How I Keep My Family Healthy

bacon & cabbage-2

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] A[/dropcap] few weeks ago, my Irishman was in a lift with a family with a sick baby. He mentioned that he has a one-year-old and the other parents were like, ‘Oh you must be used to him being sick’.

My Irishman was a little taken back by this.

Over dinner he told me about his encounter with the sick child.

We both realized we’ve been very lucky with Fergal. Apart from the odd runny nose, he hasn’t ever been really sick. (Excuse me while I just go and touch some wood!)

But is this just good luck? Or good genes? Or something we’re doing or not doing?

In all likelihood, it’s a combination. However, our habits and lifestyle must be having an impact.

4 Ways I Keep My Family Healthy

1. We eat real food.
The rate of obesity has increased at the same rate as our consumption of processed food. Coincidence? I think not.

What do I mean by ‘real food’?

Basically, it’s anything without a complicated ‘ingredients list’ on the pack. Or better yet, food that doesn’t come in packages. Like vegetables, fish, meat etc.

While most of our food falls into the ‘real’ category, we don’t obsess. I’m happy for occasional processed conveniences like commercial curry pastes or tomato ketchup.

2. We go easy on grains, especially wheat.
The main problem with grains, even ‘whole grains’ is they provide loads of carbohydrates without enough beneficial micronutrients. I prefer to get my carbs in the form of vegetables and legumes.

Even if you think you don’t have a problem with wheat or gluten, you may find your health improves if you experiment with removing wheat from your diet. It’s not just a digestive thing. In ‘Wheat Belly,’ William Davis links consumption of modern wheat to all sorts of ills including schizophrenia.

3. We aren’t afraid of fat. Including saturated fat.
Whenever I write about fat it tends to be controversial. The whole ‘low fat’ movement has a lot to answer for.

Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. In our house we love olive oil, butter, cream, nuts, avocado and bacon.

Not ready to stop being fat phobic? Then check out:
What Does It Mean to Be Fat-Adapted?
Why Fat is the Preferred Fuel for Human Metabolism

Also, saturated fat isn’t bad for us. In 2010 a panel of heart disease experts concluded that reducing saturated fat intake doesn’t reduce the risk of heart disease.

Saturated fat tends to be the most stable fat for cooking and can actually be beneficial. If you think I’ve gone crazy, read 7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat.

4. We eat lots of vegetables.
Vitamins. Minerals. Fiber. Antioxidants. Plus they’re delicious.

What’s not to love about veg!


In case you’re wondering, I’d better be clear about my credentials.

I’m not a professional dietitian or nutritionist. However, I did study nutrition at university. For my Food Science Degree I took two nutrition subjects (and got distinctions!) along with basic biochemistry.

bacon & cabbage-2

Super Yum Bacon & Cabbage

My Irishman tells me that bacon and cabbage is a traditional dish from Limerick. He’s a big fan of his Mum, Geraldine’s version.

I knew it was a bit risky to mess around with a family favourite but I couldn’t help myself. Instead of boiling the cabbage, I just soften it in a little oil which saves time and reduces the risk of any ‘smelly’ cabbagey flavours.

enough for 2
3-4 slices bacon, chopped
1 bunch leeks, washed & white parts sliced OR 1 onion
1/2 small cabbage or 1/4 large, sliced
1 tablespoon rice or other wine vinegar

1. Heat a medium saucepan on a medium heat. Add a little olive oil and brown bacon.

2. Then add the leeks and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring when you think of it.

3. When the leeks have started to soften, add the cabbage and a splash of water. Cover and cook, stirring every few minutes until the cabbage is ‘al dente’ or just soft. Somewhere from 5-10 minutes.

4. Season with salt and pepper and vinegar. Serve hot.

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different cabbage thicknesses – I like to slice my cabbage finely using my knife, so not as fine as a mandoline. This way the cabbage cooks quickly. If you’re after a more chunky look, cutting the cabbage into 1 inch ribbons will also work, just expect a longer cooking time.

more veg – serve with flat leaf parsley leaves, baby spinach or a few spoonfuls of home made sauerkraut.

different cabbage – I’ve used white cabbage in the picture but we love this with red cabbage (and balsamic vinegar) or savoy as well. You could also use brussels sprouts, just remember to slice them finely so they cook quickly. Kale can also be used.

vegetarian – just skip the bacon and serve with a salty cheese crumbled over like feta.

herby – a little thyme or sage added with the onions is also lovely.

carb lovers – serve with steamed or mashed potatoes.

vegan – replace bacon with smoked tofu or skip the bacon and serve topped with roasted or smoked nuts such as almonds.

With love,
Jules x
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  • Does young Fergal go to daycare? When he does, I guarantee all the healthy cooking in the world wont stop him getting sick from all the other little germ factories there.

    But I’m sure the cooking helps ;)

  • I always wonder the same thing. We eat clean, mostly vegetarian, my kids went to day care a couple days a week. We have no allergies, and we are seriously never sick! I’m a ‘you’ll be fine, go play’ sort of mum. I think its a combination as we were never sick as kids either, so genes may play some part.
    I am curious though as to why people think we should avoid wheat? Is this just the new diet craze? I have read lots about it and agree some people would benefit, but how do the French and Italians bypass all the hype with the amount of white bread and pasta they eat? Hmmm?

    • Good question re the French and Italians and wheat Yvette.
      I think part of the picture could be quantity.. ie having pasta as a starter rather than a big bowl as a whole meal. And also the quality of the wheat…
      But really I think it’s up to the individual to see what works best for him or her.

  • Very interesting post. I appreciate your sane outlook on ‘forbidden’ foods. I remember that my mother used to start every meat dish she made by frying an onion in bacon fat. It always tasted good, and now I know that she was not giving us something unhealthy. I think that one reason I’ve never gotten heavily into processed foods is that the majority of what I ate as a child was whole food. Especially as a young child. I think that Fergal’s lack of illness could easily have something to do with the foods he’s given. If he was born the normal way (i.e. not by C-section) that helps, too. However, when he gets to school, he’ll probably be bringing at least some bugs home. That will probably be less frequent than if he goes to daycare. There was a period when if my husband and I went to visit his kids and grandkids for a couple of days, we’d come home with some kind of respiratory illness. Now that they are back in school and we’ll be visiting more often than we were able to this year, that might happen again. Not looking forward to that. And hopefully Fergal with be so healthy that he doesn’t bring home school bugs.

    • Hi Susan!
      Love the sound of your mother’s approach to cooking.
      I guess time will tell what happens when Fergal gets to school :)

  • Healthy eating surely helps. I have to agree a bit with Paul though.

    My older son was in daycare at 13 weeks. He got sick a LOT those first 6 months in daycare. But I was eating healthfully and nursing him, so he wasn’t ever sick for long – a day or two (of course, I was stressed, not sleeping, working full time, and was sick for a week every time. Was sick that whole winter.)

    On the other hand, he’s 8 and RARELY gets sick now. So much so that if he DOES get sick and has to stay home from school, the teachers say “wow it MUST be bad if NICK is sick.”

    The jury is still out on my 2 year old. He’s also been in daycare, but for the first 9 months of care he was the only child in the home daycare besides my friend’s own children. He does get sick the normal amount I think. I have a friend with 4 kids, she stays at home and homeschools, and her kids get sick a LOT. Basically, whenever they go to church (when they leave the house).

    Interesting theory on wheat and carbs. I have been slowly moving that way myself. I have always read a lot about food and health and diet – from paleo to vegetarian to vegan to Michael Pollan… The last couple of years I’ve purchased some fitness videos with meal plans that have about 2 servings of carbohydrate a day. I couldn’t help but believe that it was not sustainable, especially considering the USDA recommendations of 6-11 servings.

    Anyway, after reading “Death by Food Pyramid” by Denise Minger, who recommended “What to Eat” by Luise Light, I am a convert. Essentially Luise Light was the nutritionist in charge of creating the food pyramid in the late 1980’s (with her team of experts). Let’s just say that the one that was released? Not the one the experts recommended. She recommends 2-3 servings of grain per day, at most, and whole grain only. (More for teenage boys and the very active.)

    I’m still in mourning for my grains – I got used to oatmeal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and pasta for dinner. I cannot maintain my weight on that diet, must less lose the last 20 pounds of “baby” weight (did I mention my baby is two?)

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Marcia
      I’ve often wondered if the exposure to germs at daycare helps build a strong immune system. Glad to hear it sounds like it did for your older son.
      And thanks for the book recommendations. I haven’t heard of either Minger or Light but am finally reading an really loving Michael Pollan’s ‘In Defense of Food’.
      Going without grains gets easier… it’s all about getting new food habits.

  • I’m studying medicine and we have been told that parents should expect their children to be sick once every six weeks from whenever they start kindy or school. Whilst it isn’t fun to have a sick child, or need to juggle work to be at home when they are unwell, it is their immune repertoire expanding and isn’t a bad thing.

  • I’m anxious to see the free video on healthy eating, and I’m making the cabbage recipe for dinner tomorrow for my Irishman! It sounds great.

  • Just my 2 cents. Sent my eldest to playschool in the year he turned 3 – last year. Before that he was at home. He never really got sick, the worst was one ear infection but it still passed before needing antibiotics. My youngest has had more sniffles and colds, I think cause his brother brings them home from school. But still not anything too bad. I definitely think that the healthy lifestyle plays a big role. I’m not as good as you on the no-grain, but our diet is full of veg and healthy meats and fats. Compared to what I see the friends eating at playschool this must be playing a role. The 4 year old kid who gets an apple and dried fruit or nuts for a snack vs the one with soda and a packet of chips. So don’t fear the playschool=sick child, chances are it won’t happen that way.

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  • This was delicious! Had to use some cabbage so made it tonight for my family, and my 3 year old lapped it up. My husband, who is not the biggest cooked cabbage fan, said he would eat it again (glowing praise!). Thanks!

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