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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Are we there yet? Why are we not there yet?

As you start making nutritional and behavioural changes you expect to see results right?!

Like – bam! Because you’re doing everything asked of you and you’re a super focused machine!

However, it didn’t take you a few days or weeks to put on the weight you’re wanting to lose or to have depleted your body of the micronutrients it needs to function at it’s peak. Many of your negative behaviours or attitudes around food are also a product of your life to date – many starting right back in your childhood. So, logically – it’s going to take time to see any nutritional improvements to be reflected in you. As for the formation or breaking of any habit – behavioural change also takes time and it is often this which is the hardest to address.

glitterGenerally, by the time most people come to see a nutritionist – they have figured out (often via the hard and expensive way) that there are no ‘silver bullets’ and that there is no fairy dust that anybody can sprinkle on you to turn you into the woman, man or unicorn of your dreams overnight.

 

Many ‘diets’, 12 week challenges or shake programs may well provide quick weight loss results in the short term, but can leave you feeling exhausted and awful with downright weird and unnatural attitudes towards food. Unfortunately, the quick weight loss is more often than not associated with quick rebound – where often more weight is gained than originally lost. Few of these programs teach you anything worthwhile about nutrition for long-term health. There’s a host of reasons for this – aside from it being really good business to have the steady stream of return customers, but I won’t start ranting on that now.

In short – Be realistic about your expectations – true results will gradually come and they will be far longer lasting and enrich your life far more than ‘weight loss’ results alone.

For long term improvements of health and improved weight management, you need to:

food-babe1. Learn basic nutritional principles – You wouldn’t ask your mechanic to teach you the principles of neurosurgery, so don’t get your nutrition advice from celebrities or wellness bloggers – they are true fountains of nutritional liquid excrement!

Invest in yourself by making a few appointments with a reputable nutritionist to really learn about nutrition – knowledge that will benefit not only you but your family and friends around you. As seeing a personal trainer once won’t transform your beer keg into a 6-pack, don’t expect to walk away from one appointment with all the knowledge and skills you need for real change.

2. Prioritise your nutrition – organization is key and you must make time in your week to shop and prepare food properly – see our article ‘How to meal-prep like a boss’ for some ideas. You may even have to learn to cook if you don’t already know how – otherwise, you’ll have to work hard at becoming the most skilled shopper and evaluator of processed foods/take-out meals. However, without controlling or undertaking most of the cooking yourself, most will find it exceedingly hard to reach their goals.

3. Be prepared to ‘win some and lose some’ – ride the ups and downs, be flexible and indulge in moderation without guilt of shame – as food is there to be enjoyed and life is there to live. While not losing sight of your long-term goals, appreciate and enjoy special moments with a cheese platter or a mud cake without transforming into a humanoid demolition derby!

4. Listen to your body – this will take time and practice – but tune into your hunger and satiation cues, learn to use food as fuel – not as a stopgap for boredom or to deal with emotion. Start counteracting external cues with strategies – such as those suggested in ‘The Dreaded After-Dinner Munchies’.

It takes consistent attention to what you’re doing to make lasting change and some are lucky enough that over time, good decisions and eating appropriate diversity and quantities of food become second nature and they never have to think about what they’re eating (or not eating) again – good nutrition has simply become part of their lifestyle. Others though will have to maintain more vigilance and consistently or periodically monitor what they’re eating and how they are using food in their life.

So if the scales aren’t budging yet or weight-loss is not the primary goal – How do we know what we’re doing is working? Assuming you are not monitoring your glucose or are on a first-name basis with your local pathologist who is periodically monitoring your bloods for inflammation markets, lipid profiles or micronutrient status, you may notice signs of beneficial changes reflected in:

  • Improved satiation. One of the first signs when you improve your diet quality and hydration is that you feel more satiated. You may find that even though you are consuming less energy per day than before – you no longer feel hungry!
  • Reduced cravings – we all tend to want more of whatever we’re eating – this certainly goes for dopamine-inducing alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages, chocolate, or those optimally-designed processed foods that are deliberately formulated to provoke embarrassing public drooling. Put simply, the more you have, the more you  will want. So when these are reduced in the diet, the desire to track down these foods like paleolithic hunter looking for a Big Mac also usually falls. There is also research to suggest that micronutrient deficiencies increase the likelihood and strength of ‘cravings’, so these get fewer/easier as your diet becomes better rounded nutritionally.
  • Better moods – you’re now smiling more than you are scowling – goodbye resting b**ch-face! Both improved nutrition and your new direction and positive focus on change will improve your brain chemical balance, hormonal balance and outlook on life.
  • pony-tailMore energy and strength! You actually feel like getting out of bed and starting the day, you’re pumping out your workouts (or for the first time in ages – you actually feel like doing and are enjoying a workout) and you find you have enough energy at the end of the day to actually do your dinner dishes and not leave them until tomorrow! Winning!
  • Better sleep – poor nutrition can affect sleep patterns – notably caffeine, sugar or alcohol ingestion, especially late in the day will certainly interfere with your zzzzz’s. Also having dinners that are too heavy can also negatively affect sleep. Poor nutrition and lack of the right proteins and micronutrients can negatively affect hormone production and functions which are required for a restful night.
  • Better fitting clothes – So your ‘weight in kgs’ may not have budged at all – but you may start noticing that your waistband is a bit looser. This is as your body composition is changing and you maybe losing fat while increasing your muscle and perhaps even increasing your bone mass – or if you have lowered your sodium intake, you may have found that you are bloating less. Periodic body composition monitoring is far more useful to illustrate these changes than weight scales.

So whenever you may be feeling worried that the scale is not moving yet – please reflect on the above and assess when you have started to make progress as real progress is so much more than just a number.

 

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!