Easy Cheesy Pasta Bake

On Friday, we had two of my children’s friends over to play after school. So with five little, but very hungry mouths to feed, I needed to produce something quick, easy and a lot
of it! When I suggested told my crew that they were having pasta bake, they were a bit “meh”, as I serve this up once a week. But our 7 year old and 4 year old guests were delighted (my children: take note of their beautiful manners) and everyone devoured second/third helpings. These simple things in life, like a stress free dinner and happy, full up children make me very happy!

Pasta Bake

This is a easy combo of pasta, sauce and tuna. Pasta is a fabulous source of energy for growing and hungry children; tuna for protein and cheese sauce for extra energy and calcium. I make the white sauce from scratch – but it is a very easy method that doesn’t involve making a roux (and the potential for lumps).

Here are 5 ways you can add extra health oomph:

  1. tinned salmon/poached fresh salmon/smoked salmon for healthy omega 3 fats – anti inflammatory, beneficial for brain, heart and eye health
  2. add in some vegetables e.g. sweetcorn, peas, steamed broccoli
  3. use a tomato sauce instead of the white sauce – lowers the fat and calorie
  4. gluten free pasta and flour – for those following a low FODMAP diet, or with gluten intolerance/coeliac disease
  5. high fibre pasta – most people don’t get enough fibre which is important for digestive health and is more filling than white pasta

 

Ingredients (serves 4-5)IMG_0864

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • about 500ml milk
  • about 250ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • handful of grated cheese
  • Pasta shapes, about 500g dried (a whole bag) – cooked
  • 2 tins of tuna, drained

Method:

  1. In a sauce pan, put the butter, flour and milk.
  2. Whisk so that the flour dissolves in to the milk
  3. Over a medium heat, allow this to heat so the butter melts. As the mixture heats up, make sure you keep mixing. It will thicken as it gets towards boiling point. Keep stirring. Stir, stir, stir. Turn the heat down as it thickens. Keep stirring.
  4. When it has thickened, add the stock and cheese.
  5. Add the tuna, and extra veg e.g. sweetcorn/peas etc.
  6. Put the cooked pasta in a dish and pour over the sauce
  7. Grate some bread to make bread crumbs, sprinkle over pasta
  8. Sprinkle on some grated cheese
  9. Grill for a few minutes to melt the cheese and make the breadcrumbs crispy. Watch carefully as it can burn quite quickly!
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Chilli Con Carne

This chilli recipe works really well for the whole family. Fabulous for protein and iron from the beef mince, lycopene from tomatoes, vitamin C from red peppers, fibre in all the veg…..the list of health benefits could go on.

I’ll make it without the chilli powder for the kids and call it “Children’s Chilli”. It still images-3.jpegretains the chilli flavour with cumin and paprika but without the heat form the chilli powder. When they’ve been served up, I’ll add the chilli for the adults. It’s perfect with a variety of optional extras: rice, jacket potato, tacos, coleslaw, sour cream or grated cheese.

Watching your weight?

You can swap beef mince for turkey mince, cut right back on the rice (or skip the rice altogether) and images-2serve with coleslaw, salad or any other veg you fancy. Filling a few big iceberg lettuce leaves with the chilli and coleslaw is quite delicious. Aim to fill at least half your plate with veg/salad, and about 1/4-1/3 of the plate with the chilli.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 500g lean minced beefphoto-5
  • 1 beef stock cube in 300ml boiling water
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • boiled rice or Tacos

 

  1. In a pan, heat the oil, add the onions and cook over a medium heat until soft
  2. Add the garlic, red pepper, chilli powder, paprika and cumin. Cook on low for a few minutes.
  3. Turn up the heat and add the minced beef, stirring and prodding for about 5 minutes to break up the mince.
  4. Pour in the beef stock
  5. Add the tinned tomatoes, kidney beans and sugar
  6. Squirt in the tomato purée and stir well.
  7. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring to stop the chilli ‘catching on the bottom.
  8. Turn off the heat for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to develop and to cool down.

 

How to choose a healthy yogurt

Sainsbury’s sell about 400 different yogurts, with two aisles at my local one devoted to a  technicolor of the tubs, pots and bottles.Unknown-11

So what’s the difference between them all. How do you choose a good one? What is the Confuseddifference between plain and natural, Bio and live cultured, Greek and Greek Style, are low fat yogurts always loaded with sweeteners and thickeners, why does natural yogurt have sugar on the nutrition label? I’m an avid nutrition label reader (it’s part of my job), and I have to admit to being left confused and overwhelmed.

Yogurt is big business. In 2014, 80% of us bought it – that’s almost 42 million British stocking up on the (mostly) good stuff. 57% of British adults have yogurt as a dessert. Natural yogurts are the only variety that men are more likely to buy than women.

What makes yogurt ‘yogurt’??

Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with two very specific types of harmless bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermopiles (these are the only 2 cultures required by law to be present in yogurt).

The bacteria that are added to milk convert the naturally occurring sugar in milk Unknown-2(lactose) into lactic acid, which causes the milk to thicken, giving yogurt its characterised consistency and tangy taste. People who have difficulty digesting lactose in milk are generally able to tolerate yogurt better: this is because some of the lactose in yogurt has been broken down by the harmless bacteria used to make the yogurt.

Extra bacterial cultures, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifido-bacteria may be added to yogurt as probiotic cultures. These probiotic cultures benefit human health by improving lactose digestion, gastrointestinal function, and stimulating the immune system.

In the UK, yogurt is most commonly made from cows’ milk and can be made using full-fat or lower-fat milk. New variations are also available: soy, coconut, sheep’s, goat.

  • Plain/natural: yogurt at its simplest, with no additional ingredients. Just milk and the bacteria
  • Flavoured: with added sugar, honey, fruit juice, natural flavours, sweeteners, syrups, whole or puréed fruit and/or cereals.
  • Low-fat: contains no more than 3 grams of fat per 100 grams.
  • Fat-free: contains no more than 0.5 grams of fat per 100 grams.
  • Light: contains 30% less of a specific nutrient (for example, sugar or fat) compared to a range of similar products.
  • Greek yogurt (not Greek Style yogurt): genuine Greek yogurt is made by straining regular yogurt, removing the liquid whey and resulting in 2 to 3 times higher protein content.Unknown copy 7  Greek yogurt is available in full fat, reduced fat and 0% fat. Even the 0% fat Greek yogurt is much thicker than regular yogurt. Total by Fage is a popular one.
  • Live yogurts:  The majority of yogurts sold in the UK are ‘live’ yogurts – this means that they contain live bacteria, even if not stated on the label. Some yogurts have extra beneficial bacteria added e.g. Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifido-bacteria. To identify if there are these extra biocultures added, you need to look on the ingredients label (due to EU legislation a manufacturer can not claim on the front of the pot that it contains ‘probiotics’)
  • Calcium: Yogurt made from milk is one of the best absorbed dietary sources of calcium. Calcium is needed for the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth and is also important for blood clotting, wound healing and maintaining normal blood pressure. Most yogurts also contain varying amount of vitamins B6 and B12, riboflavin, potassium and magnesium.
This unsweetened natural yogurt has 6.5g of natural milk sugar (lactose)

This unsweetened natural yogurt has 6.5g of natural milk sugar (lactose)

Sugar: This is where it can get confusing. Many people ask me about yogurts and sugar, or make the comment that all yogurts are high in sugar. Because yogurt is made from milk, it will contain some naturally occurring sugars (lactose), from 3g/100g to 7g/100g; the amount of lactose depends on how much of it the bacteria has turned in to lactic acid.  So although a plain/natural yogurt does not have added sugar, on the nutrition label you will read that there is sugar……confusing!

However, many manufacturers load their yogurts with sugar and very sweet fruit purees or juice. Unfortunately, the label does not differentiate between the naturally occurring lactose and this added sugar.

This yogurt has a 15.2g sugars. About 7g of this is naturally occurring milk sugar (lactose = good), the remainder is added sugar (not good)

This yogurt has a 15.2g sugars. About 7g of this is naturally occurring milk sugar (lactose = good), the remainder is about 2 teaspoons of added sugar (not good)

How to choose a healthy yogurt

Ideally, choose a plain/natural yogurt and if you  want flavour or sweetness, add your own e.g. fruit, puree, vanilla extract, jam, sugar or honey. That way, you have more control over the amount of added sugars. One teaspoon of honey, jam or sugar is approximately 5g of sugar.

If choosing a flavoured yogurt, look for one that has below 12g/100g of sugar. This generally indicates that there has been less than a teaspoon of sugar added.

 

 

Below is a comparison of just a few of the most popular yogurts in UK supermarkets. I’m a fan of the Total Greek Unknown-10yogurts, due to the high protein, low sugar and extra bacteria probiotic bacteria Unknown-6added (high protein yogurts have been shown to make you feel full up for longer and reduce appetite). I must give St Helen’s Goat yogurt a try, nutritionally I would award it second Unknown-9place, but I’ve never tasted it! Onken Naturally Set also has a great nutritional profile, although lower in protein than Total.

 

All amounts are per 100g (about half a cup)

Calories Sugars Protein Fat Extra Probiotic bacteria added
Sainsbury’s Greek Style 120 5 4 9
Yeo Valley Full Fat Plain 82 7 5 4 Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium
Onken Naturally Set 68 3 4 4 Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium
Yeo Valley Greek Style 150 14 3 8 Lactobacillus acidophilus Bifidobacterium
Total Full Fat 96 4 9 5 Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Bifidus and L. Casei
Total 0% 57 4 10 0 Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Bifidus and L. Casei
Danio flavoured 100 12 7 2
Activia Strawberry 99 13 4 3 Bifidobacterium Lactis (Bifidus ActiRegularis®)
Yeo Valley Fruity Favourites 107 13 5 4 Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus Acidophilus
Alpro Soy Cherry 73 9 4 2
Muller Crunch Corner Choc & Vanilla balls 148 18 4 5
Co Yo (coconut yogurt) 183 1 3 19
Woodland Sheep Natural 92 5 5 6 Lactobacillus acidophilus

 

St Helens Goats Natural 105 3 6 7 Lactobacillus acidophilus Bifidobacterium

Children’s yogurts are a WHOLE new ball game which deserve a post all of their own……watch this space!

9 of the Healthiest Supermarket Ready Meals

Microwavable Ready Made Meals: the antithesis of healthy eating. In an ideal world we’d spend the morning tending our vegetable patch/chickens in the back yard, then the afternoon pootling about  in the kitchen performing alchemy with our produce.

Historically, ready meals have been relegated by chefs th-2.jpegand dietitians to the bottom of the culinary and nutrition pile. Little boxes of mush, hidden from view in cardboard boxes, often providing your full daily requirement for unhealthy fats, salt, and sugar.

I took a detour down the ready made food aisle at my local Sainsbury’s the other day (that loon taking photos of the food was me). Things have changed. We appear to have had a quiet food revolution.

Aware of the growing market for health foods, supermarkets have used dieticians, nutritionists and chefs to develop a new generation of microwavable ready meals. Can you now ping yourself to health (on full power) in 3 minutes? Is a healthy microwavable meal a contradiction in terms? I’m prepared to eat my words and cautiously say, yes, maybe……

What to look for in a healthy ready meal:

  • you want to see what you are going to eat, so a clear container
  • an ingredients list that only has the names of actual food, like carrots, beans, chicken and rice. Not modified maize starch, stabilisers, di-, tri- and polyphosphates, citric acid, firming agents and maltodextrin
  • aim for 300-400kcal
  • how much veg can you see? Look for meals with about 1/3-1/2 colourful veggies
  • a good protein portion: 20-30g: the label on the back will tell you this, make sure you look per portion
  • Not too much carbohydrate – about 1/4 of the meal. Extra points for wholegrain rice, baby potatoes, quinoa, beans, lentils
  • Below about 1g salt per portion: Colour-coded nutritional information on the front  tells you at a glance if the food has high, medium or low (red means high, amber means medium, green means low)

 

Here are some of the best of the supermarkets’ own ranges:

306923270862Sainsbury’s My Goodness range: (£3.25, currently on offer £2.50) typically 300-400kcal per pack, plenty of lean protein, a lovely mix of colourful veg, with a controlled portion of carbs. Look for the ones with a green circle stating ‘high protein’.

 

M&S Balanced For You range: high protein, moderate carbohydrate meals. All meals provide slow release carbohydrate from various sources such as beans, puls20150617_084623es and vegetables. 20150617_084525

Miso Chicken Noodles; Aromatic CHicken Skewers; Spiced Cauliflower Rice and Chargrilled Tikka Chicken

 

 

Tesco Healthy Living: £2.00 Some of the Healthy Living range meals can be high in salt, lacking veg or a bit low on protein. Here are two of the better ones: Chicken Noodle Laksa, South Individual Indian Curry With Pilaf.

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Waitrose Love Life range: (£3.30, currently 3 for 2) fresh ingredients, 300-400kcal, high in protein (typically 27g per pack), lots of veg.295655

Chicken Madeira; Green Thai Chicken Curry231596-1

Seriously Healthy 1 minute muffin

UnknownHigh in healthy fats and protein, low carbs.
The main ingredient in these healthy muffins is ground flaxseed. Flaxseed is a source of healthy fat, antioxidants, and fiber; rich source of micronutrients, dietary fiber, as well as manganese, vitamin B1, and the essential fatty acid omega-3.

imageModern research has found evidence to suggest that flaxseed can also help lower the risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. I regularly recommend it to patients especially for constipation.

Flaxseed can be bought in most of the big supermarkets or health food images-3shops (it is the same as ground linseeds – my Mum tells me they used to put linseed oil on horses tails to make them healthy and shiny)

Add a little bit of honey/maple syrup/agave nectar/sweetener/raisins if you like (they can be a little bland without any sweetness!)

Nutrition info: 320 kcal, 1g carbohydrate, 16g protein

  • 1/4 cup flaxseed
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon light vegetable oil, such as olive oil
  • optional sweetener of choice (1/2 teaspoon sugar/honey etc)
  1. 
In a coffee mug, stir together 1/4 cup of flax meal, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, sugar/honey/sweetener if using and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Be sure to use a coffee mug, not a cup.
  2. Add 1 egg and 1 tsp. of oil to the dry ingredients and mix well.
  3. Microwave the mug for 45 to 60 seconds.
  4. Pop the muffin out of the mug and enjoy.

Eat on the run, or serve with a high protein yogurt and berries.

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Medical News Today article on Benefits of flaxseed

Chicken Curry in a Hurry

IMG_0320

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A quick, easy, healthy and tasty recipe for chicken curry.

 

When time and energy are in short supply, but you want a super healthy dinner, this is perfect. I usually knock this up in about 20 minutes (in-between refereeing bickering children and negotiating their homework)

  • 4 ingredients: onion, tinned tomatoes, chicken breasts or roast a chicken and shred, Patak’s Korma Spice Paste
  • very quick and very easy
  • chocablock full of anti inflammatory nutrients (quecertin from onions, vitamin C and lycopene from tomatoes, and turmeric,  cumin, garlic in the spice paste)
  • High protein: from the chicken, excellent for your muscles and keeps you feeling full up
  • Not too spicy: my children will even eat it

What to do:

  1. chop up a large onion, fry on a medium heat in a tablespoon on vegetable or coconut oil for a few minutes until soft.Unknown
  2. add the 1 tablespoon of the spice paste (more if you like a stronger flavour)
  3. add the diced chicken breasts/chopped up roast chicken – coat in the spice paste, cook for a few minutes
  4. add the chopped tomatoes – allow about half a tin or carton per person
  5. simmer for about 20 minutes, longer if you prefer a drier sauce

Serve with rice or in a jacket or sweet potato……lovely to soak up the juices 🙂

Short cuts for when you’re too knackered or just don’t have the time: use frozen chopped onions, ready cooked chicken and microwaveable pouches of riceUnknown-5

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To add some extra nutritional oomph:

  • coriander/spinach, stir in at the end. If you cook it for too long it wilts away to nothing. Lots of antioxidants and phytochemicals
  • tomato puree – for some concentrated lycopene
  • wholegrain rice – extra fibre, more filling and more slowly  than white rice so keeps the blood sugar levels steadier

The Surprising Protein Source we’ve forgotten about!

I know, I know, cottage cheese……… it’s not very cool and seems to have been relegated to the 80’s as a diet food, aerobics workouts, lycra leotards and Ryvita. For most of us it just doesn’t feature on theimages shopping list.

We could be missing out…..cottage cheese is, in fact, the perfect healthy protein source. Not only highly nutritious, it’s also relatively cheap (65p for a 300g pot in Lidl), and incredibly convenient. Stick a pot in your fridge and you can prepare a healthy snack or meal in minutes.

Nutrition Facts: low in carbs and loaded with proteins, cottage cheese is very filling and will keep your muscles in top condition. It is also high in micronutrients like calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin B2. 1 cup of cottage cheese has more protein than a scoop of protein powder, 4 eggs or chicken breast.images-2images-1

Whether you are a sitting at your desk all day and need to watch your weight, a 110kg rugby player needing to bulk up on muscle, or a 70 year old granny,  load it up on a piece of wholegrain toast, in jacket potato, or with some chopped tomato and avocado.

Easy lunch today: cottage cheese, avocado, spinach, lettuce and olive oil.

Easy lunch today: cottage cheese, avocado, spinach, lettuce and olive oil.

 

Here are some new ways to use it, especially good if you’re not keen on the texture.

High Protein Smoothie: (350kcal, 52g protein, 23g protein) a perfect quick breakfast, or as a snack if you are highly active or wanting to gain weight. Blend 200ml semi skimmed milk, 1/2 cup cottage cheese, 1 banana, 1 tablespoon honey

High Protein Pancakes (500kcal, 35g carbs, 40g protein):
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup oats
3 eggs
Optional ingredients for extra oomph: cinnamon, cocoa powder, desiccated coconut, raisins
In a bowl or blender, whisk/mix all the ingredients together.
Fry in a non-stick pan with a little oil or butter on medium heat.

Sweet Potato with Curry Cottage Cheese (375kcal, 57g carbs, 22g protein, vitamin K, A and C)

Simply microwave a sweet potato for about 8 minutes. Open a small pot of cottage cheeseUnknown and mix in 1 teaspoon of Patak’s Korma Spice Paste (more if you like a stronger flavour). Load in to the potato and serve with something green, like spinach, broccoli or peas. The spice paste contains turmeric and cumin, both which have potent anti-inflammatory properties.

If you are lactose intolerant, too much cottage cheese can provoke all your tummy symptoms, so don’t have anymore than 2 tablespoons.