Eating healthily at school

School food has improved no end since Jamie’s School Dinners. In my school you can’t even buy fizzy drinks or chocolate and there are no vending machines.

But I generally don’t eat in the school restaurant because when I do go in, I make poor food choices. I eat sandwiches rather than vegetables. I say yes when the lovely ladies ask me if I want extra roast potatoes. There are puddings with custard. And the nutritional requirements of hollow-legged, active, growing teenagers are different from those for overweight thirty-somethings.

The last few years, I can see from my weight graphs, I have lost weight in the autumn term, gained it over Christmas and then it peaks at the end of the summer when I get a bit of a grip again. My diet gets steadily worse as I get more tired, and when the lack of structure of the summer holidays arrives I am my own worse enemy.

But I do find I can lose weight at school if I am careful and sensible. This is how I do it.

Fruit

It has worked well for me to take in a week’s fruit at once and have a fruit bowl on my desk. There is something healthy to snack on right there and you can see how well you are doing – it’s a visible progress bar in front of you. Last year I took in a banana and an apple for most days, this year I think I will try and add something else as well, citrus fruit or kiwis maybe.

Another benefit is that I can rarely persuade myself to eat breakfast before I leave the house, and sometimes not until I’m well into my school day. But if I just have fruit at break time, that still counts as breakfast, right? Even if I’m on my nth cup of coffee?

And if you want to consider it as pedagogy, you could even make the point that you are modelling healthy eating to your students.

Graze boxes

These give me lots of interesting things in small portions. Even if you go mad and eat two or three punnets at once you aren’t going to break the calorie bank.

If you’ve never tried graze, you can get a free sample here.

Tinned soup

I went through a phase last summer of eating tinned soup for lunch every day. It’s definitely nicer than cup-a-soup, and reasonably healthy. Low calories for sure, and it sort of counts as part of your five a day. It is generally pretty heavy on salt and industrial food. Just as the three fruit a day tipped me over my daily recommended sugar intake on MyFitnessPal, a tin of soup gets you a long way towards your daily salt ration. But keeping a stock of tins of soup in your classroom cupboard for emergencies is definitely a helpful thing to do.

My PT wants me to be avoiding carbs as much as possible, and certainly not eating bread, potatoes or pasta. Even so, I am on the lookout for other long life products I can bulk buy and keep in the cupboard for the days when I can’t be bothered to make a packed lunch (or I leave it in the fridge at home). Oatcakes perhaps, the nice Carrs ones wrapped in portions?

Salad

I really ought to be eating salad for lunch every day. At first thought, that’s a very depressing thought, but there are plenty of tricks I have come up with to help that work a little better.

I mentally categorise vegetables into three groups. Ones I can eat by themselves (carrots, sweetcorn). Ones I don’t like but can eat if there are enough other things on my plate to take the taste away (broccoli, spinach). And the ones that make me feel sick regardless of how I try to swamp the taste (swede, sprouts, parsnips… it’s a long list.)

Fortunately most salad veg fits the first category. Most leaves are OK – but those salad pillows do not last very long and if you buy them at the start of the week they are looking pretty sad by the end of it. And once the pillow is opened, releasing all the putrefaction delaying gas, the contents deteriorate pretty fast. And you also need loads of it to count as a portion. Whole lettuces last longer but then you have less variety, and you have to faff about washing and spinning them.

The crunchy vegetables last longer in the fridge and are more interesting to eat. By and large you need less of them to count as a portion, and lots of them are sweet too. I like carrots, radishes, peppers, celery for starters so you can get a good salad going with that lot.

Salad dressing

The vegetables by themselves need a little something to get them going, and a salad dressing is a must. Once on a channel ferry, a prepacked French salad had a one-inch tall plastic bottle with oil and vinegar in it for you to shake and make your own dressing, and that basic idea made its way into my lunchbox. I’ve got a small glass jar for the dressing that I keep separate from the veg until lunchtime, then shake it up and pour it over.

As all good cooks should, I have a variety of oils and vinegars to choose from as well as plenty of other condiments and ingredients to add. It’s certainly true that most days there are more calories in my dressing than all the vegetables put together. But it’s not an insane amount.

A basic dressing is a tablespoon of oil (EVOO) and teaspoon of vinegar (balsamic, sherry, cider, home made red wine…). Always a good screw of salt and pepper.

And then to mix things up, some of the following: honey mustard – runny honey and wholegrain mustard with cider vinegar; just a good glug of sweet chilli sauce; a good glug of toasted sesame oil for an interesting flavour; fresh herbs like basil or tarragon.

Salad – something to look forward to

And as if a delicious dressing wasn’t enough I also like another ingredient. I don’t have to have something to take the taste away as I’m OK with most salad vegetables, but it’s still nice to have something to look forward to. A good slice of deli ham is a great start, or something sweet in the mix – grapes or raisins. Something crunchy like walnuts or seeds of some sort for texture. Anything from the world of cheese.

My #2 nemesis – cake in meetings

Who can spell ‘obesogenic’? (I just had to check!)

It’s lovely that people bring cakes and biscuits to meetings. I do it quite a lot myself. We’ve had some absolutely awesome ones and some of my colleagues are really talented bakers. Some of us buy in our cakes and that’s nice too. My problem is saying no. Or just eating one biscuit. I’m not at all equipped to resist temptation, especially after a busy day – and a lot of our meetings are after the children go home.

My #1 nemesis

My #1 nemesis on the healthy eating front is the feeling that “after the day I’ve had I deserve…” and the thing I think I deserve is a really terrible food choice. “Drive thru” at McDonalds or Starbucks over the road from school – and even the threat of meeting students there is not always enough to deter me. If I make it onto the motorway without buying something daft, there’s always the four corner shops I have to pass on the way home too. At this point in the day I’m often so hungry I really can’t be bothered to cook dinner either, so the temptation to stuff my face is very real.

And the result is plain to see on my weight graph. Which I’m not going to share. So here’s to 20kg of weight loss and no putting it back on again!

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Book (series) I have known and loved

Manda challenged me on facebook…

“Book Challenge thingy. List your 10 favourite books, that have stayed with you. Don’t be shy, share truly and don’t try too hard, reading is entertainment not a credibility challenge.”

Before I knew it I had churned out 1500 words, so it seemed wise to put the words on here too for posterity.

I seem to be less able than others I know to remember things that have happened more than five years ago, and with that goes a lot of detail of what I have read. I quite often find myself in the situation of reading a book and being able to predict where it’s going – but only a few pages before it has happened. I put this down to having read it before and forgotten rather than any power of prediction.

The main thing I read is detective fiction and I almost always look out for a series by the same author that I can get my teeth into and gallop through. So lots of what I list below will be series rather than individual books. I read so fast I must miss some of the detail.
That said, lately reading for pleasure has not been much of a part of my life. It’s a holiday activity rather than work day one, and somehow this year I have managed to pass almost all of my six week holiday without finishing a single book.

Anyway, the list.

Enid Blyton – The Famous Five. Gosh, what a ghastly start. But this was my introduction to crime novels and independent reading when I took a book off my mother, who was unable to read it aloud without sniggering, and started to read it by myself. We had loads and loads at home and so I read them.

Arthur Ransome – Swallows and Amazons and the subsequent series. This also took up many many summer holidays of my childhood, and built up a relationship with my local libraries as I put in cards to request the subsequent books in the series. Somehow the awesome books never led to me visiting the Lake District or getting interested in sailing but I was happy to read about others doing same. IF NOT DUFFERS, WON’T DROWN.

Agatha Christie – Poirot books. After a while – by about 11 – I had read pretty much everything in the young adult section of the library (even the Judy Blume, here’s looking at you, ‘Ralph’) and we began to talk to the staff about me borrowing adult books. The staff agreed with my parents to keep an eye out and steer me away from anything desperately inappropriate, but it was Agatha Christie I read the most, starting with garishly illustrated ones on my parents’ shelves, branching out through the library and eventually getting a bit organised in a quest to request and read all of them in my teenage years.

Paul Magrs – Marked for Life. I got a job during my sixth form years as an assistant at Ludlow Library where I did Saturday shelving. As part of that I was once allowed to help choose the new books they bought. There were a stack of cards from publishers, each one with title, author and a short description of the book. Staff got to go through the cards and leave a tick on the ones they thought library should buy. I made them get this one because it’s a story with a gay affair at the heart of it, and as a staff member I could check it out to myself without anyone else having to see. The literary equivalent of sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to watch “Beautiful Laundrette.” Magrs was a graduate of an MA Creative Writing course so it’s pretty weird book, heavily influenced by magical realism (one of the characters becomes invisible at one point). This was his first novel, and he’s written plenty since, and is also a very influential author in the Dr Who world. Looking back on my late teens, I don’t now understood how I found time to read as much as I did. I borrowed at least 6 books from the library every fortnight and read through them very quickly. At the same time somehow I managed to get 4 amazing A-Level results too. I don’t really remember doing much studying. It was more than five years ago, I suppose.

Reginald Hill – Dalziel and Pascoe. A massive skip forward – in 2005 I allowed myself a long long holiday, taking leave from being a councillor. I spent it driving around France and camping for six weeks. Preparing for that, I bought a crate of Dalziel and Pascoe novels for next to nothing and read most of them under canvass by torchlight. NB I’ve never actually even seen the TV adaptions of these. I eventually swapped them with CH for a crate of French language Maigret novels which I regret to say I have never got very far with. On that holiday I thought the complete Reginald Hill would last me six weeks but in fact I was running out by half way. As it happened I took a holiday from my holiday halfway through to return for a good friend’s stag do, so while I was staying with AC in Geneva I borrowed her computer and bought a whole bunch more books to be posted to me in England to pick up before returning to France. Which leads me to…

Sue Grafton – Alphabet novels. I had always been a bit sniffy about these but AC had some on her shelves, so they can’t have been all bad. I flicked through, they seemed eminently readable, so I bought about 10 of them and read them then and got hooked. I’ve stayed with them as she brings out more and she is so close to completing the alphabet now. The original books were tightly plotted and very slim. Now they are getting longer and sometimes she even moves away from the first-person detective narrator, which I am not a fan of. Her detective Kinsey Millhone is brilliant.

Mary Roach – Stiff – I can’t remember who first put me onto the books of Mary Roach, but she is amazing. She is a pop science writer who takes something unpleasant and writes a book about it in gory detail with hilarious footnotes. The stories she tells are about how she learned what she writes about, and the people who are often unsung heroes. Stiff is the story of dead bodies, with a chapter on “the body farm” which Patricia Cornwell readers will know about as a research facility into decay; a chapter on crash test dummies – they use cadavers in that field too; a chapter on how dead bodies used to be powdered and turned into medicine. It doesn’t sound at all promising, but it is fascinating and very funny and all of her books (Bonk, Stiff, Gulp, Spook and Packing for Mars) are the best thing ever.

Edmund de Waal – Hare with Amber Eyes. While we are on non-fiction this is a memoir of de Waal’s family heirlooms. It’s a book divided into three – first the story of how his Jewish banker family acquired this collection of Japanese carvings, and how Jewish people got very wealthy in a bunch of different European countries in the 1800s onwards. Then there’s the story of what happened during the Anschluss in Austria and how fast and how hard they fell from grace when the Nazis sacked Jewish homes and murdered people. Finally there’s the story of how the heirlooms were recovered and how they spent their time 1945-1990 in Japan, in a story that’s just as interesting. It’s very readable – the wartime section is horrifying – but the stories before and after are just as interesting. The carvings are the thread that holds the book together but the real stories are the people who owned them.

Janet Evanovich – Stephanie Plum novels “One for the money” etc. Grafton started on a finite series A is for… Evanovich went with a rather more open ended plan, started on a novel called “One…” and carried on from there. I heard about these from a book discussion Radio 4 programme, ordered the first one, read it overnight, ordered a ton more, lent them to my friends and parents and now, as with Grafton, I read the new ones as they come out. Light and fluffy crime novels told from POV of an incompetent female bounty hunter with somewhat loose morals. Very funny, untaxing, readable in about 5 hours, excellent for airports, loads of them to get through.

So what to choose for #10? I think Terry Pratchett as another prolific writer of very funny novels. Surreal and weird, sometimes it seems whole universes are spun around a single bad pun or a deliberate misunderstanding of something. You can’t really describe Pratchett, but the beautiful covers the books all have are a fab partner for the chaotic and hilarious plots and characters.

You might also like this thing I wrote the last time I got tagged in a book meme in 2006.