Small changes still count

Small changes still count

February 2021

Photo by Utsav Shah on Unsplash

However persuasively sold to us, it simply isn’t true that we need to radically change everything about our lifestyle and somehow becomes a new, ‘better’ person to be healthy. You would certainly be forgiven for thinking that was the case, given the plethora of advice, books, programmes and media noise surrounding health and wellbeing. Yet so often, grand gestures of renewal end up with a dejected retreat back into our old ways and we enter that familiar cycle of feeling like we have somehow ‘failed’ at the diet or regime we had so positively set out to maintain. Then the shame, guilt and need for comfort can creep back in and we find ourselves right back where we started.

So firstly, I would like to offer a collective wave of compassion to anyone and everyone who has ever been in this position. It’s tough, it’s confusing and I want you to know that you are most definitely not alone. Secondly, I would like to make a plea that this dichotomy we’ve inadvertently created, between being ‘good’ and ‘bad’, on-a-diet or off-a-diet, being entirely healthy or being wholly indulgent, is unrealistic and certainly unsustainable for the long run. We exist in shades of grey – where some parts of our days, myself included, are inevitably slightly healthier than others. Some whole days are more balanced, with more movement, more vegetables and more sleep. Others are a rollercoaster of stress, eating-on-the-go and late nights. That is real life and I would suggest that no restrictive or rules-based lifestyle will ever really be able to flex enough to meet all of these inevitable challenges.

There are, however, certain aspects of healthy living that are important not only to our current sense of energy and wellbeing, but also to our longer-term health. Whilst in the broadest terms, many of these factors are important for all of us (not smoking, restorative sleep, connection to others, a nourishing diet, stress reduction etc.), the combination, nuances and degree to which we need to be consistent, will vary between us and over time. We don’t need to do it all, and especially not in one go, in fact just making some small habit changes can add up to achievable and sustainable lifestyle improvements,

Photo by Susan Bell

Instead, I am an advocate of taking mini steps. And if those mini steps are too big, then make them micro ones instead. You want to feel like it is laughably easy to instigate the change you’re proposing. And even with my (pretty full-on) support, I would never ask a client to make more than 3 small changes at a time. If you’re doing it without professional input, I suggest that just 1-2 changes are enough. We are all busy, with numerous other things taking up our time and headspace.

But don’t be lulled into thinking that these little shifts are not important. My colleague, Rozzie, talks about the power of ‘1-degree course corrections’. If you set a ship just 1 degree off-course, it will end up in a completely different city by the time it crosses an ocean. The same principle applies to our wellbeing: shifting behaviour just 1 degree, maintained over the course of decades, can lead us into a completely different health space than if we’d stayed on the same bearing. One extra serving of vegetables per day adds up to 3650 more portions over a decade (and that’s a lot of fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals). Just 30 minutes extra activity per week is 520 hours more heart-healthy movement over 20 years. Micro changes do add up. The fable of the hare and the tortoise come to mind here – big changes that burn out over weeks will ultimately be overtaken by incremental achievable changes that we just keep plugging away at.

I guess this could also be expressed as an equation, for those who are mathematically minded, that would look something like this:

Size of lifestyle shift x length of time change is maintained = degree of potential benefit

So remember, you don’t have to do it all to be healthy. You just need to do enough, on a relatively consistent basis, to feel well.

Photo by Jen Rich

Little shift ideas

  • Meditate or practice some mindful breathing for 2 minutes every morning, before getting out of bed
  • Eat one extra portion of vegetables per day
  • Drink a glass of water before lunchtime
  • Always take the stairs when you can. Park the far side of each car park.
  • Switch off your mobile phone before going to sleep
  • Have some protein with breakfast (nuts, seeds, nut butter, eggs, natural yoghurt etc.)
  • Avoid drinking caffeine after 3pm
  • Have three alcohol-free days per week
  • Eat a portion of oily fish once a week (mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines)
  • Have a small portion of (unsalted) nuts or seeds once a day – they are packed full of various essential vitamins and minerals. A portion is roughly 30g / a small handful.
  • Arrange one phone call per month with a friend who makes you laugh, rather than just texting
  • Briskly walk for 10 minutes at lunchtime
  • Sit down to eat your evening meal, leaving your phone and TV off

Other articles you might enjoy reading: Non-Food Treats; The Power of Positive Nutrition; Is Joy a missing piece of the healthy puzzle


This article was commissioned by Natural Health Magazine


How to spend less on food and still eat deliciously well 

Photo by Wavebreakmedia from Getty Images Pro

How to spend less on food and still eat deliciously well

Jan 2021

Food is often one of the biggest expenditures in many household budgets, after rent or mortgage payments. It is also non-negotiable: We have to eat, so we have to spend money on food. But many households are feeling the pinch, even more so after the events of last year, and wish to optimise how far their budget will stretch. The food budget is one regular outgoing that we have a degree of control over, so it is often an obvious place to begin.

I hoped it might be helpful to pull together a few suggestions and ideas for simultaneously eating well and saving money. I freely admit that I am not an expert on shopping and cooking on a really tight budget (I would highly recommend the exceptional work of Jack Monroe for this). Please know that I am saying this with enormous gratitude, as I am very conscious of the blessing of having food choices on a daily basis. However, budget is still a consideration alongside variety and nutritional balance*. This is something that my team and I do in our own lives on a regular basis, so hopefully might be able to share a couple of insights.

Part One: Making conscious budget choices

The good news is that it is possible to eat an abundantly nourishing and delicious diet on a relative budget. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be hugely expensive. However, depending on how tight the budget is, compromises may have to be made along the way. It’s a balancing act that we each have to find, according to the unique needs of our households. I think accepting that there are compromises and making choices about which ones matter most to us, is a good way to start thinking about budget priorities.

Photo by CarmenMurillo from Getty Images Pro

Here are a few thoughts:

  • Cooking from scratch (avoiding pre-prepared dishes, ready meals and ingredients certainly saves money).
  • Accepting a bit of repetition and batch cooking.
  • Reducing the number of drinks, meals eaten out or take-aways, to re-direct additional money into the weekly grocery shop.
  • Shopping in different ways, such as changing supermarkets and buying dried goods in bulk online.
  • Avoiding branded or premium products and looking instead for whole food ingredients and cooking from scratch.
  • Cutting back on other spending. Prioritising food shopping above other discretionary spending, such as memberships, clothes, holidays, beauty or homeware for example. This is simply highlighting the importance of making conscious choices about what you choose to prioritise. The money often does, afterall, usually come from the same pot
  • Fewer specifically health-focused foods (such as premium snacks, drinks, powders or other items like organic food). Non-organic food is not unhealthy, and still provides plentiful flavour and nutrition. Just wash your produce (fruit & veg) first, and peel where necessary. It’s a very personal decision so do what’s right for you.

Deciding which compromises we are prepared to make will depend a great deal on us as individuals. It is, however, well worth having a think about if you want to tighten your food budget. I hope that this offers a few ideas. I am sure I’ve missed a fair few.

*  That is also not to say that it is impossible to find variety and nutritional balance on a very tight budget, but it is harder, and may involve using multiple different suppliers. Grocers towards the end of the day may have good offers on fresh produce, and bulk dried goods can be ordered online, or as part of a local co-operative, for example. Using a large supermarket is not often the most cost-effective way to shop, but it is often the most convenient and is available to the broadest range of people. It is however, yet again, another compromise. Basically, I’m trying to say that this topic is complicated and nuanced and highly individual – much like nutrition itself. 

Part Two: 7 tips for shopping and cooking well on a budget

Photo by Ali Allen

1. Meal plan

This is my number 1 tip for helping to eat well on a budget. A meal plan helps you shop for exactly what you need, so food waste is drastically reduced. It saves time and stress throughout a busy week, as you never have to decide what to cook last minute, and it ensures nutritional variety as you can plan for different recipes and meals. Take a look at this article for a step-by-step guide on meal planning, and here is a free printable weekly meal planner to use.

2. Organise your fridge, freezer and cupboards

It’s really helpful to get into the habit of thinking a bit like a shop-keeper when organising your fridge, freezer and cupboards. You want to keep track of your ‘stock’ so you know what’s running out and what you’ve already got plenty of. Keep items on rotation, so that things get used in the order you purchased them, rather than older items staying pushed back for so long they end up going out-of-date. Remember, you’re not saving money if you never eat the food. Try to keep things neat, tidy, well-labelled and organised, as this really helps if you’re searching for ingredients when you need to cook something quickly from scratch.

3. Minimise or eliminate food waste.

According to the BBC, in the UK we throw away almost 20% of the food we buy. This could add up to a whopping £600 worth of food wasted per year for the average household. This has a high environmental cost and it badly impacts our budget too. Meal planning helps with this, as you buy only what you need, but getting inventive with leftovers – perhaps starting by branding them ‘planned-overs’ – and utilising the freezer or slow-cooker to use up or store odds and ends (such as making a bottom-of-the-fridge vegetable stew and freezing in batches – recipe in Simply Good For You will all help too. I will share more on this in the coming months.

4. Focus spending on the essentials

This one might seem obvious, but if you want to optimise the quality of your diet for your available budget, you need to focus that spending on the things that really pack the biggest nutritional punch (such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, high quality proteins, healthy fats, pulses, and minimally processed carbohydrates).

Once those important foundational foods are purchased, you can then consider the nice-but-not-necessary items, such as garnishes, condiments, sweet things, powders, snacks foods, ‘superfood’ products etc if you wish. We do not need to include these items in our diets to eat well, although I completely understand that they might be joyful for some of you. It’s really about prioritising the most important foods first and then seeing what is left over.

5. Exchange your time for cost savings

Pre-prepared and packaged goods, such as ready meals, pre-cooked grains, pulses or peeled and chopped vegetables can certainly save time. But they come at a premium cost. Putting the effort in saves money, while bulk cooking and preparation ensures that that time is still efficiently spent.

6. Watch the take-aways, snacks and coffees

It is worth spending half an hour or so going over your bank statements from the past couple of months and adding up all the discretionary food and drink spending you’ve made above and beyond your essential groceries.

Include all the take-aways, coffees, snacks and drinks that you’d purchased. These items can add up to a significant amount of money. While it is, of course, important to support local establishments at the moment, if this pushes your budget into a place where you feel squeezed on the important nutritional basics, then perhaps it’s worth reconsidering. Set yourself a weekly budget if necessary, and put the remainder towards boosting your grocery shop.

7. Try the discount supermarkets

If you have access to a Lidl or Aldi locally, give them a go. Their range of nourishing whole foods, organic produce and cost-effective olive oil, nuts and seeds are very good. Alternatively, try using a bulk or discount whole food online supplier (for more information, see this article).

Part Three: 1-week healthy meal plan – on a relative budget

In the spirit of putting all this theory into practice, my team and I have put together this 1-week meal plan, giving just one example of how we could potentially spend our money wisely to optimise nutrition within a relatively tight budget.

Photo by seb_ra from Getty Images Pro

I am very aware that this is not the cheapest way to eat overall, and it is of course possible and necessary for some to reduce this spending further, but I wanted to offer the option of a compromise somewhere between a realistic budget and a dietary intake that is really varied, balanced, nourishing and seasonal. Feel free to tweak, edit and adjust this as much as you would like, to meet either your own nutritional requirements, budget or tastes. This is just an example, but I hope it might offer a few ideas to get you started.

We developed this meal plan based on the following ‘guidelines’:

  1. An allowance of roughly £50-55 budget for a week of meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) for 2 people.  This works out at roughly £1.25 per meal (3 meals a day for 2 people = 42 meals = roughly £1.20-£1.30 per meal).
  2. We assumed some basic staples are already in your cupboards (salt, pepper, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, stock cubes / powder, olive oil, spices). Don’t be afraid to make substitutions according to what you have available – most recipes can switch spices, change oils or swap vinegars or mustards without detriment, according to what you have at home.
  3. The meal plan needed to achieve the majority of the Positive Nutrition Pyramid daily (i.e., provide balanced and varied nutrition) and include > 30 different plant foods in a week. We have assumed a mostly vegetarian diet to increase how many people this meal plan appeals to, but have included one meal of oily fish for important omega-3 fatty acids. You can adapt this plan to meet your own requirements.
  4. It should use ingredients available from a mainstream supermarket.
  5. We have also assumed that most drinks consumed would be water (or tea and coffee according to what you have already).  Desserts are mainly simple fresh fruit, and snacks have not been included as (hopefully!) the meals are well-balanced enough already to keep you feeling full and satisfied between meals.

SHOP THE EDIT

Simply Good For You | Amelia Freer

SHOP

Cooking on a Bootstrap | Jack Monroe

SHOP

Tin Can Cook | Jack Monroe

SHOP

Vegan One Pound Meals | Miguel Barclay

SHOP

Storecupboard One Pound Meals | Miguel Barclay

SHOP

Magnetic Meal Planner Board

SHOP

Please note, this website uses some carefully selected affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep all of our online content free for everyone to access. Thank you.


12 Nourishing Convenience Foods

12 Nourishing Convenience Foods

December 2020

While I am an enthusiastic advocate of simple, home-cooked meals, there are certainly times when turning to healthy convenience foods is a real blessing. Having a few of these ready-prepared ingredients or meals stashed away can make all the difference to eating well on those busiest of days.

For years, I worked with clients who were incredibly busy so they really couldn’t shop and cook for themselves – there simply weren’t enough hours in the day. So we would work out together what they could buy near their home or office that would still be nutritionally complete (and of course, tasty). It usually does work out a bit more expensive, but if time is your main priority, then don’t feel guilty about leaning on a few short cuts (if you are able).

Here are just a few of my personal favourites to give you an idea. Most big supermarkets or local health food shops will stock a range of similar products so see what’s available where you normally shop.

1. Ready-cooked lentil pouches

I am rarely without a good few packets of these in my cupboards, especially cooked Puy lentils. As a source of protein that goes well with so many other dishes and flavours, cooked lentils are a really handy ingredient to add to cooked vegetables, salad leaves, make a quick vegetarian bolognaise or to boost a smaller portion of leftovers. I also use them to make a simple vegetarian pate (there’s a good recipe in Nourish & Glow: The 10-day plan for this), and add them to mince dishes to stretch the meat out further, or pulse them into quick lentil burgers.

2. Hummus

If I have time, I like to make my own hummus mostly because a tin of chickpeas makes a really good amount and we get through so much at home! However, buying ready-made hummus is definitely a time and washing up saver and it can still be a nutritious item to buy. I tend to opt for organic ones and once finished, I give the containers a really good wash, then re-use them to freeze portions of my own hummus when I make a bigger batch.

3. Vegetable soups

Although it’s pretty simple to make soup, it does require you to have the ingredients to hand and a little bit of time and energy to make it. Thankfully, there are some delicious vegetable soups available to buy ready-made that tend to offer an economic ready meal that is packed with nutrition. Just add a source of extra protein (such as some seeds, crumbled feta, torn cooked chicken, roasted chickpeas etc.) and you’ve got a balanced meal ready in minutes. I keep the containers for these too and re-use them multiple times to freeze foods when batch cooking.

4. Good chicken stock

Making your own chicken stock is a really good way of eking out every last morsel of nutrition from a chicken or leftover vegetable peelings. But it does require a long time cooking and inevitable washing up. So, buying a packet of ready-made chicken stock (or simply a good organic stock cube or bouillon powder) certainly makes many dishes quicker and easier, lending a depth of flavour that is hard to beat.

5. Cooked chicken

Roasting a chicken is not a particularly labour intensive process, but it does require time (usually one and a half hours at least), which is often hard to find at the end of a long day. So picking up a ready-cooked chicken on the way home is a really good little trick. Add a big handful of washed salad leaves, chopped tomatoes and diced avocado and you’ve got supper on the table in just a couple of minutes. P.s. it’s a GREAT picnic dish too. Just remember to pack napkins.

6. Protein pots

In lots of lunch places and convenience stores, you can now find ‘protein pots’ to buy. They might contain beans, nuts, boiled eggs, chicken or prawns, often in tasty little combinations, and offer a great nutritional boost to otherwise relatively low-protein lunches. They are also a great snack option if you’re out-and-about and feeling hungry.

(Image from www.delivery.pret.co.uk)

7. Washed salads & prepared vegetables

Healthy cooking is so much about vegetable prep. I reckon it takes about 80% of the prep time required to make nutritious meals. So one of the best ways to speed things up is to buy vegetables ready-prepared. It is definitely more expensive to do this, but it undoubtedly saves time. Don’t forget to look in the freezer section too. There are often many more veggie choices than just peas available ready-to-cook from frozen. I’ll add a cube or two of frozen spinach to most stews and curries to add in extra greens and often add frozen baby broad beans to dishes for a protein boost.

8. Smoked mackerel

My fridge is rarely without a packet of smoked mackerel. It’s such a convenient ingredient and a source of protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids to add to quick salads for lunch or supper. I often whizz it up into a speedy mackerel pate and dollop it onto toast or lettuce cups.

9. Tinned sardines

Nutritional guidelines recommend that we aim to have one portion of oily fish per week. Tinned sardines are a very economical and easy way to achieve that target and are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. You can now buy boneless sardines although the edible bones of these little fish do provide a good source of calcium (which is helpful if you don’t consume dairy products, for example).

10. Nut butters

I always have at least one or two jars of nut butters on the go at any one time. A tablespoon dolloped onto porridge, swiped over toast, blended in a smoothie or spooned into some yoghurt can nutritionally elevate a meal in seconds, offering some important healthy fats, a little protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals. I look out for unsweetened, unsalted nut butters that don’t have any added palm oil.

11. Ready-made falafels

SO handy when you’re in a hurry and want a filling meal that doesn’t require much mess or preparation. Willow loves falafels and these ready-made ones are always a winner. They also make a really simple appetiser, with a quick tahini dressing for dipping.

12. Organic baked beans

Who doesn’t love beans on toast? It might just be one of the most comforting dishes I know. These organic ones from Biona come in a recyclable glass jar and are utterly delicious.

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3 Christmas Tables

3 Christmas Tables

December 2020

If you’re anything like me, half the fun of the Christmas meal is laying the table. It’s the one moment of the year where I really go to town, with flowers, candles, beautiful linens and our best cutlery, plates and glasses. I’ll potter around for hours with the soundtrack of Kings College Carols to accompany me. While we might not be laying for a crowd this year, I think it is still worth going to that little extra effort. Perhaps even more so than usual – we haven’t half earned ourselves a treat after this year!

Here are three very different, but equally lovely tablescapes that you can draw inspiration from. Handily, everything is available to order in the post if you fancy a few new bits and pieces. Then you can focus on the cheery task of deciding which festive recipes you’re going to serve on these beautiful backdrops.

Please note, this website uses some carefully selected affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep all of our online content free for everyone to access. Thank you.


How I have changed my shopping habits recently

How I have changed my shopping habits recently

October 2020

Images of empty shelves, queues that snaked around the car park, and the risk of exposure to a large number of people in close proximity meant that the traditional weekly supermarket shop that we took for granted suddenly became a rather unattractive proposition at the start of lockdown. Many of us switched to ordering online, but demand vastly outstripped capacity in many locations, and I, like many others, couldn’t get a grocery delivery for weeks during lockdown.

We were immensely lucky that our freezer and pantry were already pretty well stocked, and the vegetable garden gradually started to supplement these staples with more fresh produce, but there were a few weeks where food insecurity felt very real indeed. It gave me a wake-up call that I think I needed. And I was one of the lucky ones. Many people didn’t have such a safety net to fall back on.

Perhaps one of the main benefits to come out of this experience was that it radically changed how I shop. Initially out of necessity, but now out of choice. I thought it might be interesting to share the suppliers I now use, in case any of them might be new to you (as they were to me initially). I’ve actually found it a far more enjoyable way to shop, and have been really impressed with the reduction in plastic packaging we produce as a household, and boost in taste and flavour of these ingredients. There have also been a few welcome cost savings too, not least because I am no longer tempted to buy all those added extras that catch your eye in the supermarket, but aren’t really necessary.

fresh fruit and vegetables:

We use as much as we can from our kitchen garden, freezing, jarring, batch cooking as well as enjoying it fresh. We are pretty self-sufficient for the peak of the growing season, but outside of this (or if we are away) I get a Quick Organic Veg Box (large) delivered automatically once a week from Riverford. I get an organic fruit box at the same time, usually with some extra bananas too. This works out cheaper than buying the equivalent organic produce from the supermarket (and involves a LOT less plastic).

eggs & dairy produce:

When our chickens are productive, they give us all the eggs we need, but when this slows down, I get 12 organic eggs delivered weekly alongside my veg box from Riverford, as well as some of their organic, unhomogenised milk.

nuts & seeds:

Once a quarter or so, I put a bulk order in with Real Food Source, who do great value nuts, seeds and dried fruit (including organic options). They’re a family run company, based in Scotland, who’s no bells-and-whistles approach mean that they can supply great quality products at significantly lower prices than found elsewhere.

health food products and cupboard staples:

Anyone who has seen this article will have already heard about Good Club, an online shop selling sustainable staples at up to 30% off RRP. They use a membership model (which costs around £30 per year – but they guarantee to refund the difference if you don’t save at least this much over the year). Plus if you refer a friend, they send a delivery to your local food bank, and are working on supplying zero waste products in returnable containers soon. I’m a convert, and put in a monthly order for tea, coffee, pasta, pulses, jars, plant-based m*lks, bread, flours, sauces, and wholegrains. Handily, it automatically saves your basket, so you can simply add items as you remember throughout the month before placing the final order.

home & personal care:

I’m a total convert to Bower Collective, who deliver really lovely personal care and home care products in plastic-waste free or reusable and refillable packaging. They stock Neal’s Yard, Bramley, TOTM, Natracare, Bio-D, as well as their own-brand (which is very good value).

fish & meat:

I now almost always buy my fish, meat, and chicken from our local butcher and fishmonger. Once a year or so, I will also get a bulk order of lamb or beef from a local regenerative farmer, who is responsibly and ethically grazing his animals to regenerate the soil health on his farm. This will last us a good few months as it’s all frozen and we don’t eat much. For those who aren’t so lucky as to have a local supplier, Newlyn Fresh Fish supply sustainably caught fish boxes nationwide and the Ethical Butcher supplies carefully and ethically sourced meat.

general:

And of course, because this is real life and sometimes I am not organised enough, I turn to Ocado and get a general delivery from them to keep me going.

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healthy breakfast ideas

80+ Healthy Breakfast Ideas

September 2020

A nutritious breakfast can be a very positive way to start the day. Ensuring our bodies and brains are well nourished helps to provide us with energy and focus right through until the evening.

I know, however, that many people get stuck in a breakfast rut and while I don’t think it matters if we eat the same few things for breakfast day-in, day-out (we have to be realistic), I do know that it is easy to get bored and want to find new and tasty things to eat.

So I have put together a selection of healthy breakfast ideas and recipes, to help you add some variety to your mornings. Whether you have just enough time for a quick breakfast squeezed before work or a leisurely morning to create an elaborate brunch, there’s ideas for everything. Sweet, savoury, make-ahead, kid-friendly, speedy and a few more unusual options – there’s something for everyone!

I’ve split them up in to 7 sections. Perhaps one for every day of the week?! Those are; healthy smoothies, eggs, fruit, toast, vegetables, pancakes and oats. Click on the links below to expand each section. You’ll find links to lots of free recipes available online, as well as references to relevant recipes in my books (with handy page numbers so no need to go searching).

A note on breakfast being the ‘most important meal of the day’:

Nutritional thinking has changed over the last few years around the importance of breakfast. I certainly agree that for some people, having just two nutritious, balanced meals a day (lunch and dinner) works perfectly and the prolonged overnight fast has benefits for them as individuals. It does mean, however, that those two meals need to pack in all the nutrition that would previously have been spread out over three meals, so should be undertaken mindfully.

For many of us, however, breakfast is here to stay. The key from a nutritional perspective is therefore to make it as nutritious and balanced as our remaining meals. ‘Breakfast foods’ like processed cereals, white toast, jams, pastries and such are fine for occasional enjoyment and delight, but don’t have the same nutritional density, protein, healthy fats or essential vitamins and minerals that whole foods provide. If breakfast offers about 30% of our energy intake in a day, then it also needs to provide about 30% of all our other important essential nutrition requirements too. Of course, not exactly, but I hope you get the gist! These recipes will help to do just that, so keep reading for lots of practical examples.

Deliciously healthy breakfast recipes

Photo by Jen Rich

Healthy Breakfast Smoothies

Smoothies are a great option if you are in rush.  Prepare the ingredients in the evening and leave them in the blender jug in the fridge overnight, so you’re ready to swiftly blitz in the morning and be on your way. Don’t blend the night before though, as the smoothie will discolour. It’s safe to drink, but it doesn’t look very appetising.

The key to a healthy and balanced smoothie is to ensure that you include a source of protein (such as seeds, nuts, nut butter, dairy or soya yoghurt, protein powder or milk), ideally a portion of vegetables (I find mild-flavoured baby leaf spinach blends well) and stick to a single portion of fruit (to help balance blood sugar levels). This should help a smoothie to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

Busy day smoothie

Turmeric pineapple smoothie

Beetroot ginger smoothie

Summertime smootie

in my books
4 wholefood smoothies (Golden, Green, Berry & Chocolate) on pages 33-35 of Simply Good For You

Banana, mint & lime smoothie – pg. 182 of Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan

Favourite products for smoothies:

This is the blender I swear by. Hugely powerful, but with noise suppression technology and capable not only of blending, but stirring, mixing and chopping too.

A more affordable option, the Nutribullet blender is a best-seller for a reason. Well-priced, powerful, quick and easy to clean and small enough to fit on top of your worksurfaces.

This unflavoured, unsweetened, plant-based protein powder from Form is my go-to and the one I most often recommend to clients if they’d like to use one.

This wide-mouthed travel smoothie bottle is made from borosilicate glass and comes with a non-slip neoprene sleeve. The steel cap fits tightly enough to ensure a leak-proof seal, too.

Almonds are my go-to smoothie nut, adding some necessary protein, nutrients and healthy fats. They blend really well if you soak them in water for a few hours first (ideally overnight). I buy them from here in bulk.

High in protein, hulled hemp seed blends well into smoothies (especially if soaked for a little while first). I tend to buy them in bulk to make it a much more cost-effective addition.

Photo by Susan Bell

Healthy Breakfast Eggs

Eggs are a fantastic way to start the day. A quick and simple source of protein and many essential nutrients, they help us to feel full and balance our blood sugar levels, keeping cravings and snacking at bay even late into the afternoon.

If I’m in a rush, I’ll quickly boil an egg using this fantastic electric egg boiler (trust me, I was sceptical too, but it’s a brilliant piece of kit for busy mornings). If I have more time, I’ll make a frittata or egg muffins, which are a great way to include more vegetables at breakfast time (and they freeze well too, so perfect for batch cooking).

Egg muffins

Summer vegetable frittata

Vegetable souffle with parsely, sage & rosemary

Green shakshuka

Shakshuka using leftover vegetables

Egg on toast, broad beans with herbs & feta

Kale & mushroom muffins

Breakfast pizza

Herby green omelette

Egg breakfast salad

Amelia’s Favourite Breakfast

Warm Breakfast Salad

in my books

Egg and vegetable tray bake – pg. 62 of Simply Good For You

Mini frittatas – pg. 76 of Simply Good For You

Breakfast pizza (complete with a grilled egg on top) – pg. 64 of Simply Good For You. This one is a real hit with Willow.

Hard-boiled eggs with watercress pesto (worth making extra pesto as it goes brilliantly with lots of ingredients) – pg. 128 of Cook. Nourish. Glow.

Scrambled eggs with roasted tomatoes and dulse – pg. 222 of Cook. Nourish. Glow

For a special weekend brunch, these beautifully Colourful Layered Eggs from pg. 113 of Cook. Nourish. Glow are a bit of a show-stopper.

Favourite products for eggs:

I was hugely sceptical about how useful this little gadget would be when my partner bought it. But I was wrong. It’s like having a toaster for eggs!

These beautifully simple, porcelain egg cups from Broste Copenhagen are the chicest way to start your day.

This is the perfect shallow pan with fitted lid, made to last in white enamelled cast iron. The heavy bottom means food cooks beautifully evenly and can be used on the hob, in the oven, or under the grill.

Ideal for beating eggs and making the fluffiest omelettes, this brilliant whisk has a comfy handle, sturdy wires and is easy to clean.

A silicon muffin tray is a really useful tool if you are batch-cooking egg muffins for the week ahead or to freeze.

I like the old-fashioned satisfaction of setting off my egg-timer and waiting for it to ring. A simple pleasure, but a useful one nonetheless.

Photo by Jen Rich

Healthy Fruit Breakfasts

If you prefer a sweeter breakfast, fruit is a great way to go and tends to also be a good option for anyone cooking with little ones. The key in terms of nutritional balance is to also include some protein. That might be unsweetened natural yoghurt, chopped nuts or seeds or nut butters, all of which work well alongside fruit.

I like to use berries at breakfast (frozen when out of season, fresh in the summer). They are a source of anthocyanins, a type of dietary antioxidant, and tend to be relatively lower in sugar and higher in fibre than some other fruits. There’s not much simpler than a bowl of natural yoghurt, a pile of strawberries or raspberries and a small handful of chopped almonds, for example. But here are a few more recipe options for your inspiration. You can of course switch around the fruit you use in them according to what’s in season or what your taste preferences might be.

Fruity breakfast crumble bars

Rhubarb orange fool

Spiced apple sauce

Blackberry and lemon chia pudding

Cherry compote

in my books

There are 4 lovely yoghurt bowl recipes (Apricot & pistachio, Gut-friendly, Berry jam and Fig & hazelnut) on pg. 52-59 of Simply Good For You.

Fruit at breakfast doesn’t always have to be completely sweet. I love the chicken & mango breakfast salad on pg. 71 of Simply Good For You.

Baked orange & almond pears – pg. 266 of Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan.

Turmeric & mango spiced chia pot – pg. 148 of Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan.

Favourite products for fruit:

Convenient sized clip-top glass storage jars and so useful to have in the kitchen. I have dozens of these and use them for everything from making overnight oats and yoghurt breakfasts to storing portions of fruit compotes or sauces.

These are the sweetest heart shaped ramekins. Pretty and perfectly sized for mini crumbles, yoghurt bowls and fruit breakfasts.

If you love apples and like to bake with them then I cannot recommend investing in one of these brilliant gadgets.

A sharp peeler makes light work of fruit & vegetable preparation, which is exactly what we need on rushed mornings.

I use these super sharp paring knives from Victorinox every single day. They just make fruit & vegetable prep much simpler and faster.

A wooden chopping board makes a huge difference to how quickly you can do your meal preparation. I find that wood absorbs the shock of the knife better than plastic and stops the food slipping around, helping to make chopping faster and safer.

Photo by Jen Rich

Healthy Bread & Toast Breakfasts

The key to a healthy toast-based breakfast is to start with a nutritious and minimally refined bread, ideally one that includes whole grains and/or seeds. I really like this rye bread from Biona.

Finding a properly fermented sourdough (which also gives it that wonderful tang) is another nutritional trick, as the fermentation process can help to reduce the impact that the flour may have on blood sugar levels, as well as increase the bioavailability of nutrients, such as zinc, to make them more readily available. I love this one from Riverford, which takes 48 hours to prepare and bake.

If you are gluten free, then these are the best GF breads that I have found, both in terms of taste and texture, and nutrition:

Next, we need to think about making the toppings nutrient dense too. The possibilities are enormous, but again, the key is to think about adding some sort of protein, vegetables (or fruit) and healthy fats.

12 favourite things on toast

Herby green bread

Carrot & caraway gluten free bread

Beetroot, rosemary & walnut soda bread

The hangover sandwich

Avocado & broad beans on toast

Sweet potato toasts with scrambled tofu

in my books

There is a whole chapter of healthy and nutritious toppings for toast in Simply Good For You. I called them my ‘hero toppings’ as they really help to pack in nutrition and taste for anyone feeling exhausted and time-poor. You can definitely still have your toast and eat it with these ideas!

Favourite products for bread and toast:

A sharp, effective bread knife is a necessity if you’re baking-your-own.

A good loaf tin can make all the difference to how your bread bakes, and how easily you can remove it.

This beautifully simple bread bin, with ventilation holes for air circulation and optimal freshness, a lovely integrated bamboo chopping board and linen storage bag for extra fresh bread.

Handmade in the UK, simply wrap this around your bread and store it away in a cool, dry place to keep it fresher for longer.

If you’re on the lookout for a beautiful, handmade breadboard that will very much stand the test of time, take a look at these stunning boards from Temper Studio, handmade in English Beech, Oak or Sycamore.

This is the toaster I have had for years. I love how it looks and how simple it is to operate.

Photo by Jen Rich

Healthy Vegetable Breakfasts

Savoury breakfasts are my absolute favourite and I encourage you to challenge your comfort zone if vegetables at breakfast feels weird to you. Familiarity often leads to enjoyment, so keep at it and your tastebuds will adapt.

One of the easiest ways to add vegetables to breakfast is to add a few cherry tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms or wilted spinach to your eggs, toast or other savoury breakfast. Or blend a portion of veg into a smoothie (spinach, kale, cucumber, courgettes and even cauliflower can work well). But it’s also fun to think outside the breakfast box and try a few less-typical vegetable-packed breakfast dishes. There’s a good few ideas below.

Some of these dishes take a little extra preparation so I’d opt to make them for a leisurely weekend brunch rather than a hectic morning.

Sweetcorn fritters with a yoghurt herb dip

Warm breakfast salad

Avocado and broad beans on toast

Smörgåsbord platter

Green ‘wake me up’ broth

Brunch vegetable fritters

Grilled sardines & tomatoes with crunchy herb dressing

Beetroot parsnip fritters

Celeriac rosti

Amelia’s Favourite Breakfast

in my books

Butternut baked beans (vegan) – pg. 61 of Simply Good For You. Perfect for batch cooking, and just as lovely at lunch or supper too.

Favourite products for vegetables:

I use these super sharp paring knives from Victorinox every single day. They just make vegetable prep much simpler and faster.

A wooden chopping board makes a huge difference to how quickly you can do your meal preparation.

I use my microplane grater for everything from garlic and ginger to adding a little lemon zest flavour boost. When you’re done give it a quick rinse or put it in the top rack of the dishwasher for easy cleaning.

This mandolin slicer is the quickest way to prepare vegetables, I use mine daily.

A sharp peeler makes light work of vegetable preparation, which is exactly what we need on rushed mornings.

For the most beautiful sharing platters at breakfast, you need a good-sized plate. This beautiful oval platter is made from Portugese clay, with a classic white glaze. It’s a classic.

Amelia Freeer's Buckwheat Breakfast Pancakes with Stewed Blackberries
Photo by Emma Goodwin

Healthy Pancake Breakfasts

There is something pretty wonderful about pottering about the kitchen, radio on, mixing and frying pancakes. Perhaps it’s because they are a breakfast dish I only make when there is a gentle start to the day and enough time free to do them justice. So, in my mind, they’re associated with all sorts of happy memories. Birthday mornings, celebratory weekends, breakfast-in-bed. It’s why I love them so much.

But pancakes don’t have to only be saved for special occasions. The mix can be whipped up quickly in the morning or made in advance and kept in the fridge overnight, and if you do a big batch, they tend to keep well for a few days (perhaps just warming them through gently before serving).

I often use buckwheat flour in my pancakes for the wonderful nutty taste, and top with unsweetened yoghurt (protein), fruit and nuts, seeds or a dollop of nut butter (healthy fat and added protein) to provide all of the nutrients I need for a healthy balanced breakfast.

Here are a couple of gluten free pancake options, but you can use regular wholewheat flour if you wish.

Buckwheat breakfast pancakes

Coconut flour pancakes

in my books

The easy Protein Pancakes on pg. 51 of Simply Good For You have been so popular with readers and they really are super quick to make.

Favourite products for pancakes:

If there is one thing that makes successful pancakes a whole lot easier, it’s a good pan. Big enough to accommodate a few mini pancakes at a time, but not so big that you can’t make a single crepe without it breaking apart.

I try to mix up my nut butters to help broaden the variety of healthy fats in my diet. I love this delicious cashew nut option.

I’m a huge fan of these lightweight, set of 5 nesting stainless steel mixing bowls. They are virtually indestructible, you can choose the exact size you need according to the recipe you’re making.

To make good pancakes, you need a good whisk to get rid of lumps and make a beautifully smooth batter.

Could there be a more divine way to wake up, than taking this beautiful tray back to bed, complete with steaming mug of tea (or coffee), stack of pancakes and the weekend newspapers? The best of simple pleasures.

This delicious organic maple syrup is the perfect addition to a stack of scrumptious pancakes.

Healthy Breakfast Oats

A comforting bowl of hot steaming porridge is a wonderful staple breakfast, particularly during the colder autumnal and winter months. I love it topped with a little yoghurt (dairy free is fine if you prefer), some diced apple or pear, a sprinkle of these and a drizzle of honey or scattering of chopped dates.

I also love oats in the warmer months too – they are a nutritious and simple whole grain to incorporate into our diets at any time of the year. Overnight oats, or Bircher muesli are easy summer options. They are a useful recipes to have to hand if you’re often busy in the mornings, as you can mix together one big batch that will do you for 2-3 days.

As always, remember to add some protein (milk, yoghurt, nuts, seeds, nut / seed butter, protein powder) to help you feel full and keep blood sugar levels stable. It is often this food group that is missing if you find that you’re ravenous just a couple of hours after breakfast.

Crunchy nut & seed granola

Quinoa porridge

Crunchy amaranth granola

Creamy coconut strawberry chia breakfast porridge

Apple crumble oats

Overnight almond oats with poached pears

Chocolate Orange Porridge

Raspberry and Lemon Porridge

Tropical Mango Porridge

Cherry Bakewell Porridge

Apple and Cinnamon Porridge

in my books

The Bircher Muesli on pg. 36 of Simply Good For You is my go to breakfast for busy days and can be infinitely varied according to the toppings.

Coconut Muesli, pg. 39 of Simply Good For You.

As for granola, my favourite one to make from scratch is on page 141 of Nourish & Glow: The 10 Day Plan

Favourite products for oats:

I have a stack of these robust bowls, which to me are the perfect size and shape to wrap your hands around on a frosty morning, especially when filled with enticing and steamy porridge.

I was sent this Apple & Cinnamon granola, from Bio & Me, which contains added prebiotic fibre alongside wholegrain oats, a mixture of seeds and some dates for sweetness. This is a great option if you don’t have the time to DIY.

Convenient sized clip-top glass storage jars and so useful to have in the kitchen. I have dozens of these and use them for everything from making overnight oats to storing portions of fruit compotes or sauces.

If you eat gluten-free oats, I’ve found that buying online (especially in bulk, if you eat a lot) can be a cheaper option.

An ancient grain that I love to use in my granola, this makes a welcome change from oats.

The prettiest little scalloped bowls made from Portuguese clay in a classic white glaze. I use these almost every day and always get lots of questions about where they come from.

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My 8 most-used pieces of kitchen kit

My 8 most-used pieces of kitchen kit

With so many of us now cooking all our meals at home and perhaps taking lockdown as an opportunity to finally clear out the back of our kitchen cupboards and have a bit of a spring clean, I thought I’d share my all-time favourite kitchen kit with you.

Photo Susan Bell

These are the items that I use day-in, day-out in my kitchen. The old friends that are reliable, useful and most importantly, highly effective. I totally understand our desires for the latest gadgets and fancy culinary toys, but I can’t overstate the importance of having really good basics, that actually do what they are supposed to do (I’m looking at you, rusty, broken peelers and blunt knives).

There is a real pleasure that comes from something practical that is perfect for its job. Particularly if it also makes our lives that bit easier and more enjoyable. All of the following meet those criteria for me.

 

Happy cooking!

1. Wooden chopping board

A good, wooden chopping board makes a huge difference to how quickly you can do your preparation. Wood absorbs the shock of the knife and stops the food slipping around, helping to make chopping faster and safer. Place a damp dishcloth underneath the board for more stability. Simply wash it in hot, soapy water and allow to air dry (which is also very hygienic), and your board will last for years. Mine is like an old friend now, with the marks of many thousands of meals prepared etched into its surface.

2. Sharp, dishwasher-safe knives

These cheap, brilliant knives are my secret kitchen weapon. They make light work of all vegetable prep and are completely dishwasher safe. Beware though – they are extremely sharp – so be careful of your fingers and definitely keep out of reach of little ones.

3. Stacking steamer saucepan

Invest in a steamer saucepan and you’ll wonder how you ever did without one. Steaming is a great way of preserving the nutritional value of foods and is an incredibly quick and easy way of adding a couple of vegetable sides to a main meal. Plus, all it really needs is a quick swill out afterwards, so barely any washing up either.

4. Lemon squeezer

For the quickest of dressings over steamed vegetables, to an extra zing in a G & T, this lemon squeezer is the simplest way to juice a lemon – with minimal washing up and no annoying pips. I love it.

5. Microplane fine grater

By far the fastest way to zest a lemon, grate ginger, or sprinkle some fresh parmesan, one of these sharp, hand-held graters is a real kitchen bonus. It’s one of those things you think you’ll never use, that is, until you have one. Then you’ll find you use it all the time.

6. Speed peeler

Peelers need to do one thing: peel. If yours doesn’t, or is a pain to use, or the handle is falling off, do yourself a favour and throw under £5 at a new one. It’s a game changer.

7. Stainless steel tray

I use this for everything – roasting, baking, heating, grilling – basically, for anything that needs to go in the oven. It can be properly scrubbed clean (as no non-stick coating), and is fantastically versatile.

8. Kitchen tongs

Simply an extension of your hands for hot things. Brilliant, and essential.

Psst! Here’s a little tip-off…

If you are after some new cast iron pans or dishes, Procook does them for a steal. Not an ad, I was just really impressed with their value for money.

 

*Please note, this article contains affiliate links, so while the cost to you is the same, we may earn a small commission if you buy through these links, which helps to cover our costs to provide ongoing free content to you.


How to enjoy cooking for one

How to enjoy cooking for one

A theme that has popped up a number of times from this lovely community is the challenge (and possibly also the opportunity) of shopping, cooking and eating for one.

First, I want to extend a validating hug to anyone struggling with the potential loneliness of cooking and eating alone, especially if this is a new experience, or you are finding it hard to adjust to a quiet house when in the past it has been a bubbling, chaotic and chatty time of your day. The connection that comes from sharing a meal is something that can be sorely missed when mealtimes become a more silent affair.

So please know that it’s OK to find this a rocky transition to make. Just like it is OK if finding the motivation to shop and nourish yourself properly is sometimes difficult. You are absolutely NOT alone. I get many messages from people struggling with these exact worries every week.

But, bear with me here. It is not all doom-and-gloom, I promise! I cooked and ate alone for many years. I think we might therefore have an opportunity here, to re-frame the challenge into a chance to practice mindful self-compassion and self-care. Cooking and eating alone could even be seen as a blessing.

Why? Because you don’t need to cater for other people’s moods, whims, tastes or meal timings. You can eat what you love, when you want, and do so whilst dancing madly around the kitchen listening to slightly-too-loud jazz, if you so wish. There is a freedom in cooking for one that can be something to relish. A chance to practice being your own best friend. To make mealtimes a moment of joy in your day.

This starts by accepting that you, alone, are absolutely worthy of the time and (often minimal) effort it takes to eat proper meals. Even if that is just a couple of times a week to begin with. And then perhaps try to get into the habit of properly laying the table for yourself. Complete with your best china, candles and a sneaky glass of wine if you wish. You’re having dinner with the most important person in your world, afterall.

And if you’d like a little more inspiration or ideas, do take a look at the tips below. I’ve also included an example shopping list and a handful of meal ideas (there are hundreds of recipes available online for each of these meals, if a recipe is needed at all) using the ingredients. It’s not a meal plan to follow, but rather a selection of ways to make simple meals for one, without endless leftovers, and a few ideas that flowed from my imagination to hopefully inspire yours.

Here are a few extra suggestions

1. Don’t cook in silence, if you don’t like it.

Find an engaging podcast series, put the radio on, play some great music or download some cheery audiobooks. You could even use hands-free or video calling to chat to a loved one while you potter about the kitchen. You don’t have to be having a constant conversation, but it means you can cook ‘together’, apart if you’d like.

2. Similarly, don’t always eat alone, if you don’t like it.

Start a supper club (I love the idea of a soup club – you simply take it in turns to provide soup, bread and cheese, so the cost and preparation is minimal, leaving everyone free to focus on the conversation), eat with your friends once a week, eat lunch with your co-workers, find local meet-ups, or simply eat in a café or restaurant occasionally (there is something rather romantic about a table for one, I’ve always felt). If you have housemates, arrange to take it in turns to cook once a week for everyone. If this is tricky for any reason, then perhaps arrange a group video call, so you can enjoy a virtual dinner party once in a while.

3. Meal planning

I’m a big fan of meal planning. It helps reduce food waste (as your plan can also include leftovers), makes shopping easier (you know exactly what you need, buying ingredients for actual meals, rather than a motley collection of ‘things that were on offer / looked nice’) and reduces the mental dialogue of ‘should I bother to cook tonight, or just have cheese on toast again?’, because there is a clear plan to follow. Try it for a week with this free printable planner.

4. Get a small freezer, if at all possible

Minimising food waste and making speedy meals is much easier with a small freezer and some nifty containers. Frozen fruit and veg is no less nutritious than fresh, and means you can use exactly the right amount for one portion at a time. It’s also a good idea to keep an odds-and-ends tub of leftover vegetables. Once your tub gets filled, defrost it, add some decent stock and make it into a thick soup. You can then use this as a base for stews, sauces and casseroles as well as a hearty soup. You could do the same with fruit, and turn it into a delicious mixed-fruit compote.

5. Buy meat, fish or cheese from independent shops, or the counter

That way, you can get single portions (as packaged produce always seem to come in multiple quantities), saving both money and potential waste.

6. Don’t worry about eating simply

Good, nutritious food doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple omelette with some mushrooms, tomatoes and a side salad is wonderfully filling and nutrient dense. Steamed fish, grains and greens is both delicious and speedy. Also try my ‘Hero Toppings’ section in Simply Good For You for a whole load of ideas on ways to transform basic toast into a more nourishing meal.

7. Set goals

Have a think about what you feel your ‘baseline’ nutrition or self-care goals might be each day. Perhaps that might be cooking one proper meal a day from scratch, having three portions of vegetables, or always having a portion of protein with breakfast. It could also be non-foodie, such as getting outside for 10 minutes, having a conversation with a friend, or doing 5 press-ups.

It doesn’t really matter exactly what these goals are, so long as they are sensible and achievable, but they offer us a framework to ensure we are taking proper care of ourselves, without worrying about being ‘perfect’.

Illustrations by Ryn Frank

EXAMPLE WEEKLY SHOPPING LIST FOR 1:
  • 6 eggs
  • Milk of choice
  • Yoghurt of choice
  • 1 fillet salmon (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 chicken thighs / chicken breasts
  • 1 – 2 bags washed salad / spinach
  • 1 small head broccoli
  • 1 punnet tomatoes
  • 2 courgettes
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 punnet mushrooms
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 bunch bananas (peel & freeze any ripe leftovers for smoothies / banana ice cream)
  • 1 bag apples
  • 1 bag new potatoes
  • 1 bag carrots
  • Onions / garlic
  • Great quality bread – sliced, and frozen (toasting straight from frozen as required)
  • Oats
  • Mixed seeds
  • Almonds
  • Red lentil / chickpea pasta
  • 2 tins chickpeas / cannellini beans
  • 2 jars chopped tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Tahini
  • Frozen peas or beans

*This total basket cost (calculated using an online supermarket delivery), came to approximately £45, with some leftover dried goods for another week.


Illustrations by Ryn Frank

A FEW MEAL IDEAS TO USE UP THESE INGREDIENTS:

Breakfast ideas

  • Porridge with seeds
  • Yoghurt with fruit & almonds
  • Bircher muesli (oats, yoghurt, seeds & grated apple mixed and left to soak overnight in fridge)
  • Fritatta with mushrooms & spinach / tomatoes & grated courgettes (good for lunch and/or supper too).
  • Mashed banana and tahini on toast (nicer than it sounds!)
  • Poached / scrambled / boiled egg on toast with spinach
  • Smoothie of banana, soaked almonds, spinach and milk.

Lunch ideas

  • Vegetable soup with roasted chickpea croutons and/or toast
  • Simple salad with chickpea croutons, olive oil and seeds
  • Salad with leftover cold chicken / salmon and new potatoes
  • Pea & chickpea hummus, toast, cherry tomatoes & salad
  • Leftover pasta in tomato sauce with extra salad and olive oil
  • Tomato & cannellini bean soup (there’s a great ‘instant’ recipe for this in Simply Good For You)

Supper ideas

  • Salmon, new potatoes, broccoli & peas / beans, tahini dressing
  • Chicken with sautéed courgettes, onion & garlic, and new potatoes.
  • Lentil pasta with homemade tomato sauce
  • Lentil pasta with mushrooms, peas, onions and wilted spinach
  • Chicken with leftover tomato sauce, broccoli & new potatoes
  • Simple ratatouille with peppers, courgettes, onions, garlic and chopped tomatoes, served with chicken, or made into an omelette, or spooned over pasta.
  • Chickpea & vegetable stew, served with a dollop of yoghurt
  • Chicken, tomato & pepper stew with new potatoes


Self-care practices for our changing world

Self-care practices for our changing world

We are in this together.

I feel passionately that NOW is the time when self care matters most. Access to support systems and professional resources may be harder than it has been in the past. So instead, we may turn to ourselves and call on the reserves of strength, resilience and courage that we all have inside of us.

Having a regular and robust self-care strategy is going to be so important over the next few weeks or months. Exactly what this means will look different for each of us, but it is likely to be necessary to help us cope and contribute. While coronavirus is a big old stress that feels front-and-centre of our lives and is inevitably taking up a vast amount of bandwidth, life is still happening around it – both the ups and downs. I realise all of the information can feel overwhelming so where do we start when it all feels so big?

I have always found it helpful to divide ‘wellbeing’ into separate zones or areas. It’s too homogenous to lump it all together and ends up leaving me feeling paralysed with all the different things I feel I could be doing. So instead, I want to take it right back to basics here and focus on the things I think probably matter the most.

Sleep. Movement. Mind.
Food. Connection. Health.

It is crucial that as we think about these things, we remember that we cannot do it ‘all’ at the moment (if ever!). We cannot eat a “perfect” diet (not any time actually), not least because access to ingredients is likely to be sporadic. We cannot exercise in the way we might have been used to. We are unlikely to have long stretches of quiet time to ourselves for mindfulness practices (especially if we have little ones at home). Stress levels are high enough already. So, please, please don’t pile any extra guilt onto yourselves at the moment. We can all afford to let a few things go. Focus instead on being good enough. This is not a time for strict wellness rules (bar the obvious importance of public health advice). Flexibility is going to be key over the next few months.

Here are some things that my team and I have come up with that we hope might provide a little inspiration to help you care for yourselves during these uncertain times.

Wishing you all courage and compassion.

 

amelia freer

FdSc, Dip ION

Click below to explore each zone of wellbeing

Disclaimer: As always, the information contained within these articles is in no way a substitute for professional health, nutritional or medical advice. Please be mindful of your own needs and seek professional support as necessary. The situation surrounding coronavirus is rapidly changing, so current public health or legal guidelines may be different from when this article was written or last updated. The same goes for any of the resource links that we have shared. Please stay informed and stay safe.

There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.


meal planning tips

14 Meal-planning Tips

14 Meal-planning tips for a cheaper, simpler and more nutritious diet

1. Get a workable system in place

Get a meal planning system in place. Buy a pad of tear-off sheets, print out a few copies of my free meal planner & shopping list PDF, write your own outline on a blank page, or perhaps download a meal planning app if you prefer to do it digitally. The most important thing is to make it easy and to make it enjoyable (I do mine on Sunday nights, with a big mug of tea, using a lovely pen – it’s the small things!).

A little hint: I keep all my old meal plans in a folder on my cook book shelf. I can then quickly flick back through a few past menus and use one of those if I am tight for time (usually with a few quick adaptations).

2. Do a ‘stock-check’

If you get a weekly vegetable box delivered, shop at a farmer’s market or grow-your-own, the first step is to jot down what fresh produce you will be getting this week. Also do a quick ‘stock-check’ of your fridge, freezer, fruit-bowl & cupboards and note any ingredients that need to be used. This will minimise food waste and give you a list of ingredients you know you’ll need to include.

3. Note your busiest days

Next, think about the days that you know you’re going to be busy or stretched for time. Star or highlight these mealtimes on your planner so you know not to put a preparation-heavy option on that day. I aim to have leftovers ready to go on busy days or something very simple like pasta, soup or a quick stew (salad in warmer months).

4. Investment dishes

Then find 1-2 days where you will have a couple of hours here and there to cook and use these to make some investment dishes. Perhaps a big tray of roasted vegetables, a chopped salad or coleslaw, a roast chicken, fish pie, chilli, curry or vegetable stew. Take a look at my batch cooking recipes and also my last two books – Nourish & Glow: The 10 Day Plan and Simply Good For You. Double up quantities if necessary so you’ve got plenty of leftovers to enjoy on busier days. Maybe you can freeze a few portions too.

5. Multi-task meals

If you know you’re going to have a dish in the oven for a while, use this opportunity to be energy-efficient and also put in some jacket potatoes, other roasted vegetables, or a simple casserole. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to ‘piggy-back’ a few dishes together like this and can save a lot of time later in the week.

6. Think about protein

Once you know the days where you’ll have a little more time, think about the key protein sources you want to use – depending on your personal preferences and tastes. As an example, I tend to work with a few of the following different sources per week and find different recipes to jazz them up a bit;

  1. Legumes: Pulses / Chickpeas / Cannellini or Butter beans / Lentils / Broad beans / Hummus (legumes are my commonest protein choice – they are cheap, sustainable and speedy).
  2. Nuts & seeds: / Nut butters / Chia seeds / Hulled hemp seeds / Flaxseeds / Almonds / Cashews / Walnuts
  3. Soy products: Tofu / Tempeh / Edamame beans
  4. Poultry – Chicken or Turkey
  5. Oily fish – Mackerel / Salmon / Trout / Sardines
  6. White fish – Hake / Haddock / Pollock / Cod / Whiting
  7. Red meat – Beef / Lamb / Venison or other game (We tend not to eat so much red meat these days, but might have it twice a month or so)
  8. Dairy – Eggs / Cheese / Natural yoghurt

Jot a selection (perhaps 3-5 different options) of dishes using your preferred protein into your meal plan. We often have fish on a Thursday evening, for example, as that’s when a local fishmonger gets his fresh stock in. Try to keep possible use-by dates in mind.

7. Seek out inspiration

If you’re feeling stuck for ideas, have a flick through some recipe books, social media accounts, Pinterest or websites to get some inspiration. Instagram has the save option so you can create a file called recipes and whenever you see something lovely, save it there for another time and Pinterest is great for this (have you checked out my Pinterest page yet?). Save recipes or dishes you’d like to try, as you see them, so you’ve got a bank of ideas at your fingertips when they are needed. Keep a list (on the fridge or inside a kitchen cupboard door) of speedy, easy meal ideas that you know have worked well in the past (especially if you are cooking for a number of different people with varying dietary requirements or desires!).

8. ‘Cook once, eat twice’

Work on the basic principle of ‘cook once, eat twice’. When you’ve gone to the effort of preparing a dish from scratch, it’s a reasonable plan to eat it for lunch and/or supper the following day too. Just follow common-sense food hygiene practices and ensure things are heated thoroughly before serving as necessary. I have a selection of clip-top glass containers that are perfect for storing leftovers and oven and freezer safe too. They are a great investment.

9. Make breakfast an easy affair

Don’t worry about trying to ‘plan’ breakfast. It’s the one meal of the day where having a simple, go-to dish can serve you well, without being detrimental to your overall nutritional intake. It takes a lot of thinking (and shopping) out of the equation if you stick to 2 or 3 breakfast recipes on rotation. Just ensure your everyday choices contain some source of protein and are not too high in refined carbohydrates, saturated fat or sugar. There are lots of healthy, quick & easy breakfast ideas here and in my latest book Simply Good For You.

10. At the bottom of the fridge, lurks a good meal

Make a ‘bottom-of-the-fridge’ vegetable stew, curry or soup towards the end of the week to use up left over vegetables. It’s also a great thing to do if you’re going away and want to leave the fridge empty. They will all freeze well and mean you’ve got a home-cooked meal ready made when you get home. See my article on How to Build a Healthy Plate if you don’t have specific recipes.

how to build a healthy plate

11. Simple puds

I don’t bother with desserts day-to-day. I’ll have a piece of fresh seasonal fruit, a couple of squares of dark chocolate, or a dollop of natural yoghurt with a handful of chopped nuts and berries if I fancy something sweet. None of these need to be included in your meal plan.

12. Revisit your plan

Once you’re happy with the key dishes you’re planning to make this week, quickly skim back over your plan and fill in any gaps, adding vegetables and side dishes (even if you change these on the day) and make any tweaks. Frittatas, soups, pasta dishes or a quick dahl / chickpea & vegetable stew tend to be my gap-fillers, if you’re looking for simple inspiration (remember that I have lots of easy dishes here on my site: see Recipes).

13. A plan is just a plan

It doesn’t matter if you don’t actually stick to your plan 100%. I rarely stick to it precisely, but the process certainly helps reduce the amount of time I have to spend thinking about cooking and meals during the mayhem of the working week. It really has been a game-changer for me, as a little time invested upfront in planning (it takes no longer than 10 minutes to do all of this with a little practice), pays off hugely over the course of the whole week. Plus, it has reduced my food wastage (and therefore expenditure), as well as expanded my cooking repertoire (and thus dietary variety). It’s also easier to stick to a healthy eating plan if you know what you’re aiming for – it’s a proactive rather than reactive response to the fact that we all have to eat every day, regardless of how tired and busy we are!

14. Write a list

Finally, write your shopping list and put in your order. I mostly shop online for things that don’t come from the organic delivery company, or in bulk. This saves me time and money, as I am less tempted to buy extra things on a ‘whim’.

For those with a copy of my latest book, Simply Good For You, I have put together a free meal plan & shopping list.

Happy planning!

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