Irish Food,  Opinion

Priorities, Motivation And Food Poverty

One of the reasons why I started this blog was to show that it was possible to live well on a low income and to show that eating well doesn’t have to be complicated. I’m pretty sure that most food experts (chefs, cooks, writers) would agree with me regardless of income.

Some of my motivation to eat well on a low income does come from a desire to live well, and that is part of the “whole sum” that I’ve written about before. A big part of my motivation comes from the desire to be in charge, to take back control of our finances when so much of the income in the household is swallowed up on bills.

Since so much of our life has spiralled out of control in the past couple of years, being on top of our food and spending is something that empowers me. Filling out forms for Social Welfare assistance doesn’t. Filling out forms for the HSE doesn’t. Begging for help from the local Public Health Nurse and the GP because there is a 33 month waiting list for an ENT referral in the local children’s hospital (despite 2 letters from the GP) and the 4 year old is having hearing difficulties doesn’t.  Sitting on hold to the bank for hours each month, and making repeated phone calls doesn’t. It demoralises and upsets me.

Last week I was a bit under the weather and had to travel on two days to hospital in the city centre. The additional fuel, parking and transport fees used up nearly half our weekly budget. The thoughts of getting home, when neither of us was fit to wag, and cooking a meal for the family was wearing. I had some food in the freezer that I defrosted but one of the evenings, the kids didn’t even touch it. The boys ate cereal. Not because there wasn’t a decent alternative, but because after a stressful day on the road, Mammy sick, late in the evening, it was the only thing I could get into them without a fight. Fighting over food when I’m bone weary is the last thing I want to do.

My motivation at that point was to feed the boys so that they didn’t go to bed hungry. I would have given them anything they asked for. There was plenty of healthy food in the house by the way, but they chose cereal and that was what they got.  If they had asked for oven chips and nuggets, I would have lashed them in the oven if I had them. No question. That might come as a surprise to some, considering how much I advocate cooking wholesome food for your family. At that moment in time I couldn’t have cared or less and I make no apologies for it either.

There’s been a number of high profile individuals who have recently made comments about how they don’t understand why families prioritise “lifestyle choices” over healthy food.  They are of course perfectly entitled to their opinions, just as I am.

Jamie Oliver, on Mumsnet said (in response to criticism of his Radio Times interview):

“I guess it’s just an opinion about how do you prioritise feeding your kids on the one hand and family lifestyle choices.”

Rachel Allen, in interview with the Irish Independent yesterday said:

“I think good nutrition from home-cooked meals is so important for the family. It should be our top priority, not further down the list behind other things that take up time.”

Talking about priorities and lifestyle choices alludes to the opinion that families are failing, not meeting high standards that those who have more options (such as money to make different choices) have.

Here’s the thing though, the lack of skills, nutrition and know-how in the kitchen is not just limited to those who are on a low income. Just because you can afford a big telly (rather than hire purchase), or a car (which may be a necessity for work or mobility impairment), doesn’t preclude you from making “bad food choices” either. It’s just that often these “bad food choices” are often prettied up under the guise of being a premium item as opposed to being a budget brand convenience meal.

How do you motivate someone to make healthier food and lifestyle choices for their family?

Pointing fingers and asking about priorities when you have little insight into the lives of others is unhelpful. It’s demoralising for those of us who find ourselves in the situation where we have to make choices, day in/day out.

How do you make someone empowered to make the right choices?

Let’s stop with all this negative language, criticism of what people are doing right now. Let’s start recognising that serving up a hot meal, any meal in a time of financial, physical or emotional hardship is something to be celebrated.

Let’s stop kicking people when they’re down.

I'm an Irish mother to 2 boys, born & bred in Dublin, Ireland. I like to cook simple & fresh food for the family, with the family on a budget.


  • Edible Ireland

    Hear hear! An excellent piece, Caitriona. There’s an awful lot of judgement flying around the place these days when it comes to food.

  • Mel

    An excellent piece. I really admire your blog and your determination to do the best for your family. I agree there is a lot of judgement flying around about food. It is easy for Jamie and Rachel to pass judgement; they are not struggling financially and suffering from under-support from a government that seems determined to penalize families. When you look at the tax system here, there are no breaks for people with kids, likewise the medical system. Public transport is ridiculously expensive. It would cost me over €16 per day just to do all the school runs I have on the bus. School is expensive – uniforms, books, and voluntary contributions, not to mention that the school day and calendar is not geared for working families. I think families are under so much stress, financially and in so many other ways that it is no wonder they make bad food choices.

  • Joanna

    You write reallly well and deal in complexity, something not loved by food pundits and journalists. I I agree totally about celebrating whatever meal you produce or are given and I am sure there are mamy people out there who feel the same way. All best, Joanna

  • Minnie .

    My kids have eaten cheese on toast or cereal for dinner more than once. There have been times when I have been ill or stressed and was just not up to cooking a decent meal. Feeding your children a healthy homecooked meal is very important but sometimes I feel my own well-being has to take priority. I actually prefer when a blogger is honest like this. I hope you feel well again soon.

  • Office mum

    I love this post – I find “celebrity” foodie people extremely patronising. As though we don’t all do our best. I listened to Rachel A a few times this week and I think she’s not coming at it from a realistic perspective at all. We all know what’s good, and we all do our best, and sometimes our best is going to be toast for tea and that’s fine. I truly love this post and thank you for saying it.

  • kathryn

    Sometimes it isn’t just a matter of being short of skills and no-how, it’s sheer physical exhaustion. I find myself wanting to slap patronising presenters when they are telling someone who’s trying to raise a family on a minimum wage that they need to take the time to learn how to feed their family properly. Even with all the skills in the world there are times when you are just grateful you can make toasted cheese, boil an egg or grill a fish finger because you know your little darling will actually eat it and you can do it with your eyes shut – which you have to do because you are too tired/sick/fed up to do anything else

  • Louise

    Powerful post Caitriona. Even under the best of circumstances parents are not ‘perfect’ all the time. Whatever this notion of perfect’ has become, it seems pretty unattainable to me most days.

    And I know I don’t experience even half half the stressors many families face. I do try my best (most of the time!) My fallback food for the kids is store-bought gnocchi – they will eat it with butter, tomato sauce and pesto (and shop-bought pesto – apparently we are supposed to hand make that from scratch as well!)
    All we can do is try. When all else fails, there is cereal and toast 🙂

    • Wholesome Ireland

      Thanks Louise. There’s such a thing as “good enough” parenting and I like to think I apply it where possible. It’s unrealistic to expect parents to live up to these expectations where everything is cooked/grown/reared from scratch. While I’m a great believer in a wholesome food and lifestyle there are limits!

  • AnSapphireGael

    what a refreshing post and clearly from person living in the land of reality for most folks. After a long hard slog at work and with the price of even basics so expensive , my creative juices wither come dinner time. My burning thought is what is fast, hot and cheap (not affordable).

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