Healthy Breakfast Idea #1 Chia and Raspberry Porridge

Pumpkin seeds give a wonderful crunch to this cold porridge...
Pumpkin seeds give a wonderful crunch to this cold porridge…

So in lieu of what promised to be a heavy(ier) weekend, on both the eating and the drinking front, I decided to make Saturday morning as healthy a start as possible. This was all in the knowledge of two meals out and several gin and tonics (and/or wines) to contend with. Awake at dawn, for some inexplicable reason, I decided to get a healthy breakfast prepared for when I came back from my morning run. Again, this was another sly manoeuvre –  all in the name of damage-limitation.

Contrary to how it might sound above, I really don’t mind sacrificing a day or two from my health(ier) regime for family occasions or drinks in a pub. It’s just that in the past, that could have been an excuse to forgo all healthy eating in the run up to the event just because I knew I would be dining out and what’s the point of eating a bowl of fruit for breakfast when you’re having a pub lunch, just start with a fry-up now or it would have been the start of a very slippery slope. One that winds up with me drinking alcohol most evenings and demolishing family packs of greasy crisps…then eating biscuits and cakes in the week just because I let my (rather short) hair down for the weekend.

Well, this weekend, I have had my weekend. I had a Friday-night takeaway and wine; I had gnocchi; I had birthday cake (at least twice!); I had a slab of chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce and hazelnut ice-cream; I had chips; I had a fry up with two sausages and white bread, with a croissant and jam chaser; I had crisps; and I washed the whole lot down with at least one bottle of white wine and several gin and tonics. Do I feel guilty? No, not really. This is because I knew I laid good foundations with my salads at work this week and with my physical activity. I also felt the metaphorical return of light and brightness to my health-food halo when I went food shopping and stocked up on broccoli, avocado, butternut squash, spinach and salads; it was a good feeling because I knew I was back in control. I’m making a cleansing green soup for dinner tonight, packed full of veggies to help re-nutrify my body and get it ready for the week ahead.

One of the reasons that I feel able to regain control is the fact that I made a healthy start to my weekend. I had a cold Chia Seed and Raspberry Porridge. And it was delicious. It sat marinating in my fridge, whilst I went for my run and was perfect with a cup of tea – it was cold on Saturday morning – when I got back. I am a big fan of the tapioca texture derived from simmering chia seeds in with my porridge but knew time would be precious when I got back so I bit the bullet and tried them soaked, but without cooking. I’m glad I did, because I suspect this mixture works well over night and will be welcome in summer when I have relinquished my grasp on steaming bowls of oats.

To prepare: put about two handfuls of raspberries in a bowl and mash with a fork. Drizzle in a little honey at this stage to balance the tangy bite from the fruit. Add two tablespoons of porridge oats, a tablespoon of chia seeds and just cover with milk. You could use almond, hazelnut or rice milk I guess, but I went for good old semi-skimmed. Leave this in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and then add some more oats, a drizzle more honey and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds for some much-needed crunch. With the protein hit from the chia seeds and milk and vitamins from the fruit, I felt it was the perfect remedy to an early start with exercise. It would also be great with a blob of Greek yoghurt.

Enjoy!

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Healthy Lunch Idea #3 Butternut Squash and Feta Salad

Pumpkin seeds add delicious crunch...
Pumpkin seeds add delicious crunch…

I have to admit, I’ve been making a bit of an effort this week where lunch is concerned. Ok. Not a bit: a lot. It has been time-consuming and has created extra washing up both in terms of the utensils and pots to prepare the food and the plastic tubs that need washing at the end of every day. Has it been worth it? Yes. I certainly feel like I can wear my food halo with pride and relish my inner smugness at avoiding the carb overload that is the canteen.

I have found that preparing enough food for a few days is the way forward with this one. Nobody wants to be faced with extra washing up every night. Having a salad ready-to-go in the fridge the night before means that mornings are freed up and there is no excuse to buy unhealthy convenience foods en route to work. Or try to survive a day on flapjacks, cookies, cakes, crisps etc. I have also discovered that the must-buy to healthy eating at work is a lunchbox. Allow me to indulge in a little nostalgia here. I had a Ninja Turtles lunchbox when I was at primary school and it was cool – I even liked it when the picture on the front went a little crinkly and started to peel off with too much vigorous washing. Anyway. You also need some of those mini gel packs that you can pop in the freezer to keep your food cool and I recommend a tiny plastic pot or jar to keep your dressing separate until you eat. Nobody in their right mind likes soggy salad leaves.

Whilst admittedly still in its infancy, my new-found love of portable healthy lunches has kicked off to a good start and I have decided to share one of my ideas here for all of those people looking for ways to boost their daily vitamin and mineral intake, as well as trying to attain the holy grail of healthy eating: the five-a-day. It is essentially a collection of salady things: rocket, roasted vegetables, feta, tomatoes and cucumber with a sprinkling of olives, tossed over a bed of bulgur wheat and drizzled with a homemade tangy dressing. I’m fairly new to bulgur wheat and was intrigued by its promise of being high in fibre and protein, as well as packing a punch nutritionally with iron and B vitamins, along with vitamin E. It also tastes great along with the other items in this dish.

To prepare this salad, roast chunks of butternut squash in the oven for about 45 minutes, until golden and cooked through. You can add any flavourings here, like chilli flakes, thyme, salt and pepper etc. Simmer some bulgar wheat until cooked according to the instructions on the packet. Then layer up your salad with some iron-boosting rocket, some lycopene-loving tomatoes and cool slices of cucumber with a sprinkling of olives. Last but not least, a healthy crumble of feta cheese over the top – but not too much! Prepare a lemony dressing in a small pot of jar with olive oil, lemon juice and a blob of honey, which can be shaken and poured over the salad before eating.

When eating: sit back, relax and be safe in the knowledge that you are doing your body a favour and providing it with the fuel it needs to get through a busy afternoon. It also becomes easier to resist the biscuit tin in the afternoon if you are making an effort with lunch!

Healthy Snack Idea #2 Blueberry Muffins

Oats provide multiple nutritional benefits...as well as great texture.
Oats provide multiple nutritional benefits…as well as great texture.

I love blueberry muffins. Particularly the ones that you can buy from most chain coffee shops, where the deliciously soft muffin top blooms out over the edge of the paper case and begs to be gently peeled away from the fluffy goodness underneath: you have to eat the muffin top last, obviously. You can’t just dive in there and take a huge bite, muffin top and all. I also love how the blueberries have burst open in the oven and stained the creamy muffin, bringing delicious pops of flavour when you take a bite. What I don’t love is the butter, sugar and white flour that have gone into them. Not everyday anyway.

I had a go at making an updated ‘more healthy’ version that you can take to work and enjoy with a mid-morning cuppa without wracking yourself with guilt at caving in to something delicious. These muffins are perfect for the days when you feel like standing over the biscuit tin and mindlessly shovelling in digestives because your body is craving a quick fix and some much needed energy. It is so easy to cave to those sugar urges when you are tired and have worked tough hours. Instead of relying on a quick energy fix, the oats in these muffins serve their purpose of keeping you fuller for longer and providing some slow-release energy, as well as bringing a wonderful texture to the mix. I found that, along with the banana, the blueberries brought a sufficient sweetness, thus reducing the need for lots of sugar. They also bring their antioxidant benefits to the party. Fluffing up the egg whites with a whisk makes these muffins light and airy; you could almost be forgiven for thinking that you are tucking in to the most calorific treat. Surely only butter gives cakes that light edge? Apparently not.

Here’s the recipe – they do freeze well, so like my other muffins, make a couple of batches at the weekend and you have a few weeks worth of snacks ready to go.

  • 75g wholemeal flour
  • 200g rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup honey, or maple syrup
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 3 tbsp light olive oil
  • 250ml milk, you could substitute non-dairy if required and I used semi-skimmed
  • 125g blueberries

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking powder and salt until well-combined.

Make a well in the middle and add the mashed bananas, egg yolks, milk and oil. Mix together gently with a wooden spoon until combined. Do be careful not to over mix.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until you have soft peaks – I recommend hand whisking for an extra workout(!). Gently fold the egg whites into the muffin mix, with your blueberries and fold until everything is mixed through evenly.

They take about 25 minutes in a preheated oven (200C/Gas 6). Wait until the tops are golden and a wooden cocktail stick comes out clean.

Enjoy!

Healthy Dinner Idea #2 Parmesan Chicken with Avocado Salad

A yummy olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing really makes this salad
A yummy olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing really makes this salad

Spurred on by the warmer weather this week – though hard to believe as a gale now echoes in my chimney and the skies look dismal and grey – I turned to one of my favourite summer dishes for a quick and healthy dinner. I came across this simple recipe in a book some years ago and I credit it for giving me my love of avocados. I hated the things for years but have slowly made the transition from guacamole to whole, raw avocados via this simple, summery salad.

The Parmesan-crusted chicken may not be healthiest version of chicken breast out there but hey – at least I grilled mine instead of pan frying it. The original recipe also called for egg white to make the crust but I include the whole egg. We are fortunate enough to get eggs for free from my partner’s parents’ chickens and it would be a shame to ditch the yellow-orange yolks just because a recipe said so.

Butterfly your chicken breasts and coat with beaten egg before dipping in a Parmesan cheese and cayenne pepper mix – the cayenne adds a wonderful kick of spice and brings many health benefits like being an anti-inflammatory and digestive aid to the table. Once prepared, cook under a medium-hot grill until golden brown on each side and the thoroughly cooked (but not dry!) in the middle.

To assemble the salad, slice two avocados and place in a pretty bowl – unless there’s just two of you at home but who says you shouldn’t eat off pretty things when you aren’t entertaining? – and chop plenty of cherry tomatoes in half and put in the bowl with the avocado. The tomatoes from supermarkets are a little bit disappointing in the winter but in the summer, with fresh, local tomatoes this dish is elevated to the next level. Next is the red onion. I’m not a great fan of raw onions but can manage them in the dish because I slice them very finely into long strands so that you can almost read a newspaper through them. Balanced with the avocado, they bring a little crunch to the salad. Drizzle your salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and add fresh, torn basil before giving a good stir. Season to taste.

Serve your salad with the chicken and enjoy the thought of eating a nutritious, satisfying dinner with many health benefits. As you can see from the photo, I even added a couple of slices of grilled aubergine to mine.

Healthy-ish Dinner Idea #1 Aubergine Bake

Crispy topped aubergine bake with homemade tomato sauce...
Crispy topped aubergine bake with homemade tomato sauce…

I love carbs. There I’ve said it. In the world today many people seem to be obsessed with Atkins or Paleo diets, many a time have I seen on forums, websites etc. “Oh but I’m Paleo, how can you make the recipe Paleo…?”. You can be regarded as some kind of food-criminal if you suggest that you enjoy nothing more than a large bowl of steaming spaghetti carbonara. Made with white pasta, natch.

This recipe did not stem from a desire to have a carb-free tea or to avoid the sluggish, bloated feeling you get from eating pasta. Rather, I wanted to approach it with the meat-free attitude in exploration of alternatives to our staple dinner ingredient: chicken. I found the recipe online and tweaked and meddled with it to suit the cupboard, local supermarket and refined foodie palates(!) it was going to be serving.

It is at heart a vegetable bake, mere mention of this to my partner would normally lead to him sprinting to the butchers or supermarket or stuffing handfuls of ham in his mouth. Quite often, we’ve tried vegetarian meals only to find ourselves commenting, “that would have been nice with a bit of beef.” This one was different though.

You essentially make a spinach and ricotta filling, stuff it inside thin slices of pre-grilled aubergine, roll the whole thing up and shove it a bakeware dish with a smothering of tomato sauce before baking. For the people out there who need a more defined recipe, see below:

1 large aubergine

1 pot of ricotta cheese

1 large bag spinach

nutmeg

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 small white onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic (I’m a huge fan, 1 would probably suffice), finely chopped or crushed

1 tbsp tomato puree

2 tbsps balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp oregano

1 tsp mixed herbs

1 handful breadcrumbs

3 tbsp Parmesan cheese (or veggie alternative)

Preheat your oven, it will need to be on a medium-high heat. Slice your aubergine reasonably thinly lengthways and drizzle with olive oil and seasoning before grilling. Turn over when lightly coloured on one side. Lightly steam the spinach and when cooked, squeeze as much of the excess water out of it as possible. Mix this with ricotta cheese and a sprinkling of nutmeg and seasoning. Drizzle some olive oil into a saucepan and sweat the onions and garlic until cooked but not brown and crunchy. When translucent and soft, tip in the chopped tomatoes and add the puree, vinegar and dried herbs. Let this simmer together for about 5 minutes – or longer if you want an extra-rich sauce. I find that balsamic vinegar is an excellent addition to tomato-based sauces and now never leave it out. Whilst your sauce is simmering, take a piece of aubergine and plop a generous spoonful of ricotta in the middle, roll it up and place seal side down in an ovenproof dish. Cover with your homemade tomato sauce and top with a handful of fresh breadcrumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven until heated through, approximately 20 minutes.

Serve with a side salad and if you want to be extra-naughty some pasta or crusty bread. We both found the side salad to be sufficient as the bake is deceptively filling. Enjoy!

Healthy Lunch Idea #2 Avocado and Eggs

Add crispy, oven-baked Parma ham for a crispy, crunchy side...
Add crispy, oven-baked Parma ham for a crispy, crunchy side…

I’ve read a lot about the many health benefits of eggs and avocado and had, to my surprise, seen them combined together in recipes and dishes. Eh? Surely the texture of both together would be slimy, wet and somewhat lacking in a crisp crunch from somewhere? I decided to combine the healthy, nutritious elements from both in my more healthy way and added wholegrain toast and oven-baked Parma ham for that much needed crispy element.

Avocados have long been lauded as the holy grail of nutritious choices – good fats to help rid your body of cholesterol, potassium and a range of B vitamins, as well as contributing well to your daily dose of fibre with a protein kick to boot. I have to say it was a long time before I was a fan. I couldn’t stand the slimy, creamy texture and despite several attempts, I eventually relegated them to the bottom of my loves list. The thing that turned it around? Guacamole. Guacamole smothered on salty tortilla chips, guacamole stuffed into chicken fajitas and guacamole on its own with a teaspoon. Then I branched out. I found a recipe for pan-fried, parmesan-crusted chicken breast, which came with a salad of avocado, cherry tomatoes and red onions with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. I don’t even particularly enjoy raw red onion but thinly sliced in this salad…yum. It transformed me from someone who desperately wanted to love avocados and the multiple health benefits from eating one – who doesn’t want beautiful, glowing skin? – to someone who could actually enjoy them.

Back to today’s recipe: the combination of crisp grilled toast, soft ripe avocado and boiled eggs with a just soft centre was deliciously offset with a salty kick from the Parma ham. It would be a perfect breakfast for the weekend and I would have liked to have added some oven roasted, or grilled, vine tomatoes but a trip to the dentist had resulted in needing a quick-fix lunch.

Give it a try, here’s the recipe:

2 slices wholemeal bread

1 ripe avocado

1 egg

2 slices Parma ham

chilli flakes and pepper to season

Preheat your oven to a high heat.Place a pan of water on the stove to boil and when at a gentle, rolling boil drop in your egg and boil for 6 minutes (if you want a just soft centre, less time if you want a runny yolk). Whilst this is boiling, pop your Parma ham in the oven on a baking tray (it only takes about 5minutes to crisp up), get the toast on and slice your avocado. When the egg is ready, peel the shell. To assemble, place your avocado slices on the toast (ok, ok, I used a thin spread of butter too but with hindsight could probably omit this!) and chop the egg into four and place on top. Put your crisped up Parma on the side and sprinkle with chilli flakes and pepper. No salt required on account of the ham. Enjoy!

Let me know if you make this recipe and whether you make any changes.

Healthy Snack Ideas #1

I believe the jury is still out on whether snacking between meals is actually beneficial for weight loss but there are times when you just need to stave off the hunger demons in-between meals. There’s nothing worse than feeling a little peckish and being faced with sugar-laden flapjacks masquerading as the ‘healthy option’, or the office biscuit tin, brimming with fatty, buttery biscuits or worse: the chocolate bar. Oh the guilt when you give in and satiate your starvation with unhealthy, nutritionally-decrepit foods! You might as well just have takeaway tonight and a fry-up tomorrow for breakfast: those are the thoughts that soon swim into your head as soon as you have banquished hunger pangs with bad foods.

I have found an answer. Not the answer but an answer. The holy grail of healthy but satisfying snacks destined to fuel the engine for a few more hours until your next meal. The banana muffin. This is not a banana muffin as we know it with butter and refined sugar and white flour. This is that banana muffin’s slightly healthier cousin.

These have gone down to roaring applause at school – ok not quite but they were well-received- and were even enjoyed by my cake-loving partner. Of course, it’s not like a delicate slice of Victoria sponge with afternoon tea (fresh leaves not bagged), but this is a snack you could enjoy everyday without being consumed with food guilt.

Here goes:

3 large ripe bananas (lovely burst of natural sugar and easy to digest)

1/4 cup of honey or maple syrup or agave syrup

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 and 3/4 cup of wholemeal flour

1/2 cup light olive oil

1 tbsp milk

1 large egg beaten

Mash the bananas until smooth and relatively lump-free. Mix in the beaten egg. In a separate bowl, lightly mix the flour and bicarb and baking powder and add the banana-egg mixture. To this, add the olive oil, milk and honey and mix all ingredients together. Do be careful not to over mix.

Bake in the oven Gas Mark 5 or 175C for approximately 25 minutes – to be honest, I always just check with a toothpick – if it comes out clean when inserted in to the centre of a muffin, then you’re good to go.

This is a very forgiving recipe. I have mixed in dark chocolate chips when needing to knock chocolate cravings on the head and also added a tbsp of chia and/or mixed seeds to the recipe for extra nutritional benefits. You could always experiment with blueberries, raspberries or other fruit, dried or fresh. Please feel free to leave comments about your cooking endeavours on my blog.

The top of the muffin on my image looks a little darker than it did in real-life but hey-ho, I love a good crunchy muffin top.

Hot cup of tea and warm banana muffin...the perfect afternoon snack
Hot cup of tea and warm banana muffin…the perfect afternoon snack