Category Archives: Healthy Eating

Cooking Free Night

Recently whilst chatting with friends about what we were having for dinner I said we were having a cooking free night. Naturally everyone wanted to know what we would be having.

Nibbles Night

Back when our children were young we didn’t call it a cooking free night we referred to it as a “Nibbles Night “and they loved it.  It is quite simple really, we just put out a selection of food so that everyone can help themselves. We put out plates and napkins but the criteria is that food can be eaten with the fingers.

Normally we use leftovers because it is the ideal way to use things up. Leftover chicken, sausages and meat patties are all just as good when eaten cold. We cut or slice the food into pieces and arrange it on a platter with bits and pieces such as celery or carrot sticks.

Cooking free night Nibbles Platter

Nibbles Platter

Generally a platter consists of cold meats, cheese, celery, carrot, pickles, lettuce or rocket. We usually also like a few fruits such as grapes, dates and figs. If there are going to be more than two of us we add extras, typical of which are boiled eggs, pate, pork pies and a bigger selection of cheese. Depending on availability we put out biscuits for the cheese and slices of crusty bread or French stick.

Presentation is important to us so we make it look as appealing as possible. Whenever our children and their partners come to visit us we have a cooking free night as a matter of course,  it is always a big favourite plus of course it is so easy peasy.

Healthy Cooking Free

Some people have actually said to us that a cooking free night isn’t as healthy as meat and two veg and isn’t a real meal. We don’t have a nibbles night every week and the rest of the time we eat plenty of fruit and vegetables so we reckon it evens itself out.

Besides, raw carrot and celery are always part of the platter, then we may have other salad items that are in the fridge at the time. There is no cooking therefore no fats, no sauce and the only carbs are the biscuits and bread.

A recent addition to our nibbles has been Rigor Spratts, these are like sardines and are full of omega3, we love them.

Sandwiches

Another cooking free night is the humble sandwich. I remember this came in very handy when our son and daughter were working and living at home. On a Wednesday night we would all get home from work and for various reasons needed to be washed and changed and out the door within the hour. It was pretty hectic so I used to make a huge plate of sandwiches and we always managed to eat together before everyone took off.

Sometimes I bought a cooked chicken and made chicken sandwiches which were hugely popular and other  times I put out a selection. Some of the favourites were tinned salmon mixed with a little mayonnaise and paired with lettuce or cucumber.

Boiled eggs mixed to a creamy texture with mayonnaise and paired with alfalfa sprouts or shredded lettuce. Ham with mustard or pickle and good old cheese and tomato. The secret is to use fresh bread and keep the sandwiches moist by covering them with a clean damp tea towel.

Healthy Lunch

We don’t eat bread every day, so sandwiches have become a bit of a treat. Chris used to eat a sandwich for lunch every day but in a bid to keep our weight down we changed it. Lunch now consists of an apple, a piece of cheddar cheese, a fresh date and some grapes.

cooking free Healthy Lunch

Healthy Lunch

It works well for us and we keep the weight off.  Since we retired we aren’t so physically active even though we walk every day and try to keep moving.  We aren’t able to burn off the calories as we did when we were working.

The great thing about being retired is that we can please ourselves about when we eat. Our working environment meant that meals were always rushed and sometimes missed altogether. We particularly relish being able to sit down for meals and take as much time as we like. We also like the freedom of eating what we like when we like, hence the appeal of a cooking free night.

Parsnips and Others On A Budget

Parsnips are very expensive

They remain that way all year round. For this reason although we love parsnips we don’t have them very often.

Most people will agree that after mortgage and utility payments the bulk of their money goes on food so any ideas on how to keep costs down are welcome.

Parsnips, though not on Special!

Parsnips, though not on Special!

Variety is the spice of life

Being big believers in that old saying,  we try to keep our meals interesting and not stick to the same things.  Since we also like to keep within a fairly tight budget it can sometimes be challenging.

The price of vegetables and fruit tends to fluctuate according to supply. Planning meals around produce that is in season is one way of keeping costs down and we do that as much as possible.

Oh What a Special!

Imagine my delight when shopping at our regular supermarket recently, I spied a big bag of parsnips marked down to a ridiculous price to make room for new stock. Obviously they weren’t in top condition but a bargain nevertheless, so I snapped them up. There were about ten parsnips in all and I knew I would have to use them fairly quickly.

When we got home I trimmed the stems and put them to soak in a large bowl of water for a couple of hours. When I removed them they had firmed up nicely so I put some aside for immediate use and stored the rest. I patted them dry with some kitchen roll, wrapped them in newspaper and put them in the vegetable tray in the bottom of the fridge. This storage system works well for a variety of vegetables, especially root vegetables.

I used the remaining parsnips for our evening meal, a pasta, parsnip and cheese bake. Usually we make it with cauliflower when they have been marked down, which is much more often than parsnips! Since cauliflower can be a bit bland I often add a few broccoli florets for colour and taste.

Prep

When preparing parsnips I cut them lengthwise in four pieces and remove the woody part in the centre. Next I dice them and steam or boil it until they are just cooked. Parsnips can go from not cooked to overcooked very quickly. For a pasta bake they need to be on the firm side.

Having pasta bake made with parsnips was a first for us but it was so delicious we will do it again. The remaining parsnips we used for a potato and parsnip mash and that was very successful to. I made a big batch of creamy mash using butter and milk to get a nice consistency. There was enough for three meals so I put two lots in the freezer. Mashed potato freezes well without losing its flavour.

Another Budget Favourite

One of our favourite breakfast meals is yoghurt and poached fruit which I do myself. Several years ago we invested in a yoghurt maker because living aboard a sailing boat meant we rarely had shops handy so I always have packets of yoghurt mix in the cupboard.

I am always on the lookout for cheap fruit and recently I couldn’t resist a large bag of apples marked down to almost a giveaway price.

Chris decided that since there were so many apples we should have apple crumble, this would be a rare treat since desserts don’t feature on our regular menu.

The local charity for which I volunteer runs a community garden and as luck would have it, they were enjoying a glut of rhubarb. We haven’t had apple and rhubarb for years and boy was it good, hardly made a dent in the bag of apples though.

Actually when I saw the price of rhubarb in the local supermarket I realized how lucky we had been.

Apples for crumble?

Apples for crumble?

Next I gathered up our collection of jam jars which are good quality jars with lids that are a tight fit. I made a big pot of poached apples and filled the jars, which were clean and warm as per bottling instructions. The first time I did this I packed the jars too tight which meant that the fruit soaked up all the juice.

The secret is to pack the fruit loosely and fill them to the top with juice. Make sure the lids are on tight and when the jars cool, the lids will pop as the vacuum is created and makes a good seal. The fruit will keep for a good while using this method and it allows me to take advantage of cheap fruit.
Right now we are on our last jar of nectarines.

Make your own Marmalade

As I now have room and the jars, I just couldn’t pass up a big bag of ruby grapefruit on special which we used to make marmalade. When the supermarkets re-stock the fruit and vegetables section they often bag up the old stock and sell it cheap.

Home Made Marmalade

Home Made Marmalade

Tomatoes on Special

Produce such as tomatoes have several uses even if they are a little overripe or soft. Tomato soup, sauce and chutney are a good way to use surplus stock. If you have plenty of freezer space it is sometimes possible to take advantage of more than one special.

Tomatoes are versatile

Tomatoes are versatile

Minced meat is often on special in bulk quantities and if you get tomatoes on special you can make big batches of spaghetti bolognaise or lasagne and freeze it in portions.

We generally plan our menu on a weekly basis, but if we see a really good special we adapt the menu to suit.

Not everyone can get excited about parsnips but Chris is already looking forward to the next meal with potato and parsnip mash, just got to keep an eye on those specials.

Easy Meals

Right now it is very hot and humid in this part of the world so easy meals with minimum fuss and little or no cooking are the order of the day.  Mind you easy meals are pretty much always on the agenda here since cooking isn’t my forte and I opt for simplicity whenever possible.

I have never understood the desire to watch cooking shows or read cookery books, perhaps I eat to live and not live to eat as many seem to do. I don’t own a cookery book and if I need to look anything up I just go to the internet. I can understand why ready made meals are so popular with people who live alone.

The heat affects everyone differently but you certainly tend to eat less and drink more. We rotate three one litre bottles of water between the fridge and freezer and have trouble keeping up with supply. A liter of cold water doesn’t go far and we seem to be forever filling them up.

Because of the weather it is necessary to walk early in the morning or in the evening after sunset. Everyone else does the same thing so it is pretty crowded on the pavements. We have some nice walks that follow the water-edge so they are popular with tourists and locals.

Any jobs that need doing on the boat get done early in the day and during the middle of the day we retire down below in the air conditioning.

Salads are easy mealsWe have been lucky enough to get a few nice evenings and have been able to eat dinner in the cockpit. Easy meals such as cold meat and salad are ideal for dining outside, no worries about keeping things hot.

Although we have good ventilation on board, including two opening ports over the galley,  we like to avoid  any extra heat from cooking . It helps that right now salad ingredients are plentiful, fresh and appetising. Being in a remote area means produce isn’t always as fresh as it could be owing to delivery which involves long road trips.

Easy meals usually means cold meats with salad served in a variety of ways. If we cook it is something simple such as steak, fish or chicken, no sauces and no baking or roasting. Now that the big Christmas blow-out is over we have cut out biscuits, cakes, chocolate and all the other feel good nibbles. Our waistlines should return to normal in no time.

Entertaining is something we enjoy on a regular basis, generally it is easy mealsjust drinks and snacks but every so often we go the extra mile and do dinner. Coming up with a menu that needs very little cooking is always a challenge. Fortunately our friends live on boats and we all use pretty much the same strategies to beat the heat.

When it comes to the entrée we have discovered that bruschetta or continental bread is great when topped with fish or meat and a garnish. There is some fabulous bread around now which can make an entrée really special and easy of course. For no fuss baking we like ready made puff pastry, this is ideal for dishes such as Beef Wellington using fillet steak. When it comes to easy meals for dessert we can’t go past crème caramel. It is quick, can be made in advance and is very light to eat. They are delicious we always make extra so that we can test them!!

The climate in which we live determines what sort of food we eat. Having been born in a cold climate and immigrated to Australia over forty years ago we have fond memories of suet puddings and roasts with all the trimmings. Alas in North Queensland they are but just a dream however the good news is easy meals definitely keep us in trim.

Cutting Back On Sugar.

Like many people I struggle with cutting back on sugar. The problem is even if you have a good diet it is amazing how much sugar is able to sneak in under the radar.

A little while ago I got serious about cutting back on sugar and managed to reduce my intake quite dramatically. My problem is I just can’t enjoy tea or coffee without a sweetener so I decided to compromise by using honey instead. Honey helps in cutting back on sugar

After reading about the dangers of artificial sweeteners I try to avoid products that contain substances such as “Aspartame”. Going cold turkey and cutting out sugar altogether wasn’t an option, tea and coffee tasted Yuk!

The honey works well in tea and I now enjoy tea as much as I ever did. Coffee however is entirely different, I can only enjoy it if it contains sugar, and honey doesn’t cut it. My strategy now is to use less sugar and limit myself to one coffee a day.

According to my research although honey contains fructose it also has a mixture of other compounds and minerals and tests show that honey has minimal effect on blood glucose levels.

When you eat sugar the body either burns it as energy or stores it as fat. Lifestyle obviously has a bearing on how much sugar you can safely consume. Active people will burn more sugar as energy than someone who leads a sedentary life. Also not everyone has the same type of metabolism so sugar affects people differently.

The body naturally produces insulin to deal with sugar in the blood, getting the balance right is critical for good health. Apart from making us fat, sugar has also been blamed for a range of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia and kidney disease.

This scary scenario is enough to make anyone think about cutting back on sugar. Even Chris, who has always loved sugar in tea and desserts, has managed to reduce consumption. He still uses it but not half as much as he used to.

Fructose occurs naturally in fruit and there is some debate as how much fruit we should eat. We eat a lot of fruit and I find it invaluable as a source of roughage. I would rather cut back in other areas so that I can continue eating fruit. Sometimes you have to do what works best for you.

Manufacturers are a bit sneaky when it comes to labelling produce. To disguise the fact about how much sugar is present they use different forms of sweeteners. Some types may sound more benign than sugar but often pack as much punch.

Some types of sweetener to be aware of are.

  • Agave Nectar
  • Cane Crystals
  • Corn Sweetener
  • Crystalline Fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Glucose
  • Lactose

Read labels to help in cutting back on sugarIt is pretty difficult to buy products that don’t contain sugar. I went grocery shopping with a friend whose husband is a diabetic, what an eye opener that was. I started reading labels and realized how hard it is to avoid sugar.

One of the best ways of cutting back on sugar is to avoid buying manufactured or pre-packaged food. Don’t imagine that savoury foods are free from sugar either, read labels and prepare for a few shocks.

Sugar in coffee notwithstanding I have managed to reduce the amount of sugar I consume. However cutting back on sugar is an ongoing battle and it pays to be vigilant.

 

The Danger of Soft Drinks

I never drink fizzy or aerated beverages and this is something I chose to do long before I, or anyone else was even aware of the danger of soft drinks.

A glass of water is the best thirst quencher, better than the dangers of soft drinksWhen I was young I was given a glass of lemonade, a real treat in those days, however after drinking only half the glass I didn’t like the gassy feeling left in my tummy. After that I avoided all fizzy drinks, including champagne!

I was reminded of the whole fizzy drink issue last week when I volunteered to do a stint on the finish boat for race week. It has been a very busy time in Airlie Beach since yacht racing week is a big event on the annual calendar.  Unfortunately the weather hasn’t been very good, very strong winds and rain.

When we were preparing to go out on the boat the organizer was packing a cool box with drinks for lunch. He stood in front of an opened fridge and asked me what I wanted. When I replied that I didn’t drink soft drink he surprised me by saying that he didn’t either. I remarked that it was unusual to meet someone who avoided soft drink he said “That’s because most people aren’t aware of the danger of soft drink.

Part of the problem with soft drinks and sweet juices is the substance, a product called aspartame, with which that they use to sweeten them.  When I did some research on aspartame a while ago I was amazed that manufacturers of soft drink are even allowed to use it.  Supposedly the jury is still out on whether aspartame really is as dangerous as some people claim, but it scared me.

Read the labels to check for sweetenersWe even threw out a full bottle of vitamin C tablets because they contained aspartame.  Since then I have been very careful about reading labels, you would be surprised how many products contain this type of sweetener.

Heavy consumption of soft drinks and sweet juices can contribute to obesity and diabetes.  One of the problems with these types of drinks is that people can become addicted to the sweetness and the high a sugar hit induces. Instead of quenching thirst and hydrating the body they have the opposite effect which leads to other health problems.

Just recently I watched a programme on television about bacteria in the human body, specifically bacteria in the gut and why it is crucial for good health.  New research shows that what we eat and drink is critical to how the bacteria behave. The bottom line is that we need bacteria to stay healthy, but the bacteria can only do its job if we eat food that contains the right nutrients.

Apparently junk food and overly sweet drinks can send these organisms into a tailspin and prevents them from working efficiently. The good news is that we are very adaptable and eating the right foods can get us back on track again.

As a rule most people in the western world don’t have sufficient fibre in their diet and plenty of fibre is the key to a healthy gut and bowel. Cutting down on processed food and sweet drinks and eating more fruit and vegetables ensures that the good bacteria will keep you healthy.Fibre in vegetables better than dangers of soft drinks

By being aware of health issues associated with these types of drinks means you can make informed decisions about what you consume. Nobody wants to subsist on water, we all enjoy a nice beverage now and then but the dangers of soft drinks remain hidden from view, it is a multi-million dollar business after all.