Soup to cheer your lunchtime

Salads are out and we want a warming soup to cheer our lunchtime.  Luckily it’s easy to make your own with hundreds of recipes on the internet in every flavour you could wish for.

Home made soup is cheap, delicious, nutritious and fresh. It’s good for your health to eat a wide variety of foods and soup is a good way to ‘hide’ those you’re not so keen on and wouldn’t eat on their own. Use your imagination and be a bit free and easy when creating your soup.

My standard recipe goes something like this:

(All ingredients should be cut small before they go in the pan.)

Cook an onion in butter until transparent.

Add a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, a carrot and couple of sticks of celery and cook for a couple more minutes.

Add 1/3 tin of tomatoes, handful each of cabbage stems and cauliflower leaves (for the waste-not-want-not generation you can save these earlier in the year; just wash, chop and pop in the freezer), stock or bouillon to cover, a squirt of tomato puree, salt, pepper, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried parsley (or fresh if you have it in which case you’ll need about 1 tbsp).

I often add saved ‘juices’ from beef stew for a richer flavour. You could even cut up cooked meats to put in. Deli counters often sell cheap mixed offcuts.

Bring to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes, add some green beans and peas. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Tip in a small (300g) tin of mixed pulses. Use a stick blender to whizz it smooth. Freeze in portions for use on other days.

Following my principle of plants, protein and fats, to make a more nutritionally rounded meal from this almost all carb soup, skip the bread and serve with a slice of cheese.

This one’s pumpkin.

Pumpkin Soup

Just chop the flesh of a 2-3lb pumpkin into cubes, put in a large saucepan with 3/4 pint stock, salt, pepper, fresh thyme and parsley.  Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add a tin of mixed beans and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Whizz with a stick blender then stir in a 1/2 pint tin of coconut milk.  That’s it!

I’ve also looked at what’s available to buy.

As far as possible, try to avoid unhealthy ingredients like sunflower oil, sugar and MSG that are so often used in manufactured food products. Look out too for misleading labels on products containing only tiny amounts of the most appealing bit yet naming it in big letters splashed across the front. (This applies to food, shampoo, you name it.) Always check the ingredients list on the label, they appear in order from most to least.

‘Fresh’ cartons and pouches – found in the cold aisle. The New Covent Garden veg based soups look pretty good but the Smoked Haddock is mostly potato and with only 5% fish has a disappointing nutritional profile for a fish chowder. Similarly, Naked’s Vietnamese Fiery Beef Pho contains no beef, just beef stock (only 5%) plus loads of spices to give it flavour.

Tins – most supermarkets sell a huge array of tinned soups including own-brand and many manufacturers. Usually these have a dozen ingredients (excluding water and any added vitamins/minerals). The best I found was Crosse and Blackwell’s Roast Chicken and Vegetable which has all real food ingredients in respectable amounts, as has Baxter’s Super Good Pea, Broccoli and Pesto soup.

Free and Easy soups – are useful if you have food allergies/intolerances.

Packet soups – can be useful at the office or if out and about but you don’t want your flask tainted with last week’s lunch.  They usually have about 17 ingredients but this varies widely. Surprisingly, Batchelor’s Minestrone Slim a Soup, at a whopping 27, contains 10 more than their Minestrone Cup a Soup. Batchelor’s Chicken and Leek is another misleading name with only 1% chicken. The Morrisons Golden Vegetable with Croutons is one I used to have sometimes but nowadays, for the sake of my health, I prefer to cook than buy.

Top tip: Get soup making.

Real Food Rocks

Saturday 20th July dawned (just about) dark and wet. It didn’t look good for Real Food Rocks at Brathay, Ambleside. The promise of sessions with some of the country’s leading food and exercise visionaries had more than doubled expected ticket sales and bookings had to close at 700.  David Unwin and his wife Jen organised the event, bringing top quality speakers and vendors (check out the Horned Beef Company and Hunter & Gather avocado oil mayonnaise), music and family fun. Was it a gamble holding a prestigious nutrition event in the lake district in summer?

I arrived early and got a seat in a room already almost full, to which were added a couple of dozen standing, more sitting on the floor and some listening to Dr Michael Moseley from outside through the open window. This set the pattern for the day but I managed to squeeze my way in to hear Ivor Cummins, Jenny Phillips, Dr David Unwin (an award-winning GP from Southport who is putting his diabetic patients into remission with diet) and Emma Porter whose low-carb recipes I am enjoying very much.

Here are just a few of the key messages from the day:

Michael Moseley

The Mediteranean Diet (the real one with lots of fats and oily fish, not the one on the NHS website which looks suspiciously like the standard, bad dietary recommendations) helps with severe depression.

Disappointingly, he told us that when his son did medicine at university recently, in the 5 years there was nothing at all on diet or exercise due to lack of time!!! The students organised their own study group. Change is coming as a grass roots movement but the NHS is as hard to turn round as a tanker.

Michael’s wife Dr Claire Bailey (GP) demonstrated fermented food for good gut health. There are as many brain cells in your gut as the head of a cat. Michael said they have a smart cat.

Commenting on exercise, he revealed that the 10k steps a day is not evidence based but came from Japan and was started by a company that makes pedometers!

Ivor Cummins

Ivor talked about ‘healthspan’ rather than lifespan. Bad lifestyle choices can rob you of your health as many as 10years too early. Good lifestyle choices can increase your healthy time by 10years.

Choosing to address your diet, exercise and stress can give you 20 extra quality years.

David Unwin

David spoke affectionately about the many different animals he has owned from the mallard ducklings he nearly killed with a vitamin deficient diet of porridge to a cow.

He was told he must feed the cow magnesium so that it would not have fits because cows really need to eat wild flowers like buttercups not just nitrogen-rich green grass (see the Horned Beef Company). This turned out to also be the remedy for a patient’s severe fitting which had been not helped by drugs. Modern medicine often fails to consider nutrition even though we know how to look after livestock.

Emma Porter and Dr Ian Lake

Emma and Ian spoke about real food and carbohydrate restricted diets for type 1 diabetics so that less insulin is needed. (This must be done in partnership with your doctor.) Other results are boundless energy, weight loss, mental clarity, better teeth and stable blood sugar. Dr Ian Lake pointed out that although the short term results are fabulous, there are no long-term studies of a low-carb diet. However he said we do know for sure that if your follow the usual high carb guidelines you will come to a sticky end. Emma and Dr David Cavan have written The Low-Carb Diabetes Cookbook – it’s not just for diabetics.

Jenny Philipps

Jenny spoke about metabolic health. Her key messages were quality (real food), intermittent fasting and using David Unwin’s sugar equivalent infographics to choose low impact foods. If you are metabolically healthy, you’ll be fine eating the odd piece of cake. If your health is poor, it’s very important to avoid high sugar foods.

And the dodgy weather?  The sun came out, the scenery glowed and a good day was had by all.

Top tip: Real Food Rocks!

A Little of What You Fancy

The closer we get to Christmas, the more unhealthy stuff is shoved in front of our eyes and under our noses. There are office parties, family gatherings and all sorts of social occasions where people will pressure us to indulge more than we want to (often to make themselves feel better)

 “Go on, have another…”

Thankfully we don’t have to eat and drink everything on offer and suffer for it, or refuse it all and feel left out; we can take a middle road, use the 80/20 rule, join in without excess and enjoy a little of what you fancy.

There’s a saying:

Don’t worry what you eat between Christmas and New Year, it’s what you eat between New Year and Christmas that really matters.

If you’ve been taking care of yourself, your amazing body will cope with a bit of unhealthy stuff especially if you keep putting mostly good things inside you. Great breakfasts, super lunches, healthy snacks, fabulous dinners, all home-made mixtures of plants and proteins and fats. You’ll take it all in your stride.

Here’s a Jon Gabriel breakfast that seems light but is nutritious enough to last for several hours – fruit, full-fat natural yoghurt, ground flax, hemp, chia seeds, protein powder and I like to add some nuts – just stir it all together.

Of course, some people will dive in with gay abandon, intending to fix the damage in the New Year. If that’s you, going on a diet is unlikely to be helpful so resolve to build in some better eating habits or have some nutrition coaching and learn to eat well.

There will be presents as well as food and I leave you a quote I just saw from Bernard Manning:

I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas

with a note on it saying

“Toys not included”

Merry Christmas!

Jackie

Pumpkin Soup

Today (31st October) is Halloween – originally Hallows Even, the evening before All Saints Day – and the shops are overflowing with pumpkins. Most people carve them into lanterns then throw them away. That’s a shame because there’s nothing easier to make than tasty pumpkin soup.  I’ve put this recipe on my Survival Guide for the Skint blog as it’s so cheap – ~20p per bowl.  I topped it with some of the seeds which I roasted and cheese on the side.

 

 

The Snack Trap – A Horror Story For Halloween

Once upon a time in the merry, 3-meals-a-day, real-food land of Britain, we didn’t snack and were slim and healthy. We farmed the earth and ate its good plants and animals. Then money-making men rubbed their hands at inventing artificial food, “We can snare people in The Snack Trap. Muahahaa”. Adverts were the Snack Trap’s lure: Milky Way “the sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite” (1970) “A finger of Fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat” (1979) “Have a break, have a Kit Kat” (1958). “A drink’s too wet without one” Rich Tea (1985). And I bet you know who makes exceedingly good cakes (1967).

There’s no escape; tempting, unhealthy nibbles constantly surround us. They’re at work, in town, thrust at us when buying a newspaper, alongside us as we queue to pay for petrol (if we can get through the throng of schoolkids buying lurid-coloured drinks and snacks of all kinds except the healthy kind). People snack all day long.

Halloween masks, costumes and pumpkin lanterns are scary enough, but read the ingredients lists on the products for giving to dressed-up kids on your doorstep on 31st October. Check out Joanna Blythman’s Swallow This for a bed-time story with shocks and frights aplenty as she exposes the deadly cauldron mix. How weird that we “treat” our kids (and ourselves) with health-damaging sugar and chemicals.

No-one is defending us. When the Health Education Authority complained about the ads, the regulator sided with the manufacturer. It’s up to you to escape the trap by eating enough good food to keep you full and satisfied. And the government’s guidance on 400kCal breakfasts won’t help. A low-cal, breakfast-cereal-induced, blood-sugar roller-coaster virtually guarantees that you’ll be ravenous way before lunchtime. With desperate, blood-curdling cries, you’ll trample your boss underfoot to snatch the last sugary snack from the vending machine. Aaaarrrrgh!

Snack Trap

Top tip – Eat well to escape The Snack Trap

To stay safe, try these breakfasts.

Real Food is Cheaper than Junk Food

After the holidays money might be tight. Whereas we spent a quarter of our income (25%) on food 40 years ago, it’s now only about 10% and price is one of the most important factors when people choose what to buy.

A common reason people give me for not eating real food, is that it’s too expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’ve ever watched Eat Well for Less, every family ends up saving £1000s by doing their own cooking. Why do we think real food is more expensive than fake food? Perhaps because the manufacturers are so adept at presenting their wares as cheap.

Ready meals are £2.50 a pop, (should that be a ping?) and most people recognise they often aren’t great (read the reviews eg not the mouth wateringly delicious dish you see on the ads and the picture on the packet but “90% salty, watery mash, 9% chicken, 1% mushroom & didn’t even see any leek – rubbish ). Many are not even complete meals but parts of meals to which you have to add your own veg or salad – that pushes up the cost still further. Takeaways are very expensive costing anything from £3 or £4 upwards for the basic meal, plus sides and other unhealthy extras like fizzy drinks which can push the meal up to a fiver.

Other people might be willing to sacrifice their money and food quality to avoid a few minutes of cooking but you want good food, good value and good health so I’ve had a go at costing some recipes. They all come out under £2 per person, from the most decadent pork stroganoff and salad at £1.87, through pasta with salmon sauce and salad at £1.62 (below), to liver and onions with cabbage and mash at 81p for the most nutritious food on the planet (NB liver is high in vitamin K so not good with warfarin).

If you have a take-away twice a week and eat ready-meals the rest of the time, you could save at least £500 a year per person, probably far more, by cooking your own food. Adding up seven of these meals comes to £9.73 for a week. Does that sound worth a little time in the kitchen?

Recipes serve 2 adults, final price per person shown in bold.

Pasta and salmon sauce

In a pan of fast boiling water, cook pasta 25p

In a small saucepan melt a knob of butter 10p

Add a 213g tin of pink salmon £1.84

Add 1/3 tin tomatoes (freeze the rest in two containers) 12p

Add a big pinch of fresh dill (freeze the rest for other meals) 6p

Make a salad while everything cooks – see below 52p

When the pasta is almost ready, add 1/3 tub double cream 25p

to the sauce – warm it but don’t let it boil.

Drain the pasta, stir in some butter 6p

Pour the sauce over and serve with the salad

Total cost £3.20 that’s £1.60 per person.

So easy, so quick, so tasty!

Salad

Some meals seem to go with salad, others with veg. There are so many ways to make salads and wonderful varied ingredients you can use. Here’s an easy one that I’ve used in this recipe series.

Wash and chop a few lettuce leaves 5p

(buy a whole lettuces, not expensive, chemical-soaked pre-prepped bags)

Slice a carrot very thinly or grate it 8p

Slice some radish 9p

Add some baby plum tomatoes 20p

Drizzle with dressing 10p

Total for salad 52p for 2 or 26p per person

For the sake of your health, make your own dressing with olive oil and some sort of vinegar. Bought dressings usually contain vegetable oil which you need to avoid – here’s why.

You can make salad that costs even less by slicing savoy, white or red cabbage very finely and adding grated carrots, tomatoes, chives, celery etc.

Savoy cabbage tastes good with olive oil and white wine vinegar.

White cabbage is better with mayonnaise. Here’s an easy way to make your own.

Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to use loads of equipment and make lots of pans dirty. Here’s one you can make for one in a little pan or for 20 if you have a huge cauldron – but there’s only the one pan to clean. Hurray!

One-pot chicken

In a medium pan, melt a knob of butter 10p

Chop one medium onion and cook for 3 mins 20p

Add a teaspoon of coconut oil 5p

Fry 4 chicken thighs until browned all over £2.64

For the best flavour, use thighs with skin on and bone in.

Turn down the heat

Add:

– 1/3 tin chopped tomatoes 12p

– 125ml brown rice 15p

– a dash of lemon juice 12p

– ½ pt stock 7p

– good pinch of dried oregano 4p

Stir, cover with a lid, simmer gently for 20 mins, turning the chicken pieces over and stirring the mixture 4 or 5 times.

5 minutes before the end, add two good handfuls of peas 12p

Towards the end, add a good pinch of fresh chopped parsley 7p

Total cost £3.78, that’s £1.84 per person and the chicken price is for free-range. You can cut it to £1.07 if you use frozen thighs.

Delicious, satisfying and only one pan to clean.

Here’s a link to two recipes (pork stroganoff and pork in a mushroom cream sauce) and a note about low-cost weight loss.

Top Tip – Get Cooking –  it could save you a packet!

 

Feed the Family – Spag Bol

As I say in my book Survival Guide for the Skint, children are expensive! This puts extra pressure on finances during school holidays so I’ve been doing a series of great value, fully costed meals on my Survival Guide for the Skint blog.  All of them cost less than £2 per person.  Here’s one for you now – a firm favourite across the country – Spaghetti Bolognaise.

I’ll publish the rest here soon or follow the links:

Pea and Chorizo Risotto with Sea Bass

One-Pot Chicken

Pasta with Salmon Sauce

This is my Italian grandmother’s recipe so you’re very privileged to see it. Well almost – she never bought mince but I doubt you’d want to spend time cutting best steak into tiny cubes. Kidney beans are an unconventional ingredient but she put them in and for me the sauce would be lacking without them.

Melt a big knob of butter 20p

and a good slug of olive oil in a very big pan 20p

Chop 2 x large onions and cook gently until transparent 40p

Add 3 crushed cloves of garlic 6p

Add 3lb mince and cook until no pink bits remain £11.50

Can add a few rashers of chopped bacon as well 25p

Add 3 x tins chopped tinned tomatoes £1.05

¾ tube tomato puree 35p

300g chopped mushrooms 85p

You may need a bit of water.

Season with salt and pepper

Desert spoon of dried oregano 10p

Desert spoon of dried parsley 10p

Simmer, stirring occasionally until it’s 3h since you started which allows the flavours to develop.

At the end, stir in 2 x drained and rinsed tins of kidney beans £1.10

Total £16.16 or 95p per portion (makes 17 portions.)

For 2 people, cook some pasta 25p

Top with grated parmesan cheese 25p

(For the best taste, buy a whole piece and grate it fresh. If any is left, freeze it to use straight from the freezer next time.)

Serve with salad and home-made dressing 52p

Total for the meal £1.46 per person.

You could also add some porcini, soaked in a bowl of boiled water before adding. That’s another £1 or 6p per serving. You can miss them out but they do add depth to the flavour – £1.52 per person with porcini.

 

Picnics

One of the joys of summer is eating al fresco. A picnic is an essential part of a summer outing.

Have you noticed that food tastes better when we eat it outside? Psychologists have found that our physical sensations and emotional responses are greatly improved by the power of our perception of our environment. Restaurants have applied this science to their décor, choosing colour, patterns and music to set the mood. The same food actually tastes different depending on the wallpaper!

We also connect enjoyment of food with family memories: a favourite outdoor spot, the smell of grass and wild flowers, the sound of trees rustling in the breeze, the feel of warm sand on bare feet. Taking Jack LaLanne’s idea from July’s quote of the month, we need to be nearer to nature to be happy.    And when our brains are stimulated, our taste buds step up a notch.

So, what food to take on your picnic? On TV you’ll see images of unhealthy fizzy drinks, crisps, cheese processed almost to the point of being plastic and all manner of factory-made nibbles. When you’re getting back to the great outdoors, nature and all things real I’m sure you’ll want better than fake food.

Sandwiches are common but often dry, dull and too heavy on bread to be a good choice for lunch. Instead try boiled eggs, cheeses, salami, lettuce, tomatoes, sticks of crunchy carrot and celery, cooling cucumber, creamy avocado, peppery radishes, spicy spring onions, ham rolled round cream cheese, small bread rolls with butter. My grandmother’s special was fried chicken in herby breadcrumbs – so tasty!

Fruit is nice and juicy although it can attract wasps and invite the biting midge to suck your sweet blood. Use it to make a refreshing infusion by adding a few slices of apple, lemon and strawberry to a big bottle of water. Chill it well before you set off.

June’s post had ideas for drinks.

Share the pleasure by eating all together sitting at a picnic table or on a rug. Here’s how they do it in France where people are still healthy and slim.

Top tip – enjoy a real food picnic.

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Special Offer – Get Ready for the Holidays

The schools break up soon so here’s a special offer to help you get ready for the beach, activities, fun and whatever else you have planned for your holidays.

Pic by rawpixel.com

From now until the 21st of July, I’m giving you a 10% discount on 1-to-1 consultations. That means they’ll be not £65 but £58. It’s first come, first served until I run out of the slots I have.

The sooner we talk, the longer you’ll have with your better eating habits before you go away.

I shared this with subscribers to my Eat Well News at the end of June so they booked this week. Sign up here to be the first to hear about future offers.