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Children's Nutrition, Kids meals

Encouraging positive eating habits in our children: part 1 – get them cooking!

As part of developing resources to help parents encourage their children to eat healthily, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Becky Beasley of Two-Teaspoons.

Becky founded Two-Teaspoons in 2012, teaching culinary skills to children of all ages and I absolutely love her passion for real food and her no-nonsense approach to the art of cooking. She is an inspiration, catering for five nurseries a day and teaching toddlers to teens to cook on a regular basis. I couldn’t do it, but she truly believes that anyone and everyone can cook and there’s no doubt in my mind that if you have any doubts, she’s the person to show you how!

RFN: Hi Becky, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. Can you start by telling me when was it you yourself learnt to cook, and what was it that sparked your passion for good food?

BB: I learnt to cook from my Mum, who also worked full time as a teacher. My parents were incredibly social, often inviting guests to eat, and the passion really came from the early recognition that learning to cook made life more fun. I always tell teenagers in my pre-uni classes that if they can cook a meal, they will never be short of friends!

RFN: Have you had many fussy eaters through your door and how did they find the cooking experience?

BB: Absolutely, from the mildly fussy to the quite extreme, but they all enjoy the cooking experience and often enough that they try the food at the end too.

RFN: That’s amazing – how do you do it?

BB: I think there are two key values that I always instil throughout a class:

1. It’s social – my classes are not “classes” as much as “experiences”; it doesn’t matter what is being cooked or whether or not it is liked as much as the whole event itself is fun. This helps the children form a more positive relationship with the dishes we’re making. I’m not the parent in this scenario, I really don’t have any vested interest in whether or not the children I teach eat the food they make, and once they know that, and there’s no pressure to try new or disliked foods they tend to relax and enjoy themselves.

2. There are no “good” or “bad” foods – I never put more value on one particular food above another. Sometimes we cook with chocolate, other times it’s broccoli; neither is more or less delicious than the other, they are just what’s required for the recipe and the focus is on enjoying the cooking experience.

RFN: That’s some very powerful psychology and a great attitude to have for building a long-term healthy relationship with food. Have you learnt anything from the children you’ve taught to cook?

BB: I never cease to be amazed by the skills of the children I teach – they always surprise me with their ability. That and never teach a couscous class unless you really love cleaning up!

RFN: I hear you there… Ok, so what’s your favourite dish to cook with kids, and why?

BB: I can’t really say I’ve a favourite dish to teach, but I always enjoy teaching them to cook things they think they’ll hate. There’s nothing more satisfying than turned up noses at the start of a class, and clean plates at the end!

RFN: And what’s the most popular class or dish for the kids, and why?

BB: Probably bread making, which I also love to teach. There’s so much fun to be had in being so tactile with the food – it’s fun, messy and a complete sensory pleasure. I also get to be a bit theatrical pouring oil on the table which also adds to the fun dynamic of the class!

RFN: That does sound like brilliant fun! And finally, can you share your top 3 tips for getting children cooking?

BB: Yes…

1. It’s important to get enthusiastic as a parent. That also means getting comfortable with chaos and mess. Cooking needs to be fun rather than a series of “telling offs”, regardless of how frustrating that sometimes is to do!


2. Let them have a say in what they want to cook. If they want to bake cookies, then bake cookies. You can also make something healthier to go alongside. Once children have taken ownership of a task, their attitude changes and that brings an enormous sense of pride and achievement.


3. Find a time when you have that capacity to cook with your kids (perhaps a Saturday afternoon rather than a Tuesday evening!) so that you’re not under any pressure, and remember that it doesn’t always need to be a huge activity – the smallest of “jobs” like peeling potatoes and grating cheese can also be great fun for children.

RFN: and I imagine that will help enormously with points 1 and 2 as well! Thank you Becky for that invaluable insight and please keep helping our kids learn to love cooking!

If you’d like your children to try out a cookery class with Becky, you can head over to her website: Two-Teaspoons to sign up. All classes are mixed age and ability (from 4 years upwards), which she says is fantastic for bringing the best out in everyone, and goes to show that it’s never too young to start cooking.

There are also some great family friendly recipes on the website that I’ll be trying out, and Becky’s shared with me a couple of her favourite gadgets to alleviate our fears for young children getting too involved. I’ll be testing these out with my kids too and will let you know how I get on.

Kids meals, Nutrition Science, Recipes

Reclaiming our children’s health

Photo by: C. Pohl. What was actually on offer at a local primary school disco…

On 10th March 2019 we were confronted with the headline “Scientists blame working mothers for Britain’s childhood obesity epidemic after study of 20,000 families”. Brilliant, as if working Mums don’t have enough on our plates, now we’re responsible for the obesity epidemic too? Not surprisingly, the Mum army was furious, but what did the study actually say, and how on earth is this headline at all helpful?

Sadly, the headline was not helpful at all. Rather than offering support to working families or those with children that are classified as overweight or obese, it just caused upset, guilt and anger. I took to Instagram live and was pleased to see that that was helpful for a lot of parents, but for those of you who missed it, here’s a written summary…

What the paper said

The research was a paper published in the scientific journal SSM-Population Health, with the title “The impact of maternal employment on children’s weight: Evidence from the UK”. It tracked 19,244 children born between 2000 and 2002, measuring their Body Mass Index (a measure of weight relative to height) at 9 months, 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14 years. The premise of the paper was that both childhood obesity and the number of mothers is paid employment has risen dramatically since 1975. The hypothesis set out to test if there was a causative effect between these two factors, rather than them both being independent statistics that happen to show the same trend.

So was there a causative link?

The paper statistically concluded that there was, however it did also fairly summarise the other available research on this subject. What it found was a number of research papers that also supported the association, and an equal number that did not. It also offered two possible contradicting explanations as to how and why a mother’s employment status might link to their child’s weight:

  1. Working mothers have less time to prepare and cook healthy food
  2. Working mothers may be able to afford better quality food for their children

The study also asked two additional questions of the children / their carers:

  1. How many hours TV did they watch per day during term time? This was to determine how sedentary children of working versus stay-at-home mums are
  2. How often did they skip breakfast? To act as a measure of children’s healthy eating habits

So how robust does that make these findings? In my opinion, the existence of other conflicting studies do seem to undermine a strong statistical significance, and these additional questions do take rather a big leap between what is being asked and the conclusions drown. There are, however, some useful take-aways from it.

What can we learn?

Rather than single-handedly blame working mothers, the paper concluded that steps should be taken to better involve both fathers and childcare providers in the day-to-day childcare activities and responsibilities such as eating and exercise, something which it recorded as still falling largely to mothers regardless of employment status. It noted that, whilst again not statistically significant, children who also lived with grandparents tended to have a lower BMI, suggesting that it is this aspect of time and capacity to care for and teach and provide food for our children that was the key factor.

What about working fathers?

This was a huge objection from the audience, so to cover off why fathers were not considered in the study, this was legitimately due to a lack of data. Father’s working status was also recorded, however only about 10% of the total fathers were not in employment at any stage of the study, so sadly any conclusions drawn about fathers specifically would not be statistically significant.

A word on BMI

The main measure used to determine whether or not a child was overweight or obese was BMI, which is calculated by taking a person’s weight in kilograms and dividing that by the square of their height in meters (if you’re interested in finding out yours, I would suggest popping over to the NHS website and using their handy calculator tool). When it comes to children, this is then applied against a population average that places your child at its appropriate percentile against the population as a whole. A healthy weight is deemed to be between the 3rd and 95th percentiles.

Is BMI helpful? It does give a measure across large populations and a way to track trends, so using it to show that on average childhood obesity is increasing over time is relatively helpful. However when it comes to the individual, things are less clear cut. Total weight does not take into account heavy muscle mass or lighter fat mass such that, for example, a healthy athlete may have a much higher BMI than an elderly adult who has lost much muscle mass and gained in unhealthy fat mass. Similar can be said of children – they are all so very different, and medical professionals do not usually consider BMI alone as a measure of good or poor health.

What to do if your child has a high BMI

Children in the UK are measured at school, and that BMI measure is then communicated back to their parents for follow-up. First of all, if you’ve received such a letter, I would say not to panic. Please consult a medical professional who will be able to tell you whether or not there is something of concern.

Depending on where you live, there are varying free support services available to help you to make changes to diet and lifestyle if needed. Many Registered Nutritional Therapists such as myself, are also able to offer help and support in this area: click here to find an NT near you.

Supporting working families

I think it’s safe to say that we’re not going back to pre-1975 and looking to retire the majority of mothers from the workforce. Ethics aside, even if this was feasible from a financial perspective, I doubt it would be in any way successful. So many factors in our lives have changed in the last 45 years, many of which have contributed to a poorer diet and increased levels of obesity. So here are my alternative ideas for healthy change:

  1. There is no difference between kids’ food and adult’s food

One of my biggest bug bears is this notion of “kids’ food” versus adult’s food. Where did this come from? I’m not advocating weaning babies and young children on restaurant dinners or suggesting that we can’t occasionally enjoy richer or spicier food alone, but most of the food I cook and eat is not designated for a single-sized human, and that’s how it was until very recent history in the grand scheme of things.

It has become the norm to only offer children fish fingers and chips, mac and cheese or chicken nuggets in restaurants. Also normalising the omission of any type of vegetable in many cases!

When we promote foods as a “children’s dinner” in a world where working parents often are eating separately out of necessity and timings, it’s easy to see how we can get caught in the trap of feeding our children their own food at their own dinner time. But actually, was this a conscious decision? Or has it just happened due to marketing and following what peers do? Ask yourself this question – would you eat what you’re serving your children?

My challenge to you is – can you stop? Can you prepare the same food, even if it’s eaten at separate times? Or can you ensure that childcare providers that are providing this food eat the same foods with the children in order to model good eating habits? Depending on how ingrained habits are and how old your children are, this may take some time to transition, but perhaps weekends would be a good starting point – a family meal that is fun, but also healthy and suitable for all ages.

2. We don’t always need snacks

My mum always scoffs at kids’ snacks and asks when on earth did this become the way to eat? Certainly not when I was a child apparently (and we’re not even going back 40 years then either, not quite!) This is an additional area of marketing for the food industry – if children need snacks then they can sell them. And it’s completely become the norm again without many actually stopping and thinking about whether or not their child really needs a snack. If my boys eat a decent breakfast, they are rarely hungry again by 10am and actually asking for more food, unless that is, they see it, and/or their peers are eating it.

Try starting the day with a healthy and filling breakfast, and see how long your children last without asking for or visibly needing food. You may be surprised! And always take a back-up snack that is full of fibre and protein and not high in sugar.

3. The food industry is an industry

The clue is in the title – food as an “industry”. Food became a “technology” subject at school and we stopped being taught how to cook and instead learned about how to produce “food products”. Do you see the difference? We stopped leaning about how all the wonderful nutrients in our bodies really work there in a way that made them appetising, and focused instead on the art of analysing our food as products to sell. We were subconsciously trained to buy food products rather than cook them ourselves, and indeed many people I meet genuinely believe that cooking is far more difficult than it actually is (ok I may not be Michelin star standard, but what I produce is more than “edible”!) and that processed packaged foods are just as nutritious as homemade one (they are not).

There is more and more emerging evidence that processed foods are not healthy for us, regardless of how many vitamins and minerals are artificially added, and the UK is one of the biggest consumers of highly processed foods in the world (certainly lengths ahead of our European counterparts). Perhaps this change in how we learn about food, rather than the increase in working mothers, has actually driven down the route of buying more unhealthy processed foods?

4. Food labelling is too complicated

In addition to buying in to the food industry itself, we are also being constantly conned by food labelling. It is there in the guise of making it easier for consumers to make healthy choices, but oftentimes this very labelling is making it much harder than it really needs to be to make a judgement on a food’s nutritional value.

My golden rules for reading labels are very simple:

  1. If it has more than 5 ingredients, it’s probably not healthy
  2. If you don’t recognise any of the ingredients listed, or your grandparents wouldn’t, it’s probably not healthy

I teach the fundamental principals of good nutrition in my EAT TO THRIVE programme, and it’s so rewarding to help people make sense of reading food labels. There’s often a traffic light system to help busy people make good choices quickly, but this does not reflect a product’s propensity to spike blood sugar levels, and “healthy” artificial sweeteners aren’t really a healthy choice despite keeping that traffic light number in the green.

We need to approach food labelling with a more cynical eye, and increase our own confidence in reading labels, cooking and choosing healthy foods so that we can pass those skills on and model them to our children.

What can we do?

I put that question to you, and the response was fantastic, so…

1.Teach our children about food; teach them how to cook it, teach them what it does in their bodies, get them involved in every aspect of what they eat from choosing it at the supermarket/market, to growing it, chopping it, cooking it.

If you’re not preparing the food for your children, speak to those who are about doing this too. Find your most knowledgeable friend or neighbour and rope them into volunteering at your child’s school or nursery to do food-based activities with them, there are endless possibilities

2. Brush up your own knowledge and skills. It doesn’t have to be a chore to learn how to cook, there are loads of great cooking classes out there. Sign up, take a friend, learn to love cooking real food from scratch so you don’t have to rely on processed meals

3. Surround yourself with supportive friends and talk about nutrition. For older children surrounded by peer pressure, how can we help them? In all honesty I’m not there yet, but I am doing everything in my power to model good eating habits to my children and surrounding our whole family with like-minded people so that they have a group of peers in exactly the same boat.

And I talk about it! Yes, I am probably that annoying nutrition friend, but we can all do it – if you learn something, share it, talk about it. Headlines like this try to divide the working mums from the stay-at-home mums but we shouldn’t let them. If you have challenges, ask your friends for help – chances are they are experiencing or have experienced the same issues too.

4. Provide a healthy breakfast. This was the key area that consistently came up as challenging – what to serve your children for breakfast that is quick, easy and tasty, and not a high-sugar breakfast cereal that won’t support their energy levels over the course of the morning and will likely lead to more pestering or bad choices at “snack time”. So I’ve pulled together five recipes that I use on a regular basis – you can download them by signing up to my mailing list.

I hope that helps, but if you’ve any questions or requests, please do post them here, and let’s continue the conversation about how to help turn around the childhood obesity epidemic regardless of how many hours mums spend per day in paid employment! And if you’re in the Wimbledon area are would like to learn more, my next Children’s Nutrition Workshop will be taking place on 18th May.

Nutrition Science

What is Functional Medicine?


Photo by Cara Fuller on Unsplash

Functional Medicine

Functional medicine is a term that’s very familiar to me, but I forget sometimes that when I started studying it a little over seven years ago, the concept was relatively new to me and certainly the term itself was not one that was in my day to day vocabulary. So today I wanted to draw on the inspiration provided to me by functional medicine doctor Tom O’Bryan, who I had the pleasure of meeting the other week. Dr O’Bryan’s knowledge is phenomenal, but it’s not that information that I want to share with you today, it’s the analogies he uses to explain in simple terms what Functional Medicine is, and how he proposes everyone undertake life-changing practices that are not daunting, nor complicated, nor intangible to the many…

So what is functional medicine?

Functional medicine, put simply, is getting to the root cause of health symptoms, and fixing the issues that lead to chronic ill health in the first place. Here I must just reiterate that it’s chronic conditions I’m talking about, not illness through an accident or stringent virus that we were unfortunate enough to befall. So when we find ourselves in a place of chronic ill health, the analogy Dr O’Bryan used and which I want to share with you today, is one of falling down a waterfall and into a pond.

When we fall down that waterfall we, hopefully, receive the medicine we need to survive, his so-called “lifejacket medicine”. But what brought us to that place in the first place? And how do we get out of the pond? This is functional medicine – looking back upstream, sometimes as far as events in our childhood or even preconception, that lead us to that stream in the first place. And once we find them, we can start to make changes to resolve that underlying issue or issues, and figuratively climb out of the pond and walk back upstream to a place of good health again.

To quote Albert Einstein “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. If we don’t make any changes, how can we expect to set out on a different, healthier path, that won’t lead us back to that waterfall again?

In some cases I don’t dispute that lifelong medication may be needed, but even in that instance, there are likely factors we can change that will help support our health for the future, and those factors are what is today more commonly called “lifestyle medicine”: diet, exercise, sleep and stress management.

What does functional medicine look like in everyday life?

Whilst my main focus, as a Nutritional Therapist, is on diet, my functional medicine training has taught me how to also recognise and address the other three of these pillars too, and clients who come to see me for advice on what to eat often also leave with simple changes to make to their sleep habits or exercise regime too, or ideas and tools to help them better manage their day-to-day stress. All these aspects are also very much interlinked: diet plays a role in how we manage stress for example, and exercise can impact how well we sleep, all these factors are inextricably intertwined. While that might sound more complicated and daunting, it’s often the very opposite: making one small change can act as a catalyst to so many other aspects of our life and health. And these leads me to the other pearl of wisdom from Dr O’Bryan that I wanted to share with you today: “base hits win the ball game”.

“Base hits win the ball game”

An American phrase I know, but what it means is simple: it’s not the home runs that have the biggest impact on a baseball team’s success. It’s not the huge life changes that we sometimes think we need to make (“it’s January, out with the sugar and the TV dinners, in with the kale and daily gym work-outs” – does that sound familiar?) It’s the small steps we take that positively impact our health, lead to good habits, and allow us to move on and make the next small step rather than give up because everything’s become too overwhelming.

Where are you now?

For some of you reading this, you may well be feeling that you’re in the pond at the bottom of the waterfall. Would you like some help to climb out and walk back upstream? For others you may be in the stream. Perhaps you don’t realise it yet, but if you’re not confident about how to eat, sleep and exercise well and manage your stress, could it be that you may be headed for that waterfall? If any of this does resonate with you, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line and set up a complementary call to see if a personalised functional and lifestyle medicine approach could help you. Or, check out my next EAT TO THRIVE programme to help learn the main principals behind eating well and feel confident you really are making healthy choices with your diet.

Dinners, Recipes

Friday Night “fake-away” Lamb Curry

I love to batch cook “take-away” dishes for a Friday night feast. I was a huge fan of a weekly take-away for years, but the truth is they never make me feel very good. There may well be good take-aways out there, but many tend to be filled with hidden sugar, flavour enhancers, and for me – cream and gluten, all of which are just unnecessary for a great curry in my opinion… In addition, the tendency is to over-order, and the portion sizes are always huge which leads to over-eating, let’s be honest!

So I’ve adopted a “here’s one I made earlier” approach to take-aways. I batch cook a big batch, and freeze it in portions ready to grab out of the freezer on a Friday night. My kid-friendly but also good enough for grown-ups chicken korma is always a big hit, but my favourite has to be this spicy lamb curry. Turn the heat up or down by using more or less chillies, I think I’ve achieved a middle-ground here that will suit most.

Serves 6 (so three ready meals for two), serve with brown rice, extra yogurt (especially if it’s a little too hot for you), some fresh coriander and/or mint, maybe a couple of popadoms if you’re happy to bend the healthy rules a little for the weekend 😉

Ingredients:

  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 5 cm piece of ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground black peppercorns
  • 4 tablespoons plain natural yogurt or coconut yogurt if dairy free
  • 750g diced lamb
  • 2 medium white onions
  • 2 peppers (red/orange/yellow best for colour)
  • 4 birdseye chillies, deseeded
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2-3 red onions
  • 1 additional pepper (green works well)
  • seeds from 3 green cardamom pods
  • 3 cloves / 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 tsp hot chilli powder (optional)
  • 3-4 tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 x 400 g tin of plum tomatoes

Method:

  1. Grate the ginger (peel it first if it’s not organic) and crush the garlic, place in a large bowl with the turmeric, peppercorns and yogurt, and mix together with the lamb until it’s all coated. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour hour, preferably overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170ºC (150ºC fan)
  3. Peel and roughly chop the white onions, deseed and roughly chop the peppers and birdseye chillies and blitz in a food processor.
  4. Chop the red onions and green pepper, then gently heat the coconut oil in a large casserole dish (that has a lid) that can be transferred to the oven and fry them gently for 4-5 minutes, until they are nicely softened.
  5. Meanwhile, pop the cardamom seeds, cloves, cumin seeds and coriander seeds into a small food processor or coffee grinder, and grind to a powder. Add this powder, along with the cinnamon, paprika and chilli powder to the pan and stir to coat the softened onions and pepper.
  6. Add the blitzed veg from the processor to the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, then add the tomatoes, the marinated lamb and approx 250 mls water, and bring to the boil.
  7. Once boiling, cover with the lid and place in the oven for at least 2 hours. Stir occasionally and add a little more water if the sauce is thickening too much.
Recipes, Sweet treats

Chocolate mousse

A healthy chocolate mousse?! Packed with healthy fat (avocado) and antioxidants, this truly is a dessert you don’t need to feel guilty about! There’s no nasties, no refined sugar, just real food, and it tastes delicious.It also freezes well to create “chocolate ice cream” – I pop it in lolly moulds or silicon cupcake cases.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 banana
  • 3-4 tbsp raw cacao powder
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract / vanilla bean paste
  • 1-2 tbsp water
  • Pinch of sea salt

Method:

Combine all ingredients together in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Transfer the mixture into small ramekins and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.

Nutrition Science

My top tips for a Healthy Christmas

Photo by Chris Benson on Unsplash

Top tips for a healthy Christmas!

As Christmas is upon us, and we prepare for the usual over-indulgence (let’s be honest!), I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on my last year, and to share a few words of wisdom from my nutrition and lifestyle medicine training. You see, it’s not just about the diet – I cannot emphasize enough the role that stress plays on our health and wellbeing, and the importance of celebrating our wins too.

  • This time last year, I was about to embark on a new series of workshops – EAT TO THRIVE. After three successful rounds and a whole bunch of happy “Thrivers”, I’m really looking forward to continuing to run this in person (book here) and online (details to follow!)
  • I’m also expanding my Wimbledon clinic to accommodate more 1-2-1 personalised nutrition clients, starting with a open day offering 30 minute mini-sessions on Sat 19th Jan to help you kick off your healthy lifestyle in 2019 – make sure you book your slot soon!
  • And, I’ll be running my next children’s nutrition workshop on 9th February, to help our little ones thrive too.

What have you got planned for 2019? I do hope to see you at an event soon!

Whilst Christmas is a joyful time of the year, it often comes with plenty of pressures too, so my top tip is: don’t make food another stress! Enjoy yourselves this Christmas, be relaxed and just take the opportunity to nourish yourself where you can as well. In the meantime, here are a few “gift” ideas for your body:

  1. Balance your blood sugar. When we consume large meals or sugary snacks, we spike the level of glucose in our blood, inducing that surge of energy followed by a slump and increased hunger. What our body is actually doing is working in “emergency mode” and the end result is that we are more likely to store those extra calories as fat. Opting for smaller portion sizes, as well as combining fibre and protein with each and every meal, helps to balance those blood glucose levels, ultimately helping us to feel fuller and satisfied for longer, and not pile on the extra pounds.
  2. Seek out the nutrient-dense Christmas treats. Nutritionists often refer to white sugar and highly refined carbohydrate foods as “anti-nutrients”. This is because they are so low in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that our body actually uses more nutrients in the process of digesting them than it gets back in return. 70% dark chocolate is high in antioxidants, dates are rich in minerals such as magnesium, and nuts are a great source of protein, healthy fats and fibre, so why not opt for these over milk chocolate and sweets?
  3. Don’t scrimp on the organic sprouts! Brussel sprouts form part of the brassica family of vegetables, along with cabbages and other leafy greens. These foods are key in supporting our bodies to detoxify, so if we’re perhaps indulging in a little more alcohol than usual, making sure we eat plenty of brassicas can help towards mitigating the effects. Also, opting for organic foods that are free from pesticides can lighten the load on our on our bodies to detoxify, so also help to keep us feeling well.
  4. Support your gut bacteria. The health and diversity of our gut bacteria is a huge and rapidly emerging area of science that has been linked with immune function, brain health and weight. Sadly, high-sugar foods feed the not-so-beneficial bacteria in our gut, and can tip the balance away from the healthy type. To keep your healthy bacteria on top form, feed them lots of high fibre foods like onions, garlic, bananas, rocket and oats. And why not add in some probiotic foods like sauerkraut to accompany your cheeseboard, or kombucha as an alternative soft drink?
  5. Take time off to relax and unwind. Studies of populations around the world have shown that, regardless of religious beliefs, being spiritual and engaging with those we love can increase our health and lifespan. So switch off from work and social media, go for a gentle walk outside, and reconnect with friends and family.

Of course, none of these actions is going to save us completely from the potential impact of poor food and drink choices this Christmas, but each and every time you manage one of them, know that you are doing something good for your body. And whatever you do, enjoy what you eat and celebrate without the stress.

Merry Christmas to you all! Catherine x

Recipes, Snacks, Sweet treats

Christmas gingerbread biscuits

Time to get into the festive season! If you’re anything like me, whilst you’re enjoying the excitement, school performances and parties, you may be getting a little overwhelmed by the amount of sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods being offered to your children… But Christmas is a celebration, and eating treats really is a part of it, I really don’t believe in any food being completely off limits (within reason of course!) so I wanted to share a recipe with you that ticks a lot of the boxes when it comes to enjoying treats in moderation.

These biscuits are made with:

  • Wholemeal spelt flour – higher in nutrients than refined white flour, and slower to digest thus reducing the sugar spike.
  • Unrefined sugar – again, slightly slower to release it’s glucose, and also still retaining some lovely minerals to support overall health.
  • Black Strap Molasses – did you know that this is actually a rich source of iron and calcium?
  • Cinnamon – helps to naturally balance blood sugar levels
  • Raw cacao – this retains its healthy antioxidants in a way that processed chocolate bars just don’t
  • Natural fruits, nuts and seeds – beautiful and healthy at the same time

Biscuit recipe:
(makes about 20)

Ingredients:

  • 350g wholemeal spelt flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 150g unrefined sugar (I used Biona Rapadura, Billingtons also make unrefined cane sugar or you could use coconut palm sugar)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tbsp black strap molasses

Method:

  1. Mix together the flour, bicarb, ginger and cinnamon and put into a food processor. Add the butter and blend until well-mixed and resembling fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar.
  2. Lightly beat the egg and treacle together, slowly add to the food processor and pulse until the mixture clumps together. Tip the dough out on a floured surface, and knead lightly into a ball. Place in a covered bowl in the fridge, and chill for at least 15 minutes
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  4. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 5mm thickness, then using cutters, cut out the biscuits and place them on the baking trays.
  5. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Leave on the tray for 10 minutes and then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.

 For the chocolate buttercream:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 50g maple syrup
  • 50g raw cocao powder
  • 1tsp vanilla paste
  • 1-3tsp milk
  • To decorate: Dried fruit such as cranberries, desiccated coconut, seeds such as sunflower seeds, nuts

 Method:

  1. Blend together the butter, maple syrup and vanilla paste using a mixer, then slowly add the cocoa bit by bit, adding in some milk if needed for consistency and texture. The buttercream needs to be reasonably thin in order to be easily piped.
  2. Once the biscuits are cooled, decorate using the chocolate buttercream and toppings. I used cranberries, desiccated coconut and sunflower seeds

I hope you enjoy baking them, with your little ones or without, and please leave me a comment if you like them!

Dinners, Kids meals, Recipes

“Green Cheese” Soup

My kids call this broccoli and stilton “green cheese” soup, it’s their favourite and they have absolutely no idea where the green colouring comes from! For the last batch I used about 400g broccoli, then made up the rest of the weight in Brussel sprouts and spinach, but vary the mix to what you have in abundance. 

Ingredients:

  • Knob of coconut oil or butter
  • 1 onion or leek, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, crsuhed or finely chopped
  • 600g chopped broccoli or other cruciferous veg
  • 1 l stock (veg or chicken)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 160g stilton cheese, roughly chopped
  • Pinch of salt and pepper to season

 Method:

  1. Heat the oil then fry the onion/leek and garlic for 2-3 minutes on a low heat so that they don’t burn (they should just go soft and translucent)
  2. Add the chopped veg, stock, bay leaves, cheese and salt and pepper, bring the boil, cover and simmer for approx. 20-30m minutes until the broccoli is cooked through and tender. Stir occasionally.
  3. Remove the bay leaves, then blitz to a smooth consistency in a food processor (in batches) or with a stick blender (careful, it is hot!), and serve with some crusty bread.
Dinners, Kids meals, Recipes, Savoury

“Hidden veg” tomato sauce

Not just a sauce for Halloween, but I thought this picture might be inspiring today! I’ve topped some mini pizza bases with the sauce, some grated cheese and “spiders” made from olives (but trust me, it tastes just as good without the additional work of painstakingly slicing and arranging olives ha ha!)

This recipe makes a batch that can be frozen in glass jars and used for pasta dishes, pizza sauce, or as a sauce on other dishes… It’s a great way to get a variety of veg into fussy eaters (you can substitute with other veg too), and is such a versatile batch cook to keep in the freezer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ¼ butternut squash, finely diced (or use some pre-cooked leftovers if you have them)
  • 2 sticks celery, diced
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1 400ml jar passata
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • 2 tsp mixed Italian herbs
  • 1 tbsp olive oil for frying

Method:

  1. Gently fry the onions on a medium-high heat in a little rice bran oil for 5-10 minutes until softened but not burned.
  2. Add the garlic, celery, butternut squash and red pepper and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring gently.
  3. Add the tomatoes, passata and herbs and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes until everything’s nicely cooked and soft.
  4. Leave to cool slightly, then blitz in a food processor and use immediately on pasta, or allow to cool and freeze in glass jars.
Dinners, Kids meals, Recipes

Chicken Korma

Friday night take-aways are a bit of a tradition, aren’t they? From “Fish and chip Friday” to that end of the week feeling of not wanting to cook, just kick back and relax. The problem is that take-away food is often high in added sugar, high in bad fats (think deep fat fried in sunflower oil!), high in refined carbohydrates and low in vegetables. For me, it’s like the perfect storm for feeling rubbish on waking up Saturday morning, even though I completely support taking a break from cooking and spending some time chilling out and relaxing.

So in our household, it’s usually a Friday night “fake-away”, that’s a classic take-away style food, but homemade so just as nutritious as it is delicious. And today I want to share with you a winner of a curry that satisfies the whole family. It’s not super quick to make, but you can either slow cook it over the course of that afternoon and simply dish it out, or make it in advance and freeze portions to reheat quickly. It’s also free from gluten, dairy and of course, refined sugar, and can be made nut-free for those with nut allergies too.

Here I’ve served with some brown rice and a cheeky poppadum (because my kids think everything tastes better on a poppadum!) Peas are also a great accompanying flavour, so mutter paneer cheesy peas or simply some plain peas on the side for the kids.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely diced
  • 1 tbsp approx. grated fresh ginger
  • 1-2 tsp grated fresh turmeric
  • 2 tbsp korma powder
  • 600g chicken – breast and thigh meat are both good, just as long as there are no bones, diced into large chunks
  • 2 sweet potatoes, diced into large chunks
  • 2 red peppers, diced (optional – this makes it less traditional but tastes great and adds another veg to the mix!)
  • 300-500 mls chicken stock
  • 400 ml tin of coconut milk
  • 50 ground almonds (optional, use a little corn flour to thicken if needs be if you’re nut free)
  • Small handful chopped fresh coriander to serve

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C (fan). Heat the coconut oil in a large casserole pan, and fry the onion for 1-2 minutes on a low heat without burning it. Then add the garlic, grated ginger, turmeric and korma powder, and cook for a further 1-2 minutes to release all the flavours, stirring well so that it doesn’t stick.
  2. Increase the heat to medium and add the chicken. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring and turning the chicken pieces until they are all white and the meat is sealed.
  3. Add the sweet potato chunks and red peppers if using, chicken stock and coconut milk, cover and bring to the boil.
  4. Transfer to the oven and allow to cook slowly for at least 1 hour, checking and stirring occasionally to ensure there is sufficient liquid (top up with stock or water if the sauce is getting too thick. I often leave for two hours to make sure it’s extra tender and melt in the mouth, but it will need more liquid for this.
  5. Remove from the over when the sauce is fairly thick and the chicken is well cooked and falling apart. Stir in the ground almonds if using, or thicken with a little corn flour if not, and serve.