As the Oliver clan return home with their latest bundle of joy, Rhiane Kirkby chats exclusively to the chef and family man about weaning, superfoods and family life.
A new addition to any household usually brings with it some chaos and disorder, and when that little bundle of joy is your fifth child, you’d be forgiven for taking things a bit easier. Not Jamie Oliver. Despite the arrival of his new little boy, he’s still found the time to bring out a new book and TV series. And he also claims to have more energy than ever before…
“It’s all down to my superfood philosophy,” explains Jamie. “Superfoods,” I retort sceptically. “Do they really exist?” “Well,” says Jamie, “there are definitely foods which are better for you, such as green leafy vegetables and non-salted nuts – but it’s all about variety and a wide range of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. There isn’t one superfood for me – it’s the superfood principles which put you on the path to good health.”
What’s more, Jamie guarantees his latest recipes will, “fill you up and revive, restore and energise you.” Given his non-stop work schedule and hectic family life, these bold claims are something I’m keen to explore. I ask whether superfoods really can give tired and overworked new parents the energy kick they crave. “Definitely,” says Jamie, “people mistake energy for sugar most of the time, but it’s far better to eat slow-release foods that stabilise your insulin and give you a more constant level of energy. I eat a handful of nuts every day and you can’t go wrong with eggs, but the best thing to do is swap white pasta for whole wheat and white rice for brown.”
For Jamie, it’s never too early to adopt this approach. “Research suggests mums who eat a wide range of nutritious foods during pregnancy end up with babies with the same range of tastes in weaning and in later life, too.” Given he’s been through five pregnancies with wife Jools and is doing a Masters in nutrition, I figure he must have an opinion on what mums-to-be should eat and I’m keen to find out whether eating superfoods would curb pregnancy cravings for sugar, crisps and other high-carb snacks. Jamie sits on the fence in answer to the cravings question but does admit that, “this time Jools was quite normal, compared to her previous pregnancies when she had really strange cravings and wanted to eat rubber.” So maybe his superfood philosophy works after all, given the amount served up to the Oliver clan of late?
And talking of family, I ask Jamie about his experience of weaning and whether he’s planning to do anything differently this time around. He tells me he tends to purée from about six months, but quickly moves onto “blending, mashing and bashing” as babies need to get used to different textures. “Letting them learn to feed themselves using finger food is also very important.” Of course, for Jamie, flavour is the key to successful weaning and although he holds back on the salt, sugar and spice, he introduces a wide range of foods and food groups early on.
“The more flavours and textures you can get them used to in early life, the less likely they are to develop fussy eating habits. Me and Jools used Annabel Karmel recipes to start but switched the ingredients the kids didn’t like. We’ve managed to get them to be a pretty well-rounded bunch. They’ll try and learn to enjoy most things. The rest is down to them!”
Jamie’s other top tip is to be a role model and try to get everyone eating the same thing, “if you don’t eat fruit and veg then your kids won’t either.” I ask whether his new addition will join the rest of the Oliver family in eating from the SuperFood cookbook in a few months time. “Lots of the recipes are suitable for the whole family and could be mashed and puréed for those just starting out on solids. Just make sure you avoid added salt and salty, unpasteurised, low-fat or high-fibre ingredients – and watch out for foods that may cause choking, like whole nuts.
“As babies, my kids all loved salmon, fish pies, pasta and devoured spaghetti bolognaise, so from this book I’d try alphabet tomato soup, jumbo fish fingers, spaghetti cake and chicken nuggets. Some can even be batch cooked and frozen to save time.”
I put to Jamie that even though he’s convinced me of the benefits of a diet rich in superfoods, I’m still not certain sleep-deprived new parents will find the time, or the energy to whip up these wholesome and healthy meals. He’s proud to say his new book has lots of “clever tips and shortcuts to help you get ahead.” Easy for a super-chef to say, I joke!
“I’ve never gone out of my way to make my recipes difficult or cheffy”, Jamie bites back. “It’s really important to me that pretty much anyone can make them easily.” And I have to say that having tried some of them out, I’m inclined to agree. If a self-acclaimed culinary disaster-master like myself can make something palatable with a two-year-old clinging to my legs, then there’s got to be hope for other tired and weary parents out there!
Superfood Family Classics by Jamie Oliver, £16.99, is out now.