Autumn Eats

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October has arrived and the change in season means the air is getting cooler. This often leads to people wanting richer foods and enjoying more of their ‘comfort foods’. Just because we want warming foods, that does not mean we must sacrifice our healthy eating. As it’s colder, we need more energy to keep our bodies warm and fight off colds but we need to feed ourselves the right nutrients in order to do this.

One of the most comforting and simple breakfasts is porridge. All you need is oats and water or (nut) milk and then you can top with a whole variety of things. Just make sure the mix doesn’t overflow by giving the odd stir. I like to use the biggest oats I can and I heat them on the hop in a saucepan for about 10 minutes. Sometimes I chop a banana into the mix while it’s cooking to give the porridge a lovely sweetness. In terms of toppings, the world is your oyster! Different things I use include raspberries, dried fruit, cinnamon, pure maple syrup, nuts, seeds, goji berries, granola, nut butter (although not right now as I’m seeing if I can last one week without it!), date syrup, blueberries, buckwheat grouts, dried coconut, etc, etc… but not all at once. You can add pretty much anything that takes your fancy. This is such a simple breakfast that just can’t really go wrong. Whether you use a microwave or stove, keep experimenting and discover your favourite texture and toppings for your perfect porridge.

It’s always a great idea to eat what’s in season as this means you’re getting the freshest food that hasn’t had to travel so far to come to you. In terms of fruit, there’s pears, apples, cranberries, blackberries and pumpkins, all of which are in season right now. These make great porridge toppings, snacks on their own or can be used to make crumbles and pies which can be created using much healthier sweet alternatives to refined sugar, like pure maple syrup and cinnamon. The fruit itself provides so much sweetness! What’s in season in terms of veg now includes some of my very favourite ingredients: field mushrooms, broccoli, leeks, courgette and tomatoes. These are all so versatile. Firstly, they can all be made into delicious warming soups which is one of the best comfort foods. I like to make liquid soups then top with sautéed mushrooms and seeds to give a bit more bite and make them more filling. Many of those ingredients often find their way into my pasta dishes either in the sauce or extra veg to top with. Whether cooked or raw, the veggies in season right now make a great addition to salads which can be combined with things like brown rice, quinoa or potatoes to add extra depth and a variety of seeds to give a wonderfully nutritious crunch.

Eating by the season encourages us to try out new things and allows us to get fresher food. Always remember to eat a variety of foods and colours to get the nutrients you need to fight off those autumn bugs.

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Dine in

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Most of us appreciate what a wonderful experience eating is but some miss out on the enjoyment of creating the food. The preparation of food can be seen as a chore but for me, it is a key component to the whole dining experience. Eating is something every single human being must do to survive, why not turn it into a hobby you enjoy?

When we go out for a meal, people generally enjoy a whole evening of dining however this can also be done at home. Spending time preparing and cooking food is a lovely way to spend an evening with the delightful ending of eating your own creation. By putting effort into your meals you will gain confidence and experiment with different flavours and combinations to discover what you really love.

A great thing about cooking is how social it can be. It’s lots of fun cooking with someone; a friend, partner or family member, while you chat and discover new cooking techniques. When cooking with another person, you’re probably more likely to try more adventurous dishes as it’s a fun experience for you to do together.

I think that cooking for another person is such a kind thing to do. To put in the effort of sourcing, preparing and cooking a meal for someone is bound to be greatly appreciated and again it turns the process of eating into a whole dining experience to be enjoyed together. Especially if you are trying to stick to a healthy lifestyle, by cooking for friends and family, you can control the food you eat and also show your guests how delicious it is to eat healthy whole-food!

Healthy eating doesn’t need to be expensive

Making my own hummus
Making my own hummus

Very often I hear comments about how eating healthily is too expensive to do but actually this is a misjudged conception. Healthy eating does not need to be expensive at all, it just takes planning. Planning your meals, or at least having a rough guide, will ensure you don’t waste food. You can make things like curries, sauces, soups in large quantities for a low cost through buying ingredients in bulk and then they can be frozen so that you have a meal there for whenever you’re wanting something healthy and easy.

In order to get the most from your money and prepare delicious healthy food while working to a budget, you need to know where to spend. I always make sure I have a good stash of dried herbs and spices as these are essential for providing delicious flavour and they will last a very long time. One thing I do which saves lots of money is to travel to the cheapest stores. Even though I live literally next door to a Sainsbury’s, I travel to get to a cheaper supermarket and figure that even the extra cost and effort of getting there is well worth it when I can buy at least a third extra for the same price. This is what I would advise doing once a week for your big shop and load up on dry stores then get enough fresh food for the next few days. After that you can top up at the most convenient store for you. However if you’re making smoothies or juices, the fruit and veg does not have to be super fresh and of the perfect consistency as you are just going to blend it all anyway! Also, at home I like to buy my fruit and veg at a local market so if you can do this, it’s the best option in so many ways. By saving so much on these ingredients mean I’ve got more money for my superfoods!

I personally do sometimes splash out on certain ingredients but that is because I love the benefit of them so much and really enjoy creating all types of food; this is by no means an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. I choose to buy some very pure ingredients such as coconut oil and raw maple syrup as well as superfood powders like cacao, hemp powder, chia seed etc. I’ve actually now started a price comparison of my own though across different health food shops (as I do for supermarkets) to see which ingredients are cheaper where and I will only spend a lot if I can save a lot. For example, Holland and Barrett is always running different offers – last month it was the penny sale on some items, this month it’s buy one get one half price on all items! So be savvy and know what/when the offers are.

Fruit and vegetables make up a large part of a healthy diet and they tend to be inexpensive in comparison to plenty of other foods in the supermarket. I always buy bananas – they are so versatile, easy to eat on the go and of course they are so incredibly cheap! A great tip for berries which are packed with antioxidants is to buy frozen berries as these are cheaper and can last as long as you like in the freezer. Vegetables like tomatoes and carrots make great snacks as well as components to main meals so these are good options. If you buy a big bag of spinach for a certain meal just keep adding a handful to each meal after so you don’t waste any goodness! Spinach is such a rich source of vitamins and minerals and is perfect sautéed into pasta dishes and stir fries or incorporate into soups and smoothies.

Cooking yourself is always a cheaper option than eating out and this way you can ensure you are providing yourself with a healthy feast. As well as putting together full meals, this includes smaller elements like hummus, pesto and almond milk, all of which are cheaper to make yourself as well as being healthier and so easy to do. Hummus, for example, when made yourself will make a much bigger portion for a smaller price than a tub you would buy in the supermarket and it literally takes 2 minutes!

Finally though I would just like to point out that while I am one of the biggest bargain hunters on the planet, of all places you could invest your money, I think that your own health couldn’t really be a better choice.

Make it Happen

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At this point, I feel like I’ve solved all the perceived food problems that I can! Over the past few months I’ve tried to show you how food can help you with all sorts, no matter what lifestyle you lead. I’ve provided ideas for students with those revision munchies, as well as helping workers power through their 9-5; I’ve posted on cooking for company, as well as food prep for yourself when eating on the go; I’ve even looked at the seasons and provided both warming winter wonders like soup and curry, as well as colourful and exciting salads. I do hope you have found these ideas helpful and it always makes me so happy when people tell me they have enjoyed my recipes!

I get asked a lot by different friends and family about ‘how to be healthy’ so from here, I’d like to broaden my blog. I’ve gone over many different specific meals, so you can look back at them if you are in need of a recipe, but now I’d like to help by providing tips on living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining it. Everybody is different but I know I have found incredible benefits from eating natural whole foods which taste totally delicious and so I can share with you what works so well for me.

Ella’s food solution for… Powering through your 9-5

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This week I started my work placement at a PR company which I am thoroughly enjoying. It is essential for me to be on point so that I can work efficiently, be focused on my tasks and come up with creative ideas. The best tactic for anyone to get their best work done is to fuel themselves with the right nutrients. This is just what I’ve done and I’ve loved my work experience and, of course, my lunch times!

When on a busy schedule, organisation is key. I always like to figure out many meals in advance so that I don’t waste food, money or time. So a brilliant tip is to use your weekend wisely because of course… a Sunday well spent brings a week of content! Take an hour on Sunday, at any point that suits, to prepare your food leisurely. I like to cook a big batch of either quinoa, brown rice or buckwheat which can then be kept in an airtight container in the fridge and be the base of my lunches for the next three days. As well as this, prepare a few portions of veg – wash, peel, grate, slice – do whatever you can and again keep these in containers in the fridge. This will make preparing your lunches so easy, it could be done while the kettle boils!

In my salad here, I have quinoa cooked with the juice of a lemon, chilli flakes and a splash of apple cider vinegar (the only alkaline forming vinegar – give it a go), along with grated carrot, steamed broccoli, sliced avocado, tomatoes, peppers and some juicy raisins and crunchy seeds. Truly delicious. Lunches like this fill me with energy and a whole host of essential vitamins and minerals along with fibre and protein. As well as my lunch, I like to make sure I’m prepared with snacks, whether it be a handful of nuts and seed, a piece of fruit or a delicious smoothie – they are all fantastic choices for keeping bloody sugar levels stable. It is this that keeps me on my toes all day, feeling energetic and ready to tackle my next challenge.

Mix and match by combining different ingredients. You can incorporate ingredients from your meal the night before. Don’t be afraid to put whatever vegetable is in your fridge into your salad. If you didn’t like it one time, have a go at cooking it a different way. Have fun experimenting and indulge in the powerful nourishment of tasty wholesome food.

Ella’s food solution for… Chip lovers

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I know chips are a big comfort to lots of people. That crisp exterior and soft interior is a texture some are not willing to sacrifice – have no fear, you don’t have to. There are chip varieties which provide much more benefit to your health and much less to the sluggish, greasy after party. 

Many restaurants have started offering sweet potato alternatives to the standard potato wedges which is of benefit to us because sweet potatoes have lots of health benefits, aiding digestion, immunity and they help to regulate bloody sugar levels. Also, they taste delicious! 

Another variation to the good old chip is butternut squash wedges. This is what I made at home with this lovely green salad of green beans, leaves, tomatoes, and sautéed courgette. Butternut squash is also beneficial to your digestive system and as well as being a good source of vitamin C, it is one of the world’s richest sources of vitamin A, contributing towards good eye health and beautiful clear skin. I baked mine with extra virgin olive oil, pepper, and rosemary until they looked like this – brown and rough on the outside and totally tender on the inside. This should take around 35-45 minutes. 

As always, it’s good to make your wedges at home where you can control the amount of oil and you can bake them in the oven. When ordering any variety of ‘chips’ out, it’s likely that they are deep fried.

Ella food solution for… Eating on the go

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Often it is when people are eating out of the house that those healthy principles can go right out the window. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the healthy option when you are in a rush. This is why it is always a great idea to prepare big dishes which can be enjoyed hot or cold and can be taken with you to university, work or on any day out.

As well as saving your health, this method will save you time and money. It is much cheaper to buy the ingredients you need to cook your own food than it is to buy prepared food and of course, you can make yours exactly to your taste. It takes just the same amount of time to prepare one lot of the same meal as it does two and then you won’t need to waste time deciding and queuing tomorrow.

This dish reminds me somewhat of a risotto yet the crunch of the seeds and the sweetness of the raisins gives it an extra something. It is so filling because of the lentils and quinoa, these are two of the very best sources of plant protein.

First, roast bite-sized cubes of your choice of vegetable (sweet potato, butternut squash, parsnip, anything you enjoy roasted) with a drizzle of olive oil and mixed herbs. Bake this for 30 minutes at 190 degrees. Meanwhile, cook 1/2 cup of quinoa with 1/3 of a cup lentils in 1 cup of water with the juice of a lime. These should take 15 minutes to cook. When the hot ingredients are ready, combine them with a grated carrot and a large handful of juicy raisins. Finally, I like to top mine with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds which add the perfect crunch as well as all-important minerals to your body, like magnesium and zinc.

Hummus would go really well with this meal and it’s so easy to just dollop some on. Another great option, which I always enjoy, is to add a homemade dressing. It’s great to experiment with different flavours.

Ella’s food solution for… Sussing out smoothies

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Smoothies have been under scrutiny and have left lots of people unsure as to whether they are a healthy or unhealthy choice. The thing about smoothies is that they condense the fruit and vegetable that they contain, so fruit-only smoothies will contain very high amounts of sugar. Therefore, fruit smoothies are fine every now and then but are not a good idea to consume often.

On the other hand, smoothies containing lots of vegetables don’t negatively raise blood sugar levels and provide only fantastic fuel for your body. By blending many nutritious ingredients together, we multiply the quantities of enzymes and minerals. Research shows that people who consume more than 7 servings of fruit and veg a day have a lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease than those who don’t. By eating green smoothies packed full with fresh fruit and (mostly) veg, getting seven portions will be easy.

Another reason smoothies are a good idea to incorporate into your diet is because by breaking up the ingredients, your body’s digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard to break it down. This saved energy can then be used for the other necessary functions around the body, so that it is working to its optimum helping you to feel your best.

Nutritious smoothies can contain whatever variety of green vegetables you wish, along with one or two pieces of fruit which cut through the taste of all the vegetables. This provides a very healthy and tasty drink which will energise and focus you.

Ella’s food solution for… Staying happy and healthy on holiday

Shrimp risotto

You’re on holiday so first things first – relax and enjoy. It is in no way good for us to worry about what we are eating but instead we should be mindful of what we are eating.This means making food choices which are in harmony with our desire to feel fantastic on holiday. Consider how the food will make you feel. The best foods and quantities will provide you with sustained energy and a wonderfully satisfied feeling from delicious flavours and an appropriate balance of food groups.

My number one rule about healthy eating is to eat whole foods, I believe this to be the very best way to a lead a healthy lifestyle and it is an easy guideline to follow. This means avoiding processed food. In hot countries especially, this may be easier than ever as fresh fruit and veg is so flavourful, having been sourced locally in its prime environment.

Being away in a foreign place is a great opportunity to try new foods. If the food is fresh, give it a go! If you are by the coast, it is likely that there will be plenty of fresh fish, a source of omega-3 and lean protein. Here, I tried the speciality dish – shrimp risotto with a bruschetta basket of leaves accompanied by peppered yogurt.

Also, a great way to make sure you get the most pleasure from your food while on holiday is to stay active. This is actually very easy to do. Walking/hiking is such a fun way to explore a new place and get the best views. You can also cycle, swim or compose a small circuit for yourself to be done everyday or three times a week or whatever level you choose. It can be made up of stretches, weight-bearing exercises or cardio, depending what it is you’re wanting to get from it. All will help you to feel your best and also work up an appetite for the new and exciting foods that await.

Ella’s food solution for… A post-workout rebalance

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Everyone loves the all-American PB&J sandwich and this healthier alternative allows you to indulge while actually hugely benefitting your worked muscles. It is very important to provide your muscles with nutrients after they have worked so that they can strengthen. I often plan my workouts so that I have a full meal afterwards but if this meal is going to be further than an hour away for whatever reason I will always have a snack right away to provide my body with the fuel it needs.

Peanut butter, as is the case with all nut butters, provides protein and fibre as well as providing omega-3 fatty acids but it is almond butter that provides this nutrition by the masses and per calorie, almonds offer more vitamins and minerals than any other nut which is why this is a great choice.

Instead of using jam, which has lots of added sugars and sweeteners, here I have used natural sugars by simply mashing a few raspberries and spreading them on top to give the deliciously sweet element. This adds more minerals to the snack and gives your body the sugar boost it needs after exerting itself. 

I have used a slice of soya and linseed loaf which is a brilliant source of calcium, carbs and fibre – a perfect rebalance complete.