I’m on a personal mission to reduce my biscuit intake. Now there is totally nothing wrong with a biscuit or 2, but these carrot cake energy balls add in variety and nutrition. I find they really hit the spot by giving me something to munch quickly when I’m running from job to job and they are more filling than my usual biccie.
These last for 3 days in the fridge and they also freeze well so why not make a batch and get them out the freezer in the morning, ready for when you need them.
Eating a more plant based diet or switching to a vegan diet is definitely on trend right now and whilst normally I’d not be recommending you jump onto the lastest fad in terms of nutrition, this is one I do agree with. I spoke about this at Womens Health Live so thought it was time I blogged on it too.
We all need to be doing our bit to help our planet. Eating more plants, preferably those grown locally and not wrapped in lots of plastic, is one step in the right direction towards a more sustainable diet.
But are there any nutrition concerns with eating a vegan, vegetarian or plant based diet? Whilst it is well known there are health benefits there are also some health risks if you are not consciously eating certain nutrients.
If you are reducing your dairy intake then you are also reducing your calcium. To help with this check that the milk you use is fortified and focus on non-dairy calcium rich foods being in your diet. The higher calcium content foods are chia seeds, fortified plant based milks, yoghurts and tofu.
An adult needs 700mg calcium per day, the requirements are higher if you are breastfeeding.
The body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones which play a key role in metabolism. Iodine is also needed in pregnancy for proper bone and brain development. There is an rise in iodine deficiency in the UK so it’s a nutrient to be mindful of.
Iodine deficiency is a potential concern if you do not eat meat, fish or dairy, so it’s important to be aware of other sources of iodine. Symptoms of iodine deficiency can include a swelling in the neck where the thyroid hormones are struggling to be made so the thyroid gland is on overdrive, fatigue and weakness, inability to concentrate/recall information, hair loss and dry flaky skin.
All is not lost, you can get your iodine in. Firstly, check your plant based milk as some are now fortified with iodine. Iodised salt is a good option (but not too much salt of course 6g max a day), seaweed limited to once a week and dried prunes are other options.
A nutrient that comes up a lot in terms of vegan and vegetarian diets. Can you meet all your iron needs on a plant based diet? Yes, totally but you need to plan things and be on the ball.
The iron you get in plant based foods is less readily absorbed by the body so you need more of it (1.8x). If you focus on eating iron rich foods daily and utilise some top tips you should be fine.
Iron Rich Foods
Smooth peanut butter
Including vitamin C with a meal helps with absorption. So having a glass of fruit juice or a smoothie with an iron rich meal will help. Keep your tea and coffee away from meal times as these contain phytates which prevent the iron absorption. Cooking, soaking and sprouting your nuts, seeds and beans can help with absorption too.
Mainly found in animal products with a few exceptions of fortified foods (fortified milks, nutritional yeast and breakfast cereals) this is one that you are going to need to take a supplement of if you stop eating animal products.
B12 is needed for nerves, for DNA production and for brain function as well as healthy red blood cell production. A pretty key nutrient. If you aren’t eating many fortified foods then you likely need a supplement which you can buy as part of a multivitamin and mineral over the counter. Chat to your medical team if you have any further concerns as there are also B12 injections.
So can you meet your nutritional requirements on a plant based diet? Yes with some careful planning and a couple of supplements. Remember you do not have to go fully vegan, eating a few days a week in this way has benefits.
One of the things I am passionate about is making food simple. If you have time and can afford to be fancy with your meals then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Go for it. Normal life for my family in the week involves basic range ingredients, plenty of fresh and frozen veggies and quick meals. So that is what I am sharing with you today. Trust me, as a working single mum to 3 wonderfully active, inquisitive, helpful kids (you could read that as noisy, full of questions and chatter, like to stick their fingers where I don’t want them to) I need fast food. However I am wheat intolerant (the proper kind where eating wheat upsets my digestive system for several days) and my boy is lactose intolerance – which quite frankly sucks for him. So we have to cook from scratch.
I aim to plan at the weekend. This sometimes involves a bit of “get ahead cooking” where I cook a few meals for Monday and Tuesday in advance, or it just comes down to a vague plan. Either way without a rough plan my head gets super stressed.
“What am I cooking today? How will I fit it into my day? Do I have the ingredients? Do I have time to get to the shop?” These are questions that will float around my head taking up valuable time and energy. With a plan I’m part way there and will prep a bit throughout my day. That could mean I prep the veggies or even just get the ingredients out on the worktop so I can cook after the school run. It all helps.
So here is an example of our weeks meals and some of the recipes I cook. Simple things my children eat and that work with our dietary needs. I hope it gives you some inspiration.
One Pot Pepper Pasta:
This is one of those meals which I love to make as it is so easy, there is minimal washing up and my kids love it. WINNER.
It’s also a vegetarian, plant based and vegan recipe. So if you are looking for simple ways to increase your vegetable intake here you go. Of course you can totally make this your own and add in any veggies you like.
Literally the easiest thing on a Friday after school. I give the kids a wrap, squirt tomato puree on, they pile on toppings from a selection on a chopping board and we cook them for 10 minutes at Gas Mark 5. Do keep a close eye on them as they cook very quickly!
Chicken Satay Stir Fry:
You can’t beat a stir fry for ease. My kids love peanut butter so satay is usually a winner. Totally use a frozen veg mix or a stir fry pack for ease if you want to. Serve with noodles or rice.
As much as I like to have some plant based meals in our week my kids are firm fans of sausages. I’ve been using some meat free variations out and they have been largely successful, plus easy to cook straight from frozen – so do think about the meat free range. No recipe as I literally cook the sausages in the oven, along with potatoes cut into wedges with olive oil and garlic on them. Serve with veggies!
I hope these are helpful and give you some ideas on how to keep meals simple in your week. I’d love to hear your ideas too as I always need inspiration.
Plant based diets (PBD’s) are better for the environment and provide a more sustainable way of eating. There are also health benefits due to eating more plants altering the nutritional profile of your body.
PBD’s tend to be lower in saturated fat due to less meat. They usually contain higher amounts of fruit and vegetables which means higher fibre content for digestive health (those bowels) and a greater range of antioxidant plus phytochemicals.
The inclusion of wholegrains provides B vitamins and fibre, beans/pulses for soluble fibre and these help with blood sugar control, soy products provide phytoestrogens that can be helpful in the menopause plus nuts and and seeds that are packed with antioxidants and micronutrients.
Some specific health benefits:
Research shows us that PBDs can lead to lower levels of total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. This is going to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Also improvements can be seen in serum glucose levels which helps in overall health and in type 2 diabetes control.
There has been shown to be a lower level of overall inflammation in the body. These factors combines are thought to contribute to a reduced risk of chronic diseases.
Does this mean we should all go vegetarian/vegan? Well not necessarily. What I do think it means is that having a greater emphasis on eating plants sources of food is helpful and healthful. As with all ways of eating there are many ways to do it, so the benefits you see on paper will depend on how you actually approach this way of life. This in my mind is about adding in plant foods more than taking things away.
Will I be missing out nutrients?
It is perfectly possible to meet your nutritional needs on a PBD. However you will need to be more intentional about it. Planning and being thoughtful about some key nutrients plus a couple of supplements will ensure you get all your body needs.
Protein: It can be easier to get protein from animal sources. However this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be eating plant proteins! Most people in the UK are exceeding their protein needs, especially with the focus on protein in so many snack foods right now.When calorie needs are met it is more than possible to meet your protein requirements on a PBD. However it is a good idea to vary your protein sources through the week so that cover all those essential amino acids the body needs.
Mycoprotein, soya protein and pea protein
Beans and lentils
Nuts and seeds
Eggs and dairy (if these are eaten)
Iron : The recommended daily amount of iron for vegetarians is 1.8 times higher that for non-vegetarians, as iron which comes from plant sources (non-haem iron) is less efficiently utilised in our body than iron which comes from animal sources. Eat iron rich foods daily and all should be well.
Iron fortified breakfast cereals
Nuts and seeds
Green leafy vegetables
Eggs, fish and poultry (if these are eaten)
Calcium: one of my hobby horses, as I like to look after my bones. Calcium can be lower on a plant based diet but there are plant foods that will help those bones stay strong. Check your plant based milk is supplemented and get on those leafy greens. Some studies show a lower bone mineral density in those not eating dairy, so this is definitely a nutrient to think about.
Fortified dairy alternatives (like: soya or nut milks and yoghurts)
Fortified juice drinks
Green leafy vegetables
Beans, lentils and chickpeas
Nuts and seeds
Vitamin B12: as this is mainly found in animal products it is one of the nutrients you may end up lacking. It is found in yeast extract and most multivitamins/minerals.
Omega 3 : mainly talked about as being in oily fish but also found in seaweed, linseeds and walnuts. If you know you won’t take in many of these foods you could take a supplement.
Seaweed (not recommended more than once per week)
Chia seeds, linseeds/flaxseeds, hemp seeds
Walnuts and walnut oil
Soybeans and soybean oil
Spreads and breads which are fortified with omega 3
Oily fish (if this are eaten)
Eggs and dairy which are fortified with omega 3 (if these are eaten)
Iodine: highlighted in some studies as a nutrient that can be low on a PBD, but also on a meat eaters diet too!
A limited amount of fortified dairy alternatives (e.g. specific brands of oat milk)
Seaweed (but this is not recommended more than once per week)
Dairy products and seafood (if these are eaten)
Selenium: mainly found in Brazil nuts so not necessarily a problem onPBD but a good one to be aware of.
After making these I was named the Empress of Veggies by the one and only Gregg Wallace, so I felt I had to share this recipe! It is a little messy to make (make sure you squeeze the fluid out of the veggies) but those dips combined with the croquettes = heaven.
Place all the ingredients for the pea guacamole into a large food processor and pulse until just broken down, then scrape the sides of the processor down. Blitz until just beginning to get smooth - you want a little texture left. Tip into a serving bowl and taste
One of the questions I get asked a lot is for healthy snack ideas. Walking around the shops there is a plethora of snack items but so many of them are expensive items that you can make yourself in batches with a little knowhow and patience. Energy balls are one such item. Often sold for £1.50-£1 a portion, these can be made a lot cheaper at home. See my analysis below. Whilst there are a lot of energy ball recipes out there on the internet this one is so delicious that I had to share it. I love having snacks like these to hand for instant snacking and even better, these freeze well. My boy also loves making these with me.
Perfect mid morning snack for me between clients and an afternoon snack for the kids at a much better cost than buying from the shops.
So a lot of people have been asking for the recipe for the lentil curry and naan after it was shown on Eat well for less, Series 5, Episode 1. If you haven’t seen then do pop to BBC Iplayer and have a look. We are back on this Thursday too, BBC1 8pm, please tune in!
Firstly a huge Thankyou if you watched. Please do watch the remaining series too there is so much good stuff to come!
Secondly it’s music to my ears to know so many were loving the lentils. I’m half Sri-Lankan so this is very much “my type of food”.
Do check it out and if you follow my Dietitian UK Facebook and Instagram I will repost any further recipes from the show.
The naan recipe cooked on the show, has not been shared yet but I here is a version that I love just as much, made at home for you, as so many people have been asking. Flatbreads and naan are so easy to make and a joy to eat.
Facebook likes too ask “what’s on my mind” well actually right now it is fibre. An overlooked and neglected nutrient, maybe because bowel health just isn’t sexy. However to my mind, neither is constipation or piles.
When the recommendations for fibre increased to 30g per day there were lots of posts out there about how hard it would be to achieve it and how to meet your fibre needs. At the time I remember thinking how hard this would be for many people to achieve. It’s all about making small changes one at a time and then building on these. In my clinic I see the extremes. Sometimes underweight people who are eating too much of the fibre rich foods (and I have to ask them to decrease these) but then also plenty of people who are just not having enough fibre which is causing some of their symptoms.
(Disclaimer: this advice is not for those who are weight restoring from an eating disorder, too much fibre can be very filling and stop you from eating enough energy).
So why is fibre important?
Bowels, bowels, bowels. As a student dietitian on the wards I remember having to swallow my embarrassment and loudly say to people “how are your bowels today”. These days I’m older, a lot harder to embarrass, mum to small kids and used to talking about bowels a lot… whether it be a clients, a child’s or a worms. Yes this week my girl wanted to chat about worms poo. Having enough insoluble fibre is important for bulking your stool.
Soluble fibre forms a gel that slows digestion. This also means it helps stabilise blood sugars, lowers cholesterol and aids satiety, keeping you fuller for longer. Soluble fibre is found in oats, barley, psyllium, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits/vegetables.
The microbiome is a fascinating area. Research has shown that the largest influence on the gut microbiome comes from diet. Fibre feeds the gut bacteria so by eating your fibre you are helping ensure your gut stays happy and healthy.
So how much fibre is in your foods? Although I wouldn’t promote you analyse labels all the time it can be interesting to compare the fibre content of some of the foods you eat.
Some fibre rich foods that can help boost your intake are:
Lentils, Spilt peas, beans, garden peas, nuts, seeds, wholegrain versions of pasta, rice, bread products, wholegrain cereals, grains such as oats, quinoa, cous cous, popcorn, fruit and veggies, potato skins.
Top tips to increase the fibre content of your meals:
Add lentils, beans and pulses to your meals. A couple of handfuls of lentils goes well in casseroles, soups, salads, even stir fries.
When possible opt for wholegrain versions of foods.
Add nuts and seeds into meals. I love them sprinkled on breakfast or my yoghurt, you could add to a salad or on top of a stirfry. Sprinkle some in your sandwich or add to baking.
Increase your portions of fruit and vegetables if you are not meeting the 5 a day target.
Eating more plant based meals in your week. We aim to eat plant based meals 4-5 times a week in our house.
Here are some meals where I’ve pimped the fibre:
Oats with fruit, seeds and nuts – 15g fibre. Plus the oats here are soluble fibre.
2 x Rye bread with 1/2 avocado – 10-15g fibre, this particular bread is very high fibre, 10g for 2 slices.
If you used a different rye bread it would be lower, using my normal rye bread plus the avocado it would be 10g fibre.
Risotto made with pearl barley and broccoli – 12-15g fibre per portion. Pearl barley has a high fibre content and is a great grain to cook with. It takes slightly longer to cook than rice but can be used instead of rice, or added to soups and stews.
Vegetable fajitas with chickpeas, peppers and sesame seeds, smashed avocado and seeded wraps – 10g fibre.
I totally encourage you to try increasing your fibre intake and help your gut bacteria, blood sugars and bowel health. Remember to also drink plenty of fluids to help that fibre move through your system.
Lasagne is one of those meals that is loved the whole family. Let’s face it, if you don’t love lasagne then you are very usual! Often seen as hard to make, time consuming and more comfort food than “healthy” I want to share my top tips for making it a standard weeknight family meal.
Pack in the veggies. Lasagne does not have to include meat! I rarely use mince to make lasagne these days. Instead I use lasagne as a way to pack in the veg. You can use lentils, beans or tofu or quorn to get protein in. There is nothing wrong with using the normal beef mince but if you are looking for more variety with meals or like us, are wanting to eat a greater range of plant based protein sources then it’s time to expand your lasagne repertoire.
Making your own sauce doesn’t have to be complicated. As much as I love a white sauce, if I’m in a rush it always goes lumpy or I burn the bottom of the pan. One of my hacks is to use cottage cheese. Add a little natural yoghurt to thin it down and pour it on the top of the lasagne, top with grated cheese and the jobs done. I wasn’t convinced this sauce would pass the lasagne police in my house but it did. Phew. The other easy alternative is to use a half fat creme fraiche, simple.
Embrace your freezer. I totally love my freezer, it saves me on a regular basis. Oh, and it needs defrosting, in case anyone fancies helping me with that. You can either make a double batch of the main filling and freeze it for another meal, or I like to make a whole lasagne and freeze it, makes me feel like a proper domestic goddess. Minus the tidy kitchen, mine is never tidy.
Make ahead. I often make lasagne in stages. so I will either get the main filling out of the freezer and leave to defrost, or make the filling up and leave it. Then later I get a child to help me put it together, layering the filling, pasta and sauce.
Use pre-bought lasagne sheets. I know most people don’t make their own fresh lasagne sheets, but I sometimes do, it makes the lasagne SO good, literally the best lasagne. But it takes more time that I just don’t have that often.
So why not transform your lasagne into sometime more inventive. It’s a forgiving dish. Here is a recipe for a wheat free, dairy free version I made this week:
250ml stock (I used homemade chicken stock but you could use a stock cube and water)
1 bay leaf
Dried mixed herbs
1 small glug of balsamic vinegar
Lasagne sheets (wheat free if required)
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tbsp wheat free flour
Soya milk as needed, approx 250ml
250ml water (you may not need it)
Soya cheese or normal cheese
Chop all the vegetables in a food processor (this saves time!) or chop finely by hand.
Saute in the oil for a few minutes, then add the lentils, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, bay leaf, dried herbs, balsamic, stock and simmer for 20 minutes. This is your basic lasagne filling, You can now freeze this, keep it in the fridge for making up later, or use straight away.
Make up the lasagne with 1 layer of lentil mix, lasagne sheets, lentil mix and lasagne sheets.
Pour the oil into a sauce pan and mix in the flour with a wooden spoon, it will make a thick paste. Mix in a little milk and stir to make a batter, now add in the rest of the milk place on a gentle heat and keep stirring to incorporate it all. The sauce will thicken, if it is too thick add some water. Keep stirring! Let it gently bubble but not too much. I like to let it cool a little and then pour on top of the lasagne.
Top with cheese and bake at gas mark 5 for 45 minutes.
Each year my love of growing vegetables, well grows. I had a dad who had very green fingers and grew a lot of the vegetables for the small hotel my parents ran. In the summer months our bath water was often emptied by buckets into the vegetable patch! My Sri-lankan grandmother has the greenest fingers in the family. Her windowsills were often covered in seedlings and she would disappear into the garden at mealtime to pick “greens” to make into a family favourite dish. A meal of rice and curry is not right without “greens”.
One of my first successes was courgettes. Most years I get a good crop, apart from last hear but I blame the baby for that 😉
This year however I have 2 plants that are exploding with monster courgettes and a bountiful supply is on its way. Follow my instagram stories for pics of the garden and how I cook them.
Personally I love courgettes. Roasted, in a stir fry, ratatouille, on pizza…. only issue is that Miss K and the J boy are not so keen. So it’s been a season of finding ways to encourage them to eat them. I don’t like to hide vegetables so I do tell them it’s in there, once they have tried some. Here are my top ways that they like and eat:
Courgette cake. This has gone down so well. I’ve been making it and freezing it. Recipe below.
Courgetti. Not because we want to be on trend but because it works. Spiralising courgette, cooking with garlic and lemon juice is a winner.
Grated courgette in bolognaise, risotto or pretty much any dish!
Roasted and blended with tinned tomatoes for a pasta sauce.
Hubby and I love a courgette curry so that’s also on the menu but I have to make the children something different on those nights!
So here is a lovely courgette cake recipe. You really won’t taste the courgette and I’ve lowered the sugar content for you too, it works out at 3g sugar per slice but some of this is the yoghurt and courgette. Per 100g it is 3.6g sugar so a much healthier alternative to many other cakes.
I made this for a family party recently and it went down really well!
Courgette and Sultana Cake (Wheat and Lactose Free)
Easy to make, reduced sugar recipe and includes plenty of yummy courgette.
300g plain wheat free flour (I used Aldi's own brand)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
Grate the courgette.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 4. Grease and line a loaf tin.
Mix together all the wet ingredients.
Add the flour and carefully mix in.
Now add the remaining dry ingredients and mix.
Pour into the loaf tin and put in the oven.
Bake for 20 minutes uncovered and then cover the top with foil to prevent it burning.
This cake takes 30-40 minutes in my oven, I recommend checking it by inserting a skewer and seeing if the bottom is cooked. You don't want to have the bottom too soft (I've made that mistake for you!).
By Priya Tew, Dietitian UK
Dietitian UK https://www.dietitianuk.co.uk/
What are your favourite courgette recipes?
Freelance Dietitian specialising in helping those with Eating Disorders and a Media Spokesperson for the profession.