plan family meal shopping cooking dinner time evening meal family budget frugal planning

So, for example if I was focussing on protein, I might on day one have a fish pie, or oven baked fish, or a fish pasta dish, or fish fingers, or a tuna pasta bake. On the next day I might make a quorn based meal, or a lentil stew, or bean burgers as my focus accompanied by potato wedges maybe. On the Wednesday I might make a spaghetti bolognese or a chilli. Does this make sense?

Give it a go!

 

 

I write a shopping list

While I am writing my meal plan I write a shopping list. It helps to make sure I have everything I need for the meals I’ve planned. It also helps to write the list in my kitchen near to my cupboards so that I can check that I don’t buy what I don’t need! I use a notepad which has meal plan on one side and shopping list on the other. Soemtimes I set up a note on my mobile phone or tablet – this is particularly useful as it won’t get lost or left at home. Whatever suits you as the best way to work. Why not try out some different ways of writing your list until you find one that works for you.

My shopping list is organised and ordered 

Whilst I’m writing the list, I organise it into the sections that my favourite supermarket has. I even put the sections in the order of the aisles in my supermarket so that when I’m shopping, I can see what I need when I need it rather than having to search through the list repetitively and risk missing things from it. It really helps! It also speeds things up in the supermarket.

family meal planning budget meals cooking frugal list shopping list balanced diet meals dinner money saving organiser supermarket

I shop in a small supermarket

Yep! I shop in the smallest supermarket in my town… not an express or micro store, but a normal everday supermarket. It doesn’t sell a huge range of diverse foods, but it sells mostly what I need. It’s of a size that I know what they do and don’t sell, so if I do need something fancy, I occasionally need to make a trip to another supermarket. This really does not happen very often though. Would you believe me if I told you that I do my  shopping on a friday morning between dropping my girls at school, and my pilates class which starts at 9.30? I also shop for my business  and buy ingredients needed for the classes I teach. It is absolutely true! This is down to the fact that my supermakret is small and managable. I know where everything is, and I know exactly what I need. I’ve saved time, money and effort by planning using the above three tips. Yay!

What’s in the cupboards already helps to kickstart my planning

Before I start my planning I have a quick look into my fridge and cupboards to see if there is anything lingering that could be used up, or could inspire a meal for my planner. It’s worth doing. Sometimes it inspires a new meal, sometimes it saves money and waste. It’s worth a try.

The freezer is my friend

This has become true over the last year. No more does my freezer house ready meals and convenience foods which never get eaten and lie forgotten about. I have organised my freezer into sections. The sections are as follows – packed lunch bits such as frozen yogurts, bread, muffins, drinks etc. Frozen fruit and veggies – this means I can eat fruit and veg that are out of season and they don’t go off as quickly so I have a wider variety of fruit and veg in my house at all times. Convenience foods – because we all need a little stock for when things don’t go as planned or we are having a “meh” day.  Pre-prepared batch cooked foods – you know – left overs, or family sized portions of soup, chilli, fish pie, shepherds pie, lasagne – a great way of saving time – cook once, eat twice!  Your freezer sections might differ depending on what you use your freezer for… but that’s a whole other blog. Keep an eye out – I am planning that for later this year.

Vegetarian meals are healthy and cheap!

Why not have a vegetarian day of the week. Generally vegetarian meals are healthier (lower in fat and usually contain more vegetables), cheaper, easy to cook and someting different if your family is not accustomed to eating vegetarian cuisine.

Buying in bulk is a brilliant way of minimising spending.

I’ve started buying washing powder, cooing oil and washing up liquid in bulk. I rarely have to buy those items. I decant the washing up liquid into smaller bottles and keep the large ones tucked away out of sight.  Things like meat can be portioned and frozen, flour, sugar, oats, rice, pasta and cereals can be decanted into jars and tubs and stored much more eaisly in a store cupboard. They’ll last longer in these containers too. I’d love to hear if you buy anything else in bulk. Using this tip will not only save you money in the long run, but it will save you time and effort when shopping and meal planning.

I hope these tips help. You might want to use one, or two of them, or all. Make changes slowly and satep by step at a pace to suit you. remember, no one is perfect, but we can keep trying to improve things for ourselves and our families. Let me know if there are any tips that you use that could be useful to others.

Happly planning!

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Family friendly fish

Family friendly fish
Another mum recently asked me for suggestions to help her to encourage her three children to eat fish.
They used to enjoy a variety of fishy dishes.
One by one, for differing reasons, they’ve now started to reject it.

fish recipes kids children eat cook fussy

Sounds like they might have got a bit spooked, scared of finding a bone, does this sound familiar?

It certainly does to me. It’s not so much reminiscent of my own children. This fishy phobia reminded me more of me, when I was a child.

I remember being a child in the eighties and sitting in the back of the car eating fish and chips.  I found something hard in my mouthful of fish and my (vegetarian) mum muttered absentmindedly “It’s probably an eye”…

Well, that was the start of many years of me being scared of eating any fish whatsoever. Eventually I became a vegetarian at 11 and didn’t eat fish again until I was at uni. My friend and housemate Helen, (Hello Helen!) took it upon herself to open my eyes, mind and taste buds  to it again.

I knew that nutritionally for me it was the right thing for me to do. But I had years of imagined fishy phobias to undo. So, Helen (bless her!) meticulously planned my re-introduction to fish, starting with a Fillet o’ fish at Mcdonalds. I know! – I’m cringing at this thought! We had decided that this was the least scary form that fish could take! I think we were right. 

It was…. O.K,  what more can I really say?

So, where it lacked flavour, texture and general foodie excitement, it was at least safe. The experience successfully de-armed fish in my mind. It really wasn’t the monster I’d built it up to be.  

My next fishy foray happened a couple of weeks later at lunchtime when we shared a tuna melt toasted sandwich.

Yeah! That was nice, I was converted.

fish recipes kids children eat cook fussy

I’ve continued to eat it ever since, but never really been hugely ambitious (definitely no food served with a face … or fins for that matter!) however I wouldn’t be without it now and absolutely love cooking with it. Thankfully my children have always been open minded with fish and my eldest regularly enjoys sardines on toast for breakfast.  

So actually I think I’m quite well qualified to help with this dilemma – I’d like to think I know how these children feel.

Here are my top five tips for getting children to try some new fishy foods, and I’ve included a few recipes / meal ideas at the end to help you get started.

 

Take away the pressure.

Don’t force it at meal times … in fact don’t even mention it!

I believe that tasting and trying new foods should be light hearted and fun, an experiment and experience and not an ordeal.

Some ways of introducing fish and other new foods are below:

  • Play the tasting game. Set up a platter of teeny tiny tasters maybe just one or two being fish, start with ones that you think will be least offensive to your children, and make sure they are attractively presented. Some nice ones to start with might be: smoked haddock, salmon, tuna, prawn, crab, mackerel pate – imagine the pretty pastel colours of those on a white plate. You could perhaps give your child some mini crackers to taste each sample with. Make sure to mix the fish tasters in with some others that are a little less scary. Then number each sample and put little numbered pieces of paper in a bowl and play the tasting game by taking turns to pick a number and taste a sample. Here’s a video of my girls playing the game one day with a selection of sauces, spreads, fruit, veg and cheeses.
  • Get your children to help you to make a fishy meal for the adults – do this a few times, let them choose seasoning and help to present and serve the dish. They might eat something else at the same meal, or it might be an adult only meal that they help you with prepping. Just let them see, feel and smell the fish, with no suggestions at all from you about them tasting or trying it. Do this a few times before asking them if they’d like to try some. You’ll probably find they’d like to try it before you ask them.  Hopefully this will demystify fish in their eyes, as well as taking the pressure off of them having to eat it. Children would find the following dishes fun to help prepare: Fishy parcels, fish pie, goujons, mackerel pate, tuna pasta salad, garlicky prawns.   Download my Family fishy recipe guide here – recipes with the hands symbol are ones that are especially good for children to help with. children cook helping hand recipes recipe learn to cook fishfree fish recipe guide learn to cook fish

Educate your children about the benefits of eating fish.

Try to get talking around the subject of nutrition at meal times, from time to time you might like to slip into conversation WHY and HOW particular foods are useful for our bodies. I’ve included a brief summary below of the benefits of fish nutritionally. 

  • It’s rich in protein which helps your body to grow and repair
  • Oily fish are a good source of essential fats (omega 3 fatty acids). Good for your brain, eye health, blood pressure and heart health.
  • If you eat the soft bones (often found in caned fish such as sardines, and salmon,) you’ll benefit from extra calcium – great for bone health and formation.
  • Vitamins A, D, E and K are abundant in oily fish which will benefit your bones, muscles, skin and eye health.

Be a good role model.

Don’t let your children’s fussy shenanigans stop you from eating and enjoying fish. Make sure you do it in front of them. If you are a bit wary too, then be a good role model by being up for tasting and trying new foods regularly.

Here are some suggestions of things you might do together:

  • Go for a tapas meal. The Spanish tradition of tapas where you order a wide selection of dishes to the middle of your table and then share is ideal for tasting new foods and being a bit brave when ordering in a restaurant.  You’ll only have a small portion to share between the whole table. Strike a deal with your kids – if you try something, they do too. Or maybe you’ll have a competition of who can try the most new foods. Or perhaps you could all be restaurant critics and grade each dish out of ten. 
  • You could buy or make some sushi with fishy fillings, this is easy, fun and a fantastic way of tasting new foods in tiny parcels. 
  • Have a family meal around a big family friendly paella.  Another Spanish tradition – the paella is typically shared on a Sunday – a huge rice dish filled with all sorts of sea food, your bowl becomes a lucky dip. 

Talk about it.

Keep a dialogue going about food.

Ban the words yuk and yum.

From now on no one is allowed to say if they do or don’t like something.

When teaching, I use word prompt cards like these to help children to find the right words. They help children to express their experiences of foods beyond like and dislike. The words are sorted into smells, textures, flavours and appearances. If a child is really reluctant to taste a food I always tell them that they do not have to taste it, they can describe the smell, texture or appearance instead. This immediately takes the pressure off them. 

                                                                               

fish tips cooking children fussy eater

 …and then get cooking!

learn to cook fish recipe fussy

I know from experience that cooking breaks down barriers. Cooking is theraputic, educational, productive and sociable. It also helps fussy eaters enormously by de-mystifying ingredients. Cooking allows sensory introductions to foods that may otherwise seem scary to children. The very best thing would be to get your children being hands on in the kitchen as often as possible.

Use your conversations with your children to inform your cooking and meal planning. If they don’t like skin or bones, go for mashed up or blended fish such as pate or fish cakes.

If they like to see what they are eating, take them to the fish monger. Get them to help choose a piece and have a conversation with the fish monger about it.

Perhaps strong flavours are off putting,  in this case go for cod, or haddock, or mix the it into mashed potato in a fish cake.

They might prefer to be able to see exactly what they are eating, have fun with baked foil parcels and different seasonings.

To move away from slimy textures, you could have fun with a barbeque or racklette, and cook the fish for longer. 

Below are some meal ideas that I think are perfect for family cooking and eating sessions. If you’d like a bit more detail on how to make them, click here to download

Fee free to mess around with them and adapt them to suit your family.

free fish recipe guide learn to cook fish

Hiding veggies

Hiding veggies
Hiding veggies in your child’s dinner is a tried and tested parental tip.

hiding veggiesBy “hiding veggies”, I mean mashing up cauliflower into mashed potato, blending veggies into a pasta sauce and sneaking disliked fruits into smoothies. There are endless ways you can do it – I confess, I’m no expert at it. 

It’s an excellent way to boost your child’s nutritional intake whilst maintaining peace and harmony at the dinner table….

or is it?

 

 

I’m not saying don’t do it, I’m going to suggest we take a step back and consider whether it is the best option for the long term and what we could be doing instead.

Here are my three BIG reasons why  I think we should NOT hide veggies in our children’s food and SIX things we could be trying instead!

  1. Trust
  2. Knowledge / education
  3. Longevity / the future

Ok, so we’ve all done it, I still do it from time to time, but here’s why I think it’s a really bad idea to rely on veggies undercover in your children’s meals.

Trust

Hiding veggies could be considered a form of trickery. In this case it’s trickery that has been implemented with the purest of intentions, but all the same it’s trickery, and your 5 year old would most probably see it this way too if they found out.

Just imagine; when your child discovers that you’ve been squirreling away (the hated) carrots in their favourite bolognese sauce for goodness knows how long –  in their eyes, they’ll wonder what else you have been up to that they don’t know about? It’s like finding out that your husband has been sneaking extra pints in on the way home from work when he says he’s been working late to earn money for your new extension, you might start to question what else he’s been doing that you don’t know about.

I believe we need to be transparent and honest with our children, they trust us 100%, they rely on us 100% and we are their world.

Over the next decade (and more) you are going to need to convince your children to do so much more than eat veggies and without that trust and an open and communicative relationship you may struggle with some biggies down the line. Keep it straight now and  perhaps you’ll have your child where you want them when they are a teenager wanting to go out with friends until all hours. If they are able to trust you, you’ll be able to trust them. It works both ways and you need set the bar on this one.

Knowledge and education

By sneaking the extra veggies into our children’s mashed potatoes, we are allowing them to grow up in blissful ignorance. They are ignorant of the fact that their diet is providing them with vital nutrition. They may grow up believing that even though they (think) they eat only one type of vegetable they are still perfectly healthy.

I know this is an extreme example, but children learn by example, by seeing and by doing. It’s all very well telling them that an “apple a day keeps the doctor away”, but will they actually believe this and value the part that fresh food plays in our diet if they don’t actually see or experience it?

Longevity

If you are an avid “sneaker- inner”, have a think about this;

What exactly is your plan for the future? When do you plan to stop sneaking those veggies in? What happens when your son leaves home and has to manage his own diet? Will he be blissfully ignorant and believe that his healthy body and brilliant immune system is down to his diet of mashed potato and sausages. No veg needed here, thank you very much? When are you planning to stop the veggies in disguise? How are you planning to make the transition?

It’s a great short term solution, but we do need to be realistic here that hiding veggies is just a short term helper.

We need to start laying foundations for the future and we need to start with honesty and integrity.

I’ve included six simple ways you can start  to move away from hiding veggies below:

  1. Educate
  2. Empower 
  3. Sneak the veggies in (in an obvious way) before dinner (and then enjoy a veggie free dinner?)
  4. Work as a team
  5. Talk about it
  6. Have fun Click here to download my list of foodie fun and games activities.
Educate

Knowledge is power and education is the route to knowledge.

Educate your child about their diet. Explain at meal times how different foods help our bodies, and if you don’t know something, look it up together – you’ll be modelling good research skills at the same time.

Here are some good books I use on a regular basis as a reference point:

Healing foods nutrition book reference recipes hiding veggies  family nutrition reference book recipes hiding veggies

You can use my short video here which explains the New Eatwell Guide. You could even show this to  older children, or you can drip feed information to them about why different foods are good for us… there’s truth in the old saying that you might have been told as a youngster the carrots help you to see in the dark… , the beta carotene in carrots does indeed help with night vision.

Show your child the new Eatwell guide eatwell_guide_colour and show how large the vegetables and fruit section is. Explain that fruit and veg of different colours bring different nutrients to our bodies and we need to eat as wide a range as possible to be as healthy as possible.

Empower them to solve the problem

Once they understand why they need to eat vegetables and fruit, or milk and cheese (or whatever it is they are fussy about) you can make this your child’s problem. Knowledge is power – so give them the power to work out a solution… give them a blank Eatwell guide and a list of foods and ask them to organise a day’s worth of food into the correct sections. Can they see if it is balanced?

Or, get them to count their vegetable intake on a chart and reward them when they meet a target set by you.

Sneak the veggies in but in a transparent way.

One of my favourite things to do whilst cooking is to chop up a selection of veggies and nutritous goodies. I  put them in a couple of small bowls and set them down beside my daughters whilst they are watching TV, doing their homework, reading etc. More often than not, the bowls are empty by the time I serve up dinner and Bob’s your uncle, they’ve eaten a couple of portions of veg!  The pressure is then off at dinner time. You won’t be worrying about whether they’ve eaten enough veg and they won’t need to dig their heels in.

Work as a team

Make your children part of your team. Consult with them on which vegetables they think would best compliment your planned meal , ask for their help in the kitchen, make it all part of your daily routine, get them to prepare the vegetables, the more contact they have and the more input, the more invested they will feel in the outcome. They will be more likely to try the food even if they don’t like it. This is not 100% foolproof, but it is a small stepping stone towards harmony at the dinner table.

Talk about it

Start having conversations about food, whilst eating it, whilst preparing it and whilst planning it. Encourage your child to use sensory language to describe foods and discourage “I don’t like” “yuk” and “yummy”.

Encourage informative language such as bitter, salty, bland, chewy so that you can all start to better understand your child’s tastes.

Make it fun

We want our children to grow up with healthy attitudes towards food and with that in mind, meal times need to be relaxed and associations with food should be fun and relaxed.

The best advice I know is that we need to take away the battle, relax and have fun.

Choose your battles wisely and concentrate on the fun stuff. I’ve put together a list fun ideas that you can try.

Click here to download my list of foodie fun and games activities.  hiding veggies fun food games and activities

I hope I’ve spoken some sense here, of course I realise there may well be people that disagree with me. I’d love to know your viewpoint on hiding veggies. Do you do it? Have you tried some of my suggested fun foodie games and activities? Are there some that you do already at home? Do you have a new suggestion you’d like to share? Please do comment below.

I’d love to hear from you!

Kate x

 

 

hiding veggies fun food games and activities

My 3 step guide to rebalancing your lunchbox

My 3 step guide to rebalancing your lunchbox

lunchbox

Learn how to fall in love with the lunchbox again. I’ve narrowed it down to three easy steps, but you can’t do this alone, it’s got to be a team effort. You need to get your kids on side…. 

It’s September, and the kids are going back to school. Parents are anxiously labeling uniform and buying last minute plimsolls, protractors and pencil cases.

What are you dreading most about the return to school this September?

Well, I’m a teacher, and believe me, teachers are just as fearful of the September return as many children are. One of the things I most dread is getting back into the routine of school, and not just for me, but my children too.

Routine is good, but it’s really hard to get back there when you’ve enjoyed six weeks of lazy mornings and late sun drenched evenings, a daily ice cream and picky-picky meals because it’s just too hot to even think about cooking, let alone eating a hot meal.

It will be kind of nice to get back to a structured day, and to seeing friends and colleagues we’ve not seen over the summer. I miss my students and look forward to seeing how much they’ve grown up over the summer. Many of my students will be taller than me when we return… I hope that’s because they’ve been eating their greens!

There is one part of the routine I’m really not relishing getting back to, I wonder if you’ll agree.

Hands up if the thought of starting back with the monotonous task of packing the same old lunches for your children day in, day out makes you shudder.

The very idea of a lunch box being monotonous and repetitive makes me think that perhaps our packed lunches are not as ‘healthy’ as they are cracked up to be. Are we deceiving ourselves into thinking that because we lovingly prepare a packed lunch it is in some way healthier?

School dinners have come under a lot of scrutiny from the press, parents, headteachers and government lately, packed lunches have been a somewhat invisible sideline. I know a lot of schools offer guidelines on packed lunches and some have strict rules which must be adhered to. However even if a ‘no chocolate, no sweets and no drinks apart from water’ rule is in place, it doesn’t always follow that the lunch will be nutritionally balanced or wholesome, or varied for that matter.

Children are notoriously fussy eaters and it is so easy (I do this myself) to fall into the parenting trap of sticking to what works day in and day out because we know little Johnny will definitely eat it and therefore not go hungry.

However, I am certain that this approach of the same packed lunch every day with very little variation will in the long run do Johnny more harm than good.

Why? Because he will not be getting the variation of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that his body needs. Many children are undernourished because they do not eat a wide enough range of foods.

A packed lunch should NOT be the same every day!

I’ve put some thought into this, and I think this has to be a team effort. If you want your children to eat the (healthy, balanced) packed lunches you prepare for them, you need to get them involved too. Make them know they are listened to, make them invest their ideas into striving for variation, balance and nourishment in their packed lunches.

Balance your box…

We need to educate our children about what a balanced diet looks like. Take a look at my Eatwell guide video – here. It should be easy enough for your children to understand too. Either let them watch the video, or show them a printout and explain it to them yourself. You could even print off a blank guide for them to draw on.

 

Use the Eatwell guide as a point of reference, check you are including foods in the correct proportions and different foods from all sections each day.

2

Pick n Mix your lunchbox

Next sit down with your child and write a list (to be pinned on the fridge) of all the packed lunch suitable foods that you can think of that fit into each section of the Eatwell guide. If you get stuck, or are short for time, download my easy Pick ‘n’ Mix list

packed lunch ideas healthy balanced diet children eatwell guide food
Pic ‘n’ Mix lunchbox builder printable

If you’d like a printable version of this Pick n Mix lunchbox list designed especially for your use with your family when planning packed lunches, just click above, you’ll be able to sign up for my monthly newsletter at the same time.

How to use the Pick ‘n’ mix sheet for a varied lunchbox: 

Ask your child to highlight the things they like, underline the things they definitely DO NOT and get them to put a star next to the things they are willing to try out once in a while. Set a target with your child – maybe to try one new thing from the starred items each week. See if you can convert some starred items into highlighted ones. 

3

Get inspired! Just look at those lovely lunchboxes

Now take a look at my Pinterest board there are hundreds, probably thousands of different ideas here that might spark your imagination. I recommend you do this WITH your child, if they are involved, and if they invest some time in thinking about this your chances of success are going to be much greater. But one word of warning, don’t set yourself up to committing to anything too fancy such as carving carrots into Elsa from frozen! Remember this is supposed to make your life easier as well.

My rules:
  1. Keep it simple
  2. Keep going – don’t give up at the first hurdle
  3. Don’t expect massive changes straight away, keep encouraging and inspiring your child to try new foods, whilst still allowing some old favourites alongside the new.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. I’d really love to see some pictures of your revamped lunchboxes, or maybe even completed planners. You can add comments below here and pictures to my facebook page. Let’s share some inspiration.

 

Try something new in July – Samphire

Try something new in July – Samphire

If you go down to the beach today you’re sure to find a samphrise….

Samphire is in season right now and it’s waiting for your children to come pick it!

Do you want to encourage your children to try new flavours and foods?

Do you enjoy outdoor walks and scavenger hunts? 

Would you like some extremely tasty and healthy food for FREE? 

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then read on….

There “is a prize among the sea greens, if you can find it.” (Seaweed and eat it by Fiona Houston and Xa Milne)

We’re lucky enough to live by the sea… in fact we can just cross the road and access a larder of tasty goodies anytime. However if you live in Britain, the chances are you’ll visit the sea side at some point, you’re never much more than an hour away from the sea in Britain, so this could form part of an exciting day trip for school children, families, home education groups, brownies, cubs etc.

So, I challenge you to try something new this July and take a trip to the coast to see what goodies you can find.

Today we will focus on Samphire as it’s just coming into season now which means that the freshest, tenderest stalks are sitting on the beach just waiting to be found.  

What do they look like? 

Samphire forage beach cooking
Samphire looks like a mini cacti without the spikes

They look like mini cactus plants – but without the prickles, they are tender and succulent in appearance and a bright green. The stalks grow to about 20cm max in height and they are usually nestled amongst some sea grasses. Some people have likened them to asparagus – I suppose the segmented stalk is a little like asparagus, but I can’t see any further resemblance apart from the short season of availability they both have in common. Here’s a picture to help identify them.  

This blog post is concerned with Marsh Samphire, here is one other type of Samphire called Rock Samphire which is much rarer and found growing from dry rock faces and completely different from the Marsh Samphire we describe here.

Where is the best place to find some? 

Samphire forage July cooking seasonal foods beach food
If you go down to the beach today you’re sure to have a Samphrise!

The type of Samphire we are looking at today is called Marsh Samphire, which gives us a clue as to it’s location. It is found on marshy sea mud flats. So you’ll need to find a more rustic, natural beach than the usually sandy, ice cream and deckchair type beach. We gather ours from Pegwell Bay in East Kent,  but other locations include Mersea island, Orford in Suffolk, Adur river in Shoreham by the sea, The Welsh Dee Estuary, Devon and many more places in the UK.  You just need to seek out a marshy mud flat and start looking.

 

Once you have found a good location you’ll need to wait until the tide is out a bit and then hunt around – if Samphire is there is it not hard to find, in some locations it grows so abundantly you’ll see nothing but the Samphire. Early in the Season (June to July) you may have to hunt amongst the grasses, but often it just grows straight out of the sea bed. 

Do I need any special equipment?

Samphire forage July Seasonal food sea vegetables cooking
You’ll need a bag / basket, some wellies and some scissors

Equip your mini harvesters/foragers with wellies or crocs (Marsh Samphire grows in the boggiest marshiest flats of the beach), a breathable carrier – a net bag, cloth bag, or a basket are ideal for collecting. A picture (laminated if possible) of the plants you are looking for will help them to seek out the treasure by themselves. * A word of caution – tread carefully and stick to the firmer parts of the mud flats – some areas can be very soft and it is easy to get your wellies stuck – my children and their friends thing this is great fun – but it can get messy and sometimes it’s hard to pull your wellies out! 

How should I pick it? 

The rule is NEVER to uproot it. Just take the top sections (approx 10cm). The top sections are the most tender. A pair of scissors is handy to allow you to make a clean cut, other wise you can just pinch it off at one of the segments with your fingers.

Are there any rules about collecting Samphire? 

Yes, as with all foraging, never take or uproot every last bit as it may prevent regeneration. So avoid uprooting the plant and avoid stripping the beach of every bit of Samphire. It is actually illegal to uproot Samphire without permission.

When is it available?

Samphire is in season from June to August. It is a bit more difficult to find in June – you have to hunt a bit more carefully, and starts to become a bit more woody towards the end of August.  

How should I eat / prepare it? Samphire foraging seaside beach food sea vegetables cooking, make with kate

When you get the Samphire back to the kitchen give it a thorough rinse. This too can be great fun for children. Maybe fill up the sink and let them swish it around, or a large bowl or washing up bowl.

Young and tender Samphire can be eaten raw – it could be added to a salad to add some salty flavour. Alternatively the best way to cook Samphire is by steaming it for 5 – 10 minutes. This will help to retain the nutrients and warm it up nicely / tenderise it if some of your haul is a bit woody. 

You could add some butter as you might do with asparagus. In fact you could use Samphire in any way you might use Asparagus – as a dipper for a runny boiled egg, alongside fish such as Salmon or Smoked haddock,  serve it with poached eggs, or just as a vegetable accompaniment to any meal. A fun way of trying it would be to put out some dips such as yogurt with cucumber/mint, hummous, garlic mayonnaise and let your mini foragers dip the samphire into those for more experimental tasting. 

If you get really into collecting and eating Samphire and would like to incorporate it into some recipes – consider using some recipes from here  I’ve also put together a collection of recipes and resources to help you get started on my Pinterest page. Click here.

In my house the Samphire is usually devoured before anything else makes it to the table.

*You might find when collecting Samphire later in the season (August) that the stalks might become a bit woody, it is still perfectly edible, but you’ll need to shred the tender parts from the woody part of the stem with your teeth whilst eating. *

What does it taste like?

Samphire (being a sea vegetable) has a very salty flavour which my children go absolutely mad for. It is (like most sea vegetables) a good source of iodine, along with a host of other vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C,  D and B vitamins, iron calcium, manganese and zinc to name but a few.

 

So – I challenge you – if you try one new thing in July – make it a bunch of Samphire. If you don’t live near to a beach it can be bought from a supermarket/farmers market for approx £2 for 100g.  But if you can get there, it only adds to the fun and it is absolutely FREE!

Do you know of any good locations for Samphire foraging? Do you have any special meal ideas or recipes using Samphire to share? Please post your ideas and pictures of your hoards below to inspire others.