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.

 

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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.

If you’d like to get my full Eat Well News, sign up here. It’s so much more than the things I post on my blog. I’ll be in touch with you about nutrition and health, and to provide articles, and updates (eg research and campaigns relating to nutrition and health), and marketing (eg events, products, services, talks and courses), and recipes, and things to bring a smile. Please let me know all the ways you would like to hear from me either by using this form or sending me an email.

 

Quote of the Month

He noticed walking down the street that people weren’t smiling.  You’ll see the same thing here, even though we have everything – a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes, technology.

During the holidays this year, smile and make a note every day of something you are thankful for – or better still, three things.

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And get outside – even if you just sit in your own garden or visit the local park; anywhere with trees and plants to cheer you.

Drink to Your Health

With the all warm weather, you might fancy a cold drink. They say that in America, over half the calories consumed come from sugar in soft drinks. Terrifying! Outrageously, 12% of the Coca-cola is drunk at breakfast. In Britain we’re not that bad (yet) but we certainly do have a drink problem. So what’s what?

Starting with the worst things to drink:

– Fizzy drinks – very sugary leading to weight gain, blood sugar imbalances and diabetes. They’re very acidic leading to tooth decay and bone density loss.

– Low-cal fizzy drinks – the use of sweeteners has increased since the sugar tax came in. Weight loss clubs often recommend low-cal fizzy drinks but these have been proven not to help with weight loss. The sweet taste of the chemical sweeteners confuses your body’s control systems (not a good idea). Your brain thinks that sugar is coming; then it doesn’t so you go looking for food.

If you’ve been wondering how effective the sugar tax on drinks is likely to be, here are some results from those who’ve already tried it.

– Fruit Juice – seen as healthy and natural but still a sugary drink. Fruit juice can be up to a year old and have lost a lot of its nutrients. Fructose is processed via your liver to create fat. Too much fruit can cause problems with weight gain, tooth decay and in extremes, even non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (first found in 1980). You wouldn’t eat 4 apples/oranges at once but they’re easy to drink. Stick to eating whole fruit.

– Smoothies – most bought ones and internet recipes are too heavy on fruit or other sweet ingredients. Here’s the Wikipedia definition of a smoothie which illustrates the problem:

A smoothie is a thick beverage made from blended raw fruit, vegetables or ice cream and cookies with other ingredients such as water, ice, or sweeteners.”

Definitely not recommended!

– Squash – depends how strong you mix it. Contains sugar or sweeteners.

– Sports / Energy drinks – heavily marketed, unhealthy and unnecessary. High in caffeine and sugar they’re very bad, especially for children.  This piece talks about them causing sudden cardiac deaths in young people.  So, quite rightly, there’s been a fuss about children and energy drinks.  See #notforchildren The majority of kids drink them, often having a litre at a time which is very dangerous. It’s like taking a chainsaw to their adrenal glands. Supermarkets have taken steps eg reducing promotion to kids and trying to prevent sales to children.

Here’s what Jamie Oliver’s site says about them.

On to Something Better

Well that was all a bit dismal, so what’s the solution? It’s surprisingly easy to wean yourself off sweet drinks; your palate can change in as little as two weeks. Here are some healthy alternatives:

Tastes much nicer than it looks – a refreshing salad in a glass!

– Vegetable juices – juice your own for a brilliant way to get lots of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients. Use 80% vegetables (eg celery, cucumber, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower stems, leafy greens, sprig of parsley, some ginger). Add small amounts of fruit to improve flavour (½ a lime, some lemon, a bit of pear, few cranberries, bit of tomato). Drink within an hour or freeze.

– Smoothies – use avocados and green leaves with almond / coconut milk or plain live yoghurt. Add a few berries or an inch of banana.

– Milk – shown to be even more hydrating than water when exercising. The sugar in milk (lactose) can cause weight gain if you have a lot, the fat doesn’t.

The Moody Cow at Allonby sells the real thing – unpasturised. It tastes delicious.

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– Coconut water – a great isotonic refresher. Best if you buy a coconut, pierce the top and pour it out. Bought coconut milk will be older and may have additives so read the label.

– Iced tea. Not the syrupy type in a can or bottle. Make some delicate green tea, add a slice of lime and some ice.

– Water – fruit infused. Put a strawberry or a couple of raspberries / blackberries or a slice of lemon / lime in a mug and pour an inch of boiling water over. Let it sit for 10 minutes then top up with cold.

– Water – re-hydration solution. Make your own if it’s very hot and you’re doing a lot of exercise. Add a little salt and sugar to your water.

– Water – great choice – would be even better if they stopped fluoridation!

Top tip – switch to healthier drinks.

Eat Well News

To get my full Eat Well News, sign up here. It’s so much more than the blog posts I write. I’ll be in touch with you about nutrition and health, and to provide articles, and updates (eg research and campaigns relating to nutrition and health), and marketing (eg events, products, services, talks and courses), and recipes, and things to bring a smile. Please let me know all the ways you would like to hear from me either by using this form or sending me an email.

The Calorie Fallacy

How do you decide what to eat?

Since the introduction of calories as a measure of food energy content, we’ve become obsessed with them. The government’s official messages at the moment mention nothing else.  However in spite of its popularity, calorific content is a poor basis for making food choices.

A huge and powerful industry makes and aggressively markets low-calorie food products. The BBC showed some years ago in ‘The Big Fat Truth about Low Fat Food’, that these products are not good for your health.

Instead of thinking primarily about calories, I ask the people on my Nutrition Coaching courses to focus on the goodness in foods. Some foods provide nutrients and improve your health. These include fresh meat, fish, eggs, cheese, fruit, veg and natural fats. Good food gives you essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

Other foods are bad for you and your body has to work really hard to deal with them by using up lots of your vitamins, minerals and enzymes and most of your energy too. They leave you with compromised health and feeling exhausted. These include processed foods, biscuits, crisps, donuts, snack bars, fizzy pop, flavoured water and ready meals.

Bad food contains refined sugar, salt, damaged fats, artificial sweeteners and additives. Often processed foods are chemically altered to increase the appeal to your taste buds. They override your body’s ways of knowing when you’ve had enough and you can just carry on eating more and more.

So stop worrying about calories and think about goodness. Ignore the marketing hype which results in low-fat and low-calorie foods being labelled as healthy even if they’re not. Think instead how food can build your health or harm you.

Top tip – eat real food!

Quote of the Month – World Obesity Day

It’s World Obesity Day today.

If diets worked there would be really one diet, everybody would go on it, lose weight and that would be the end of it.

Jon Gabriel

But 95% of diets don’t work (other than short-term).  So what’s the answer? Don’t diet, learn to eat well.

Real, fresh food is the solution.

World Obesity Day

Action on Sugar

Shapes and Colours

As I walk through town looking at the gardens, the flowers may be fading but the leaves are turning copper and gold and the apples hang red on the trees. Whatever the season, there are wonderful shapes and colours in nature. This is how our food should be too.

There are many types of fish and they’re fish-shaped, not oblong, battered or crumbed. It’s easy to add your own toppings if you like. Fresh meat will have been cut up into large joints with individual shapes or small pieces. There can be a world of difference between a bought burger and some mince to make your own and between chicken nuggets and a free-range drumstick.

Take a look at your shopping as it goes along the supermarket conveyor belt. Is it all beige? Is it all square? I wrote a little rhyme:

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

When you go to the shops

If it comes in a box

Let it stay on the shelf

For the sake of your health

 

Each type of food brings its own special nutrients. Eating the same things every day can leave you with deficiencies and makes intolerance more likely. Most people have loads of recipe books and eat the same dozen meals all the time. Mix them up: white meat one day, fish another, then red meat, perhaps an omelette, or have a boost with liver or oily fish. Have rice or quinoa sometimes rather than always potatoes. Challenge yourself to buy a wider variety of vegetables. Eat two types with each meal, different colours. If you have something starchy, pair it with something non-starchy eg carrots with green beans, peas with red cabbage, sweet corn with pak choi. It’ll be a feast for your eyes on the conveyor belt and your plate.

Top tip – buy some foods with shapes and colours.

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.

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.