Like many people, I will be trying to follow up the feasting of Christmas time with a healthier January. Here are some of my go-to healthier recipes that will hopefully keep me on the straight and narrow. (I’m not a nutrition expert – these are just the things that I’ll be doing, as a food lover who wants a healthy life!)
I’m going to try experimenting with homemade soups more this winter. They can be made in big batches and frozen, and are sure to warm me up on cold lunchtimes at work or at home. I recently made one inspired by a recipe from The Kinfolk Table, but using the ingredients I happened to have to hand… This is roughly what went in:
2 small onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
1 ridiculously large potato chopped – I estimate it’s about the same size as at least 4 normal sized potatoes!
A generous handful of spinach leaves
A generous handful of fresh rosemary, thyme and sage
A little shredded ham
A chicken stockpot
Enough water to cover the vegetables
The juice of half a lemon
A generous sprinkling of salt and black pepper.
The process was simple: I put the onions, carrots and parsnips in a large heavy based pan with the olive oil and heated until the onions were soft, then threw in everything else and simmered it for about 45 minutes. I didn’t blend it, so it was more like a broth, and it tasted delicious. The vegetables need to be soft but not falling apart. You could easily switch up the ingredients depending on your taste or what you have to hand: swap the ham for chicken or leave out the meat altogether; add spring greens or cabbage instead of spinach, vegetable stock instead of chicken… Parsley would also be a good addition to this soup, as would a sprinkling of grated parmesan when serving. Some people may prefer to cook the potatoes separately and ditch the starchy water but I didn’t notice a problem with this.
This is great served with bread and cheese, but if you’re holding back on calories and fat could easily be served on its own or with a piece of toast.
*Grains and pulses
Pearl barley, quinoa and cous cous are perfect additions to a salad or served as part of a main meal. They are easy to make, good for you and can be served warm or cold. I’ll be having them in the evenings and making enough for my lunch the next day.
Cous cous is the simplest to cook – simply cover it in boiling water or stock, put a plate or lid over the bowl, and let it stand for 5 mins. Quinoa is cooked on the hob in boiling water (check the packet for quantities) and left to absorb the water, and pearl barley (which takes a good 40+ minutes to cook) is boiled on the hob a little like rice, or sometimes used instead of arborio rice for a risotto.
Here are a few ideas I might be trying…
- This online recipe which combines pearl barley with mushrooms, onions and pine nuts. It sounds like great comfort food but would be really healthy, provided you don’t go overboard on the portion sizes. I can see this going well with sausages or chicken as a side or served as the main event with a rocket salad and a sprinkling of sundried tomatoes.
- Flavouring pearl barley with lemon juice, salt and pepper and serving with the classic BLT combination.
- This Chorizo and Rosemary Pearl Barley Risotto
- Making a vegetable tagine and serving it with cous cous.
- Using pearl barley in soups and stews.
- Experimenting with Quinoa in salads such as this one with fennel and pomegranite seeds and this one with roasted vegetables and feta. (With the last one be careful not to drown the veg in oil and keep the feta portion to a minimum).
- Serving roast meats with cous cous instead of roasties: it goes brilliantly with chicken and lamb.
*Adding more fruit to my diet
Some people love fruit, but I’m one of those that has to remind myself to eat it! My sister, who is soon to qualify as a Personal Trainer, gave me some great advice on this last summer, so here are some tips inspired by her…
- Keep dried and tinned fruits in the cupboard so that they are always readily available for desserts or snacks. Obviously they’re not as good as fresh fruit but are better than no fruit! I love dried cranberries with a handful of nuts and some chopped dark chocolate as an evening snack: it means you get some fruit and you eat only a small portion of chocolate because it’s complimented by the fruit and nuts.
- Stewed apples are great warm or cold and can be stored in the freezer.
- Treat yourself to the fruits you really like and buy less of the ones you know are going to end up hanging around the fruit bowl for too long. Then make sure you use them up throughout the week by having them in different ways: I love raspberries and have them on porridge in the morning, on their own as a mid morning snack, on a meringue nest with a little yoghurt as a dessert, sprinkled on a rice pudding… You get the gist.
- Try to make sure you do get a mix of types of fruits, e.g. fruits with a skin/peel like apples or peaches as well as berries. I struggle with this one as these kind of fruits are just not my thing and I hate the mess of cutting them up, but one way of getting them in could be to use them in your meals/savoury dishes, for example apples, grapes and pears go well in salads, you can use a number of fruits in curries and sauces and there are some interesting oriental dishes than incorporate fruit with things like rice and fish.
*Taking a Slow Food approach to snacking
I recently read Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider, and in it the author writes about the concept of ‘Slow Food’. She explains how when she craves sweet food she makes something rather than going out and buying fast food or snacks. It means she has to have a few useful ingredients in her store cupboard, but it also means she has a slower, more appreciative approach to satisfying those random cravings, and generally the food she eats is much healthier than if she had just popped to the shop for a chocolate bar or gone to McDonald’s.
I now keep Fair Trade chocolate and nuts (just Sainsburys’ own brand – nothing expensive or fancy), as well as seeds, oats, baking ingredients, and dried fruit in the house. This means there’s always something I can knock up and usually means I eat less of the unhealthy stuff. Sometimes I make cupcakes etc, and then I have to watch that I only have one, saving the others for later in the week or giving them away. It’s also a good idea to only make a small batch or to make things that can be frozen or stored for longer.
If you have baking ingredients in, it means you don’t need to buy packaged cakes and biscuits as much and that you will only eat them when you have time to bake them. You’ll also appreciate them a lot more because of the time they’ve taken!
I’m interested to try this recipe for ‘Healthier Flapjack’ as flapjack is a snack I love but my usual version is loaded with syrup, sugar and butter!
*Drinking more Water
I have to remind myself to drink water, but here are some ways to get into good habits:
- If you’re cold and want a hot drink, make it a hot water sometimes.
- Always put a bottle or jug of water on the table at each meal.
- Only allow yourself one squash/juice/fizzy drink per day.
- Carry a water bottle or have one on your desk/workspace.
I think exercise is definitely one of those things that is different for each person, but I’m going to be making sure I walk each day and get at least one other form of exercise a week (e.g. a workout DVD, running and swimming). It doesn’t sound like much but is achievable for me and will make a difference. I think setting yourself achievable exercise goals really helps you to get into positive routines and to feel better for it quickly.
…I hope you enjoy some of these recipes and thoughts 🙂 Let me know your tips and ideas!