Spend less; still eat well

The school holidays have started and while the kids rejoice, parents may worry how expensive the next six weeks might be. Food need not add to the pressure – you can eat well without spending a fortune.

A while ago, ITV ran a series Save Money Good Food. I’ve included a few of their tips here with some of mine.

Image result for food waste UK

The first way to save money is not to waste any of your food. A scandalous £12.5 billion of edible food is thrown away every year in the UK. Part of this is down to overbuying. Know what’s in your cupboard so you don’t repeat buy what you already have a home. We all love bargains and the BOGOF but when you buy a bargain and don’t eat it, you’re throwing your money straight into the bin. Do a bit of planning, shop with a list, cook in bulk, make good use of your freezer and learn to love leftovers (my favourite lunches).

When you pay for food, you don’t want added charges for labour. The super rich may employ private chefs but many ordinary people do too without realising. I’ve got a big downer on ready meals for lots of reasons and cost is just one. But even if you don’t go that far you might pop the odd packet of ready-chopped something in your trolley. Salad perhaps or some fruit for the kids. Ready chopped produce is 3 to 5 times more expensive. That’s 300 to 500% more. It takes less than a minute to chop an apple / carrot / onion / bit of lettuce. The more prep you do yourself, the lower the cost and the fresher the produce. By using it straight away you keep more precious nutrients and flavour. Plus you avoid eating something that’s been dipped in a chemical solution and packed in a modified atmosphere to stop it giving away its age by turning brown (see Swallow This by Joanna Blythman).

Fresh herbs soon wilt or dry up and die so why not plant them out to increase their yield 100 fold. See my Herb Garden post.

Cereal – a poor choice for breakfast

We only started eating cornflakes in 1922 so we clearly don’t need breakfast cereal from a biological viewpoint. Really it’s highly processed carbohydrate with good PR and marketing. It will put your blood sugar up, damage your health and cause weight gain. People think that the cereals with less added sugar are good for you. They aren’t as damaging as the high sugar types of course but the corn/rice/wheat itself will still be quickly broken down into sugar by your body’s enzymes. Ditch the box cereals and enjoy a good quality muesli or natural porridge oats (beware the sachets – see Oats so Expensive on Survival Guide for the Skint).

Better still go to work on an egg. Have it with own brand smoked salmon and you’ll feel satisfied right through to lunchtime and save more money and health damage by not needing to buy snacks.

Here are some other pieces I’ve written on breakfasts:

The Great English Breakfast

Eat a Good Breakfast

And what about the most nutritious food of all? It’s also one of the cheapest – liver. You can feed a family of four for £3.

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Sardines come second for nutrition. If you don’t like them on their own, here’s my recipe for sardine pate:

  • 1 tin of sardines in brine, drained
  • 2oz butter (that’s ¼ block or 50g)
  • 2oz full-fat cream cheese (¼ small tub or 55g)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and pepper and some fresh parsley
  • Optional ½ teaspoon of French mustard)

Put it all in a bowl and mash with a fork until well mixed.  Serve with a crisp salad.

Enjoy the holidays and I hope you get better weather than the rain that poured as I wrote this!

Top tip – learn to spend less and still eat well.

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Foraging

When I’m out in the woods doing field archery, I’m usually picking something to eat, much to the surprise of my companions. If they pluck up courage to accept a taste, they marvel at the citrus freshness of young wood-sorrel leaves and the sweet nectar you can suck from the base of red clover flowers. I can often be seen chewing on the stems of sorrel or wild grasses. Later in the summer, some woods will have wild strawberries and raspberries too.

Bilberry picking, 2016

Come the autumn, it’s time for blackberries and bilberries (which put blue berries in the shade, both as a super food and for intensity of flavour). These deserve a dedicated collecting trip. A couple of bags in the freezer lasts for months as a topping for Greek yoghurt at breakfast or the magic ingredient in a lilac smoothie.

With 75 % of the world’s food provided by just 12 plants and 5 animal species, it’s no wonder that food allergies, intolerances and digestive difficulties are increasing. Your body thrives on variety.

Urban lifestyles and screen addiction mean that few children can name trees and flowers and don’t know what can be eaten and, most importantly, what’s poisonous and shouldn’t be touched. Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods) called these kids ‘nature-deficient’ and links this to the worrying trends in childhood obesity, ADHD and depression.

Although I’ve read more about foraging in recent years, I learned most of what I know as a child out with my parents and grandparents.  And we were always picking something for wine making including sticky dandelions, delicate gorse petals (ouch!) and foamy white heads of elderflower.  In the war our grandparents put dandelion leaves in salad – perhaps with the resurgence of stronger tasting leaves like rocket, today’s generation would again find them appealing.

Top tip – teach your children and grandchildren what you know.

Join the Dots

As a child I loved those ‘Dot to Dot’ puzzles and recently noticed books for grown-ups too.

imag0913-2 It’s a bit like that interpreting the messages your body sends you about food and drink. The most blatant, like indigestion, demand your attention. You can easily join the dots and avoid trigger foods. When I twigged that white wine = headache, I stopped drinking it. Other messages are more subtle, like aches in your joints or bad skin if you eat too little fat or the wrong type of fat. You might miss them when you’re busy getting on with your life.

Sometimes it’s easy to see that diet and lifestyle go together with other people’s health and well-being but not to make any connection between what you eat and how you feel yourself. I suffered unnecessarily for years feeling tired and miserable and carrying excess weight without any inkling that the diet I thought healthy was actually doing me harm.

p1010452Breakfast and lunch have a big impact on your day so it’s useful to learn what your body thinks of them. Experiment a bit – porridge, protein smoothies, full English. What time of the morning do you start thinking about having a snack?  Ideally it’s better not to be snacking.  Is your breakfast so good you don’t need to eat again for 4 or 5 hours?  My favourite green smoothie lasts me for 6h.

Try different lunches to find out how alert you are in the afternoon. Do you feel better after a salad than a sandwich? If you have a hot lunch, are you sharper when you leave out potatoes and pastry? Once you join the dots you can adapt your routine, feel better and enjoy life more.

Top tip – Start noticing how food affects you.

Our Hostile Food Environment

What’s the hardest thing about a healthy lifestyle? The exercise? Juicing wheatgrass? Growing sprouts? Actually the hardest thing is constantly resisting temptation in our hostile food environment.

We live in a sugar and oil saturated food world. Last month I found myself in a typical town, past lunchtime, without having brought anything to eat. The mass of non-food for sale was depressing. I felt like a reformed drug addict in an opium den. It’s very, very easy to eat badly but difficult to eat well. Amid the throngs of willing consumers, I stood out from the flock like one of the decorated (model) sheep we had around Cumbria this summer.

To improve our food environment we can support the taxation of sugar in drinks and foods; we can oppose the advertising of sugary products to children; we can stop supporting sellers of junk by refusing to buy what they sell; we can just say, “No”.

As an antidote to mass-produced fodder, we were treated to a wonderful weekend when Taste Cumbria came to Cockermouth. What a great event!

There were artisan producers you could talk to, samples to taste and all sorts of delicious foods to buy. We bought smoked mackerel for tea that evening. The next day I enjoyed scrambled eggs with smoked salmon for breakfast. Monday evening it was smoked sausages for dinner (many thanks to all you lads at Haverigg).

On the Sunday I put the slow cooker on – well it’s not summer any more – and made a casserole with venison from Deer and Dexter which we ate with the last of our home-grown potatoes and lots of veg. Delicious.

Finally we popped into the United Reformed Church to restock my favourite Rhubarb and Ginger from Jill’s Jams. Jam isn’t health food but a teaspoon on a cracker topped with the creamy unpasturised Lancashire from a cheese stall was yummy.

human-fruit-machine-2

The Rotary Club’s Human Fruit Machine was an absolute delight and brought smiles all round.

Top tip – Buy real, local food.

Quote of the month

Everyone, it seems, wants or needs more energy. Look around a restaurant at lunchtime – a few wine glasses but plenty of double espressos.

Richard Reeves

Watch the lambs running and jumping in the spring sunshine.  They eat their natural diet and are full of beans!

 

By Jacquie Wingate from Recovery, usa – Flickr, CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3474660

DIY Health Booster

Spring is nearly here and doesn’t it lift your spirits to see flowers appear? IMAG0659Some of you will be making preparations to grow this year’s vegetables. It’s wonderful to eat them fresh the same day you picked them when all the vitamins and enzymes are at their maximum. Not everyone has a garden or allotment but something we can all do is sprout seeds and beans on the kitchen worktop.

You’ll need some sprouting trays with slots in (buy from a health food shop or on line), then choose what to grow. Mung beans and green lentils are readily available in most supermarkets, very easy to sprout and only take 3 days to grow. Alfalfa seeds are my favourite but few shops stock them so I buy them on line. Then there are radish seeds which have a real flavour kick, chickpeas, broccoli seeds which are high in sulforaphane (being studied for potential cancer protective effects) and lots more.

S/W Ver: 85.83.E7P

Mung and Alfalfa

Soak your seeds/beans in a glass of water for 4-8h depending on their size. Rinse and put into your trays in an even layer about one seed/bean thick. Each morning and evening, rinse the sprouts thoroughly under running water, then tip the trays to drain away any excess so that the sprouts are not sitting in water. When they’re ready, harvest them with a fork; they’ll keep in the fridge in a container for a few days. Give your trays a thorough clean with a brush and they’re ready to start growing the next batch. (Step-by-step sprouting video under my superfood series.)

Eat sprouts raw so that you keep the goodness. They’re good on salad or with breakfast or as a snack.

Top tip: Grow your own health booster.

Perceptions of Normality

At every point in history, people perceive the things they do as normal, including what they eat. Socially, we have evolved to fit in with what everybody does. In these modern times, we also align our behaviour to the images and messages with which the media constantly bombard us.

Some years ago, there was a successfulCornetto advertising campaign to convince people that sugar was an aid to dieting – “eat a biscuit before lunch or an ice cream”! It seems ridiculous to us now but people bought into it then. The current trend is fat avoidance which we’ll no doubt look back on with disbelief. The sad truth is that experts in marketing can change what we think so that we’ll change what we buy.

Bowl of cerealBreakfast cereal arrived in the UK in 1900 and gained popularity in 1930 but even as recently as the 1950s and 60s, breakfast would have been cooked eggs, fish or meat. Ready meals were limited to Vesta chicken supreme with boil in the bag rice which I recall with misery cooking on a primus stove while camping but would never have eaten at home. Takeaways meant fish and chips carried home wrapped in newspaper. Nowadays people think it’s normal to order by ‘phone and have any variety of fast food delivered to their door.

What’s really normal? For millions of years we were hunter gatherers eating only meat and low-glycemic index plants. Farming started around 10,000 years ago increasing consumption of grains. Intensive farming, processed food and chemical additives burgeoned after WWII. This is the blink of an eye in human history. We have not evolved to the modern diet; our bodies still want natural meat, fish and veg.

Top tip: Eat real food – that’s what’s normal for humans.

Avoid Weight Gain this Christmas

Weight gain seems inevitable at this time of year but if you don’t want to start 2016 fat, tired and ill, how can you minimise the damage?steak salad

Eat as much natural, realS/W Ver: 85.83.E7P food as possible. Buy fresh meat, fish and vegetables and fill yourself with good home cooked meals. Bake your own Christmas cake (nice with a slice of Wensleydale and some almonds) and mince pies using butter and reducing the sugar content.  Make salad dressings, dips and healthy treats (ask me for my no-cook chocolate, seed and nut recipe). Doing a bit of something in the kitchen can be great fun if the family gets stuck in too.

My breakfast green smoothie prior to whizzing

My breakfast green smoothie prior to whizzing

The right breakfast can set you up for the day. Include some protein and fat eg nutty muesli with natural yoghurt, poached egg on toast, home made porridge (not sachets/pots) with flaked almonds and cream or a low-sweetness smoothie (mine is based on avocado and coconut milk).

The worst choices are cereal, toast with jam, fruit juices/smoothies and chocolate which will have you on a blood-sugar roller-coaster for the rest of the day, and craving for more bad things.

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Water

Have a healthy snack before going out and drink plenty of water before and during parties. You’ll be less likely to drink too much alcohol or over-eat. Sugar and vegetable oil are in almost all processed ‘party’ food and will cause weight gain. Soft drinks are sugary and, surprisingly, “diet” drinks also increase weight.

NutsHide biscuits, chocolates, cake, crisps and alcohol in cupboards and leave bowls of nuts, veg sticks and dips in plain sight. Treat treats as treats. Enjoy them but don’t make a meal of them. If you try to abstain and you’re more likely to have a blow-out. Ditch the diet ‘on it, off it’ mentality and allow yourself to have a little. Accept that there will be naughty goodies everywhere you go; you will eat some, and so will I!

Top tip – Eat well and have a Merry Christmas

Food on TV

Perhaps it’s because of my professional interest, perhaps it’s because I love food, but I tend to notice the things (good and bad) that people eat on TV. I’m not thinking of cookery programmes which, curiously, I don’t watch. I’m thinking of people eating food incidental to the main theme. Take Gogglebox where families sit in front the TV scoffing biscuits, crisps and other processed, health-robbing snacks and drinks.

Then there’s The Big Bang Theory where an American guy with a brain the size of a planet tucks into takeaways most nights and whose standard order when eating out is a burger washed down with a famous fizzy beverage. He claims to know everything; doesn’t he realise how bad for him all this is?

My favourite in Inspector Montalbano. This Italian detective series is full of grand buildings, fast cars, beautiful scenery and fabulous food. We see the hero relishing dishes at restaurants, enjoying what his housekeeper makes and cooking for himself. He loves to eat and won’t hold a conversation when there’s food on the table. His eyes roll with frustration if the telephone rings when he’s just sat down. He totally celebrates the delights of good food.

Between the programmes come adverts. Of the edible products being promoted, I would advise against eating all but a tiny percentage. The pictures look wonderful – they know we eat with our eyes. To convince you of their natural goodness, they conveniently skip over the gulf between the healthy delicious dish you would enjoy if you made it yourself using fresh ingredients, and their finished product.

Dr Mercola has done a handy table of the characteristics of real food vs processed food products.  If you want to be shocked to your core by what happens to processed food, read Joanna Blythman’s Swallow This.

Top tip – eat like Montalbano

Dementia Fear

I am not a brave person; many things frighten me: IMAG0312injury – I was very fortunate to escape with only whiplash and bruises last year when someone drove across a junction and took the front off my car; cancer – of course; loss of mental faculties – for me the worst of all.

Currently in vogue, the carb heavy, low fat diet that has led to the obesity and diabetes epidemics has also been linked in new studies with Alzheimer’s (first referred to as type 3 diabetes in 2005).

"3DSlicer-KubickiJPR2007-fig6" by Kubicki M., McCarley R.W., Westin C-F., Park H-J., Maier S.E., Kikinis R., Jolesz F.A., Shenton M.E. A review of diffusion tensor imaging studies in schizophrenia. J Psychiatr Res. 2007 Jan-Feb;41(1-2):15-30. PMID: 16023676. PMCID: PMC2768134.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3DSlicer-KubickiJPR2007-fig6.jpg#/media/File:3DSlicer-KubickiJPR2007-fig6.jpg

“3DSlicer-KubickiJPR2007-fig6” by Kubicki M., McCarley R.W., Westin C-F., Park H-J., Maier S.E., Kikinis R., Jolesz F.A., Shenton M.E. A review of diffusion tensor imaging studies in schizophrenia. J Psychiatr Res. 2007 Jan-Feb;41(1-2):15-30. PMID: 16023676. PMCID: PMC2768134.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3DSlicer-KubickiJPR2007-fig6.jpg#/media/File:3DSlicer-KubickiJPR2007-fig6.jpg

What to do? Minimise sugar and cut down on processed grains. Eat some plant food at each meal. Vegetables are good carbs giving you vitamins, minerals and fibre; their antioxidants protect your brain. Berries contain antioxidants too plus other beneficial phytonutrients.  Celery, peppers and carrots contain luteolin which may calm inflammation in your brain.

FishYour brain is mostly made of fat so get plenty of omega 3s (eg from oily fish, chia seed or walnuts) and keep down your Nutsintake of damaged omega 6 (eg processed vegetable oil). Eat butter, olive oil, coconut oil and foods like nuts and avocados.

The spice turmeric contains curcumin, an anti-inflammatory antioxidant. Curcumin has been shown to boost memory and stimulate the production of new brain cells. For the B vitamin choline, eat eggs, meat, broccoliEggs and cauliflower. Choline may boost brain power and slow age-related memory loss. Red meat is an excellent source of vitamin B12 which is vital for brain function. When you’re short of B12, your brain actually gets smaller.

IMAG0057Other ways to keep your mental sharpness: physical exercise, standing up regularly to break continuous sitting, mindfulness, knitting, word or number puzzles, learning a language, making music, a stimulating career, social interaction.

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Top tip – eat well for the sake of your brain