Eating healthily doesn’t mean taking all the pleasure out of eating, or denying yourself the snacks and dishes you love. With a little careful shopping and planning – and the following tips – you won’t even notice you’re cutting calories.
The make-it-healthier rules
The key to a healthy, balanced diet is keeping a well-stocked store cupboard at home.
If you have lots of condiments, herbs and spices you can easily add flavour to basic foods to create impressive meals. Keep tins of fish and pulses for instant protein, tinned tomatoes for quick-as-you-like pasta sauce, and frozen veg (just as healthy as fresh) so you never have an excuse to skip your five a day.
Incorporate some healthier alternatives to popular staples for a healthier diet:
Try a lower fat olive-oil-based spread
Try skimmed milk
Try low-sodium table salt
Try low-salt soy sauce and stock
Try low salt and sugar versions of baked beans and tomato ketchup
Try wholegrain, higher fibre alternatives
Try fat free natural yogurt in place of cream in a curry
Think about cooking methods as well. Instead of frying, grill or oven bake or dry fry foods using a spray oil in a non-stick pan. Poaching is an excellent way to keep meat and fish moist and succulent without adding fat. Steaming or microwaving vegetables preserves more colour, flavour, crunch and nutrients than boiling them.
If you’re baking, try halving the amount of sugar you use – it works for most recipes. Buy lean cuts of meat and trim off excess fat. And remember you can remove excess fat from any hot food (think pizza, sausages, oven chips, roasted veg) by blotting it with kitchen paper before serving.
Pudding ideas for the sweet toothed
Mini pavlovas – take a meringue nest, add a couple of spoonfuls of berries and some 0% fat Greek yoghurt and you have a low-calorie dessert that tastes as good as it looks.
Fruit skewers – cut up some chunks of strawberries, banana, mango and pineapple and thread them onto skewers. Melt some dark chocolate in a pan and pour it over the skewers. Transfer to the fridge to set.
Banoffee pots – crumble half a ginger biscuit into the bottom of a glass. Add one tablespoon of dulce de leche (readily available in the baking aisle). Slice over half a banana and top with 0% Greek yoghurt or half-fat crème fraiche.
Instead of eating a family sized bag of crisps in front of the TV, try popping your own popcorn – delicious and low calorie.
Love chips ‘n’ dips? Make vegetable crudités by slicing up peppers, carrots and cucumbers. Pop a wholemeal pitta bread in the toaster and cut it into thin strips. Mix them all together and use to dip in low-fat versions of your favourite dips.
If you love roasted nuts or pretzels, make your own, healthy trail mix: mixed seeds, unroasted nuts and dried fruit.
Replace high-fat finger foods with a pop-in-the-mouth sushi snack tray.
Time is precious and it can be all too tempting to succumb to fast food or call out for a takeaway if you’ve had a long day, but how about these for meals in minutes?
Poached eggs with spinach on a wholemeal muffin
Baked beans on toast
Whole wheat pasta with tinned tuna and pesto
Asian stir-fry made with brown rice noodles or instant rice, a bag of ready washed and chopped veg, and cooked prawns or tofu
Homemade pizzas: take a wholemeal pitta, top with tomato puree or chopped tomatoes, a handful of grated, half-fat cheese and whatever other healthy toppings you have to hand.
Jacket potato with tuna and salad.
Don’t forget drinks
Finally, it’s easy to glug down less-than-healthy drinks all day without really considering what they do to our waistlines. But the fact is some fizzy drinks, squashes and cordials and juices are very high in sugar.
Try to stick to just one a day (you can only count one juice or smoothie towards your five a day of fruit and veg, anyhow) and have it with a meal as it’s better for your teeth. It’s important not to let children get into the habit of sipping sugary drinks all day, too.
Good alternatives to offer include very diluted juice, or try making jugs of fruit and herbal teas and chilling them in the fridge.
If you’re a fan of big, frothy lattes from coffee shops, beware their fat and sugar content. Save money by making your own, using skimmed milk and skipping the sugar and chocolate sprinkles.
Remember alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation, as it carries health risks as well as empty calories.
Stick within the government’s recommended guidelines – that’s no more than two to three units a day for women or three to four for men.
And try to have at least a couple of completely alcohol free days a week.