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Efficient meal planning & a spicy bean egg bake recipe

Last week I wrote a very long post on where I’m at, so this week I’d thought I’d give you some time back posting a recipe that is quick, easy and suitable for vegetarians. This dish is super efficient and simple to cook. If you’ve got a busy life going on but want to eat filling wholesome home cooked food, then try making a batch of this and see how you go.

I’ve already written about my experiments with a low-sugar vegetarian diet previously, and these days I still try to have the odd week or few days where I eat more vegetarian. This recipe also came about when I got back from being away for a while. I had just a few limited ingredients that needed to suffice until I did a bigger food shop and I needed to ease myself back into cooking more regularly again.

Fair to say, I always keep a couple of cans of tinned tomatoes and pulses in my cupboards ready for recipes like this.

Spicy bean egg bake

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Gluten free & sugar free

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 can borlotti beans
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tbls cooking fat (I used coconut oil)
  • 1 sweet red pepper, sliced
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • ¼ tsp hot chilli powder (or a bit more depending on your spice preference)
  • 4 eggs (1 for each portion on the day you eat a serving)
  • ½ block of feta cheese
  • Fresh parsley (can substitute dried)
  • ½ lemon (for a squeeze of juice)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Method

  • Heat the fat and fry the onion and the garlic for a few minutes until softened
  • Add the red pepper & fry for a few more minutes
  • Add the chopped tomatoes, cumin, curry powder, chilli powder & seasoning to taste and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Add the 2 cans of pre-cooked beans and simmer at a low heat for 10 minutes.
  • If serving four, make four holes and crack an egg into each then cook over the hob (& finish under the grill) until the eggs are cooked then complete the last two steps.
  • If serving in single portions, divide the mixture into 4 portion sizes and put this portion into a small baking dish, then add the egg in the middle and bake in the oven at 180C.
  • Cook the dish in the oven until the egg is set (about 20 minutes).
  • Sprinkle with feta cheese and cook for a further 5-10 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven, sprinkle with parsley and add a squeeze of lemon juice to serve.

You can serve with an extra portion of green vegetables (like I did) or with some bread if you prefer.

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Using later in the week

I kept two portions in the fridge and froze another. To cook from the fridge, I came home, put the oven on 180, and put the basic bean mix in the microwave for 3 minutes. I then cracked the egg in the middle and put in the oven for 25 minutes, then added the feta cheese and cooked for another 5 before serving with the parsley and lemon. The frozen one, I just took out of the freezer 12 hours before I wanted to eat it the following week, then followed the above process to cook.

Efficient meal planning

This recipe is a prime example of efficient simple and very healthy cooking. A really geeky part of me loves making healthy cooking fast, easy and simple (but still delicious). I think it’s a freak combination of my process consulting experience combined with my love of healthy eating. This recipe was an absolute winner and when I know I’ve got a busy week ahead, I’ll be repeating it.

If you think you’d find weekly meal plans, shopping lists and full ‘what to do when’ notes helpful then have a look at my (just launched this week!) Mentor Me Off Sugar programmes. Now this is a bit of a plug, but I’ve created 6-weeks worth of very carefully thought-out meal plans & organisation for the programme.

To get everything nutritionally balanced (& of course all sugar-free), make efficient use of all the weekly ingredients, consider cost and make sure the plan keeps one sustained throughout the day was not a straightforward task!

It took time and was in places quite complicated (trust me, it really hurt my head on occasion!). The good thing is though, I’ve done that thinking for you now and I believe by following the meal plans, you’ll not only eat healthy, detox off sugar and the rest of it, you’ll also get loads of ideas on how to save time that will serve you forever (& save you hours).

If you don’t follow things exactly (I’m one of those too) then it will certainly give you a wealth of ideas to piece together your own weekly meal plans that suit your lifestyle. So check out Mentor Me Off Sugar for more details & comment if you’d be interested in getting the meal plans separate to the detox programme (as this is something I’m currently considering).

Anyway, what do you think? Do you find meal planning easy or hard? What do you do? Any good strategies that you use? I am loving your comments at the moment so please share :)

 

sugar-free pancakes

Sugar-free pancake day: Your comprehensive guide

Ok, so it’s nearly pancake day (Shrove Tuesday). One of my health coaching clients has already asked me for some options, so I’d thought I’d present a comprehensive guide around the strategies and options available. This is an area that can be a bit tricky, especially if you fondly remember eating a dozen lemon-sugar pancakes in one night (like I used to!).

This year, I’m actually going to be in New York for pancake day (let’s see how I handle that one!). I’m also having a mini celebration at home with some friends a little earlier before I go. I am likely to of course be in charge of the savoury options…

So the first sugar-free strategy I would recommend is to fill up on delicious savoury options as much as you can. There’s an incredible amount of choice out there on the savoury front and you can hike up the nutrition count with the addition of vegetables.

Here’s a round-up of some of my internet faves that I’ve vetted and collected. All are made with good healthy ingredients, many have some form of vegetable included and there are even gluten-free and egg-free options to suit other dietary needs:

Savoury pancakes

Sweeter pancakes – your sugar-friendly options

Now, if you’re not full from savoury wonders or you’re just still wanting sweet, you have a few ‘better’ options. Whip up a basic unsweetened wholemeal savoury crepe mix and fill with healthier ‘natural’ or lower sugar options:

  • Opt for lower fructose fruit like berries or warm them up in a pan to make a berry compote.
  • Swap a maple syrup for a brown rice syrup (lower fructose alternative).
  • Melt and drizzle a little dark chocolate (at least 85%) instead of the popular Nutella.
  • Make an thicker unsweetened apple sauce-based pancake using your own homemade unsweetened apple sauce (try this recipe).
  • Although a banana is higher fructose, a few slices in your pancake with some full fat natural greek yoghurt and chopped hazelnuts could satisfy the sweet spot in a more natural way than say banana ice cream!
  • Again, make a sweeter ‘base’ pancake using banana. Here’s a gluten-free almond butter based one.

Lemon and sugar

It’s the classic, I used to eat these every year. Not one, but probably about 12 of them. My mum would keep going until me and my brother could eat no more. I estimate about 10-15 teaspoons of sugar were consumed in one of these  pancake evenings…yikes!

If you still really really want your lemon and sugar, start looking at your portion size. Can you stick with just one or two? You could look to try some other more nutritionally charged sugar options like a date sugar or coconut sugar. There are also some more natural brands of stevia out there (like Natvia) that are granulated and can be used 1:1 like sugar if you want to experiment. For my approach on sweeteners in general read why I don’t stand by one single sugar substitute.

My view is that if you’re only having one of these pancakes and you’re not in period of detoxing and feel like you have somewhat got control of sugar, then just try to sprinkle on as little as possible. Half or a quarter teaspoon of refined sugar if you’ve kept things sensible during the rest of the week is a happy moderate amount for an occasion if it’s special to you.

Hopefully there’s an option or recipe for you whatever you’re feeling. As is my general philosophy with annual occasions, if you’re eating less sugar than last year, then you’re making progress. What are you planning on doing this pancake day? Hit me with any other questions in a comment below. Oh and please share it if you think others might find it helpful.

eat less sugar

Poached salmon salad & yoghurt dill dressing

I’ve always loved salmon, however I’ve never actually poached it before. Experimenting in the kitchen is an essential habit to get into and different cooking methods count as much as different ingredients. This salmon salad recipe looks impressive but is surprisingly easy. You can also make it ahead of time and serve later on.

To be frankly honest, I’m really not a super incredible gormet chef or anything. Many of my recipes are simple tasty classics that you can use time and time again once you’ve learnt the basics. Cook this a few times and it’s so easy you should soon learn it off by heart.

I made this last Sunday when it was scorching hot. I kept some of the salmon cold for my salads later in the week. Cook once and eat twice (even thrice); one of the best healthy, time saving tips I can give you!

Poached salmon salad & yoghurt dill dressing

Recipe adapted from www.health.com (pictures my own though!)

eat less sugar

Ingredients

  • 1 celery stalk, cut into 2 inch stalks

  • 5 spring onions, white bulbs left whole and the rest thinly sliced

  • 1 lemon, halved. Half cut into slices and the other half juiced with 1 teaspoon of grated zest

  • ½ tsp salt, divided

  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper, divided

  • 4 salmon fillets

  • ½ cup natural yoghurt

  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill

  • 1 tbls olive oil

  • 1 packet watercress

  • 10 asparagus spears

  • 4-5 radishes, sliced

Method

  • Fill a large skillet or pot with about 6 cups of water. Add the celery, spring onion ends, lemon slices, half of the salt and pepper. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes to infuse the water with the delicate flavours.

  • Add the salmon where the water just covers all of the fillets (you may need to do two at a time). Gently simmer for 5-8 minutes till the fish is cooked through.

  • Remove the salmon carefully (I did break one!) and let cool

  • Remove the ends of the asparagus and steam for 5-10 minutes until tender

  • Combine the yoghurt, dill, lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil and remaining salt and pepper in a medium sized bowl.

  • Mix well together

  • Arrange the watercress, asparagus and sliced radishes on the plates

  • Add the salmon and a large tablespoon of the dressing

  • Sprinkle with leftover spring onions and add extra salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste

eat less sugar

Take a picture and be proud of your efforts! You could also add some quinoa to this if you want to add a bit more to the meal. Let me know if you try this recipe, it’s great for hot summer days!

Laura x

 

Versatile Lentil Soup

Versatile lentil and vegetable soup

One thing on the sugar diet that makes life easier is avoiding processed or packaged food where possible. Yes, I mean clean eating. It just means that firstly, you don’t waste too much time analysing food labels and secondly, you know exactly what you’re eating. No horse meat, no odd ingredients and of course, complete control over the added sugar.

Fresh soups from the supermarket are often seen as a healthy quick choice. They are of course better than many other things but they are not entirely ‘clean’ and quite often have added sugar, especially tomato, sweet potato and squash varieties. If you’re going to eat a little sugar, wouldn’t you rather appreciate it than have it hidden in your soup!?

Admittedly, I used to eat these soups quite often. This was another shift in my diet over the last two years where I’ve moved more towards making my own. I promise you, it’s not as much hassle as it seems. With my budget and economical hat on, I will also point out that lentils are cheap and using up all the vegetables in your fridge is doing you bit against food waste.

This is my basic, super simple, super easy lentil soup recipe. I add whatever vegetables I have leftover in the fridge and cook an extremely large batch and I freeze a load of portions for emergency healthy ready meals that I can microwave straight from frozen when I am caught out.

Versatile lentil and vegetable soup

Versatile Lentil Soup

Makes approximately 6 portions of soup

• 1 1/2 cups of red lentils
• 1 3/4 liters of vegetable stock
• 2 diced carrots
• 2 diced onions
• 1 tsp thyme
• 4 bay leaves (I used dried)
• 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
• large knob of butter
• 1 tbsp cottage cheese (optional)
• 1 tbsp grated parmesan (optional)

Optional vegetables

Courgettes, sweet potato, squash, broccoli, spinach and peas. Add these vegetables with the lentils and stock.
Leeks and shallots. Fry these with the onion and carrots

Method

1. Fry the onions and carrots in the butter in a large deep saucepan (or two separate ones). Cook for 3-5 minutes until the onions are translucent
2. Add the lentils, stock, thyme, bay leaves and pepper
3. Cover and simmer on a low heat for 35-40 minutes
4. Blend with a hand blender or you can even skip this step and serve as a ‘rougher’ soup (still tastes   nice!). If blending, add extra hot water to get the consistency you like (I like mine thick)
5. Add the cottage cheese and sprinkle with parmesan and black pepper

Never eat a ready meal again by cooking and freezing your own soup!

almond coated basa

The healthy take on breaded fish: Almond coated basa

When I was younger I used to love breaded fish, including fish fingers and the whole fillets you could bake straight from the freezer. Whilst it’s not the most unhealthy thing on the planet, the bread crumb coating tends to be both processed and refined. Coating fish yourself, you can make this popular favourite a lot healthier with relative ease.

Here’s a recipe below which uses ground almonds instead of refined breadcrumbs and still gives that nice, tasty breaded fish satisfaction (without the need for any breadcrumbs whatsoever). The ground almond coating also make it slightly sweet tasting and supplies that healthy fat element to a meal which will help keep you satisfied.

almond coated basa

 

Almond coated basa fillets (serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 2 basa fillets
  • 3/4 cup of ground almonds
  • 3 tbls parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbls dried parsley
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 cayenne pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbls milk
  • knob of butter for frying

Method

  •  Beat egg with the milk in a wide flat soup bowl
  • Combine ground almonds, parmesan cheese and other seasonings again in a wide flat bowl
  • Coat the fish fillets in the egg mixture and then coat in the almond mixture, gently pressing the mixture all over the fish (this gets messy)
  • Heat the butter on a medium heat and fry the fillets 3-5 minutes on each side until cooked through. Fish should flake easily and be opaque in colour.
  • Try not to turn the fish too frequently as the crumb is quite delicate

almond coated basa

The side: Roasted red onion & shallots

I mix and match my veggie sides depending on what I have lying around. I had steamed broccoli along with roasted red onion and shallots which serve as another source of deliciously natural tasting sweetness. I love the fact my taste buds can really recognise all these sweet-savoury flavours properly now. Certainly another incentive to keep an overload of sugary food out of your life.

Roasted red onion and shallots (serves 2)

  • 3 red onions
  • 4 shallots

Preheat the oven to 180C. Toss vegetables in a roasting tray with either olive oil or preferably a teaspoon of melted coconut oil (which is better to cook with at higher temperatures). Roast for 25-30mins and serve.

avocado and cucumber soup recipe

Recipe: Cool avocado and cucumber soup

I think we’ve all got a bit excited this week in the UK, because the sun finally came out to play. Sunshine straight to my head, I suddenly felt the need for something unusual and refreshing. So when I spotted an avocado and cucumber soup recipe in my Integrative Nutrition book, I had to give it a try. Tasty, quick and super simple, it would be a crime not to share this recipe with you.

Cool avocado and cucumber soup

Recipe slightly adapted from Integrative Nutrition by Joshua Rosenthal

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 small white onion (or half if you want less oniony soup)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 4-5 generous tablespoons of natural yoghurt (I used 4% fat)
  • 250ml water
  • salt and pepper to taste

avocado and cucumber soup recipe

Method

  • Roughly chop the onion, cucumber and avocado and toss in the blender
  • Add all the other ingredients and blend until smooth
  • Add more yoghurt, water, salt/pepper to reach desired taste and consistency
  • Sprinkle a little cayenne pepper on top to garnish

Verdict

A cold creamy green bowl of goodness, I really enjoyed this and I can’t get over how easy it was. My age old blender coped fine. It was quite onion pungent though. I’d suggest going easy on the onion at first or maybe trying half of one, especially if you’re heading out later and don’t want to have onion breath. Just putting it out there!

avocado and cucumber soup recipe

Have as a mini starter or with a side of some ham and hummus on crispbread to make it into a more substantial meal. If it was really hot you could even have this first thing and you’d be getting some nutritious breakfast vegetable love. I’d definitely go easy on the onion though as this is one thing I still struggle to have earlier on.

avocado and cucumber soup recipe

The only problem with this soup is that I made two lots and it’s now raining today. I just don’t fancy it quite so much. However, I’m blaming the temperamental British weather rather than the soup for that.

 

I know I need to improve my food photography skills...but you can see it still looks nice!

Quick Easy Recipe: Lemon Lamb Meatballs

Wondering what to have for dinner tonight? I have a friend who quite often goes “Lauraaa…tell me what I should have for a healthy dinner tonight pleeeeasse?”. Katie, here you go…why not try these super simple Lemon Lamb Meatballs, a recipe that is now firmly featured in my staple collection for ease and convenience.

I know I’ve predominately blogged on breakfasts and snacks previously, mainly because these are the biggies to overcome with sugar. However, easy healthy homemade meals at anytime of the day, help you avoid any foodstuffs out of a packet that may contain ‘invisible sugar’, another important one to keep an eye on.

There are lots of reasons why I like this recipe. It’s probably fair to say these are general trends of the types of recipes I like…

  • I know I need to improve my food photography skills...but you can see it still looks nice!

    I know I need to improve my food photography skills…but you can see it still looks nice!

    There are not a load of obscure ingredients that I don’t have, or that I have to buy especially.

  • Lamb is very filling. This makes for a very high protein meal that is going to satisfy you, reducing the temptation for sugar or refined carbohydrates.
  • It’s so easy you don’t need instructions after cooking the first time. I’m pretty sure even the worst cook could not completely bodge this up.
  • Extremely versatile. Try with hummus, greek salad, haloumi cheese…or maybe even a tomato based sauce. Yum.
  • Save any leftovers for your salad lunch the next day (I did this yesterday!)

Lemon Lamb Meatballs

Recipe adapted from Balanced Bites

Makes 12-15 meatballs

Ingredients

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  • 1x pack of mince lamb
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Chopped garlic clove
  • 1x tbls of mixed herbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Put the herbs, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon zest in a bowl and mix together with the minced lamb.
  2. Form into meatballs and place in a glass casserole dish. Place over a few slices of lemon (this looks good)
  3. Bake in preheated oven of 180C for 15-20mins until the meatballs are cooked all the way through or slightly pink inside
  4. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, greek salad, hummus and even a little natural greek yoghurt.

Granted, it’s not down to a slick Jamie Oliver 15 minutes, but this is going to take you less than half an hour. With so few steps and ingredients, it’s a thumbs up for any busy bees like my friend Katie.

leek and feta breakfast casserole

Recipe: Feta & Leek Breakfast Casserole

As much as I’ve grown to like a cooked breakfast, time’s not always on your side. Scrambled eggs and avocado, whilst relatively quick, does take longer than a cop out bowl of cereal. However there is an excellent time savvy solution – the almighty breakfast casserole.

Once cooked, the breakfast casserole is, quite simply, brilliant for the following reasons:

  • leek and feta breakfast casseroleIt’s quick (microwavable)
  • It’s transportable
  • It’s high in protein
  • It’s a way of getting vegetables in your breakfast
  • You can chuck pretty much anything into it
  • It’s rather tasty (well mine certainly are)

Convinced?

Here’s my favourite breakfast casserole recipe to date. Note, you don’t have to use all these ingredients, you can swap and mix up what you’ve got leftover in the fridge. Economical and efficient. I like.

Feta and Leek Breakfast Casserole

 

Adapted from a base recipe from Our Life In Food

Makes about 6-8 portions

Ingredients

  • leek and feta breakfast casserole3 sliced shallots
  • 1/2 grated sweet potato
  • a few florets of broccoli
  • 1/2 courgette
  • 1 leek sliced
  • 1 pot of full fat cottage cheese
  • 8 eggs
  • 1/3 block of feta cheese
  • Knob of butter or olive oil
  • Good tablespoon mixed herbs, salt & lashings of pepper

 Method

  1. Fry the shallots, sweet potato and courgette in the butter or oil for 5mins until softened and steam the broccoli
  2. Grease a large casserole dish with a little butter and preheat the oven to 180C (fan) and 200C otherwise
  3. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl and add the cottage cheese, herbs, pepper and salt to taste
  4. Mix in all the other cooked vegetables and stir well
  5. Pour into the greased casserole dish and sprinkle the feta cheese on top
  6. Bake for 40-50 mins until the eggs are set and the top is golden. This might vary depending on the size of your casserole dish and the thickness of your casserole so check every now and then.

leek and feta breakfast casseroleEnjoy for dinner with some extra vegetables or for breakfast with some wilted spinach and tomato. In a rush? Wrap up a slice in tin foil and take for an ‘out and about’ breakfast or lunch. Even freeze a portion or two for the next week. You can never complain about time again!

If you liked this post, I’m collecting a load of great low sugar recipes, snacks and inspiration together on my Pinterest boards which you can go and check out. And of course, a shameless plug but sign up to my weekly tips and fortnightly newsletter if you haven’t already. I’m in the process of launching a new service around getting ‘sorting’ sugar as so to put it. At the moment it’s exclusively for my subscribers so don’t miss out.

Any suggestions for what would make an even better breakfast casserole? Sausage? Ham? Cheese? Please enlighten me!

Forget yogurts, these are the new way forward!

Super easy and quick almond & pear chia seed pudding

This weekend I played around in the kitchen a little and had a go at an adapted version of Sarah Wilson’s cashwey chia puddings from the Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar Cookbook. They take minutes to put together and whilst they are somewhat unusual, the almond and pear combination is a classic that wins over with taste to make these delicious and satisfying. They are quite filling too.

Might be an interesting one to pull out if you are entertaining. Plus chia seeds provide a wealth of nutritional benefit as I describe here so these are a seriously healthy pudding option.

Forget yoghurts, these are the new way forward!

Pear & almond chia pudding

Ingredients (per pudding, scale up depending on how many you need)

  • 4 tbsp chia seeds
  • 12 tbsp almond milk or normal milk
  • 1/2 pear
  • 1x sachet of stevia sweetener (I used pure via)
  1. Chop the pear and put into the cup or container you want to use
  2. Mix the seeds milk and sweetener together then pour into the cups
  3. Put in the fridge to set (preferably for 24hours)
  4. Serve from chilled whenever you fancy!

 

Experiment with toppings to make it interesting..

Why Homemade Soup Beats the Shop Variety

Lovely and warming, can’t beat soup in Autumn and Winter!

Soups can pack in the portions of vegetables and they officially increase your satiety – the fullness feeling that means you eat less calories to feel satisfied. Many advise towards the soup starter in a restaurant to stop you gorging later on in the meal – just watch it’s not a ridiculously creamy number which can whack up the calories. For more weekly tips like this sign up to the Happy Sugar Habits mailing list.

Although making your own homemade soup does seem like extra hassle and time, it has some serious plus points against the old shop bought variety. The main benefit is that you know exactly what’s going into it. Shop bought soups these days seem like a healthy choice but not all are on equal par and this is another one not to be wrongly mistaken on i.e. eating something healthy when it’s not as much as you think!

Tinned vs. Fresh

Tinned soups are a great store cupboard emergency but do tend to contain more sugars to help preserve them and can also have a large amount of salt. They should really only be used when you can’t move a muscle to go any better i.e. suffering a miserable cold or flu. Those with a good protein source of lentils, beans or chickpeas are a better choice over just a vegetable variety as they will keep you fuller for longer and slow release energy into your bloodstream.

Fresh soups are a healthier option to tinned, but be aware you may be eating more sugars than you can directly taste or realise. Half a carton of Sainsbury’s fresh tomato and basil soup contains 17g sugar – the equivalent of just over 4 teaspoons. Tomatoes are technically a fruit so whilst most is naturally occurring, there are added sugars in the mix to be conscious of. Cooking your own means you know there is 0% added sugar and you can add some pulses which turn the soup into a more balanced meal containing a suitable protein amount. Bulk up with something like a sweet potato and you can eliminate the need to add a side of bread or toast, where your carbohydrate source is much more nutritious.

Experiment with toppings to make it interesting..

Another benefit of homemade soup is that you can cook near enough your weight in it, all in one satisfying go. Ok a slight exaggeration, but this means you can either share the soup love with friends, eat for lunch during the week, and still have portions left over to freeze for those ‘I can’t be bothered to cook’ emergencies.

Did you used to eat a lot of soup when you were younger? Did your mum used to make it homemade or was it always a classic tin of Heinz tomato pulled out of the cupboard? I know mine was the latter!