• Find me on FaceBook

Healthy Family Food – Fit not Fat Families

MonthofMeals

I grew up, as I’m sure many of us did, in a meat and two veg dinner household. With a lovely roast dinner on a Sunday and a weekly homemade dessert. There were no pizzas or burgers or convenience foods, and a tub of vanilla ice cream in the fridge was considered a treat. Growing up in South Africa, a wider range of cuisines was part of the norm, ranging from Indian to Greek to Chinese, but weekly meals were pretty normal.

I wasn’t overweight and neither were any of my school friends. If any of us went through a chubby phase, it was just that, a phase. I certainly didn’t lack for anything and got to try plenty of delicious foods. So in an attempt to recreate a healthy family food culture, I have complied a list of my favourite wholesome ingredients and a weekly menu plan.

I think we need to pare things right back and go back to a weekly menu planner. None of us have endless time to shop, prepare food and clean up after. So if we keep a reasonable stock of healthy ingredients in the fridge and store cupboard, we only need a few fresh ingredients to whip up delicious weeknight meals.

When I plan a weekly menu, I have a vegetarian day, two seafood meals, one red meat meal and one or two chicken dinners. This is a healthy structure and in line with nutritional recommendations. Aim for planning five dinners per week, as the other two nights you can have something quick, use up leftovers or you may be out. This reduces food waste and also gives you a break.

 

Freezer Friends

The freezer can be your best friend or your worst enemy in healthy eating. So many highly processed, high fat, high sugar, high salt foods are frozen products. Those cartons of potato waffles, ice cream and ready meals might seem comforting as you always have food on hand to feed hungry kids, but they are non foods. I don’t often freeze home cooked meals – except soups – I prefer keeping some key ingredients in the freezer to help me whip up tasty, quick and healthy meals in minutes.
Frozen spinach  Larger supermarkets stock bags of frozen spinach where the spinach is frozen in small golf ball sized bundles. Simply add frozen to curries and stews or allow to defrost if using in another recipe. I love fresh baby leaf spinach as a salad leaf, but cooking it wilts it down to nothing, so frozen spinach is a great solution.
Frozen fish  There is nothing wrong with frozen fish. While the texture won’t be suitable for high end dishes like sushi, the quality is more than fine for daily recipes. Stock up on salmon and firm white fish such a hake, haddock and cod. Choose plain fish and not fish in batter or a crumb coating.
Raw prawns  You can buy shelled and veined frozen prawns from some supermarkets and all Asian markets. They are low calorie, good source of protein and easy peasy to cook. Just add them to your pan of stir fry or whatever you’re cooking and cook until firm and pink. To defrost, simply leave them in the fridge or rinse quickly under cold water.
Fish pie mix  Supermarkets and fishmonger sell small containers of fish pie mix which is a mixture of diced salmon, smoked fish and white fish. Buy fresh and pop a couple in the freezer for home made fish pies and seafood chowders. Very budget friendly and a great way to eat more fish.
Garlic cubes  I have yet to find a decent garlic paste, so I crush several bulbs of garlic and freeze the garlic paste in ice cube trays. One cube works out to roughly three cloves of garlic, but it does lose a little flavour in freezing so it’s not too strong for kids.
Bacon lardons  Not the healthiest ingredient, but a little bit of bacon, especially smoked bacon, goes a long way to add flavour to a dish. You can use from frozen as they defrost very quickly in the pan, just break them
apart with a wooden spoon.
Chorizo  The same goes for chorizo. It is quite a fatty sausage, but when sliced and fried, renders a delicious paprika and garlic infused oil that is perfect for frying you onions, veggies and meat in, no need to add extra oil. Chorizo ranges from mild to quite spicy, so try a few brands. Chop into lengths and wrap in cling film before freezing.
Grated cheese  I prefer strongly flavoured cheeses like mature cheddar and Parmesan. The stronger the flavour, the less you need. Freezing cheese changes the texture so while not ideal for sandwiches, frozen grated cheese is ideal for melting.
Berries  Frozen berries are so handy for smoothies and healthy desserts. Not all berries freeze well, but raspberries and blackberries are great. Crumbles are a great family dessert if you sweeten team with orange, cinnamon and vanilla and use less sugar. Use wholewheat flour and oats in the crumble topping.

 

Complex Carbs

Barley  Barley is a high fibre, slow releasing carbohydrate rich in B vitamins. Traditionally added to soups and stews, it helps thicken the sauce. Barley makes a great base for substantial salads, perfect for packed lunches. Barley has been found to be effective in managing and losing weight for Type 2 diabetics.
Brown rice  Brown is such an easy swop for white rice with exponentially more nutrition. Not just a side dish, but perfect as a base for rice dishes such as healthy jambalaya, paella, fried rice and Asian rice dishes. Brown rice is packed with B vitamins and is good for weight management.
Bulgur wheat  This is super easy to prepare, barely cover with boiling water in a bowl, tightly seal with cling film and leave to absorb for 10 minutes. A delicious, nutty texture and taste, this fills the gap for couscous type recipes but with more fibre.
Oats  I have written at length about the health benefits of oats. It’s in my Top 10 Superfoods list and can be used in so many ways. Besides breakfast porridge, muesli and granola, add it to crumble toppings for a healthier dessert, to bind meatballs and veggie bur
gers and added to banana bread and muffins.
Quinoa  This gluten free grain from South America is packed full of protein, gentle fibre and nutrients for energy. I cook quinoa at least once a week as it complements almost any cuisine, is extremely easy to cook and has a wonderful texture. As it is a protein grain, it can be helpful in losing weight.
Wholewheat pasta  Pasta is a family favourite and can be a healthy option if you choose the high fibre, wholewheat options. Not a huge difference in flavour and texture, your family probably won’t even notice the swop! Leftovers and pasta salads also make good lunch box fillers, a nice change from sandwiches.
Wholewheat pizza bases  Pizza is normally classed as a junk good, but when you use wholewheat pizza base, passata and loads of veggies as toppings, it makes a great family meal. You can also involve you r kids in assembling the pizzas which can encourage them to try new things.
Wholewheat tortilla wraps  I cannot do without these! You can of course use them for lunch box wraps but Iuse them for quesadillas, the ultimate quick low fat toastie. Place one tortilla flat in a non stick pan, no oil. Spread with pesto or relish, top with a little grated cheese and some slice peppers and spring onions. Place another tortilla on top and flip over when toasted underneath.

 

Plant Proteins

Anyone that follows my column knows that I support Meat Free Monday. This is a worldwide movement to encourage people to have one vegetarian meal a week to reduce the environmental impact of farming animals for meat. From a health point of view, cosying up to plant based meals has many health benefits. You’ll naturally reduce calories and saturated fats while increasing fibre and nutrients. It’s also very budget friendly and usually quick to prepare. You can choose any day of the week but I quite like Monday as I let my groceries run low then do my food shop during the week.

Beans  You can of course cook your beans from dried and do with my favourite beans such as cannellini beans. But tinned beans are brilliant. Stock up on butter beans, kidney beans, haricot and cannellini. These are great added to Mexican dishes, salads and almost any soup or stew.
Chickpeas  I cook up a 500g bag of dried chickpeas every week as I use them so much. Add chickpeas to salads, curries and soups. Turn them into veggie burgers and dips like hummus. The list of uses is endless! Highly nutritious and excellent for growing children and also woman’s health particularly.
Lentils  There are several different types of lentils and they all cook down to different textures. Red lentils go very mushy and are great for veggie burgers and soups. Brown and green lentils stay a little firmer so are good for dishes such as lentil moussaka. And put lentils stay nice and firm so are ideal for lentil salads.

I keep a good supply of dried herbs and spices, mustards, vinegars and other condiments to liven up recipes. But don’t buy too many bottles unless you have recipes to use them in. Don’t be afraid to try new things, you’ll be surprised what kids like to eat!

To book a place on the Month of Meals course click here.

Advertisements

Roasted Aubergine and Basil Pasta Bake

Roasted_Aubergine_Pasta 600

Serves 4

300g wholewheat pasta shapes, such as penne or fusilli
olive oil
2 medium aubergines, cut into 2.5cm dice
salt and pepper
1 red onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp torn fresh basil leaves or 2 tbsp basil pesto
100g grated mozzarella
green salad, to serve

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and a dd in the pasta. Cook according to the packet instructions until al dente. Drain well in a colander and drizzle over a little olive oil. Shake the colander to mix the oil through the pasta.
  • Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the aubergines and season with salt and pepper. Mix well and spread out on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Roast for 12–15 minutes, until the aubergine is slightly charred on the edges and soft.
  • Meanwhile, sauté the onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat. After about 8 minutes, when the onion is translucent, add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes.
  • Pour in the chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  • When the aubergine is ready, add it to the tomato sauce and cook for a further 5 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the fresh basil or basil pesto.
  • Pour the pasta into 1 large baking dish or 4 individual dishes. Spread over the sauce evenly. Sprinkle the grated mozzarella on top and place under the oven grill until the cheese melts and browns slightly.
  • Serve with the remaining fresh basil or pesto and a green side salad.

The Ish Factor:
Wholewheat pasta is a very easy, healthy swap to make for regular pasta. Wholewheat pasta has three times more fibre, double the B vitamins and 25% more protein compared to refined white pasta. From a texture and flavour point of view, there isn’t such a huge difference that your family will notice. Whole wheat pasta cooks to a nice firm, al dente texture with a very similar taste to white pasta.

Salmon Fishcakes

Rozanne fish cakes        Pix Ronan Lang/Feature File

Serves 4

450g potatoes, peeled and cubed
approx. 300g cooked or tinned salmon (a little less
is fine)
30g butter
100ml milk
4 spring onions, finely chopped
salt and pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp sour cream, crème fraîche or mayonnaise
30g + 1 tbsp plain flour
3 eggs
50g panko breadcrumbs
sunflower oil, for frying
lemon wedges, to serve
green salad, to serve

Method:

  • Boil or steam the potatoes for 10–15 minutes, until just soft. Drain very well to avoid soggy potatoes and overly wet fishcakes, then transfer to a large bowl.
  • If you are using tinned fish, allow it to drain very well in a sieve.
  • Melt the butter and milk together in a small pot. Add the spring onions and cook for 3 minutes. Season well, then stir in the parsley, sour cream and 1 tablespoon of flour. Add to the hot cooked potatoes and mash until smooth. Once the potatoes have cooled a little, mix through 1 egg, well beaten. Lastly, stir through the fish until roughly mixed to ensure a bit of texture.
  • Dust a work surface or chopping board with a little flour and shape the mixture into 4 flattish discs about 5cm thick. Put the 30 grams of flour in a shallow bowl. Place the remaining 2 eggs in a shallow bowl and beat well. Put the breadcrumbs in a separate shallow dish. Dip the fishcakes first in the flour, then in the beaten egg, then press into the breadcrumbs.
  • Chill for 30 minutes on a baking tray lined with baking parchment to help them keep their shape when you fry them. These can also be frozen once completely chilled – wrap very well in clingfilm, then freeze in a plastic freezer bag.
  • Heat a little sunflower oil in a pan and cook the fishcakes for 5 minutes on each side. If you have made them too large to heat right through, pop them into the oven until they are piping hot.
  • Serve with lemon wedges and a green salad.

The Ish Factor:
Tinned salmon is often overlooked as an option for including more oily fish in your weekly menu. It comes cooked and packed in brine, similar to tinned tuna. As it is quite flaky, it is best used in recipes such as fishcakes and pâtés, where it doesn’t have to look its beautiful best. It’s also good for salmon and leek quiches, salads and pasta dishes or as a baked potato topping with sour cream and plenty of fresh dill or chives.

Bobotie

Bobotie 600
Serves 4

1 slice of bread (ideally wholemeal)
250ml milk
2 medium onions, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
1kg lean beef mince
1 tbsp Madras curry paste or curry powder
juice 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
1/3 cup raisins or sultanas
2 tbsp flaked almonds (optional)
5 lime or lemon leaves or fresh bay leaves
4 eggs, lightly beaten
green beans, to serve
baked sweet potatoes, to serve
tomato salad, to serve

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  • Break up the bread using your fingers. Put it in a small bowl and pour over the milk. Allow to stand and soak.
  • Gently sauté the onions in the olive oil over a medium heat for about 8 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add in the minced beef. Stir well to break up any lumps and cook until lightly brown. Stir in the curry paste or powder and mix well. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper, then mix through the raisins, the flaked almonds and the soaked bread.
  • Pour the beef mixture into a baking dish and spread it out evenly. Place the lime or bay leaves on top and gently pour over the eggs.
  • Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until it’s hot and bubbling around the edges.
  • Serve with green beans, baked sweet potatoes and a tomato salad.

The Ish Factor:
Curry powder is in fact a British invention. In India, a vast array of spice blends are used, the closest to our Western curry powder being sambar powder. Curry powders available in supermarkets tend to be pretty standard and come in mild, medium and hot versions. Curry powder is great as a seasoning to add a little kick to a dish without overpowering it. Use in conjunction with other spices for your Indian cooking.

Brown Rice Prawn Jambalaya

Brown_Rice_Prawn_Jambalaya 600

Serves 4

400g large, raw, peeled and deveined prawns (you can buy these frozen in Asian markets and some supermarkets)
200g spicy sausage, such as Andouille or chorizo
2 red onions, sliced into thin wedges
2 celery stalks, diced
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
2 fat garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp Cajun spice
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup medium quick-cooking brown rice
400ml tomato passata or 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
salt and pepper
fresh coriander, to garnish

Method:

  • Defrost the prawns by leaving them in the fridge overnight or rinse off the ice in a colander in the kitchen sink under cold running water.
  • Cut the sausage into 1cm-thick slices. Cook in a large pan over a medium heat until the fat renders out.
  • Add the sliced red onions, celery and green peppers to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions have started to soften. A dd the garlic and cook for another few minutes, until the onions are translucent. Sprinkle over the Cajun spice, mix well and cook for a couple more minutes.
  • Add the chicken stock, brown rice, passata and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Stir in the prawns and let everything simmer, cover ed, for another 5 minutes, until the prawns are firm and pink. Squeeze over the lemon or lime juice and adjust the seasoning. Garnish with fresh coriander.

The Ish Factor:
Cajun spice is a traditional spice blend from Creole cuisine. This mildly hot spice is very versatile and great for jazzing up sweet potato wedges, tuna salad and jambalaya. You can make your own spice mix by combining 2 1/2 teaspoons paprika, 2 teaspoons each of garlic powder and salt, 1 1/2 tea spoons each of dried oregano and dried thyme and 1 teaspoon each of onion powder, cayenne pepper and ground black pepper.
Stored in an airtight jar, it will keep for up to 6 months.

‘Catch All’ Couscous

Rozanne   tomato couscous     Pix Ronan Lang/Feature File

Serves 4

200g chorizo sausage, skinned and diced
1/2 cup sunblush tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup black olives
250g tomato-flavoured couscous
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, rinsed and drained
100g feta cheese, cubed
juice and zest of 1 lemon
olive oil
150g rocket

Method:

  • Cook the chorizo in a large pan over a medium heat until crispy. Add the tomatoes and olives and heat through.
  • Add the couscous and pour over the correct amount of boiling water according to the packet instructions. Cover the pan with a lid and allow to sit for 10 minutes, until the water has been absorbed. Fluff up the couscous with a for k, then gently stir in the chickpeas and feta.
  • Dress the couscous with lemon juice and zest and olive oil. Serve with the rocket on top.

The Ish Factor:
Couscous is a traditional food consumed widely across North Africa, the Middle East and parts of the Mediterranean. Made from durum wheat, the best way I can describe couscous is as tiny balls of pasta. The best way to cook it is to cover it in boiling water and allow it to stand or by steaming it. On its own it’s quite bland, but it soaks up flavours terrifically and is perfect to mop up sauces or as a base for a hot or cold salad. Change the recipe according to what you have in the fridge – it’s a great ‘catch all’ recipe.

Saucy Caramel Banana Pudding

Saucy_Caramel_Banana_Pudding 600Serves 8

250g (2 cups) plain flour
2 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
230g (1 cup) caster sugar
120g butter, melted
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs, beaten
500ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
custard or ice cream, to serve

Caramel sauce:
250g soft brown sugar
6 tbsp golden syrup
500ml boiling water

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a lasagne-sized baking dish.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add the caster sugar, melted butter, mashed bananas, eggs, milk and vanilla essence. Mix well and pour the batter into the greased baking dish.
  • To make the caramel sauce, combine the brown sugar, golden syrup and boiling water in a pot. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the boiling caramel sauce evenly over the batter.
  • Bake for 35–45 minutes, until cooked through in the middle. Serve with custard or ice cream.

The Ish Factor:
Bananas feature in most kitchen fruit bowls. As pop ular as they are, there often seems to be a few bruised and blackened bananas hanging around by the end of the week. But it’s one fruit that I don’t mind overripe. Overripe bananas make the best smoothies, banana bread and wholesome muffins. The bananas are softer and sweeter and are ideal for mashing down. For a healthier alternative to ice cream, freeze peeled bananas and then whizz them up from frozen in the food processor. Serve with chocolate sauce or on its own for a healthy dessert.