In 1950, less than 1% of the UK population was clinically obese; today, that figure stands at 28%. This is not because we have suffered a massive collapse of willpower, but because we live in a different food environment from our predecessors. Modern industrial production methods have created an abundance of cheap, unhealthy food of a kind that we are biologically programmed to crave. Because junk food is easy to sell, companies spend huge amounts developing and marketing it. We eat more of it, the market expands, manufacturers spend more on it, we eat more … and so on. We have become trapped in a junk food cycle.
In my new book, Ravenous, I am on a mission: to help anyone with a stake in the food system (which is every single one of us) understand how it actually works, why it is making us sick and destroying our environment, and what we can do to change it. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing family friendly recipes that link to the key themes of the book, starting with breaking this cycle. My healthy versions of junk-food classics have been tested extensively on children: first, on my three kids; and then on thousands of children whose lunches have been transformed by the charity Chefs in Schools. They are also cheap and easy to make.
Pat’s broad bean burgers
This recipe was handed down to me by the chef Jane Baxter, who got it from Katie, who got it from her mum, Pat. From Pat, to Katie, to Jane, to me, to you. That is the way recipes travel.
Prep 10 min
Rest 10 min
Cook 30 min
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Leaves from about 4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 tbsp olive oil
600g broad beans (podded weight) – frozen ones are fine
Salt and pepper
50g porridge oats
1 large egg, beaten
1 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tsp Marmite
Oil, for frying
6 burger buns
Sweat the onion, garlic and thyme in olive oil over a low heat for at least 15 minutes, until soft.
Blanch the broad beans in salted boiling water for three minutes, or until tender, then drain well. Mash the beans by hand or in a food processor (not too smooth – you want some texture), then mix with the onions and the rest of the ingredients, bar the oil for frying. Leave to sit for at least 10 minutes, so the oats soak up the egg, then season well.
Check the seasoning by frying off and tasting a little blob of the mix. When you have it right, shape it into six burger patties. They may seem wet when you shape them, but they will hold their shape when fried; if you’re struggling to shape them, add a teaspoon or two of gram flour (or plain flour) to stiffen them up.
Fry the burgers gently in oil for about five minutes on each side, until browned on both sides.
Drain on kitchen roll and serve in the buns with sliced tomatoes.
A sneaky way to get your children to eat more veg.
Prep 10 min
Cook 40 min
Sea salt and black pepper
75g unsalted butter
5 tbsp plain flour
1½ tsp English mustard powder
775ml full-fat milk
175g extra-mature cheddar, grated
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika, plus extra for topping
Nutmeg, to taste
300g frozen spinach, defrosted and liquid squeezed out
5 tbsp breadcrumbs
40g grated parmesan
Heat the oven to 220C (200C fan)/425F/gas 7, and bring a large pan of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
In another large saucepan, melt the butter, then stir in the flour and mustard powder for a few minutes, until it combines and thickens. Add the milk a cup at a time, whisking between each addition to ensure you get a smooth, creamy sauce. Stir in the cheddar, paprika and nutmeg, then take off the heat, taste and season accordingly.
Stir the spinach into the hot sauce, then blitz with a stick blender until smooth.
Cook the pasta for two minutes less than the instructions on the packet, then drain, tip into the green sauce pot and stir to combine.
Arrange the sauce-coated pasta in an ovenproof dish and scatter over the breadcrumbs, parmesan and a little extra paprika to add a brilliant, red dash. Bake at the top of the oven for 20–25 minutes, until bubbling and golden on top.
Ravenous: How To Get Ourselves and Our Planet Into Shape, by Henry Dimbleby with Jemima Lewis, is published by Profile books at £16.99. To order a copy for £14.95, go to guardianbookshop.com