How to make family mealtimes less stressful: an interview with MasterChef quarter-finalist and Cardiff dad-of-two Imran Nathoo
I’m so excited to bring you this interview with Imran Nathoo. I’ve been following him on social media for some time now, since he rose to fame on BBC television series MasterChef, where he reached the quarter-finals in 2017 and finished in the top 10.
We’ve chatted over social media a lot. Imran is a blogger himself (read his blog Kitchen Clonc here) and, as a dad of two sons aged 5 and 1, has been a great supporter of Cardiff Mummy Says.
When he messaged me about his new Fast Family Food workshops, I was keen to hear more. These are an informal demo style class where Imran guides participants through recipes, techniques and ideas that will make cooking for the family simpler and less stressful. The next one is taking on Saturday 3 August (details below).
A few weeks ago, Imran and I stepped out from behind our screens and met up in person in the real world for the first time. Over lunch at Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre, we talked non-stop for almost two hours about parenting, blogging, social media, food and more. Here’s some of what he had to say.
You’re a food blogger and MasterChef quarterfinalist. What are family meals like in your house? Is it all fancy extravagant meals that you spend ages making and that your children happily eat up? Or do you resort to pasta and sauce and freezer food like the rest of us sometimes?!
We are all a little guilty of falling back on the usual well-worn repertoire of mid-week meals and quite frankly the time pressures of work and home life can just add to the stress of trying to think of something new.
We were lucky enough to become a family of four last year which was both awesome and terrifying at the same time! But I learned a few things; mainly we did actually have free time when we had one child; we just didn’t realise it. I can only appreciate that now having two children and no free time.
However, I also realised for me food is more than just a source of energy. For me it is a source of joy, something to look forward to after a busy day, something to lift my spirits, fill me up and it NEEDS to be tasty and ideally nutritious too!
Sometimes TV chefs make it look so easy. However the reality of having to cook a meal for the whole family in about 30 mins with both kids in melt down is something that is not often portrayed on TV (although I would love to see that and is something I am working on, shhh!).
I’m not having a go at Jamie or Tom or Ella. Far from it. It’s just that when you’ve been busy all day with work, then have taken your kid to after school swimming club and then got home there is often very little time to think what to cook, let alone prep a meal.
Over the last year I have been working on a new way to tackle this problem, and trying to come up with new ways to take some of the stress out of family cooking in a way that is relatable. Also the ingredients need to be relatable too with consideration to prep time and basic equipment.
That’s why I decided to do my Fast Family Food cooking classes. They are an informal demo style class where I take you through recipes, techniques and ideas that will make all the difference. During the class I explain the principles and techniques of my Fast Family Food method, talk about store cupboard essentials and how the freezer is your friend. All with the aim of make your cooking woes easier and reducing the monotony of midweek cooking. Add a good amount of tasters to try during the class and you have a nice couple of hours out of the house!
How often do you eat as a family and how often do you and your wife dine together, after giving the children something separate?
Food and family is in my genetic make-up. They go hand in hand in my eyes. I grew up in a family of five and we always ate together. This has shaped the way I think about eating as a family. I do think it is important to set aside time to sit at the table and eat together. If I’m honest this has more of a practical purpose rather than the romantic idea of us all sitting at the table eating together and chatting. The reality is far from it! We are normally helping one child with their dinner (my one year old) and repeatedly telling my older boy to eat up and sit down while trying to eat our dinner too. I dare say this is true for many families. The very practical point is if meal times are all had together then that’s job done. Hopefully this will change with time.
That being said, on the weekends the kids tend to eat at their normal time while my wife and I will eat after they have gone to bed. I’ll usually cook us something slightly fancier like mussles, or a nice cote de beouf or maybe just a delicious bowl of linguine (prawns with garlic, chili and parsley) and a large glass of wine! In carbs we trust! Ha!
What are your top tips for other families who find mealtimes stressful?
- Planning. There is no magic bullet for planning I’m afraid but, like doing exercise or flossing your teeth, this is unavoidable. Planning beforehand takes so much stress out from mid-week cooking if you know what you are doing and helps with shopping too. Not a revolutionary concept but one that works.
- A well-stocked store cupboard and freezer full of essential raw ingredients is a must. From tinned vegetables like chickpeas or red kidney beans for an easy curry to frozen fish fillets to whip up a fish pie in no time.
- There is nothing wrong with cheats/hacks or whatever you want to call it. We as parents feel guilty about enough stuff without adding food to the mix. Even with the best planning and well stocked kitchen, time and situation can often seem insurmountable. So if it’s fish fingers and smiley faces then so be it!
Where are your favourite Cardiff restaurants to dine, both as a family and as a couple? Do you have any local independent food stores that you really rate?
I love eating out but finding the time do so can be tough! Chapter Arts in Canton and The Conway in Pontcanna are our usual family haunts if we go out for dinner as a four, which is rare as I tend to cook more often than not! Other places I really rate for families are Bar 44 on Westgate Street, Dusty Knuckle in Canton, The Grange Pub in Grangetown and Wahaca in town.
As a couple, Heaneys and Milkwood in Pontcanna and Asador 44 are brilliant. Food, service and atmosphere all on point.
Away from all the food stuff, what are your favourite family days out locally?
I always love a visit to National Museum Cardiff – a totally free treasure trove in the heart of Cardiff. I often pair this with a quick caffeine boost from Brodies Coffee Co. in the park opposite. I love talking my eldest boy to the theatre too, generally to see a Julia Donaldson book adaption which are always good fun. Cefn Mably Farm Park is fun too, with a good indoor soft play and outdoor park. Mountain View Ranch is brilliant for some fresh air and Gruffalo spotting but nothing beats a bike ride around Pontcanna fields and along the Taff, maybe with a stop off in The Secret Garden Cafe!
You are also a dentist. How do you balance this alongside the foodie work?
Well it’s rather tricky at times! I sleep far less as I have so much going on and free time is non-existent. I work in two lovely practices and both are really supportive of my food-based adventure. Also the support I get from my family and wife is the reason I can do what I do.
How important has flexible working been to you and your wife as a family?
Super important as my wife and I both work three days a week. The rest of the time for me is taken up by my food work and family life, and the same for my wife. It does enable us to spend lots more time with the boys and together even if things are usually frantic!
Imran will be hosting his next Fast Family Food course at Let Them See Cake, Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff on Saturday 3 August, from 10am-12pm, priced £20 per person. Suitable for beginners and enthusiasts alike.
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What are your top tips for stress-free mealtimes and what are your go-to easy-cook meals? Do let me know in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page, or tweet me on @cardiffmummy
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