Anyone who watches a lot of TV cookery programmes will not be very surprised by the latest research published in the British Medical Journal. It finds that recipes by celebrity chefs are "less healthy" than ready meals, with "significantly more" fat, saturated fat, energy and protein, and less fibre per portion. Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs! So, the half kilo of butter that goes into everything on Saturday Kitchen doesn't have fewer calories, just because it is lobbed in by someone with a Michelin star?
I'm glad of the rare reprieve for ready meals, which are perfectly fine to eat once in a while – just as long as you don't have anything else salty for the rest of the month. They're also very handy for people who work for a living. Even more handy than "super easy" recipes extolled by TV chefs which turn out to be mostly made out of ready meals but somehow take half an hour and use every utensil in the kitchen.
However, the information that food cooked at home (spag bol) is not necessarily better for you than food bought in a shop (an apple) should not come as a surprise: even the chefs admit it. Take Lorraine Pascale, the gorgeous former model-turned-TV-pâtissière, who acknowledged on Woman's Hour in October that "my everyday diet is not what's on the show". As she whipped up a chocolate mousse live on air, she confessed: "When I'm testing recipes, I do probably put on about a stone." Even Nigella admitted, on the same programme, 11 days ago, that although she is more often filmed tucking into tubs of lard in her silky pyjamas, she also sometimes just eats an avocado for tea.
Chefs would argue that the recipes on their programmes are not for every day, and that everything in moderation is fine. I'd accept this, if they occasionally showed us meals for all the other days, or even included them in their bestselling books – but most of them don't.
To their credit, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has brought out a meat-free series and book, and Jamie Oliver now offers calorie-controlled "15‑minute meals". (My problem with Jamie is that, the quicker his meals become, the more mess he makes. I have nothing to learn from a man who clearly doesn't do his own washing up.) But chefs who don't know any healthy recipes are just lazy. Anyone, Nigella, can make something tasty using chocolate and butter, or meat and cheese. (See Mike Higgins's television review, The Critics, page 66.) Show us how to cook healthy, tasty food – and wash up your own blender – and then maybe I'll be impressed.
Have you been practising your delighted face in time for present-opening this Christmas? Men, are you ready to look thrilled when you unwrap another pair of novelty socks, a tray for organising batteries and some "sexy golf tees"? Ladies, have you checked the expression you're going to use in a mirror when you open a selection of tiny, comedy lip balms, something with "pampering" in its name and a set of false eyelashes for your car headlights? (I'm not making these up. They all appear among the bestselling presents on a major online gift shop – so someone will be getting them for Christmas: it might well be you.)
I'm all for buying thoughtful presents for those we love, but Christmas has gone a bit far when we feel obliged to panic buy tat just so they have something to open on the dreaded morning.
Spare a thought, then, for Her Majesty the Queen. She's had a lot of practice on the old delighted face, but even she was stretched when she visited Cabinet last week and was given a set of 60 table mats and a bit of Antarctica. The land is described as "a vast uninhabitable tract of mountains and glaciers", and the table mats feature pictures of Buckingham Palace. So it's not even as if she can re-gift them next Christmas to somebody else.
A new study by the National Literacy Trust has found that one in three dads are never seen reading by their children, and that the same number never encourage their children to read. At the same time, parents often complain that they find it difficult to inspire their children to read. Boys, they say, are especially reluctant. Could there possibly be a link?
Last week I received some impassioned feedback after I wrote on the hard-working single people who are completely ignored by governments. Among all the policy talk about "young couples" and "hard-working families", nobody wants to represent the growing number of people who just happen not to live with a partner.
Then, two days later, I read about the family that appears in the Conservatives' new online ad campaign: "Who do you think this Government should give more support to? Hard-working families … Or people who won't work?" The picture turns out to be a stock image, of a "family" that also turns up on vouchers for yoghurt, a Christian home-schooling CD, adverts for cod liver oil and a poster for a Spanish dentist.
Tories: the perfect British family that you want to represent does not exist. Meanwhile, in this supposedly "first world" country, real people are reduced to visiting food banks and stealing baby food because they can't afford to eat. Have a look at the census, or out of your windows, and find out who really lives in Britain. Then represent them.
Have you ever approached a stranger in the street and told them to "cheer up love, it might never happen"? Did it work? Of course not. But it happens a lot, if you have one of those faces that doesn't naturally sit in a chirpy grin. And if you weren't fed up already, nothing is more likely to make you so. That's why I feel sorry for Victoria Beckham, who has been in trouble again for not looking cheerful enough in photos. Maybe she is laughing inside, but her face at rest just doesn't show it. Yet she can't go through life concentrating on smiling, just in case someone takes a photograph. Only Kate Middleton can do that.Reuse content