Lisa Faulkner lives in north London with celebrity chef John Torode and daughter Billie
It’s the heart of the north London home the former EastEnders actress shares with celebrity chef John Torode and daughter Billie, 11, and it’s not unusual for all three to pitch in to make a family meal.
“Billie is getting to an age where she wants to make dinner which is lovely. Obviously we watch over her and you have to be positive about the results but it’s so important for kids to know what goes into their food,” says the actress, who added fine dining and cookery books to her repertoire after winning Celebrity MasterChef in 2010.
“I know not everyone sees it that way and sometimes people get caught up thinking they have to produce a MasterChef-type meal but it doesn’t have to be like that.
“Family food is about simple cooking, putting something into a tray bake – vegetables, chicken, a little stock and herbs – to make a really lovely dinner.
“You can put everything into one tray. It’s lovely when people say, ‘You make it sound really easy’, because it can be.”
Lisa says the key to home cooking is keeping it simple, and putting something into a tray bake
People sometimes get caught up thinking they have to produce a MasterChef-type meal, but it doesn’t have to be like that
Lisa also bakes sweet treats at least once a week, as her own mum did when she was growing up, so temptation is always close at hand.
But she says: “The good thing about baking your own stuff is that there are no additives and you know what is going into it.”
However the National Diet and Nutrition Survey confirms many of us have missed this simple trick.
This official snapshot of the nation’s eating habits shows most children consume three times the amount of sugar they should and half of it – the equivalent of seven sugar cubes a day – comes from unhealthy snacks and drinks.
On average every year children tuck into 400 biscuits; more than 120 cakes, buns and pastries; roughly 100 portions of sweets; nearly 70 chocolate bars, and about the same number of ice creams.
And all those empty calories are washed down with more than 150 juice pouches and cans of fizzy drink.
It’s a trend that has led to one in three children being overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school which puts them at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and other serious health problems.
Some experts believe it is sugar, and not saturated fats, which is driving the obesity epidemic and studies suggest a “sweet tooth” is actually a “sweet brain” because sugary foods activate the same sort of responses in the reward areas of our brains as addictive drugs.
Lisa, 45, says: “We are fighting a battle and we have to take as much responsibility as we can to ensure our kids are eating healthy food.
“I know how difficult it is. My daughter is starving when she comes home from school and if you’re in a hurry it’s easy to give your children snacks based on convenience; but so many of them are packed full of sugar. It’s really important that we help them make the right choices.”
Lisa adopted her daughter Billie aged 15 months, after four unsuccessful IVF attempts
That’s why she is backing the new Change4Life campaign to promote healthier snacks.
“All parents have to remember is: ‘100-calorie snacks, two a day max’,” she says.
“It becomes a habit to make healthier choices.”
Parents can sign up for money-off vouchers and there’s also a Food Scanner app, which you can download to your phone so you can scan barcodes to see – and store – the calories, sugar, salt and saturated fats in everyday foods.
Lisa says: “Billie scans things when we’re in the supermarket and it makes you more aware of what’s in different foods. Making little changes, such as choosing the right snacks and getting kids involved in cooking, can make a big difference.”
Time in the kitchen also provides an opportunity for children to share their news of the day. “I think one of the most important things for any parent is to be there, to be present.
“It’s so easy to get distracted, sometimes you have to put your phone down to stop and really listen to what they are saying.”
Perhaps it was the struggle to become a mother and the loss of her own mum that made Lisa so focused on her time with Billie, who was adopted aged 15 months after Lisa had had four unsuccessful IVF attempts.
“I think IVF is one of the toughest things any woman can go through, it really knocks your confidence. I went to a clinic that said nine out of 10 women they treated got pregnant but I was the one who didn’t. That was hard.”
With hindsight she feels it was meant to be.
If it hadn’t been for those failures she would never have found Billie.
“I feel so lucky to be her mum. I think it works both ways, we found each other. I love spending time with my daughter, she amazes me every day.”
And cooking with Billie brings back happy memories of hours spent in the kitchen with her own mother, Julie, who died of cancer when Lisa was just 16.
“The process of preparing and making food gave me a focus,” she explains.
“It made me feel I had a purpose in a world that had crumbled around me.”
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Every December, around the anniversary of her mother’s death, Lisa still takes comfort in the rituals and routines she followed.
The kitchen table and many of the utensils she uses every day belonged to her mother.
“I think she is with me every single day,” says Lisa.
For more information on healthy snacks and to sign up to Change4Life for money-off vouchers visit nhs.uk/change4life