It is well known that a Mediterranean diet is an extremely healthy way to eat. Typically high in whole grains, olive oil, vegetables, legumes, pulses and fruit, it also allows for moderate amounts of white meat and fish to be eaten, as well as the occasional amount of red meat.
The high levels of anti-oxidants that come with such a diet are thought to explain the low incidence of heart disease and cancer in countries favouring the Mediterrean way of eating. When combined with regular exercise, this diet has been proved to aid a health promoting lifestyle.
How do we introduce the Mediterranean way of eating in our nurseries?
The first answer is: with relative ease. Many recipes and foods that use Mediterranean ingredients are simple to make and naturally flavoursome. Dishes are cost-effective and, if regularly offered, very popular with young children.
Crucially, adults must overcome their inhibitions in offering young children 'Mediterranean' foods. For instance, most babies adore recipes such as hummus, and by making it ourselves we can eliminate added salt and instead flavour with herbs, red peppers, lemon juice and so on.
Habits are hard to break with older children, so an early introduction is by far the best way to influence future healthy eating habits. It is also makes children less fussy and more willing to try new foodstuffs.
As the mother of a six-year-old boy, I have focused his nutrition around a Mediterranean diet from his baby days. His diet has included olives (stone free!), hummus, oily fish and beans and pulses from an early age, without fuss. He loves these foodstuffs and will eat almost anything, including smoked salmon, as well as anchovy stuffed olives!
Nurseries can influence not only the children's diets, but also the attitudes of whole families. A huge responsibility, I am sure you will agree, but worth it.
Here is the children's favourite Mediterranean recipe this month.
TUSCAN BEAN CASSEROLE WITH GAMMON
Feeds approximately 40 children (age range one to three years)
1kg gammon joint (locally/organically sourced if possible)
3x 400g tins of cannelloni beans*
3x 400g tins of chickpeas*
1x 400g tin of red kidney beans*
400g cooked red lentils
1 tblsp vegetable bouillon (mix with 2 pints of water)
1x 700gm bottle passatta (sieved tomatoes)
1x 2.5kg tin organic chopped tomatoes
3 x tblsp of fresh herbs (basil, parsley and thyme)
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tblsp olive oil
* choose organic that has no GMO, salt or sugar
1. Boil the gammon for 3/4-1 hour.
2. Drain and wash all the beans.
3. Make up the stock.
4. Chop the fresh herbs.
5. Fry the onion in oil until soft, add the gammon (chopped into smallish cubes) and continue frying for a few minutes.
6. Add the beans and stock.
7. Bring slowly to the boil and stir well.
8. Add tinned tomatoes and passata and half the chopped herbs.
9. Re-boil, and then turn down to simmer.
10. Put the lid on the pan and cook for 3/4-1hr, stir frequently.
11. Before serving, sprinkle with the remaining herbs.
12. Serve with organic rice or couscous.
- Emma Comer is owner-manager and Meg Smith is cook at Tall Trees Kindergarten, Frome, Somerset. www.talltreeskindergarten.co.uk