Why you should ditch New Year resolutions.

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2015 is coming to an end and a brand New Year is about to start. This is probably the time when most people make New Year resolutions which usually involve food, drinks and exercise. People are promising themselves they will do everything it takes to be healthier, fitter and/or slimmer. Are you one of them? Then starting from tomorrow, you will finally join the gym (or start going if you are already a gym member), ditch the alcohol, ban chocolate and all sugars from your diet, eat more vegetables, and stop smoking. Better still you will start a strict detox for 3 weeks. Maybe you will do all of the above at the same time. Or maybe not.

Unfortunately, as we get back to our routines and the excitement of the new plans start to fade; most of these will be totally forgotten by mid February at the latest. Sounds familiar? Trust me, we have all been there. We have all tried to stick to our great resolutions but …yes there are always buts!

The truth is that as exciting as these plans sound, most of the time they are short lived because they are just unsustainable and totally unrealistic. Many people are looking for a quick fix and are prepared to embark on fad diets and crazy detox plans for the month of January hoping to fix all the damage done during the holidays, or even before that for that matter!  Let’s get one thing straight: detoxing or ‘being good’ (whatever that means for you!) for a short period of time and then return to your old eating habit, is just a waste of time.

Does this mean that we should not have good intentions to improve our health and wellbeing? Does this mean I do not want you to call me from next week and get busy working with you on some of these intentions? Have I actually had too much Prosecco over the holidays and lost the plot?   No, absolutely not! This might be just the right time to reconsider your new plans a little.

This is the time to realise that your health (not just your liver’s wellbeing) is a long term commitment.  It is the time to forget about quick fixes, the no-more-alcohol promises, the chocolate/sugar bans, or the crazy (non-supervised) detoxes. All these strict restrictions will not work in the long run and when you abandon them you will feel defeated and upset very quickly which is not a good way to start the New Year.

Why not aim for one or two achievable, small and realistic goals instead? Your body (and your mind!) will benefit more from some small and consistent changes that you can sustain through the whole year, than a short time of sad restrictions. Bear in mind that I still think that a supervised detox (like a juice cleanse for instance) can be a wonderful way to kick start a new healthy eating plan and just what you need to get you motivated. What I want to make clear is that you should aim for the long term game and not waste your energy on just a January whim.

So here you are a few ideas for some small achievable and realistic health goals:

  • Is alcohol your weakness? Instead of going for a dry January, aim to go for 4 consecutive alcohol-free days per week all the time. This will help give your liver a rest and you will gain in energy, better sleep and clearer skin.
  • Are you eating too much gluten? If you are having cereals in the morning followed by a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner, you certainly are. Aim to restrict gluten intake to just 1 meal a day to begin with, working towards removing it completely from your diet. Gluten intolerance or sensitivity (which is not celiac disease) is on the increase and many people find that when they remove gluten from their diet they experience improved digestion, less bloating, more energy, less water retention and better moods. So, swap the cereals for some oat based porridge, the sandwich for a gluten free wrap and the pasta for some rice. Your gut will soon thank you for this!
  • Addicted to caffeine? You are if you are consuming more than 4 cups of caffeinated drinks a day. Why not try to stick to one cup of coffee/tea, in the morning for example, if you cannot face the day without it (I am with you on this one!) and switch to herbal/fruit teas during the rest of the day? It might take you a few days to get used to this but it is actually easier than you think. Avoiding stimulants during the day will also help to keep your blood sugar levels more stable which means no mid afternoons energy dips.
  • What about exercise? Instead of planning to work out at the gym 5 times a week, start with getting off the bus/tube a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way to work. Better still, could you walk/bike to work instead? Exercise does not have to take place at the gym, you can increase your physical activity by doing something more enjoyable like dancing, gardening, swimming or playing a game of football with the kids.

Have fun tonight and when you have a toast to the New Year remember your new attainable goals and drink to those too!

May I wish you a happier and healthier New Year!

 

My top tips on how to survive the party season!

 

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December is the month of celebrations, spending time with family and friends, enjoying festive foods and drinks. Nutrition-wise this can be a challenging time but I do not believe that we should lock ourselves indoors to avoid the parties and skip on all the fun.

Here you are a few tips on how to enjoy yourself keeping your health (especially your liver!) and your waistline in mind:

  • First of all, avoid going to a party hungry. This is because when you are hungry it is easy to eat a lot of party food quickly, and you might end up not making the healthiest of choices. Before going out, nibble on some healthy fat and protein which will help stabilize your blood sugar levels and also prevent alcohol from being absorbed too quickly into your bloodstream. Great options are a boiled egg, some olives or a few slices of chicken/turkey breast.
  • When you get to the party stay away from the carbohydrate rich canapés, mince pies or sausage rolls. Choose some smoked salmon, nuts and olives instead. Although olives and nuts can be salty, they are still better options than crisps or nachos.
  • Watch your drinks! No, I am not going to tell you not to drink but choose your poison carefully and drink in moderation. I often get asked what my hangover cure is; well I say that prevention is better than any cure so the less you drink the less likely you are to wake up with a spinning head in the morning. Keep things simple and never drink on an empty stomach. Food in the stomach helps to delay the absorption of alcohol in the blood so you do not get drunk too quickly.
  • So what to drink? Sticking to a glass of wine is much better than having a mixed drink which can be loaded with extra sugars. Be careful with the sparkling wine though, as a standard glass contains 2 teaspoons of sugar, 3 times as much as red wine.  Try diluting alcoholic drinks. Fancy a spritzer or shandy anyone? Also remember that soft drinks, juices, punches and flavored mineral waters can have as many calories as alcoholic drinks. Be mindful as it all adds up and, unfortunately, it will probably all land on your waistline.
  • Pace yourself and alternate between one alcoholic drink and a glass of water. This will help dilute the alcohol in your bloodstream and prevent dehydration. Dehydration is one of the main causes of hangover symptoms like headaches so it does make sense to drink plenty of water too while you are out partying.
  • If you still wake up feeling dreadful the next day and you are unable to face going to the office, then try taking some Dioralyte. Dissolve a sachet in a glass of water to improve your hydration and replace mineral salts. By the way, this not a ‘cure’ but it might make you feel a bit better.
  • What about the morning-after breakfast? Although a full English breakfast might sound like a good idea, it will leave you bloated and lethargic. Go for a couple of scrambled eggs instead. Eggs are rich in cysteine which is an important antioxidant utilized by the liver to break down toxins. I would also eat as many bright colored vegetables as possible, especially carrots and beetroots. These contain powerful antioxidants which also help the liver to detoxify. Resist the temptation to drink lots of tea and coffee which are dehydrating. Opt for a super hydrating and energizing green juice instead, full of super nutrients like vitamin C, magnesium and B vitamins.
  • Remember to keep active. Even if you skip the gym routine, get out there and go for a walk instead. Nothing beats a brisk walk in the park to get rid of that morning after feeling. Why not involve the kids with a game of football to keep them busy and burn some calories at the same time?

Ultimately, if you do drink an extra glass or eat a bit more than usual, do not punish yourself. I believe you can allow small indulgences over the holidays and relax about it. Embrace the festive fun, provided you go back to your healthy eating and excising when the parties are over.

May I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

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Juice cleanse day 3: amazing energy and glowing skin!

Today was my third and last day of the juice cleanse, courtesy of The Healthy Juice Company. I woke up bright and early again to find my lovely juices waiting for me on the doorstep. This is getting exciting and I know I will miss this routine tomorrow. First of all, let me say that I woke up feeling incredible!  I started my day with tons of energy, no hunger, no craving for coffee at all and my skin looking brighter than usual. If one day you decide to embark on a juice fast, please try to stay strong on day 2 (I think this is the hardest by far) because the way you will feel on day 3 makes it all worth it. It is almost a feeling of euphoria that makes you want to smile!

So, after the first drink of the day, the delicious ‘sunshine’ in a mug and the school run I decided to go to the gym. During a cleanse, exercise is important but usually it is advisable to choose a gentle form of exercise like yoga, swimming, or walking.  I might be crazy but I was feeling fantastic so I went for my regular body pump session. Did I use my regular weights? Ok, I went a bit lighter on some tracks but I did well and continued to feel wonderful for the whole day! Having said this, I am not advising you to go out there and do a hardcore gym workout during a juice fast. You must always listen to your body and do what works for you. I just want to share my own experience.

I also met up with my client, Mrs Vassiliki Spyropoulou, who gave me an update on her progresses. Day 2 was also the hardest for her but today she was feeling great. She looked radiant and she told me she felt lighter and her jeans were very baggy too. This is us, proud to be showing a very healthy glow!

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I have also lost some weight. This is most likely to be just water because fresh juices have high content of potassium which helps cleanse out excess sodium that causes water retention. As previously explained this weight can be easily put back on while normal eating resumes. However, the initial weight loss, combined with the increased energy, could be very important for people who decide to do a juice cleanse in order to jump start a new healthy eating programme.

The highlight of my day was once again the lunchtime nut milk. This time it was a tasty blend of almond milk, cashew milk, dates, milk thistle seeds, Brazil nuts, cacao, raw virgin coconut oil, cinnamon, chia seeds and pink Himalayan salt.  Rich, creamy and simply delicious.  This is the one Vassiliki is holding in the picture above while I was still drinking a blend of beetroot, orange, fennel, and cucumber.

My least favorite drink during the cleanse has been the last drink of the day, the ‘Gentle green’ which contains some aloe vera. Unfortunately, I am not a big fan of aloe vera so I did not enjoy this juice.  Overall, I could not be happier with this experience and I think The Healthy Juice Company is delivering fantastic high quality products and a unique personal service. My only negative feedback to them, and I am being extremely picky, would be about this juice. I wonder if there is a way to make it taste better.

The day is coming to an end and I am still feeling good. From tomorrow I will need to introduce solid foods slowly to avoid shocking my digestive system. I am planning to start with some smoothies, warm soups and some raw vegetables. There is always time to introduce some ‘toxins’ later on (it is party season, right?) but at the moment I want to maximize the cleanse benefits.

I also would like to point out that this is not a sponsored post. I am not paid by anyone to test products or to express my ideas. I genuinely love this company and I would not hesitate to recommend their products to my clients and friends.

Please remember that, although adding a few juices to your overall healthy eating is generally ok for most people, a juice cleanse is not for everyone. Check with your doctor or registered nutritional therapist before you decide to embark on a juice fast, especially if you are diabetic, underweight, pregnant, have chronic heart disease, low blood pressure or cancer.

Thank you for following me on this juicing adventure. If you have any questions please post them on my FB page.

 

Juice cleanse Day 2: the juice fast continues!

Today was my second day of the juice cleanse. I woke up at 6.00 am and the juice box was already on my door step. I think I could get used to this! Today the juices were different from yesterday and I really like this because you get to experience new flavours and have no time to get bored! Another thumb up for The Healthy Juice Company!

I was not hungry on waking up but I had a headache. The warm cup of ‘sunshine’ went down well, just like yesterday. I had a busy schedule for the morning but I decided to go for a 30 minutes’ walk to see if the fresh air could clear my head. I felt a bit better afterwards but, to be honest, still not great. I know I should have taken a bit of extra time off to rest and go for a nap but this was not possible so I went on with juice number 2, the ‘Gloriously green’.  This is a delicious mix of cucumber, pear, celery, wheatgrass, coriander, lemon, spinach, broccoli, kale and chlorella. Yes, all of these wonderful nutrients in a 480ml bottle. I have juiced before and I thought I knew a thing or two about green juices, well let me tell you this is the best green juice I have ever tasted!  Incredibly refreshing, tasty and packed with nutrients.

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The highlight of the day was my lunchtime drink which was a wonderful nut milk. This time it was a blend of hazelnut and almond milk with milk thistle, seeds, dates, Brazil nuts, raw virgin coconut oil and pink Himalayan salt. This is a powerful mix of goodness and also very filling. After this my headache started to clear too which was great. I spent the rest of the day decorating the Christmas tree with my daughter and my mum who is spending a couple of weeks here with us in London. Mum, who is Italian and a fantastic cook, is also amazed that I have not been tempted by all her cooking (yes she always cooks for us when she is here) and that I am in a very good mood despite the lack of snacking. Did I ever mention this?  I am a ‘grazer’ and although I snack on healthy foods, I truly believe that I could do with eating less sometimes. For me an important ‘side effect’ of this cleanse has been the fact that I have learnt more about my own eating habits and how sometimes I also use food for reasons that have little to do with hunger. There you have it, nutritionists are not perfect either!

In the afternoon I had a visit from a princess (my daughter obviously!) who declared this was going to be her drink because ‘Princesses like juices too, you know mamma!’ She managed to drink almost half of it by the time I could claim it back. She was surprised when I told her the juice was made of carrot, fennel, pear, celery, lime, lemon, ginger, cardamom and clover and no, not orange despite the colour!

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To end my second day on this wonderful journey of juicing and self discovery, I took a long relaxing bath with Epsom salts. They contain sulphur and magnesium which are vital for detoxification. I know I am going to sleep well tonight even if I am not as tired as last night. It is almost 9.00 pm right now and, by the way, I am still not hungry!

I can’t wait to see the wonderful variety of juices that will be on my doorstep tomorrow. Stay tuned for more and if you have any questions on juicing or on my experience please post them on my FB page.  Thank you and happy juicing!

I also would like to point out that this is not a sponsored post. I am not paid by anyone to test products or to express my ideas.

 

At Stella Nutrition is time for a juice cleanse!

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I have been given an amazing opportunity to try a 3 day juice cleanse from the awesome The Healthy Juice Company.  For three days, each morning they will deliver directly to my doorstep (before 6 am!) a box with a whole day supply of cold pressed, organic, raw, fresh and tasty juices. This means that I get to experience the advantages of a juice fast without having to do all the hard work of buying the fruit/veggies, juicing and washing up! Yes, being a nutritional therapist has some advantages sometimes! I also like to try different diets and products before I recommend them to clients. Although we are all unique and we might react differently to various things, I think it is important for me to experience potential challenges that clients might come across while embarking on a new eating plan, so I can fully support them.

This time my challenge is a juice cleanse which means that I will be consuming only juices for 3 days. Obviously I can also drink unlimited amounts of water and herbal teas but no chewing foods! I have tried water only fasts and juice fasts before but only for a maximum of 2 days so I am curious to see if I can push myself a little further this time. Thanks to the extreme generosity of The Healthy Juice Company I also get to offer this amazing 3 day cleanse to one of my clients. I choose a lady in good health who just wants to increase her energy levels and who loves a challenge! I will be reporting on her experience too as we are doing the cleanse at the same time.

Before I tell you about how my first day went, let’s see why and if you should consider a juice fast.

The main reason for doing a juice cleanse is not weight loss like many people might think, (yes, you will lose some weight but this can easily be put back on when you start eating normally again) but for detoxing, increasing energy levels and vitality. During a juice fast your digestive system gets a rest but you are still introducing lots of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, amino acids) and live enzymes for optimal health. The high water content of the juices helps to hydrate the body and clear waste too. Toxins which have built up over time will also be released. The results? You can expect increased energy levels, clearer/glowing skin, better resistance to infections (colds and flu), improved mental clarity/focus and better sleep.  Isn’t this remarkable?

You are probably wondering about any side effects or if you are going to be starving at all! To help with any potential side effects or withdrawal symptoms it is better to start cutting down or removing the following foods 2 or 3 days (ideally a week) before starting on the cleanse:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Gluten (such as wheat, barley, rye and spelt)
  • Trans and hydrogenated fats (found in most processed foods and cakes, biscuits, deep fried foods)
  • Refined carbohydrates (sweets, pizza, pasta, white breads and processed meals)
  • Red and processed meats
  • Salt
  • Dairy foods (especially milk and cheese. Yogurt is usually more easily tolerated)
  • All fizzy sugary drinks

Regarding hunger, in actual fact with these nutrients packed delicious juices you are not starving your body at all. You are probably giving your body even more nutrients than usual. Also hunger can be more emotional than physical as sometimes we put food in our mouths just out of habit or boredom and not because we are really hungry. We should all be more mindful when it comes to eating and listen to our body before reaching for foods.

Please note that if you suffer from any chronic conditions you should not embark on any detoxification programme without being followed by a health professional like a registered nutritional therapist or a naturopath.

So, how did I get on?

DAY 1

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I was up at 6.20 am and, as promised, the precious box was waiting for me on my doorstep. A lovely card to let me know that the juices arrived was put through my letter box. This was a lovely touch! The juices come in glass bottles which need to be rinsed and left outside at the end of the day to be picked up by the driver again. In the box you will also find some paper straws lined with beewax. These are provided so you remember to sip your juices slowly and also to protect your teeth enamel.

The first juice was not a real juice but a lovely mixture of lemon, ginger, turmeric, golden linseeds, coconut oil, Himalayan pink salt and black pepper which needs to be mixed to warm water before drinking. As stated by The Healthy Juice Company, this is simply ‘sunshine’ in a mug and a great way to start the day. Surprisingly I did not miss my usual morning coffee!

I drank the first juice of the day at around 10.00. This was a green wheatgrass juice. Wheatgrass contains chlorophyll which is oxygen for the cells and highly detoxifying. It tasted very refreshing.  The next juice (at around 12.00) was very fruity and simply delicious. I was busy during the morning and did not feel hungry at all.

My lunch was a fantastic and very filling nut milk. This was my favorite drink of the day as it tasted very indulgent. Around mid-afternoon I noticed my tongue was a bit coated and I was slightly lightheaded but this is very normal during the initial phases of any detox process. While writing right now (7.00 pm) I am sipping my last juice of the day. This is a very light drink with some aloe vera to calm and restore. I am feeling a bit tired and I am sure I will sleep well tonight.

Overall today has been a breeze and I can’t wait to see what juices will be waiting on my doorstep tomorrow morning!

I also would like to point out that this is not a sponsored post. I am not paid by anyone to test products or to express my ideas.

Wish me well and if you have any questions about juicing fell free to ask here on my FB page. Remember to like my page and keep following the blog for more updates on the next exciting days ahead.

 

Healthy and quick snack options for you and your children.

Healthy nuts and seeds

A lot of people seem stuck when it comes to choosing healthy snacks options and I get asked a lot what snacks are best and especially what snacks I prepare for my daughter. First of all, I cannot give advice as to what is ‘best’ as this depends on the individual and, as some of you have heard me saying times and times again, there is no special food/diet which suits everybody. We are all different and what might be good for one person could be totally unsuitable for another. This is something to always bear in mind when it comes to food!

Having said this, I am going to share with you some of the foods I snack on and some of my daughter favorite’s snacks which your kids might also like. This is because unfortunately, I still see many parents and kids who think that crisps, cupcakes and cheap chocolate bars are acceptable snacks. I am here to show you that healthy snacking is not only possible, but also easy and convenient. All you need is a little planning!

Easy snacks options to carry with you when you are out and about:

  • An apple (or other piece of fruit) and a handful of nuts or seeds.
  • A handful of pre-mixed seeds (sunflower and pumpkin), mixed nuts and chopped dried fruits (like apricots and raisins).
  • Cheese cubes with grapes.
  • Homemade high protein, sugar and gluten free muffins. See this post on my facebook page for one of my recipes.
  • A small pot of plain Greek yogurt with some blueberries.
  • Homemade flapjacks or oat bars. If you are pushed for time, travelling or stuck with a shop bought version (I know life is busy and we do not always have time to bake!) then go for one of the Pulsin fruit bites or protein snacks. They are available at most health stores and although they still contain some fructose (sugar from fruit) they are high in protein and low GI. This makes them a better choice than most fruits bars and flapjacks you find at the supermarkets.

Snacks options that require a bit more preparation or are just easier to eat at home:

  • Carrot, celery, pepper, cucumber sticks dipped into hummus, guacamole or tzatziki.
  • A couple of gluten free oatcakes with some nut butter or spread with cream cheese and topped with smoked salmon.
  • A couple of bread free ham rolls. Instead of bread slices or wraps use thin ham slices and add any filling you like. I usually add some cream or grated cheese and grated carrots.
  • A banana smoothie (banana, strawberries or other fruit of choice, a scoop of protein powder, and coconut/almond milk blended together).
  • 1 boiled egg with some homemade kale crisps.
  • Half an avocado with a few prawns.
  • Frozen banana bites. Slice some ripe bananas and freeze them for at least 3 hours. Remove from the freezer and spread a little almond butter on half of them. Top them with the other banana slices as if you were making a sandwich. These are always a winner with my daughter’s friends!

Many children are very hungry when you pick them up from school. If you find that these healthy snacks are not enough and they keep asking for more food, then you might want to consider bringing their dinner forward. I often do this with my daughter as it works best for her especially on sports day. If after an early meal, she gets a bit peckish again later on in the evening, then she can have one of the above snacks. With kids you really have to be flexible and go with what works best for them.

Most importantly, as I mentioned earlier, plan ahead so you are prepared. Always carry some of these snacks in your bag or keep some in the car for when you are travelling so you are never caught out.

Now you know the real reason why my handbags are so big!

It’s pumpkin soup time!

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Autumn in Wimbledon has arrived and this means it is pumpkins season!  I am very excited because I simply love pumpkins! I love their smell, colour, flavour and because I like cooking with seasonal produce, I am going to share my delicious pumpkin soup recipe with you.

But first let me tell you something about pumpkins and their nutritional value.

Did you know that pumpkin is not a vegetable but a fruit? It belongs to the family Cucurbitaceae, which includes cucumbers, melons and squash.  In this soup I used both pumpkin and butternut squash. These are just variety of winter squash which come in many different shapes, colours and sizes but share similar nutrients.

Pumpkin is a great source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Consuming foods rich in beta-carotene helps to support our immune system (much needed as the colds season is also fast approaching!)  as well as delaying the aging process, keeping our skin glowing and our eyes healthy. Pumpkins are also rich in fibre and minerals like copper, calcium and potassium.  And do not forget the seeds, they are also packed with nutrients and a great, easy to carry, on-the-go snack!

So go on, don’t just carve this beautiful orange fruit for Halloween, cook it and eat it too! You can make pumpkin pies, mash, curries, risottos, biscuits, muffins, or simply roast it in the oven and enjoy it with a drizzle of olive oil. The choice is yours!

Now back to my warming and nutrients rich soup.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pumpkin
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsps coconut oil
  • Nutmeg and ground black pepper to taste
  • Pumpkin seeds and coconut cream (optional)
  • 1 litre of vegetable stock

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Half the pumpkin and the squash remove the seeds then chop and place on a large baking tray in the oven.

Meanwhile, chop the onions, garlic, and carrot. Heat the coconut oil over a medium heat in a large saucepan then add the chopped vegetables and cook until soft.  When the pumpkin and squash are ready scoop out the flesh and add to the pan with the hot stock. Blend with a hand blender and your delicious soup is ready!

Ladle the soup into bowls and, if you like a richer flavour, you can add some coconut cream and some pumpkin seeds before serving. Here is a picture of one I made this morning.

Enjoy and Happy Halloween from Stella Nutrition!

Back to school: how to be a lunch box hero.

The summer is coming to an end and the kids are heading back to school. If you are busy running around buying uniform items, pencil cases and notebooks, unless the school is providing lunch, do not forget to prepare for the lunchboxes and to stock your kitchen with foods that will provide vital fuel to sustain your children through their busy afternoons schedules. My daughter is starting reception this year (oh dear, where has the time gone?) and, although I will not need to pack her lunches anymore, I have done so for the past two years when she was at nursery. During this time many mums have shared with me their concerns about packing the kids lunches, their fears of not doing a good enough job, of being repetitive and also of finding this just another chore which they did not enjoy. The way I see is that packing your kids lunches gives you an amazing opportunity to feed their developing brains with the best quality, vitamin and mineral packed foods possible. Eating nutrient-dense meals while avoiding sugar loaded and processed ‘foods’ can enhance brain function, improve memory and boost brain development. Think about this for a moment, by providing the right nutrients you can influence the way your child’s brain works. Isn’t this remarkable?

So, what makes an ideal lunch box and how do you become a lunch box hero? Here are some tips and ideas.

Pack the nutrients

Aim to include one portion of each of the following.

Protein: focus on lean, unprocessed (and organic if possible) meat, fish, eggs, seeds (most schools have a ‘no nuts policy’), beans and pulses. Proteins are essential for brain and body growth, maintenance and repair as well as building muscles and immunity.

Starches (opt for complex carbohydrates): brown rice, wholemeal pasta or crackers, oats, millet, quinoa, buckwheat and sweet potatoes. Give sandwiches a new twist with different breads like rye, spelt, or millet. Try experimenting with whole grain pittas or wraps too.

Despite the recent trend to cut carbohydrates out of the diet, my view is that complex carbohydrates offer a ready available source of energy and are therefore an important part of a healthy and balanced diet for children (provided there are no serious underlying medical conditions). So, pay attention to which carbohydrates you choose and avoid all refined carbohydrates (like white bread, white pasta, cakes, and biscuits) because these are nutrients poor foods which are easily broken down and raise blood sugars very quickly. This, in the short term, leads to drops in energy levels, irritability, mood swings and loss of concentration while, in the long term, they contribute to the development of serious physical and mental health problems.

Calcium: rich sources of calcium are dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese) but also green vegetables, seeds, dried fruits, shellfish, tinned salmon and sardines. We usually associate calcium with strong bones and teeth but this mineral is also important for muscle contraction, blood flow, and helping the body send messages throughout the brain and nervous system.

Vegetables: carrots/peppers/celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, steamed broccoli/cauliflower florets, small pieces of beetroots can all be easily added to a lunch box. You can also ‘disguise’ lots of vegetables by adding them to sauces for pasta dishes, soups, savoury muffins or frittatas. Most children love vegetables kebabs (raw or cooked), as well as mini versions of vegetables like baby carrots or baby courgettes. Explain to kids that vegetables are full of goodness, vitamins, minerals and fibre which are beneficial to our health. Also variety is the key. It prevents boredom and provides a whole range of essential nutrients. So rotate the vegetables and occasionally add a new one to keep the kids interested! Try to include more than just one portion of vegetables per lunchbox.

Fruit: most kids enjoy eating fruit, so adding a whole fruit, a small pot of berries or a small fruit salad should be easy. Just remember that what looks good at 7.30 in the morning might look less appealing at lunchtime after being thrown around in the playground. You can toss chopped fruit like apples in some lemon juice to stop them browning, for instance. Alternatively you can prepare some homemade fruit bars or flapjacks but go easy on the dried fruit as the sugar is concentrated.

Drinks: water is the perfect drink for a lunchbox. Cold herbal teas, diluted fresh juice or a homemade smoothie are also good choices but please stay away from shop bought juices as they can contain very little fruit and lots of sugar. Remember that drinking enough water is essential for all brain and body functions.

Make it practical

Choose practical, BPA-free containers like Bento-style boxes (check out Yumbox UK) and label them clearly as things go missing during busy times at schools. To keep food safe make sure you include reusable ice packs to keep food cold or use thermos to keep it hot.
Be prepared and plan in advance. Remember you can freeze most foods including sandwiches (although it doesn’t work with added vegetables!) and even homemade savoury muffins, just take one out in the morning and by lunchtime it will be defrosted!

Involve the kids

When you take your child shopping, explain that you will be buying some foods to include in their lunch boxes and also let them know why some foods and drinks are not going to be on the menu. You can tell them how sugar can damage their teeth and make them feel bad, how some foods contain harmful substances that can damage their health and encourage them to help you find suitable alternatives. It can be helpful to write shopping lists together and invite them to prepare meals and snack with you too.

Try to get the kids onboard as much as possible but avoid open questions like ‘what vegetables would you like to have today?’ because you are not going to accept ‘none’ as an answer! So use the ‘two-options-only’ technique: ‘Do you prefer cucumber or cherry tomatoes? Banana or apple? Broccoli or cauliflower?’ This is simple yet effective.

Now let me give you some examples:

    •Hummus on a whole grain wrap. Top with turkey, thin slices of cucumber and grated cheese. Cherries tomatoes and a small fruit salad.
    • Wholemeal pasta salad with mixed vegetables and tuna. Crunchy carrots sticks and a plain yogurt with some blueberries on top.
    • Chicken (leftovers from the previous dinner will work well) with 2 or 3 oatcakes. Cherry tomatoes and mozzarella pieces on a skewer and one whole fruit.
    • Mixed vegetables frittata (peppers, spinach, and mushrooms work well) with salmon and ricotta. Homemade fruit flapjack.
    • 2 hard boiled eggs, quinoa with roasted vegetables, celery sticks and a few grapes.
    • Slice of homemade quiche with mixed vegetables and salmon. A piece of fruit and chia seeds pudding (many combinations are possible, I like to soak 2 tablespoons of chia seeds in some coconut milk, overnight, add a small amount of mashed banana and sprinkle with desiccated coconut)
    • Spinach and ricotta muffin, cucumber batons, yogurt with pineapple pieces.

You might not be ready to say goodbye to the summer yet, but at least you will be ready to say hello to your new, exciting, delicious lunchboxes.

Eggs the healthy breakfast

5 healthy breakfast options

What are you having for breakfast? Do you skip breakfast in an attempt to lose weight or do you eat a bowl of cereal thinking this is a better option than a bacon sandwich? Although I do not believe that everybody needs to eat breakfast, it is not a good idea to skip it and end up bingeing on sugar loaded foods later on in the day. So, if you are going to have breakfast, make it a nutritious one. Here you are 5 quick options which will help you rethink your morning meal altogether.

Eggs: the protein start.

Starting the day with a healthy portion of protein is a great way to maintain balanced blood sugar levels and avoid the mid-morning munchies. Studies have shown that a high protein breakfast helps to reduce the levels of ghrelin which is a ‘hunger hormone’ that increases appetite. So a protein-packed breakfast is ideal if you are trying to lose weight as it can satisfy your appetite, keep you full for longer so you end up eating less during the rest of the day.
Eggs have had a bit of a bad press in the past but they’re full of nutrients and, in my opinion, a real super-food, so unless you are allergic to them, add them to your meals and enjoy them! A couple of scrambled or poached eggs make a great breakfast choice. An even quicker option is to hard boil the eggs the night before, store them in the fridge so they are ready for you in the morning. Alternatively if you have a little more time, you can whip up an omelette and stuff it with your favourite vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, peepers or courgettes.

Pancakes: a healthy version of a children’s favourite.

This is a very quick and easy no-flour pancake option which is also gluten and dairy free. For one generous sized pancake all you need is half a small banana (mashed), one egg and one tablespoon of ground flaxseeds. Mix everything in a bowl and then pour it on a warm pancake pan. I usually melt one teaspoon of coconut oil in the pan before adding the mixture so it doesn’t stick to it. Cook the pancake one minute on each side and you are done. You can serve it with a few blueberries, and /or a tablespoon of Greek yogurt on top. This is a great hit with the kids and adults alike and provides a good balance of proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats.

Smoothies: liquid goodness.

Having a smoothie for breakfast is a great ways to pack as many nutrients as possible in one go. Fibre intake is also maximised with smoothies as the whole fruit and vegetable is blended. This is important as fibre keeps our bowl movements regular and it helps in keeping us full for longer. Start with one piece of fruit (berries always work well), then add a couple of green vegetables (spinach, or kale for example) and then some milk (coconut or almond are good choices) to make it creamy. If you prefer, you can add just water and some ice. Other great additions include ‘super foods’ like spirulina, maca , baobab powder, raw cacao, protein powder, lucuma and coconut oil. The choices are endless; it all depends on your taste as well as your nutritional needs. Experiment to find what flavours work best for you and you will not be disappointed. The rewards include lots of energy and glowing skin, so go on give smoothies a go!

Leftovers from last night dinner: why not?

Who said that breakfast has to be prepared from scratch? And what if you are in a rush? Well, if your leftovers are a good balance of proteins, complex carbohydrates and good fats than go ahead. Tuck in into the turkey breast with sautés vegetables or the salmon fillet with spinach from last night’s dinner. These options obviously work well if you prefer something savoury in the morning. So remember next time you are cooking your dinner to be generous with the ingredients because it could work as a breakfast too!

Cereals: why ‘make your own’ is your best option.

I added cereals because I get asked this question often: are cereals a good option for breakfast? Well, let me ask you: do you know how much sugar is in your favourite cereal? If you read the ingredient list on the label you will find one or more of the following: sugar, fructose, glucose, barley malt, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, raw cane sugar, honey, molasses, dextrose and so on. Loading up on sugar first thing in the morning, or at any other time of the day, is not a good idea! Also, if you have children I beg you not to buy the cereals aimed specifically at kids because most of them can have as much as 3 or 4 teaspoons of sugar per 30g serving. However, if you like to start your day with a bowl of cereals because it is easy and convenient, your best bet is to buy the main ingredients separately and combine them together to make your own mix. It is really easier and cheaper than you think. You will need to buy some grains: good choices are gluten free oats, quinoa, buckwheat and millet flakes. Then some nuts like chopped hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, flaked almonds, and some seeds like sunflower, pumpkin, chia, and linseeds. Coconut flakes give a nice taste too. To add sweetness you might like some dried fruit like raisins, chopped dates, cranberries, apricots, and pineapple. Choose whatever you like the most! You can pick just one or two options from each food group depending on your taste, but go easy on the dried fruit as it is a very concentrate source of fructose which is still a sugar! Mix all your preferred ingredients in a jar and store it in the fridge. Voila’, you have homemade delicious muesli. In the evenings, you can put a serving in a bowl with some coconut or almond milk and let it soak overnight so it is nice and soft in the morning. Before serving you can add some ground flaxseeds which provide extra protein, fibre and omega 3s and you are ready to face the day!
If you run out of your own special muesli and you are stuck with having to buy a supermarket version, the only fairly decent option I came across is ‘Lizi’s Low Sugar Granola’ which is also made from oats, nuts and seeds. A serving of 50g (the usual 30g recommended on most boxes is not very generous at all!) will give you 22.6 g of carbohydrates and 1.9g of sugar. This is much better than all the Special K, Weetabix, Fruit and Fibre, Coco pops, Crunchy nuts, Frosties and Dorset cereals brigade.
Whatever you choose as your first meal of the day, please remember to always have some protein and to stay away from refined carbohydrates (muffins, white toast, croissants, and sugar filled cereals). This will help to reduce mid-morning energy dips and sugar cravings.