Great ideas for weekday lunches

Haven’t we had the best weather the last few days, I hope you got out on Sunday and spent some quality time with your Mammy! Thanks to my own Mammy I was sent off to school with ham sandwich, a mandarin orange and some animal biscuits every day. To most Irish people the thoughts of a packed lunch for work can bring you out in the cold sweats. But fear not; lunches have evolved into cool things and it’s now very chic to “tote” your lunch with you to work!

 

There is a tonne of benefits to bringing your lunch to work that go beyond saving you some money!

It’s a great way to control your portions meaning that option to go large or grab a soft drink with your roll isn’t going to spoil your good intentions. By making your own lunch you can also control the calorie content in your midday meal. Avoiding foods like chips, processed meat, cheese and sauces also means you are consuming less sugar and salt. The last benefit of making your own lunch is the endless options. Leftovers are made for tupperware but also consider salads and tapas style lunches!

Below is some suggestions to pimp your lunch box and help you be the envy of the office.

Salad + protein and avocado: This is my go to lunch! A base of nutritious leaves, like spinach and rocket or your favourite lettuce. Add to this a source of protein for example two boiled eggs, tin of tuna or some chicken.  Chuck in some chopped peppers, onion, slices of avocado, beetroot or sweetcorn. To turn your plain salad into a show stopper a good dressing is essential. I recommend making your own and don’t be afraid to get adventurous!

Our superfood from last week, quinoa, makes an appearance with stir fried vegetables and egg for a healthy twist on the traditional takeaway option. Most supermarkets sell pre-chopped peppers, I add these to ½ a cup of cooked quinoa with some spices in the wok. Beat and egg in a bowl and add to the mix, this literally takes 5 minutes to make and is nutritious and filling.

Healthy salad
Healthy salad with quinoa

Homemade soup is a great option and again don’t be afraid to experiment with flavours! By adding spices or interesting ingredients, soups can become nourishing belly hugs to warm you from the inside on miserable days. The Happy Pear have a very easy recipe for Thai coconut, sweet potato and lemongrass soup. The coconut adds a lovely depth of flavour to the sweet potato and with the fragrant lemongrass you could believe you were Bangkok instead of at your desk.

For healthy alternatives to chocolate bars or processed sugar at 3pm, I prefer to pack snacks like fruit, vegetables and hummus, roasted pumpkin seeds or chickpeas, yogurt and berries or homemade bars. These suggestions pack a nutritional punch and will keep you full till dinner time!

Healthy Snack
Healthy snacks – yogurt, fruit, nuts and sweet treats

Hope you enjoyed these tips and next week we’ll be looking at some healthy Easter egg options, yum!

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Healthy Pancakes

So lent begins on Wednesday but before we give up indulgent treats for the next 40 days, we have the indulgence of pancake Tuesday! If you are trying to eat healthy or avoid excess sugars pancakes and Easter can be potential mine fields.Read More »

Agave to Stevia; Sugars Exposed

Hopefully this post will help you to understand the difference between natural and processed sugars and why natural sugars may not be as healthy as they seem.

refined sugar
Credit:Onnit.com

Fructose is the sugar compound that we are most concerned with. Research has shown it contributes to fat storage, particularly around the tummy and vital organs, it is addictive, and makes us eat more. It also increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

So let’s start with the easy stuff; Table sugar

So table sugar that white stuff you put in tea, you buy in kilo bags in the supermarket. Scientifically speaking this sugar is composed of glucose and fructose. Roughly 50% of a teaspoon of sugar is fructose. Table sugar is highly processed and refined causing a spike in blood sugars. So what about brown sugar? Unfortunately this sugar is no healthier or more natural. It is simply sugar which has had molasses (another sugar!) added to it!

Honey

Honey has been around for thousands of years, it is now commercially farmed and readily available. Honey in it’s raw state has some health benefits. Honey has antiseptic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antifungal, antibacterial and prebiotic properties! However to experience these benefits it generally has to be eaten in large quantities. It can also be processed by pasteurisation and this is usually how we buy it in the supermarket. Honey is approximately 40% fructose.

Maple syrup

Some people believe this is the national food of Canada. This liquid sweetener is made from the sap of the maple tree. Like honey this is made up of 40% fructose. It does have other nutrients for example manganese which is important for blood pressure, bone help and supports immunity.

Agave

Agave syrup
Agave         Credit:Tesco.com

There has been a lot of hype about this natural sweetener lately. I even found it in Glenisk vanilla yogurt! So is it healthier? Agave is 90% fructose and contains more calories than ordinary sugar. It is highly processed and a random interesting fact is extracted from the same succulent as tequila! This sweetener is 1.5 times sweeter than sugar so no wonder it’s found its way into commercial products! More on why Agave isn’t your friend later on in the week!

Coconut sugar

This is made from the sap of flower buds from the coconut palm. It is very popular in Asian cuisine. This natural sweetener is composed of 38-48% fructose. It is lower on the Glycaemic Index and so maybe perceived as healthier.

Dates

This is a common sweetener among the health community looking to reduce or eliminate refined sugar from diets and recipes. However dates are a high fructose fruit and by drying them you remove water and other nutrients essential to slow down the absorption of the fructose. Dates are composed of 30% fructose, remember that the next time a recipe requires 20 of them!

Stevia

stevia
Granulated Stevia Credit:planetorganic.com

This is a sweetener extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant. It is calorie free and free from fructose. It is believed that this natural sugar may be the Holy Grail of sweeteners. However the long term effects of stevia has not been researched.

I think we should limit all sweeteners, natural, artificial and refined. All sugar in high amounts is bad for fat gain, blood sugar swings and problems with insulin sensitivity. Try to limit sweet treats to treats on special occasions and not everyday. Instead use foods such as nuts, spices, coconut and sweet potato to sweeten foods. This is a guaranteed way to have your cake and eat it to!

Stay healthy X

Sugar free ginger nuts

I love a good ginger nut, the tang and crunch make these one of my favourites! So in preparation for a bloggers meeting I baked some for my lovely friends. I was really worried they were terrible and I hadn’t road tested the recipe! But alas I should have had faith! Why would I doubt such magical ingredients as ground almonds, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Add some orange zest and its looking like a flavour party! Enjoy!

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Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups of ground almonds
  • ½ teaspoon of baking powder
  • 120g of melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons of maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • Zest of an orange

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a baking tray with baking paper
  2. Put all the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir to mix
  3. Add all the wet ingredients
  4. Stir to mix again. If it looks a little wet at this stage just use more ground almonds till you have a good consistency
  5. Spoon onto the baking tray and use your hand to flatten
  6. Bake for approximately 12 mins until golden. They will be a little soft but will firm up once they cool.

Winner winner – Whats in your dinner?

Hi Everybody,

Welcome, back to my series on the hidden sugars in supermarket foods. Last time we looked at sinful lunches and breakfast so now it’s time to tackle the biggest meal of the day, dinner!

So I applied the same rule to this research as the last two. Evaluated all the jars of sauces and even some powders on sugar content by 100g! I did this because serving sizes change one jar will recommend 125g per serve another 105. This is the best way to evaluate and chose the healthiest sauce for you!

Sweet and Sour sauce

Think your jar of ready-made sauce is healthier than a takeaway? Think again. Sharwood’s Sweet and Sour sauce contained a whopping 22.7g per 100g and because of a larger serving size this actually equates to a massive FIVE teaspoons of sugar in your dinner!

Uncle Ben’s Sweet and Sour sauce is no better containing a whopping 16.2g per 100g! That’s 4 tablespoons of sugar and sugar is the second ingredient on the list. This is definitely one sauce to stay away from if you are trying to watch your sugar intake!

Curry

Everybody loves a curry, it is a Friday night treat in most houses the Uncle Ben’s mild curry is a firm favourite! Unfortunately this jar of sauce had 5.4g of sugar per 100g. That’s a 1 ½ teaspoons per serving. Uncle Ben isn’t as badly misbehaved as Knorr whose mild curry sauce contained almost two teaspoons per portion!

Knorr curry

For comparison I looked at the McDonnell’s curry powder, the only one my Mammy uses! This curry powder had an even higher sugar content than the jar version! With 7.7g of sugar, this curry had two teaspoons of sugar per 100g!

Pasta sauces

As our tastes change more and more people are eating pasta for dinner. Often carbohydrates are demonised as contributing to weight gain but ever considered it’s the pasta sauce you use? Dolmio bolognese sauce contains 5.8g of sugar per 100g and almost two teaspoons per serving! Unlike the US where low fat usually means more sugar the lighter version of the Dolmio range contained 5.2g per serving that’s a reduction of two grams of sugar! Similarly, the Loyd Grossman range of sauces had the same sugar content as the Dolmio Original.

Now, I know passata contains 4.1g of sugar per 100g, these sugars are natural from the tomatoes. Another reason I would recommend passata is you have control of the rest of the ingredients. No artificial preservatives, additives or flavours!

One of my favourite dishes from college, was Chicken Tonight! We loved it so much we would cook huge pots and eat the leftovers on sandwiches the next day! So, for old time’s sake I evaluated its sugar content in the interest of research. The flavour I looked at was Country French, and I have to admit I was surprised. The sauce contains 2.3g of sugar and per serving 2.9 sugars. Although far from sugar free it’s one of the lowest sugar content jar sauce I looked at.

So maybe you need to have a look at your cupboard see what lurks inside? Are you doubting your favourite dinner? If you make one change a week, you will be on the track to healthy eating. Maybe make one homemade meal this week? And remember Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Stay healthy X

Sugar free Valentines Treats

So everywhere you look it’s all hearts, love and mega boxes of chocolates. Like Christmas and Easter; Valentine’s Day poses challenges if you are trying to eat clean or stay sugar free. I’ve put together some suggestions and recipes to help you stay on track.

Firstly, start the day off right with some flourless pancakes served in bed with your favourite coffee and Sunday paper. Make them extra special by frying them in a heart shaped ring from Tiger for €3. These would make a super cute stack and can be served with Greek yogurt and fruit or crisp rashers and maple syrup. You can find the recipe here…..

If your other half loves toast Tiger also have cute latte stencils for €2. These have a love heart or ‘I Love You’ options. Why no decorate their favourite breakfast with cinnamon on freshly buttered toast with these stencils!

So on to the main event, dinner! If you haven’t splurged on an overpriced packed restaurant you’re probably eating your favourite dish at home. And your favourite dinner would not be complete without a dessert. Now most desserts can be made with sugar substitutions or with reduced sugar content. But my two suggestions are:

Chocolate dipped strawberries

Get some of your five a day with this slightly devilish treat. Using 85% cocoa makes this a low sugar alternative with healthy benefits of dark chocolate!

Chocolate chia pudding for dessert

Greatist have a great chia seed pudding post with recipes including fruity and chocolatey ones. These puddings are a great alternative to sugar laden traditional puddings.

If after your romantic meal you are planning on cuddling up on the couch why not make these healthy sweet treats:

Cinnamon popcorn

I used organic popcorn kernels from The Hopsack in Rathmines. Three small handfuls makes enough for the large mixing bowl so you’ll have some left over for movie nights to come!

50g of melted butter

2 teaspooons of vanilla extract

1 tablespoon of coconut oil

50g of popcorn kernels

Ground cinnamon

Beat together butter and vanilla, then set aside. Melt the coconut oil in a pan and add popcorn kernels. I used a heavy based frying pan covered with tin foil. Use an oven mitt to hold down the tin foil, we had a few stray ones in the kitchen! Shake the pan occasionally, once there is three seconds between pops the popcorn is ready. Wait for a few minutes for any late pops. Put in a large bowl, pour over the vanilla butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and serve!

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Healthy chocolates with raspberry filling

These chocolates are also dairy and refined sugar free.

For the chocolates

½ cup coconut oil

½ cup raw cacao

2 tablespoons coconut cream (I made mine by putting a can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight)

1 tablespoon maple syrup

For the Raspberry Chia Jam

½ cup frozen raspberries, defrosted

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon chia seeds

Combine basic chocolate ingredients. Fill silicone heart-shaped ice cube trays halfway. Freeze for 5 minutes until hard. Combine Raspberry Chia Jam filling and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Dollop a half a teaspoon of jam in centre of heart and top with remaining chocolate mixture. Place in fridge to set.

I initially used ice cubes moulds but Tiger had confectionary wrappers for €2! Makes a cuter Valentine’s surprise! Hope you enjoy the treats and Valentine’s Day, be great to hear some of your recipes or treats for the special day!

Stay healthy X