Feel good food

With all the hoo-ha about hormones and antibiotics in our meat, it’s hardly surprising that ‘flexitarianism’ is the new vogue. ‘Flexitarians’ apparently eat a vegetarian diet most of the time but splash out on ethically sourced organic meat occasionally.

Addressing the 4th International Conference ‘The Home, a place of growth, care and wellbeing’ at the Royal Society of Medicine in London in November, Dr Timothy Harlan emphasised the proven health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. It traditionally composes of very little meat, some fish, fermented dairy, wholegrain, pulses and an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. American Professor Michael Greger goes a step further claiming that all meat and dairy are bad for us – as harmful to our health even as smoking! Others advocate a ‘paleo’ diet consisting of food that early civilizations hunted or gathered such as lean meat, eggs, fruit, nuts and seeds.

Whatever our food fads, with grocery deliveries direct to our doorstep and hosts of online recipes boasting hearty meals in half an hour,  it’s never been so quick and easy to prepare nutritious home-cooked dinners. And it doesn’t have to break the budget to eat healthily – a shopping bag full of vegetables can be bought for the price of just one ready meal. Meat and fish may be expensive but if you can stomach the alternatives such as lentils, beans and soya products they’re a fraction of the price and quick to prepare with many dried pulses not requiring any pre-soaking.

The secret is in planning ahead –  deciding menus at least a week in advance means it’s not much trouble to turn out tasty dishes in no time and sit down to a relaxing meal with family or friends.


New family dynamics- the advent of the Granny nanny

There’s a quiet revolution visible across Britain, repeated throughout the world – the rise of the Granny nanny.

Grannies and Grandads can be seen pushing buggies up and down the country, meeting children from school and accompanying youngsters to sports centres or after-school clubs. While it’s nothing new, it’s certainly on the increase with many mothers finding they need to return to work to provide a roof over their heads or save up the deposit for a mortgage. Because of exorbitant nursery fees, grandparents are now stepping into the role of child minders.

Research by the International Longevity Centre UK has found that grandparents save their families an average £1786 a year in childcare costs, which equates to a national figure of £16.1 billion. Nine million grandparents spend at least eight hours a week looking after grandchildren, while 2.7 million of them are heavily relied upon to regularly provide childcare.

But there’s a win-win on all sides. Having swapped the sedentary lifestyle of the archetypal  grandparent for full-on nannying, they juggle housework with keeping the baby clean, fed and entertained.  Exuberant toddlers can be exhausting but very entertaining. Grandparents invariably find they are getting fitter and feel more contented and working parents appreciate their help and feel under less of a strain, knowing their children are being lovingly looked after and they don’t have to worry if they’re delayed by traffic on the way home.

The children benefit the most with one-to-one care, often lacking in a crèche full of infants, whereas with both grandparents helping out they receive a double dose of love and attention. A friend who used to help in a primary school said the teacher told her she can tell straight away the ones who have spent all their preschool years at nursery as they constantly distract their classmates and crave the teacher’s attention simply because it wasn’t there when they needed it from parents and siblings.

Extended family nearby is ideal for child support but I know of one middle-aged mum who commutes by train and stays a couple of nights with her daughter in London to child mind three days a week and another who makes a 20-mile round trip when needed to meet her grandchildren from school.

While some understandably don’t want to be tied to providing daycare for their grandchildren, others seek out the opportunity to become surrogate grannies. A friend with grown up children loves the company of little ones so much that she volunteers to meet them from the local nursery to save their mums the stress of rushing to be back in time. Another lady, who used to look after her two granddaughters full time, also stood in as babysitter for most of the children in her road. Now in her eighties, her neighbours affectionately refer to her and her late husband as the “grandparents of the street”.

What’s more, according to European research presented by UN advisor Renata Kaczmarska at ‘Home: a place of growth, care and wellbeing’ conference in London last week, among grandparents who actively care for their grandchildren “mortality rates are 37% lower.” And it’s across the board, whatever their socio-economic status, age or health issues.  The Evolution and Human Behaviour report states: “The neural and hormonal system – originally rooted in parenting and thus grandparenting – that is activated in the process of caregiving has been suggested as a potential proximate mechanism that promotes engagement in pro-social behaviour towards kin and non-kin alike.  Evidence and theory suggest that activating this caregiving system positively impacts health and may reduce the mortality of the helper.”

So surrogate grannies can live longer too!