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Focus on Eggs

Eggs are one of the greatest convenience foods. If you have a box of eggs in the kitchen you can create a delicious, nutritious meal in minutes.

Nutritionally, eggs are a valuable part of a healthy diet. They are an excellent source of protein, containing all the essential amino acids needed by the body. In addition, they provide many of the minerals needed by the body, including zinc, phosphorous, selenium, iodine and iron, and are also a significant source of several B vitamins as well as containing vitamins A and D. On top of this, they have a relatively low saturated fat content. In the past it was thought that we should limit consumption of eggs, due to their high cholesterol content, but recent research has shown that it is only saturated fats which contribute to raised cholesterol levels, so eggs will only have a minor effect on the level of cholesterol in the body. So if you and your family enjoy a healthy balanced diet, make space in it for eggs.

Buying eggs

Choose organic eggs where possible. They do cost more, as organic chickens require more land and more work, but in buying certified organic eggs you can be sure that the chickens that laid them are fed a natural diet without the inclusion of pesticides, hormones or antibiotics, and are allowed to roost and forage in a happy environment. Free-range eggs are the next best choice, as these chickens are kept in much better conditions than battery ones and are free to roam. However, some free-range birds are free-range in name only, as they are kept in barns, with only a small opening providing access to the outside, which is often blocked by other birds. To be certain that your eggs are truly free-range, try to buy local ones from small farms or farmer's markets, and ask the seller about the size of the flock of chickens. Eggs from battery hens are considerably cheaper than free-range or organic eggs, but at a high price to the chickens, which are kept in appalling, unnatural conditions, confined in small cages with very little space to move around. As a consequence, the eggs they lay are often watery and pale, and inferior to the rich, dense eggs laid by happier hens.

Egg safety

  • Because of the slight risk of salmonella bacteria being present in raw eggs, I recommend that you do not introduce whole eggs into your child's diet until he is at last nine months old.
  • Some foods contain raw egg and these should not be given to very young children, whose immune systems are still developing, or to pregnant women or the elderly. Foods which may contain raw eggs include homemade mayonnaise or ice cream, hollandaise sauce, some salad dressings, icing and certain desserts such as tiramisu and mousse.
  • Eggs can cause an allergic reaction, so if there is a history of allergy in the family then it is advisable to wait until your child is one year old before you offer him eggs.
  • Do not give your young child lightly cooked eggs.
  • Don't use eggs with cracked or damaged shells, as dirt or bacteria may have entered the egg.
  • Eggs should be stored in a cool place, away from strong-smelling foods.
  • To test an egg for freshness, place it in a bowl of water - if it floats to the surface, it is likely to be old and possibly bad (because the size of the natural air pocket in the egg increases with age). If the egg sinks to the bottom, it is fresh.
  • Look for the date-stamped mark on egg shells, and do not keep eggs longer than the best-before date specified.

Versatile eggs

Once your child can enjoy eggs, there is no end to the possibilities for quick and easy meals that eggs can provide.

  • A simple boiled egg with fingers of buttered wholemeal toast makes a comforting tea. More adventurous children and adults might also like some lightly steamed asparagus spears, in season, to dip in their egg.
  • Scrambled eggs are good partners with lots of foods, their delicate flavour marrying well with vegetables such as tomatoes and mushrooms, as well as contrasting with the gutsy flavours of smoked fish, olives and tangy cheeses. Try smoked mackerel - an easily-available and tasty oily fish, rich in omega-3. Pile the lightly scrambled egg mixed with flakes of smoked mackerel onto toasted buttered muffins or granary toast. With the addition of some grilled, halved tomatoes, or cherry tomatoes and chunks of cucumber, you have a light lunch or tea,
  • When your child's tastes become more adventurous, serve scrambled eggs 'Ranch Style', with sautéed onions, peppers, garlic and coriander wrapped in soft tortillas, or Mexican style, with a spicy tomato sauce, chopped avocado and coriander.
  • Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon is a classic and sumptuous combination, and makes a treat for a weekend breakfast or brunch for the whole family - particularly good for nursing mothers for whom good nutrition is essential to ensure that their milk supply is maintained, as well as ensuring that the mother has enough energy to cope with demands made by the rest of the family. For a family with a toddler and a new baby, a delicious weekend brunch together goes a long way to building happy family dynamics, giving the toddler a chance to eat in a relaxed environment with both Mum and Dad, who are able to focus totally on him, perhaps at a time when the new baby isn't around,
  • Omelettes can be enjoyed plain or packed with all kinds of additions - grated cheese, ham, chopped fresh herbs, grilled mushrooms, lightly cooked vegetables such as peppers, courgettes, spinach, sweetcorn or even peas.
  • For a more substantial meal, add eggs to sautéed onions and potatoes to make a Spanish omelette, or make a frittata with courgettes and cheese, These are equally delicious cold and make ideal finger food, cut into chunks, for toddlers. You can also pack slices or chunks in lunchboxes, or take them on picnics with a pot of homemade tomato sauce as a dip.
  • Hard-boiled eggs also make great picnic food. Transport in their shells and serve peeled and quartered, or mash with a little butter for a nutritious sandwich filling, along with chopped tomato or cress. Alternatively, take slices of hard-boiled egg, avocado, finely chopped tomato and chopped fresh coriander and serve in wraps or wholemeal bread.
  • To make an eggy dip, mash hard-boiled egg with a little mayonnaise and Greek yoghurt and add finely chopped watercress. Serve with breadsticks, rye sticks, savoury crackers or vegetable chunks.
  • Poached eggs make a nourishing light meal served on a bed of chopped steamed spinach, or piled onto muffins or crumpets with ham and topped with cheese sauce.
  • For an instant snack, dip slices of bread into beaten egg and fry in butter to make eggy bread. Cut into fingers and serve with homemade tomato sauce. For a breakfast treat, you can dip fruit bread into egg with a pinch of cinnamon added, before frying.
  • Eggs are an essential ingredient in pancakes. Make large ones and serve them wrapped around scrambled egg and smoked fish, tuna with a tomato sauce of chopped chicken in a white sauce. Plain pancakes can be batch cooked and frozen with a layer of greaseproof paper between each layer - ready to be defrosted when you need a quick meal.
  • Scotch pancakes make a tasty breakfast, served with natural yoghurt and chopped fresh fruit, or American-style with crispy bacon and maple syrup for a substantial breakfast.
  • For a simple supper, make egg-fried rice with peas, or toss cooked egg noodles and steamed green beans in a little light soy sauce and a dash of sesame oil, and serve topped with a thin omelette, rolled up and sliced.

Taken from Feeding Made Easy by Gina Ford

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