Basic Banana Breakfast Muffins

If you’ve got 5 minutes – you’ve got time to get a batch of these on the go!

In response to my little one spending a little too long on a somewhat strange stage of only wanting to eat pistachios and yoghurt for breakfast – I’ve been on the hunt for something a bit fun, delicious and better rounded nutritionally.

Enter: The Basic Banana Breakfast muffin!

These muffins only have around a teaspoon of added sugar per muffin (from honey), are low in sodium, contribute around 20% to their daily fibre needs and are an excellent source of potassium – all in an appropriately size portion. Bonus:  They are also great for lunchboxes (no nuts!), snacks on the go – or with a touch of vanilla yoghurt for a little dessert after dinner.

This recipe is uber simple, doesn’t have a million ingredients and takes 5 minutes to prep. Though it doesn’t come with any promises that it tastes like super decadent, sweet cake (it’s not supposed to – it’s supposed to be a respectable breakfast food!) – it’s been a hit at our house with both the big and little kids alike.

Serves: 12  muffins, 24 mini-muffins

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 80g honey (4 tbsp)
  • 45-50g coconut oil (3 tbsp)
  • 250ml full-cream milk (1 std cup)
  • 100g oats (1 std cup)
  • 45g dessicated coconut (6 tbsp)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180
  2. Prep a 12 muffin or 24 mini-muffin tin (either by greasing or lining with paper cups).
  3. In a blender or food processor – puree bananas.
  4. Dump all the other ingredients on top of the bananas and combine on low speed until blended.
  5. Spoon into muffin pan and pop into the oven
  6. Bake 20-30 until golden and skewer comes out clean

Best served: Warm with a touch of butter or with vanilla yoghurt

For those interested in the estimated nutritional profile – in one of the large muffins:

  • Energy: 200Cal
  • Fat: 8g
  • Protein: 4g
  • Carbohydrate: 30g
  • Added sugar (from honey): 5g
  • Fibre: 4g
  • Sodium: 140mg
  • Potassium: 125mg

Let me know if they’re also a hit at your house!

Portion Controlled Breakfast Bowls

We all know that café or bakery meals can be delicious and the best thing of course is that you aren’t left with the dishes! However, as much as you’d like to pretend otherwise – these meals generally provide far more energy than you should be having in a typical breakfast. The total energy, fat or sugar content can often be double or triple what’s appropriate – especially if you’ve decided to go one on one with the ‘Big Breakfast’. Needless to say, this gets seriously problematic for your own muffin top if a cafe meetup or bakery stop on the way to work is a regular feature in your week!

And even seemingly ‘good’ choices such as the Boost ‘Breakie to go’ smoothie has 18 teaspoons worth of sugar in it – about the same as 5 mini magnums to give you a comparison! Yipes …. give me the 5 mini-magnums anyday!

So, how much energy you should be consuming at breakfast is dependent on many factors – your gender, age, height/lean mass, activity level, whether breakfast is consumed first thing or combined with morning tea or any weight loss/gain goals just to name a few. Life Nutrition can certainly work with you to determine your individualised target, (please don’t hesitate to contact us!) – however, a reasonable recommendation for most adults will lie somewhere between 400-600Cal (inclusive of beverages).

In response to a client request for some more information on how she can pre-prep some ‘breakfast bowls’ (as she was very rightly concerned that some of the ‘smoothie’ bowl recipes/café creations are ‘calorie bombs’ and not terribly well balanced) – being a nerdy engineer in my prior life – I’ve developed the below system whereby you can ‘build your own breakfast bowl’. A simple meal that is tailored to your estimated energy needs and preferences and that won’t require a complete overhaul of your pantry or blowing your food budget for the week at some fancy ‘super-food’ store!

It’s probably worth noting at this point, that there are other ‘breakfast bowl’ types which incorporate eggs, steamed veg, salads etc and these warm, nutritious bowls are fabulous!….if you have the time that is! Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the time nor the motivation in the morning to cook quinoa, steam veg and poach eggs for breakfast – instead, reserve your energy and use any extra time in the morning to make a balanced, nutritious lunch to take to work and experiment with these bowls on the weekend when you have more time! So, with that in mind – I’ve focused on the oat/calcium/fruit/nut type of combination for this article as this seems manageable for most.

 

STEP 1 – DETERMINE YOUR ‘BREAKFAST ENERGY TARGET’

Before building your breakfast bowl, determine your estimated total ‘breakfast energy target’, then deduct any typical beverages you’ll consume – eg a café latte, made with 250ml of reduced fat milk and teaspoon of sugar will tend to be around 150Cal.

To illustrate: Consider a woman who is on a 450Cal breakfast target – she’ll be left with 300Cal to build her breakfast bowl after she allows for her latte. If instead she has tea or instant coffee with 1 sugar and 50-80ml of reduced-fat milk (around 50Cal) she will be left with 400Cal to build her breakfast bowl (but she maybe cranky as hell as she’s only had a crappy coffee – so beware!).

 

STEP 2 – PREPREP YOUR BASE

Create your base in just a few minutes – literally! The below recipe serves approximately 4 x 300Cal portions or 6 x 200Cal portions and will generally last around 3-4 days in the fridge

  • 2 cups rolled oats (whole oats, not ‘quick’)
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • ¼ cup unsweetened, dried shredded/flaked coconut (omit if you don’t like the taste/texture)
  • 1/3 cup of mixed dried fruit
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (Queens squeezie tubes are great!)
  • 2 cups milk or milk alternatives such as calcium-fortified almond or coconut.
  • Add spices if you’d like (eg cinnamon works really well)

Mix all these ingredients in a large container and stir until well combined. If you like to be super-organised, divide evenly between 4-6 containers (depending on your breakie bowl energy target), and chill overnight in the fridge.

Having some quality containers on hand are essential to meal-prepping of any kind and I find that the Sistema range lasts well, doesn’t leak and can go through the dishwasher (nope, no affiliation in case you were wondering). This clever Kiwi brand have developed containers which are perfect for the ‘breakfast bowl’ concept – where you put the ‘wet’ ingredients in one section and the ‘dry’ in the other. Sheer genius.

This is a fabulous way to pre-prep a few breakfasts in advance – though noting that ideally fresh fruit shouldn’t be cut in advance. Kiwi will quickly go mushy, fruits like pear or apple will brown within minutes of cutting it, but berries and mango tend to fare ok in my experience. In any case, beside loss of taste/texture –  the longer the fruit is cut – the more vitamin loss will result as it oxidises. So try to leave a few minutes in the morning to cut the fruit.

So the plastic containers are obviously a very functional solution to packing your breakie to take on the run – but please note that this concept can be very easily tarted up for a fancy weekend breakfast or brunch party by spooning the base/arranging the toppings in some stemless wine glasses/glass bowls – yup, playing with your food is not just fun for the kids, get creative when you have the time!

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NUTRITIONAL INFO ON THE BASE:

In case you wanted a bit more nutritional information for this ‘breakfast bowl base’, the following are the approximate values when it’s made up with reduced fat cows milk:

  • 200Cal serve: Carbs: 31g, Fat: 6.7g, Protein: 2g, Fibre: 5.5g, Sodium: 57mg, Added sugar (ie excl natural milk sugar): 6.5g
  • 300Cal serve: Carbs: 47g, Fat: 10g, Protein: 3g, Fibre: 8.3, Sodium: 86mg, Added sugar (ie excl natural milk sugar): 9.8g

Note that if you make this up with Rice, Oat or Soy milk – the energy value will be similar but protein will slightly decrease (especially Rice milk which is very low in protein)

Other milks such as almond or coconut can be considerably lower in energy than traditional dairy and are very low in protein (note: when referring to ‘coconut milk’, this is not the cans which you may use for curries – but the tetra packs in the ‘milk’ section). Brand-dependent, using coconut/almond milk may lower the energy content by around 30-50 Cal/serve depending on whether you are portioning this batch for 4 or 6 serves.

When choosing which milk you’d like to use in your base – weigh up what is right for you in terms of taste, any issues you may have with dairy, and desired protein content vs energy content – you maybe tempted to choose a milk that has less energy so that you can put on more toppings, but this needs to be weighed against the loss of protein (and fat) which is influential on the satiation of a meal and the overall nutritional balance may suffer. More about milk alternatives here.

 

STEP 3 – ADD-ONS

In the morning, top your base with the appropriate amount of add-ons’ (depending on your breakfast energy target). For ideal balance and to keep changing it up, mix up fresh fruit, nuts, yoghurt or a few sprinkles of granola. In minutes – you’re ready to eat a lovely, nutritious, balanced and appropriately sized breakfast!

To make it easy for you to compare options and estimate the energy in your add-ons – I’ve created the following list of typical additional toppings that have been portioned to each be roughly 50Cal – mix them up/combine as required.

50 Cal portions of Fruit and nuts – note that these are just estimates as size/season can change these values

  • Nuts – Watch the quantity of this topping carefully – nuts are fabulous for you and should definitely be a regular feature in your diet (assuming lack of allergy here – please don’t head down the anaphylaxis path on my account!) But 50 Cal is generally only 2/3-1 tablespoon of cut nuts, 4-5 cashews/almonds/hazelnuts or just 3 whole macadamias (plain, unsalted).
  • Half a cup of mixed fruit or blueberries – frozen berries are great to have on hand
  • Strawberries or de-pipped cherries – 8
  • Half a medium banana (or one small lady-finger banana)
  • Half a small mango
  • Apricots – 3 fresh or dried
  • Nectarine or small peach
  • Small apple or pear
  • Kiwi x 2,
  • Passionfruit – 3
  • Sultanas – 20g (though the 25g kids snack boxes are close enough!)
  • Half a baked or stewed small apple/pear/nectarine or peach

Random 50Cal add-ons

  • 90ml or about 3 heaped Tablespoons of no-fat Chobani greek yoghurt
  • Approx 30-50ml of most flavoured yoghurts (about 1-2 heaped tablespoons). Measure this out with your favourite yoghurt if unsure as there’s wide variations between brands/lines.
  • 3 level tablespoons of chia-seed jam 
  • Granola or toasted muesli – crunchies on top of breakfast bowls are the bomb! Just watch that your brand is not too high in fat/sugar and that you portion out 50Cal worth correctly – this will typically be only 1 tablespoon of storebought granola or around 2 tablespoons of our recipe.
  • 2.5 teaspoons of honey (yummy, but not a terribly nutritious topping!)

 

VISUAL EXAMPLES

  • 250Cal bowls:

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  • 300Cal Bowls

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  • 350Cal Bowls

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  • 400Cal Bowls

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OTHER OPTIONS

Option 1: If you forgot to prep up and you need to create something in 5 minutes – or if you simply would like a change, substitute the oat base with 200Cal of yoghurt. Generally, this will be around 130-150g of full-fat/flavoured options or up to a huge 340g portion of unflavoured, no-fat greek yoghurt (eg Chobani) – the choice is yours, just check your brand as these values can differ considerably and choose a yoghurt with a sugar content that is no higher than 5-10g/100ml.

Option 2: If you don’t have time for cutlery or energy to bring the spoon to your mouth this morning – whizz a portion of this base up in a blender with an additional 200ml of milk or milk alternative and an appropriate quantity of fresh or frozen fruit as suited to your energy target (eg bananas, mango, berries). Drink your breakfast ‘smoothie-style’! A few drops of stevia or xylitol are a good way to bring out the sweetness of the fruit without adding extra energy.

I hope this article has given you a few good ideas about how you can build your own balanced, reasonably sized breakfast bowl with only a few minutes of prep and referring to my quick list of portioned toppings. Not heading past the cafe every morning will save you $ and time but most importantly, taking more ownership of and prioritising your nutrition will improve your health and energy both now and into the future. Happy eating!

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Super Summer Salads, Series 1

 

Ok – so a little while back I wrote an article joking about how “You don’t win friends with salad, you don’t win friends with salad”, with the point being how to nutritionally upgrade your favourite hot dishes. But perhaps you can win friends with salad after all – especially as we head towards summer at an alarming rate. Goodness knows, it’s certainly steaming up here in the Far North (read: occasional rivulets of sweat are becoming raging torrents) and all of you southerners won’t be far behind!

So if you were thinking that it was perhaps time to add a new salad or two to your repertoire – take a squizz at just a few of my family favourites – most which take only 10 minutes to do (Fellas – good salads (and fancy french words) impresses the ladies!). Some of the following can be stand-alone meals or great side dishes to a roast chicken, some fish, antipasto or fire up the Weber and combine a few of them to create an epic BBQ spread – as always, wash everything well prior to use and adjust quantities as required. Please let me know which are your winners from the below and send me some recipes of your favourites as I always love keeping it new and fresh as well!

As always – as a key commitment from Life Nutrition is to be 100% independent so in the interests of full transparency and in the spirit of openness, I wish to clearly disclose that some of the ingredients shown are ones with which I have familial business associations with. However, they are not included here for the deliberate purposes of advertisement – merely as because that is what I stock in my pantry. But yes, they do of course taste marvelous in case you were wondering!

1. Rocket with pear, walnut, prosciutto, Spanish onion and parmesan

In a large bowl, place 150-200g rocket leaves (usually the amount in one of those pre-packaged supermarket bags), one thinly sliced, ripe pear and a quarter of a Spanish (purple) onion that has been very finely sliced. Fry up 6 thin slices of prosciutto, cool then chop roughly. Add this prosciutto, one small handful of shaved parmesan and two small handfuls of chopped walnuts to the rocket/pear/onion mix. Toss through with extravirgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and crack some black pepper over the top (due to the prosciutto, you’ll find that salt should not be required!)

 

2. Caprese Salad

This is reliably a huge hit and is extra delish when served with some toasted olive or garlicky bread! Note that mini- or grape tomatoes with baby-bocconini can be skewered easily with some basil (and black olives!) to create healthy canapes.

Warning: Don’t use mushy tomatoes. Never use mushy tomatoes. Nobody likes mushy tomatoes.

So take around 6 large tomatoes, two large, fresh mozzarella balls and a bunch of super-fresh basil. Slice/chop in pretty much any way you like and dress with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar (glaze is also good to add a few drops/drizzles at the end), salt and pepper. Now, being the well-behaved nutritionist that I am (most of the time….ok…some of the time) – aside from dishes which call for stock, I don’t intentionally add salt to many dishes. Caprese salad is definitely one of those exceptions for me as it really brings out the flavours in the fresh tomato – so give it a few cracks!

Hot tip: if you are going to get arty with a platter or by skewering this (rather than just tossing it into a bowl) – match the size of the boccocini/mozzarella to your tomatoes.

 

3. Beetroot, goats cheese and toasted pine nuts

This little dish takes a bit longer if you take into account the cooking time for the beetroot – but aside from that, it’s one of the laziest dishes ever – bonus!

Take 2-3 large beetroots, wash and chop the top/bottom off (no need to peel). Seal each beetroot in foil and bake on a tray at 180 for around 40 minutes or until easily skewered. Allow these to cool in the foil and then you should find that the skin peels away easily just with your (now bright pink) fingers. Chop beetroot into bite sized pieces, add 50-80g crumbled goats cheese (depends how much you like and deliberately reserving a bit to sprinkle on the top!) and a handful of toasted or dry-fried pine nuts. No dressing required as there is enough taste in the goats cheese and moisture in the beetroot.

 

4. Chicken, roasted pepper and creamed pesto

This salad tastes seriously decadent – but you can always lighten the dressing up by using a quality low-fat greek yoghurt instead of crème fraiche. Chop up two cooked medium chicken breasts and toss into 1 Cos lettuce (yucky outer leaves removed). Add 2 chopped celery sticks and a sliced, roasted red pepper (or if you’re running short or time, motivation or know-how – about half a jar of roasted red peppers or sun dried tomatoes also works well). In a small bowl mix about 2.5 tablespoons of chunky pesto dip and juice from half a lemon to 100ml of crème fraiche and mix through the salad. Crack some black pepper over the top and serve with remaining lemon wedges.

 

5. Boiled asparagus and crushed egg

This one is from my dad. God knows where he got it from. Place 4-5 eggs in a saucepan, and bring to a boil for at least a few minutes – you want to ensure all the yolk is cooked through. When done – drain and allow eggs to cool. In the meantime,  take two bunches of asparagus and snap (rather than cut) the woody/old bottoms off – snapping will naturally pick the point along the stem that is old vs fresh. If you want to trim the lengths for aesthetic reasons, then do that after snapping. Place them into boiling water for 2-3 minutes or until just cooked through then drain and add them to a bowl of icy water – this makes them go a great green colour and keeps them from going soggy. Asparagus can also be steamed if you prefer – just don’t make them soggy!

Remove the shell from the egg and crush the white/yolks into a bowl with some added extra virgin olive oil, red vinegar and cracked pepper (start with small amounts and add it to your taste/preferred consistency). Top cooled asparagus with egg mixture

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6. Breakfast salad

As it heats up – I challenge all of you to just once replace your stodgy, greasy plate of bacon, eggs and toast with this breakfast salad (serves two). I bet for at least half of you – it becomes a new favourite – and there’s extra points to you for including a serve of salad first thing in the day! Or alternatively – take your favourite breakfast into a lunch/dinner format

Cover 3 eggs in a saucepan with cold water and bring to the boil. Turn down heat and simmer for 3 minutes (more time needed if you don’t want your eggs soft boiled). If you’re a bit of a culinary unco like me – put 4-5 eggs in and take out at 2.5 minutes and split open straight away to know whether they’re all ready or if more time is needed! In a bowl, put one chopped cos heart, 75g of cooked, chopped rindless bacon (around 3 pieces), 10 halved cherry tomatoes and the cooled, peeled, halved eggs. In a small container shake up a large batch of dressing (great to have leftovers on hand!) – ratios are ½ extra virgin olive oil, ¼ red wine vinegar, ¼ Dijon mustard. Drizzle the salad with this dressing and top with croutons – homemade and garlicky in an ideal world (storebought, whatever flavour if your reality this week just didn’t pan out that way!).

 

7. Orange, fennel and red onion

This salad appears on our table at least once a week – perhaps it’s because it takes 5 minutes to make – or perhaps its just because it’s my idea of ideal summer food! Slice 3-4 peeled oranges into 1cm rounds and add to a bowl with thinly-sliced, fennel (approx. half a bulb) and finely sliced Spanish onion (approx. 1/4 onion). Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, red vinegar and a few good cracks of black pepper. Decorate with a few of the green leafy bits from the fennel

 

8. Salad cups

Some of you may recognized these salad cups from my article “How to meal prep like a boss”. They’re a great quick dinner at home and present really well for a BBQ as well. Wash 1-2 heads of cos lettuce and strip off the best medium-sized leaves. Fill with your choice of veggies, avocado, nuts and protein – eg shredded chicken/pork/beef, smoked salmon, tuna, tofu, legumes (or you can keep the cups veggie-only and serve as an accompaniment to your protein). Season with pepper, citrus juice and drizzle with dressing or mayo.

 

If you’ve enjoyed this article – please share it on and stay tuned for ‘Super Summer Salads, Series 2’! Also please share your favourite recipes below or on our Facebook page!

 

How to meal prep like a boss

Made time to go to the supermarket and have a shopping trolley full of fruit, veggies, wholegrains and good quality proteins? Tick!

Managed not to scream like a banshee at your kids trying to slip chocolate bars into the trolley at the checkout? Tick! ….. Managed to slip your own chocolate bar into the trolley at the checkout? Double tick!

And look at you getting all your shopping bags from the car to the house in record minimal trips – complete with resulting ligature marks across your forearms to show both how tough and super-efficient… (umm…lazy)….you are? Aren’t we just winning today!

Best thing to do now is to stick the kids in front of a movie, unpack and go have a lie down with a glass of wine – um…what I mean to say is – stick the kids in front of a movie, unpack the rest of your shopping and go a good round with your veggies in a meal-prep session!

fridge-ingredientsIt is very likely that at this point it’s the last thing you feel like doing – but as we all know, if you unpack a load of vegetables straight into the fridge – the prospect of coming home after work, or after child-wrangling, study, managing the house, squeezing in a workout or social session and having to start each meal from scratch is so completely unattractive!

So much so that despite your good intentions, it often doesn’t happen and results in takeout or ready-made meals and veggie drawers being full of sad, moldy vegetables at the end of the week. In danger of stating the obvious – this is far from ideal, from both a health, financial and environmental perspective – but we’ve all done it and the best (and only) way really to avoid it is to meal prep

Now, when the term ‘meal prep’ is boring-meal-prepmentioned – many of you may picture rows of bland, identical meals in throw away containers and this prospect of eating the same reheated lunch and dinner for 5 days straight as just as horrifying as having to scrape out end-of-the-week slushy zucchini from the bottom of the veg drawer. And that’s not even taking into account the inevitable sniping and moaning from the kids (big and small) from the back bench.

So in this article I’m aiming to give you just a few examples of how you can hit that middle ground – where in just one initial 30-45min ‘veg prep’ session, you can seriously cut your cooking (and cleaning up!) time during the week but still have real, fresh varied meals each day.  Being a mother predominately in charge of the cooking at home – the aim is not to be gourmet but simple, quick and kid-friendly – all these dishes go down well at our house, so I hope you have the same luck!

Many can also be done up in advance and simmer away in a slow cooker if that works in better with school runs, fitting in extracurricular activities etc. If you are a Jedi-master or an ultimate multi-tasker, while you’re doing this veg-prep, pop the oven on to do a batch of roasted pumpkin for salads or roasted antipasto-Mediterranean veg and boil 6-8 eggs on the stove for breakfasts/instant snacks.

A quick note on sauces: ‘I’m a passionate foodie and I’d just give anything to have enough time to make my own sauces’ – said me never. If I had more free ‘alone time’, you’d probably find me climbing hills or meeting friends for coffee and cake instead of stirring a vat of tomato puree and sterilizing bottles to store it. My philosophy is that if the bulk of your meal is based around vegetables, wholegrains and quality protein sources – then you’re already winning. If you need to use purchased sauces or marinades to keep it real and get a meal on the table that your family actually wants to eat – go for it.

Just be very aware of course, that most sauces are high in salt and often in sugar too – so choose the reduced sodium varieties where available. Use these sauces sparingly, complementing the dishes with garlic, citrus juices or herbs as flavourings instead of simply using more sauce. Also consider elongating your dishes to reduce the amount of sauce in each serve – ie: if a sachet of sauce says to ‘add an onion and 500g of the meat of your choice’ – then also throw in 2-4 cups of chopped vegetables as well, thereby lowering the concentration of both the sauce and calorie density in your meal and scoring extra veggie points.

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So let’s get started – Clear some bench space, wash all your vegetables, get out your airtight containers and all chopping toys and tools. Make sure you’ve also extracted any savable veggies out of the fridge and compost/dispose of any poor souls which didn’t make it. Vegetables we always have on the chopping block are onions, carrots, capsicum, zucchini, leek, cucumber, broccoli, beans or snowpeas and celery.

Be sure to include whatever others rock your boat – but noting that some softer options like tomatoes, mushrooms and avocados don’t fare too well for more than a day or so!

Cut vegetables into appropriate gadget-friendly sizes and lengths and either dice them using a knife (slow), manual cutter as that shown above (faster with seriously OCD-compliant results) or with a slicing blade on a processer (fastest, but can be annoying with big random chunks being left behind).Cutting rather than macerating the vegetables in a processer with a coarse grating attachment is preferable in terms of longevity and texture (though the coarse grater is super-quick for a one-off meal prep!).

Some things to watch out for in your food prep:

  • Don’t finely dice too much celery, unless you’re planning to use it in the first day or two – it goes brown faster than the other veg
  • Cucumber seeds don’t like sitting around in plastic containers for a few days – cut out the bulk of these with a v-shaped notch before dicing
  • Moisture should be drained out of these containers before storing them to maximize longevity/quality of the veggies inside. As you complete each container, line 2-3 layers of paper towel across the tops of the containers, put the lids on and let them rest upside down for at least 10 minutes. Upright and remove towel before storing in fridge
  • Cut some veggie sticks as you go – these are great for dips or snacks.

So what can we create out of this for the next few days?

There are multitudes of options, I’ve only included a few of our family favourites – and I’d love to hear yours! You may notice that I have included the salad-based dishes first, this is as logically – precut veg are going to start to lose their best textures by day 3-4 and so they’re better off getting thrown into sauces/soups by then! Additionally, this is when lettuce or bags of salad mix are going to be at their best after coming home from the supermarket.

You may note that my quantities generally provide around 8 serves. We do this so that there are leftovers for lunches or to freeze half a batch of the cooked component for a future crazy busy/lazy day. Adjust your quantities as required

1) Lunch or light dinner – Salad cups, 5-10 minutes prep time

Wash 2 heads of cos lettuce and strip off the best medium-sized leaves. Fill with your choice of veggies, avocado, nuts and protein – eg shredded chicken/pork/beef, smoked salmon, tuna, tofu, legumes (or you can keep the cups veggie-only and serve as an accompaniment to your protein). Season with pepper, citrus juice and drizzle with dressing or mayo. A good looking dish to bring to BBQ’s too!

 

2) Lunch or light dinner – Chicken/fish wraps, 10-15 minutes prep/cook time

(and I’ve noted a few other options if you have a bit more time!)

Create a platter of cut veggies for the family to choose from and set it out perhaps with some grated cheese, avocado, protein of your choice and some salad leaves. You may choose to grill some chicken (marinade can add interest), or shred a roast chicken/get canned tuna or salmon if you’re particularly pressed for time. A super-easy favourite of ours is to get the supermarket to put 2-3 pieces of salmon into an ovenbag with just one squirt of the sweet chilli and this only takes 15 minutes to cook in a preheated oven – no standing over the stove worrying about drying it out, no fish smell in the house or having to clean fish splatter off the splashback! Choose a good quality wholegrain or multigrain wrap such as ‘better for U’ barley wraps rather than white tortillas.

Also as photographed below – wraps also work really well with pulled pork or slow-cooked lamb if you remember to put your cut into the slowcooker in the morning or by lunch, noting that you already have diced cucumber that can make a great tzatziki when paired with a quality yoghurt, some lemon juice, garlic and mint. Cut corners and bring some variety and even more colour onto your salad platter by heating up a bowl of frozen corn in the microwave. Bonus: left over meats can be used in lunches, in sauces/soup over the next 2-3 days.

If you have 20 minutes of cooking time – wraps are always winning when served a la Mexicana! Before you start preparing your salad platter, fry off ¾ cup of your pre-prepared onion and 800-1000g of minced beef or chicken/beef strips. Add 2-3 cups of vegetables, a 400g can of diced tomatoes, a drained can of red kidney beans and 2 sachets of taco, burrito or fajita seasoning. While this is simmering away for 10-15 minutes – prepare your salad platter (don’t forget to pop some jalapenos on there!) and substitute sour cream for plain greek low/no-fat Chobani yoghurt – it’s a swap nobody will notice and is a much healthier choice!

*Hot tip, especially for the kids or the unco’s among us – Hold the wrap with it’s base half way down a 15cm length of foil, fold the foil over the base and wrap the edges around the sides – so much easier to eat!

3) Random mid-week lunches and snacks

Having all your veggies pre-cut is so handy in enabling you to create a salad in less than 5 minutes for work or to have at home – simply add your choice of leaves, protein, nuts and dressing to a few good scoops of your veggie mix. Also great for preparing a snack for yourself or for the kids at school.

 

4) Dinner – San Choy Bao, 15 minutes prep/cook time

While you are microwaving a cup of brown rice with 2 cups of water (15 mins), start by washing/separating out your iceberg or cos lettuce leaves – laying them out on paper towels to dry – if you’re a bit OCD, you might like to trim them down into neat bowls – I have neither the time or motivation! Then stirfry 800-1000g of minced pork, turkey or chicken with a drizzle of oil, some garlic paste and a cup of your pre-prepared leek or onion.

Add in 3-4 cups of veggies, cook through for a few minutes and add 2 sachets of San Choy Bao sauce and simmer until done or until rice is ready. This recipe works really well with some chopped water chestnuts, bean sprouts or bamboo shoots but don’t stress if you don’t have them. Let your rice and San Choy Bao mix cool a little before spooning into lettuce cups

*Hot tip: run the base of the lettuce under cool water as you peel the cups off from starting at the base – this helps them separate without ripping. Cos lettuce is the far better choice though if you are short on time or patience (and it’s easier to handle than iceberg, especially for kids!)

5) Dinner – Pasta – 20mins prep/cook time

Pasta, sausages or meatballs are true potty words in many nutritional circles. However, with my Italian background – an occasional pasta for me is non-negotiable and my kids and partner love sausages – let’s be honest, they can be really tasty. I figure why not include this family favourite into this article as it’s truly delicious and what is food if it’s not there to be enjoyed?

It’s a good reminder not to get caught up in the puritanical obsession over food and to demonise foods to the extent you are too scared to enjoy them in moderation.

So – get the pasta water boiling straight away and throw in 1-1.5 packets of pasta when it’s at full boil. (Many like to salt the pasta water – that’s beneficial for flavour, not so great for your health – your choice!) Then fry off 800-1000kg of mince/meatballs or bite-sized sausage pieces (pork or chicken) with some garlic paste and around a cup of your pre-cut onions. When meat is browned, add in 3-4 cups of diced vegetables, a stock cube/gel that complements your meat chosen and some tomatoes (a combination of your choice from fresh tomatoes, diced tomatoes or passata (tomato puree).

Now to boost flavour – I highly recommend adding 3 heaped teaspoons of Sacla chilli pesto or a jar of their arrabiata sauce (see *disclosure below!), herbs of your choice – such as bay leaves, rosemary, basil and add chopped parsley towards the end of cooking. Another great way to add flavour is to throw in the rind from your parmesan cheese and remove before serving (never throw these rinds away, there’s a million culinary-genius uses for them!).

As for most pasta sauces – though it can be eaten after the meat and vegetables are cooked through – more cooking time will certainly improve the sauce and intensify the flavours – whether this is an extra 10 minutes that you may have at night or whether you manage to get it into a slow cooker in the morning/during the day. Drain pasta when cooked, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and immediately stir through a few large serving spoons of sauce as this lowers the amount of olive oil you have to add to stop the pasta from sticking together as it cools. Serve with grated parmesan.

*Disclosure – In the interests of full transparency – please note that I have familial associations with the Sacla and Val Verde products featured here. You can use other brands for sure – but in a totally biased, but still true statement – these are the best!

6) Dinner – Shepherd’s pie – 1hr prep/cook time

So this one many not be one for a ‘school night’ for many as it does take a bit longer to prep and cook than the other dishes – despite me taking plenty of shortcuts on the traditional shepherd’s pie (and changing it up to make it more nutritious!).

Set the oven to 160 degrees. In a deep, ovensafe pan – fry up a cup of your diced onion with 1kg of lean lamb mince (or kangaroo/beef if you can’t find lamb or if you want a leaner dish as lamb can be inherently a bit fattier!). Add 4 cups of diced veggies and/or frozen peas/corn and after a 2-3 minutes of cooking stir in 4-5 tablespoons of plain flour. After a further 2 minutes of cooking, add 4 bay leaves, 500ml beef stock, 3-4 tablespoons of Worstershire sauce and 2 tablespoons of concentrated tomato paste. (In the session when this photo was taken I didn’t have the paste – so just used 400ml diced tomatoes and just boil it off a bit more – it still worked!). Bring the mixture to a boil on the stove and then transfer to the oven to reduce.

Pop a large pot of water on the stove to bring it to the boil while you start peeling/chopping your root veggies. Traditionally the topping for this pie is white potato, but you can make this a lower GI dish (with fewer calories) if you change it up a bit by replacing or combining this white potato with sweet potato, pumpkin or cauliflower instead – all manner of combinations/substitutes work well.

When these veggies are soft, drain and mash – whether you add milk, salt, butter or cream is ultimately entirely up to you – this pie can be as healthy or as decadent as you like – including if you’d like to add a pastry base/sides, but from a nutritionist’s point of view, if it’s going to feature regularly on your weekly menu – then try add these ingredients in a half-reasonable fashion! Take the mixture out of the oven and increase the temperature to 220 degrees then either pop this mash straight on top of the mixture if there’s room in your pan – or layer a new casserole dish with the mixture and then the mash (and if you like, top with a bit of grated tasty or parmesan cheese!). Return to the oven for 10 minutes to brown off the top and melt the cheese.

 

7) Dinner – End of week – ‘Mongrel but Delicious’ Soup – 10 minutes prep time, 30 minutes to 1 hour simmer time.

So you’ve made it to the end of the week (hopefully without too much general carnage and wine intake along the way!). This is when I bring out the biggest pot I have, fry off the remaining onion and leek with some garlic and then pretty much dump all my remaining diced vegetables (except cucumber – that’d just be weird!) and any remaining loners from the veg drawer with a chunk of pumpkin, a sweet potato or two and perhaps some legumes or barley from the pantry.

For flavour: Add some rosemary, bay leaf, diced tomatoes or half a bottle of passata, any left-over meat from a previous roast or slow-cooker meal or a ham or bacon hock (parmesan rind is good here too!). Cover the lot with salt-reduced stock, bring to the boil and simmer on medium heat for at least 30 minutes and until all veggies are soft – around an hour is ideal.

Extract the ham/bacon bone if you added one of these and shred off the meat, throwing out the bone/skin/fatty bits. Add this meat back into the soup and serve chunky ‘minestrone’ style with some parsley, grated parmesan and if you would like some extra carbohydrates – perhaps add some cooked pasta pieces, brown rice or put some wholemeal/multigrain bread on the side. Otherwise (as this tends to be more kid friendly!) take out the hard bayleaves/sticks from the rosemary and pulverise with a stick blender until really lovely and smooth.

To Conclude: I hope this article (albeit a long one to get through!) has given you a few ideas about how you may become your own ‘Meal prep boss’. As always, if you’ve enjoyed the read – the greatest compliment would be to share it and recommend Life Nutrition to your family and friends, your support is always appreciated!

Beautiful Blends!

Blending is a process by which whole fruits and/or vegetables gets both annihilated and consumed and an occasional blend (limit yourself to maximum one/day) can certainly be a handy and enjoyable way to top up to your micronutrient and fibre intake. For more information, please refer to our article Blending vs Juicing – does either live up to the hype?

With much experimentation (my family and friends have often been subjected to very suspect concoctions) I have found that the best blend ratio – both from a health perspective but without tasting like you’re drinking a blended salad – is a vegetable to fruit ratio of 2:1 or 3:1. However, by all means – if your tastes allow, increase the vegetable component! If you make a blend with a higher fruit content, it’s highly advised to add extra fibre (for example, chia seeds/gel ground flaxseed or raw oats) as this will help slow that sugar release – or if you like thinking of things in GI terms, this effectively will lower the blend’s GI. You also need to be aware that if a blend is used as a ‘meal replacement’, it’s best to also include some protein and good fats – avocados, soft tofu or nuts are commonly used.

Each blender will be slightly different and you may need to experiment what works best for you, but the following approach works for us:

  1. Blend ingredients first with only a little water for at least a minute, then add your liquids/ice (a good 2-3 cups worth of ice– there is nothing worse than a warm blend!) and blend some more until everything has been pulverised and is smooth.
  2. Some people literally blend the whole fruit – pips, rind, stalks – but I find that this often gives the blend a really bitter funny taste and leaves your blend gritty – even with a good blender. However, a few small pieces of citrus rind (including the pith!) can add flavour and contain great oils, vitamins, flavanoids and anti-oxidants) –  but definitely include skins on apples, pears, peaches and other fruits and vegetables
  3. Sweeten it to taste with a low-calorie sweetener like stevia liquid. Stevia is naturally derived, mixes in well and is easy on your digestive tract. Others prefer Xylitol though watch out for increased possibility of gastrointestinal issues with that one. Don’t use sweeteners like Agave Nectar as due to the high fructose content, this is worse for you to have to metabolise than standard white sugar!
  4. If I’m doing a really ‘green’ smoothie – adding ginger, lemon or lime juice and/or rind and basil, lime leaves or mint really helps palatability and adds variety and interest.

So, the following are a few of my favourite recipes – addgreen smoothie whichever greens you prefer or have on hand (spinach followed by kale are probably my favourites and even frozen peas can be great – a funny idea I know, but something that I found out quite by chance when I was mid-prep a few months ago and found myself without ice!) Adjust water, ice and sweetener volumes to your preferred taste and consistency and sometimes replacing water with coconut water, green or peppermint tea can add a really healthy, yummy twist. All of these will give around 3-4 large serves, so adjust quantities as often blends don’t keep well in the fridge (they tend to lose their smooth consistency and nutrient quality will decline once the fruits and vegetables are exposed to oxygen.

 

Blend 1: Green bananas,

  1. 2-3 good handfuls of greens

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    Banana’s are a powerhouse!

  2. One small-medium fennel bulb – trust me on this – or use a few sprigs of basil if you don’t have fennel
  3. Kids packet of sultanas
  4. One ripe, peeled then frozen banana
  5. Juice from one small-med lemon
  6. 1 apple
  7. Chilled water, ice, stevia to taste

 

 

Blend 2: Tropical refresher

  1. 1 cup of frozen pineapplepine-apple
  2. 1 ripe pear or orange
  3. 2-3 large handfuls of greens
  4. 2 cups of chilled peppermint tea (make the night before)
  5. Few sprigs of fresh mint
  6. Chilled water, ice, stevia to taste

 

Blend 3 – Ugly Duckling. Weird name, I know – but if you make it you’ll see why. Given this will undoubtedly be the most hideous concoction you’ve ever made or seen, I dare not take a photo of it – but your bravery in trying it will be well rewarded!

  1. 2 cups or so of frozen watermelonspinach
  2. ½ a cup of frozen raspberries
  3.  Cucumber – about a 10cm chunk
  4. Two large handful of greens
  5. At least 6-8 basil leaves
  6. Juice from a lime,
  7. Chilled water, ice, stevia to taste

 

Blend 4: Refreshing and lightginger

  1. Two ripe pears
  2. Three sticks of celery and about 10cm of cucumber
  3. A large handful of greens
  4. 3-4 pitted medjool dates
  5. A few sprigs of mint and a thumbsized knob of ginger
  6. Chilled water, ice, stevia to taste

Fresh, nutritious, oven-roasted muesli

There are few better ways to start your day then with a bowl of fresh or warmed stewed fruit, topped with protein-rich plain yogurt and a sprinkle of crunchy home-made, oven-roasted muesli (and a strong coffee of course!).

When I started really reading labels in my late 20’s with a better understanding of the fine print, I was horrified at how high the fat and sugar percentages were in store-bought muesli and granola ‘clusters’ – sugar content often being upwards of 20%. Compounding this confusion was the difficulty in ascertaining how much of these fats and sugars were ‘naturally’ there in terms of the dried fruit and nuts, and how much was added – just to make it taste good or to get the clusters to stick together!

Most of these products have a huge range of health claims on the front packet, but at the end of the day – added sugar (in some form) is often listed as the 3rd or 4th ingredient item (indicating that after oats, and usually then dried fruits – it is the next main ingredient). So I started roasting my own muesli at home so that I knew exactly what was in it and so that could start the day with fuel that would be slow burning and full of beneficial nutrients.

Oats are a key cornerstone of many breakfasts and for good reason. They contain beta-glucan which is a soluble fibre, shown to improve blood glucose control and insulin responses after eating. This fibre also lowers cholesterol, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and has also been associated with reduced risk of some cancers, including breast cancer. Oats also contain a range of nutrients and antioxidants, including avenanthramide – a unique phytochemical that has been illustrated to be protective for blood vessels against the damaging LDL-cholesterol.

The protein in oats is also much higher than most breakfast cereals at around 14% and this can help you feel fuller for longer and helping you better deal with the mid-morning munchies! Likewise, nuts are a fabulous source of fibre, healthy fats, protein and contain a range of micronutrients and minerals including several B vitamins, vitamin E and potassium. Nuts have also been associated with better heart health and lowered cholesterol and when added to a meal, will slow the rate of digestion through the gastrointestinal tract, helping to manage blood glucose.

The following recipe can be as simple or as intricate as you like – you might just want to use one type of fruit, nut or seed or you may include a wide variety. Likewise, you may like to play around with the quantities and ratios to suit your tastes or to change it up occasionally. I like my bowl to look and taste like a party and we need a new batch at home at least every 2-3 weeks. So to make it more efficient and save on preparation time, we fill a big snaplock bag with a mix of seeds, chopped nuts and dried coconut and simply scoop out 2½ cups of the mixture as required. You could also take a similar approach with the fruit.

A note of caution: though this granola is low in added sugars/fats compared to the store-bought varieties and it is very nutritious – it is also naturally quite high in energy from the natural fats found in the nuts and the fruit sugars. So, probably best not to sit down to a whole bowl of it (if you can resist!) – a standard serving size would be a 3-5 tablespoons on top of yogurt/fruit or to liven up a boring serve of 4.5-5 star cereal.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups raw, whole rolled oats – definitely not quick or flavoured oats! Or you could use buckwheat if you are gluten free
  • 1 cup mixed, chopped or slivered raw nuts
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes or shredded coconut
  • ½ cup raw seeds (sunflower, flaxseed or pepitas are great)
  • ½ cup chopped unsweetened dried fruit – sultanas, apricots, pineapple, apple etc
  • 3-4 tablespoons – maple syrup/honey
  • 2-3 tbsp virgin coconut oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 large pinch of sea-salt
  • 4 teaspoons (or more if you like!) of powdered spices – cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg go really well together as does ginger and ground cardamom.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 150ºC
  2. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix really well – you’ll have to get in there with your hands if your coconut oil is not liquid as otherwise you’ll end up with clumps, or warm the oil to a liquid consistency prior to adding it to the mixture.
  3. Thinly spread the mixture, flattening it over 3 non-stick oven trays and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until toasted to your taste– stirring/turning it over after about 7 minutes
  4. Cool, stirring the mixture occasionally and keep in an airtight container in the fridge or pantry.
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Serving suggestion: Best enjoyed without screaming children around!

 

Nutritional information: Muesli:

museli-nutritional-information

Healthy, easy chia seed jam

Chia seeds can easily be used to create a healthy jam or fruit sauce with only a few ingredients and all of 10 minutes preperation/cooking time – it’ll be far healthier than the sugar-laden versions on your supermarket shelves and believe me, it’s very simple to do!

If you’ve read my ‘About’ page, you will have gathered that I’m not the sort of nutritionist who encourages you to go down to your nearest health store and spend hundreds of dollars on ‘superfoods’. This is as so few of them are supported by any reputable clinical research and their ‘benefits’ are largely based on anecdotal reports – so my advice is usually to save your money!

However – we do keep chia seeds in our pantry as I love how it turns into a jelly-like substance when you add water to it and unlike the over-inflated claims that plague the other ‘superfoods’, these tiny seeds are actually really nutritious and satiating with plenty of micronutrients, antioxidants and fibre – something all too often lacking in Australian diets.

However, you may have also heard rave reviews about their Omega-3 content, but unfortunately this claim is an over-exaggeration as chia seeds only contain ALA’s (Alpha Linolenic Acid) which is not efficiently converted by us into EPA and DHA – the ‘active’ Omega-3 forms which are so beneficial for your heart and brain function and general good health. So, be aware that though chia seeds will raise the levels of ALA and modestly raise the EPA in your blood, they cannot be relied on to contribute much DHA at all. Note that marine-based foods are the richest sources of DHA and it’s recommended to consume these regularly.

Ingredients

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Chia Seeds

1 x 250g punnet of strawberries

1.5 stalks of rhubarb

0-2 tablespoons honey (this is optional – add it based on taste and preference – or add a squirt of liquid stevia for sweetness without the extra energy)

2 tablespoons chia seeds

Makes around 22 tablespoons and each tablespoon is approximately 15Cal when the jam is made up with strawberries and 1 tablespoon of honey – this is one quarter the energy value of normal jam!

Method

  • Wash, chop then cook your rhubarb in a touch of water until it just begins to soften (approx. 2mins)
  • Add washed strawberries (cut off the green leaves, but keep white parts as this contains pectin which helps the jam ‘set’ and cook together with the rhubarb until all the fruit is soft
  • Put cooked fruit, chia seed and any desired sweetener into a food processor and pulverize!
  • Refrigerate overnight and the chia seeds will absorb the fruit juices/water to become a gel

You now have a lovely jam for kids sandwiches, breakfast toast, wholemeal pancakes or instead of buying yoghurts full of sugars and artificial flavourings, try adding the jam to a quality plain yoghurt, such as Chobani.

Of course you could always change it up a little! Use other ripe fruit or berries that you have on hand, experiment with changing the consistency or sweetness to suit your tastes or if you like a few chunks in your jam, just set aside  a bit of the cooked fruit prior to pulverising the rest with the chia seed/honey/stevia and then add in after processing and prior to refrigeration.

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Image – Courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net