6 tips to cut the rubbish and start eating healthier

Monday, 28 March 2016
6 tips to cut the rubbish and start eating healthier

If two years ago you told me I would one day be a healthy food enthusiast I think I would have laughed. I used to be a sugar fiend and barely a day went past that I didn't have chocolate, fizzy juice or a sweetie of some kind. I was totally hooked, it just all tasted so good and I really didn't know or care about what eating all that rubbish was doing to me. I also didn't eat properly at all, preferring to snack on sugary treats than eat any actual food. Breakfast was non-existent (which I still can't believe because breakfast is genuinely the best thing ever) and dinner would be a feast of all the food I could find to make up for hardly eating a thing during the day. It was not good. 

When I started working full-time I managed to get into more of a routine with my eating, which definitely helped, and a month or so after going from university to work I realised that I needed to get myself together and sort my diet out. I won't say it was easy, it took me months to fall in love with food and to finally cut out all the rubbish I was eating, but I felt so amazing for it. The worst part was, I didn't realise just how awful I felt eating the way I did until I stopped and began feeling the benefits of a healthier lifestyle. I've honestly never had more energy and I rarely feel tired anymore. 

I wanted to write this post to share a little of my experience with you and some of the things that worked for me when I decided to change my diet. These things might not work for everyone but if you are struggling, doing a few of these things might help you to eat a little healthier and, most importantly, feel a lot better.

1. Drink lots of water! 

I never used to drink water and I'd maybe only have one glass of juice a day. I must have been permanently dehydrated but I never noticed until I started drinking water and realised how much better I felt for it. You should aim to drink two litres of water a day as a minimum, which sounds like a lot if you are anything like I used to be, but actually, it's not much at all and now I probably drink closer to three litres a day. At the beginning, I had to force myself to drink it but after a few weeks it became a habit and now I don't think twice about it. I also found that keeping a bottle of water on my desk at work meant that I would drink it throughout the day simply because it was there.

2. Keep a food diary 

For a few months I wrote down everything I ate in a day. I didn't count calories or anything, I just simply wrote down what I ate. This really helped me to see exactly what I was eating and emphasised how bad my habits were - a share bag of sweeties in one sitting three nights in a row definitely is not okay. Seeing all the things you are eating written down in black and white can really make you think twice about your diet.

3. Make simple swaps 

Whole wheat is always the better choice because it's less processed than white foods so you get so many more nutrients and goodness. Swap your white pasta, rice and bread for whole wheat alternatives - they taste the same and are much better for you. 

4. Eat three meals a day

This is a biggie. Since I started eating three proper meals a day, I rarely feel the need to snack because my body is getting all the energy and nutrients it needs from my meals. Make sure your breakfast is something that will keep you going - porridge is my go-to because it's high in fibre (and seriously delicious), leaving you feeling full up until lunch, have a decent sized lunch (those shop-bought sandwiches just won't cut it anymore), and a nourishing dinner packed full of whole grains and veggies. If you feel like you need a snack during the day try fruit or a raw snack bar (Nakd bars are my favourite, or make your own - my almond and date snack balls are easy to make and taste really yummy). These kinds of snacks are so much better for you than a chocolate bar and won't give you a sugar rush followed by an energy slump an hour later. Planning your meals can also help you stay on track. I don't personally do this as I prefer choosing my meals based on how I feel that day, but lots of people find writing a food planner to be a great way of staying focused and eating a healthy diet.

5. Eat more fruit and vegetables 

I truly believe that you can never eat too much fruit and vegetables. Start off by adding an extra portion of vegetables to your meals and have fruit as a snack or dessert. I usually have at least two portions of fruit or vegetables with every meal. Eating healthy isn't about eating less, it's about eating more of the foods that are good for you.

6. Cook your own meals 

Shop-bought meals are just bad so always try to avoid these. Even the 'healthy' ones tend to be really high in salt or sugar. Cooking your own meals at home is so much better for you because you know exactly what you're putting into your food. And everyone has time to do it because there are so many wonderful healthy recipes you can cook up in less than 10 minutes. Bulk cooking at the weekend is also a great idea - things like soup, chilli, lasagne and dahl are all great meals you can cook on a Sunday and reheat during the week for a quick, healthy dinner. I'd also recommend taking a packed lunch with you to work, school or college/university because this way you know you have a healthy lunch and won't be tempted by going out for fast food - good for you and good for your bank balance!

I hope this post has been helpful to some of you! Cutting the rubbish foods that are high in sugar and highly processed from your diet isn't easy, especially if, like me, you used to eat them daily, but it is possible and I promise you will feel so much better for it. Now that I eat the way I do, I can hand on heart say I have never felt better. I have so much more energy, feel much happier and actually enjoy my food a lot more. And please don't feel like you need to cut these foods from your diet completely - if you want a chocolate bar then have one, they can be eaten as part of a healthy and balanced diet - just make sure that one doesn't turn into one a day. I prefer not to eat these foods as I just feel better when I don't, but that's just me. It's important to remember that we are all individuals and what works for me might not work for you.

If you have any other tips for cutting down on sugary foods let me know in the comments!


Roasted Vegetable and Spinach Lasagne

Thursday, 24 March 2016
Vegan Roasted Vegetable and Spinach Lasagne

I'm calling this one a classic with a twist. Lasagne has always been one of my favourites and used to always be my meal of choice at an Italian. It was actually one of the first proper meals I learned to cook too. My dad taught me before I went away to university so I'd at least know how to cook one thing. Of course, we cooked it the traditional way using mince and white sauce, but I remember it well and how proud I was when it came out the oven and actually tasted good. A few years on when I started to eat less meat I created a veggie lasagne with ricotta cheese, which I loved a lot, but now that I'm in the process of going fully vegan (yay) I wanted to see if I could make a vegan lasagne that was just as delicious as its meat and vegetarian counterparts. I used a creamy cauliflower sauce as the white sauce and I think it worked really well because this is possibly the best lasagne I have ever made, and me and lasagne go way back so that's saying something. 

The recipe is quite long but please don't let that put you off. It is pretty easy to make and doesn't take long at all. It also freezes really well so make sure you cook lots so you can put some away for those nights when you need a quick, lazy and super tasty dinner. 

Vegan Roasted Vegetable and Spinach Lasagne

You will need (serves 4-6, depending on how big you like your portions):
for the red sauce 
2 carrots
1 onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato puree
1 cup vegetable stock
2 teaspoons basil
a dash of chilli flakes

for the roasted vegetables
1 aubergine
1 courgette
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon herbs de provence
1 teaspoon paprika
ground pepper

for the white sauce 
1 head cauliflower
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup almond milk
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
ground pepper, to taste

whole wheat lasagne sheets
vegan cheese to top (optional)

for the white sauce 
- Start by making the white sauce. Chop the cauliflower into florets and then add all the ingredients, apart from the nutritional yeast, to a large pot and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes until the cauliflower is quite soft.
- Put the mixture into a blender adding the nutritional yeast and blend until smooth. Leave this to the side while you prepare the red sauce.

for the red sauce
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
- Chop up all the vegetables - the onion and carrot into small chunks and the courgette and aubergine into bigger chunks.
- Put the onion into a large pot and add a little olive oil. Fry the onion over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes and then add the garlic and carrot and fry for a further 2 minutes until all the vegetables have softened.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, basil and chilli flakes and leave this to simmer over a low heat while you roast the rest of the vegetables.
- Put the chunks of aubergine and courgette into a bowl and mix together with the olive oil, herbs, paprika and ground pepper until everything is coated. Transfer the vegetables to a roasting tin and pop in the oven for 20-25 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove from the oven and give a good mix before adding the halved cherry tomatoes and putting back in the oven for the remaining time.
- Once the vegetables are roasted, add these to the red sauce and mix well. Leave this to simmer for a further 10-15 minutes so all the flavours can combine. 

to assemble the lasagne
- Once the red sauce is ready, you can start to assemble the lasagne. Start with a layer of red sauce followed by a layer of spinach leaves then a layer of white sauce and then the lasagne sheets. Repeat this twice and then finish with a layer of white sauce and top with vegan cheese.
- Put the lasagne into the oven at 180 degrees celsius and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Vegan Roasted Vegetable and Spinach Lasagne

Apple and Cinnamon Spelt Muffins

Monday, 21 March 2016
Apple and Cinnamon Spelt Muffins

There are certain flavours that just go so perfectly together but apple and cinnamon is possibly my favourite of them all. I'm also seriously into cinnamon at the moment, it's been going in everything - smoothies, porridge, soup, sweet potatoes, cakes, granola... I just can't get enough, although it might also have something to do with how incredible it makes my flat smell when I bake it into things.

These muffins were my first creation using spelt flout and they turned out so well that I've baked them almost every weekend since. Spelt flour has a lovely nutty taste to it so it's really good for baking muffins, breads and sweet loaves and it's a nice alternative to regular flour. These little muffins are perfect for a relaxing weekend morning, or make a great grab and go breakfast if you bake them in advance. They also only contain natural sugars and plenty of goodess, but still taste so delicious - you wouldn't ever know they were healthy! You can also freeze them if you make a big batch and they will keep for a few weeks, tasting just as good as the day they came fresh out the oven. Popping them into the oven for a few minutes before eating them is also a wonderful idea, because warm muffins are just so much better than cold ones.

Apple and Cinnamon Spelt Muffins

You will need (makes 8 large muffins): 
1 cup spelt flour 
1/2 cup oats 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
2 teaspoons cinnamon 
1/2 cup almond milk
1/4 cup date syrup 
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
2 small apples  
1/2 cup sultanas 
a handful of pecans to top

- Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. 
- Chop up the apples into very small chunks, or if you'd like a smoother consistency you can also grate them, but I like the chunks! 
- In a large bowl combine the flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon and sultanas. 
- Melt the coconut oil in a pot over a low heat - the measurement above is how much liquid coconut oil you will need. I melted down about three heaped tablespoons which gave around 1/4 of a cup. 
- Add the coconut oil to the dry mixture along with the almond milk and date syrup.
- Give everything a good mix before finally adding the chopped apples and stirring them through. 
- Spoon the mixture into muffin cases and top with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a few roughly chopped pecan nuts. 
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. 

Apple and Cinnamon Spelt Muffins

Butter Bean, Spinach and Pesto Salad

Monday, 14 March 2016
Butter Bean, Spinach and Pesto Salad

For the past few weeks, this salad has been my go-to for my work packed lunch. I always take my lunch to work with me because it saves so much money and also means I always have something healthy and nutritious to eat to keep me going. I'm not a big snacker, I prefer having three good meals during the day and then maybe a little something sweet after dinner, so I make sure my lunches are filling and packed full of goodness to last me until dinner time. 

This salad is really yummy and only takes around five minutes to put together so anyone who says they don't have time to make packed lunches is lying. Butter beans are low in fat but high in protein and fibre so keep you filled up while the pumpkin seeds add a nice crunch to the salad and make it extra nutritious. I also like to add a dollop of hummus on the side but that's entirely up to you (it's so good!). 

Butter Bean, Spinach and Pesto Salad

You will need (serves 2): 
1 tin butter beans
2 tablespoons green pesto of your choice (I use this recipe)
2 large handfuls spinach*
1 large handful rocket*
1/2 cup sweetcorn
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
8 cherry tomatoes, chopped in half

*I know these handful measurements are pretty vague but I never know how best to measure out salad leaves! I usually just use my judgement of how much I'd eat so add more or less depending on your preference. 

- Simply mix everything together in a large bowl, apart from the tomatoes, and ensure the pesto coats all the ingredients.
- Split between two smaller bowls and add the cherry tomatoes on top, 8 halves on each.

Butter Bean, Spinach and Pesto Salad

Peanut Butter and Sesame Noodles

Monday, 7 March 2016
Peanut Butter and Sesame Noodles

As a self-confessed peanut butter addict, it's no surprise that these noodles are my absolute favourite. I can't express to you just how yummy this dish is, you just need to make it and see for yourself, unless of course you don't like peanut butter because then you probably won't like it (but who doesn't like peanut butter?!). It only takes around 10 minutes to prepare so is perfect for those evenings when you don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. I usually find myself eating this meal once a week and it just never gets old. I'd also recommend using a good quality peanut butter for this, one that is 100% peanuts, to make it as healthy and wonderful as possible - I use Meridian peanut butter, which is like heaven in a jar but any other one will work too - or even better, make your own. Cheaper brands tend to have lots of additives and unnecessary sugar, which really isn't good for you so always avoid these.

Peanut Butter and Sesame Noodles

You will need (serves 1): 
a portion of noodles of your choice (I like ribbon rice noodles)
1 large carrot 
a handful of broccoli florets 
2 tablespoons sweetcorn
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 heaped tablespoon smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce 
1/4 teaspoon chilli flakes 
1 teaspoon agave nectar (or you can use honey if you're non-vegan) 

- Start by preparing the carrot into thin strips. For this I use a Julienne peeler and then chop the slices into smaller pieces but you could also use a spiralizer if you have one and then chop into smaller pieces or simply grate the carrot. 
- Cook the noodles according to packet instructions.
- While the noodles are cooking, steam or boil the broccoli and sweetcorn for a few minutes until they are almost cooked (I find two minutes is enough) - they will cook through once you add them to the rest of the mixture. 
- In a wok, heat up the sesame oil and then add the carrots and stir-fry for two minutes. 
- Add the noodles, broccoli and sweetcorn to the wok and mix everything together. 
- Finally, add in the peanut butter, soy sauce, chilli flakes and agave/honey to make the sauce. Stir fry everything together for one or two minutes until cooked through. If the noodles get a bit sticky and are starting to clump together at this stage, just add a little boiling water to the wok and that will loosen everything up. 

Peanut Butter and Sesame Noodles