Sunday, 28 September 2014

The complete balanced meal planner

Here it is: the dietitian-devised complete balanced meal planner! Choose any combination of steps 1-6 and you will create a healthy, and flavoursome, balanced meal. Give it a try for yourself and have a go planning your dinners (or lunches) for the week.

Step 1: Choose your protein
This should take up ¼ of your plate. Choose lean meats and trimmed of skin and fat, dried or reduced salt tinned versions of lentils and other legumes, raw or dry roasted, unsalted nuts and natural nut and seed butters (without added sugar or salt) and reduced fat dairy, where possible.

100g beef, lamb, kangaroo, veal, chicken, turkey, pork or fish (in the form of mince, steak, breast, diced, sliced, tinned, skewers, rissoles, meatballs, etc)
Meat alternatives:
2 large eggs
170g tofu or tempeh
1 C lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans, cannellini beans and other legumes
30g nuts, seeds, or nut or seed paste
1 cup (250mL) milk
½ cup (120mL) evaporated milk
2 slices (40g) hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, fetta)
½ (120g) cup soft cheese (ricotta, cottage)
¾ cup (200g) plain natural or Greek-style yoghurt

Step 2: Choose your carbohydrate
This should take up another ¼ of your plate. Choose wholegrain and low GI versions where possible.

1 cup cooked pasta (spaghetti, penne, risoni, lasagne sheets, cannelloni tubes, wonton wrappers etc), noodles (rice, egg), rice, quinoa, pearl barley, buckwheat, bulgur, polenta or semolina
2 slices bread, 1 medium roll, 1 flatbread (wrap, pita etc)
4 crispbreads
2 small English muffins or crumpets
1/3 cup flour (wheat, buckwheat, quinoa, rice, corn) or breadcrumbs- into patties, pancakes etc
Starchy vegetables:
1 medium potato, sweet potato, parsnip, taro or cassava
1 medium corn cob
1 cup lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans, cannellini beans and other legumes

Step 3: Choose your vegetables
This should take up the remaining ½ of your plate. Each of the following is 1 serve; aim for 3 or more serves to fill half your plate. Choose fresh, frozen, or reduced salt tinned versions and as many different colours as possible.

½ cup cooked green, orange, white or purple vegetables (e.g. broccoli, carrot, pumpkin, cauliflower, mushrooms, beetroot, etc)
½ cup cooked beans, peas, lentils or other legumes
1 cup leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, rocket, kale, silverbeet, etc)
1 cup raw salad vegetables (cucumber, capsicum, sprouts, etc)
1 medium tomato

Step 4: Choose your cooking method for each element
Note: Plate elements (protein, carbohydrate and vegetables) can be cooked together or cooked and kept separately.


Step 5: Choose your flavour base
Usually in tablespoon quantities per plate.

White or red wine
Soy/tamari/hoisin/oyster/fish sauce
Herb or spice rub
Reduced fat cream or evaporated milk
Curry paste

Step 6: Choose your flavour additions
Usually in teaspoon or tablespoon quantities per plate.

Herbs- fresh, dried or paste
Lemon, lime or other citrus
Cheese- parmesan, fetta, ricotta, mozzarella, etc
Condiments- mustard, chilli jam, etc
Olive or nut oils

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Strawberry, macadamia and oat muffins with sweet spices

A few weeks ago I went to a spice appreciation class at Herbie's in Rozelle (click here for their website). It was a lovely afternoon and the perfect birthday present for anyone who, like me, loves anything related to food. The idea of flavouring your food with herbs and spices instead of added fat, salt and sugar, is definitely one that appeals to me, and which, in my opinion, offers infinitely more possibilities! 

Now, when you think of herbs and spices you generally think of savoury dishes, right? Well, if you have ever added vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice to cakes or other baked goods, you've added spice to sweet dishes too! This time, I decided to venture further than these traditional ingredients and experiment with one of my Herbie's purchases: fragrant sweet spice mix. Made up of coriander seed, cassia, cinnamon quills, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, poppy seeds, cloves, cardamom and rose petals, it really is delicious to smell (and taste!). 

And so, this was my creation: sweet and fragrant strawberry, macadamia and oat muffins, full of fibre, low in saturated fat and sugar and with plenty of flavour! A perfect afternoon treat. Note: if you don't have access to this fragrant mix, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon with still give a lovely flavour!

Strawberry, macadamia and oat muffins with sweet spices

1 ½ C wholemeal SR flour
¾ C rolled oats
¼ C LSA 
¼ C brown sugar, plus 1 Tbsp extra
2 tsp fragrant sweet spice mix
1 egg
½ C skim milk
½ C reduced fat Greek-style yoghurt
¼ C oil (olive, canola or macadamia)
1 tsp vanilla
¾ C strawberries, diced, plus 2-3 extra, sliced
2 Tbsp macadamias, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Combine flour, oats, LSA, brown sugar and fragrant sweet spice mix in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk egg, milk, yoghurt, oil and vanilla.
  4. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and gently combine. Fold through diced strawberries.
  5. Divide mixture among 12 muffin cases, top with chopped macadamias and a sprinkling of brown sugar (from 1 Tbsp extra). Place a strawberry slice on each.
  6. Bake for 25-30mins or until lightly golden and skewer comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Can I still eat dessert if I’m trying to be healthy?

I’m going to be honest here and say it makes me sad to imagine a world without dessert. I’m a self-confessed dessert fiend and I’ll have something sweet after dinner most nights. My family and friends can vouch for that- if I turn down dessert they know something’s wrong!

Many of you are probably thinking that as a Dietitian, shouldn’t I be eating healthily, like, all the time? The truth is I’m just like you, I have my vices, and dessert is one of them! So I wanted to answer a question I commonly get asked:

Can I still eat dessert if I’m trying to be healthy?

The answer is: Yes! But it does depend what you consider ‘dessert’ and how much you have of it.

The reasons why dessert has made it into the dieting bad books:
  1. Often eaten after a large meal, when we’re not hungry, making it unnecessary kilojoules (or calories) which can be difficult to burn off if all you’re doing after eating it is relaxing on the couch then going to bed.
  2. Typically laden with excess sugar and fat, particularly pre-packaged and restaurant types.
  3. Extras like whipped cream, ice cream or icing sugar, which can really add up.
  4. Can provoke a night time binge that starts with a bowl of ice cream, gets followed by some chocolate and finished with a few bickies. 

How to make dessert part of a healthy diet
  • Don’t eat if you are truly stuffed after dinner (a feeling we want to try and avoid at any meal).
  • Dessert should be small and not a hugely significant energy contribution to your diet- practice the art of mindful eating if you struggle with this one.
  • Avoid pre-packaged and processed desserts and instead choose desserts made from wholefoods. Cooking, or preparing, it yourself is generally the best option so you know exactly what’s going into your food.
  • Make dessert contribute positively to your nutrient intake in some way- whether it be a source of  calcium, fibre, protein or antioxidants (from dairy, whole grains, nuts, fruit, etc).
  • Reduce your portion size- if you enjoy making your own sweet treats, cut the cake or slice into smaller pieces than the recipe recommends and avoid going back for seconds.
  • Dessert shouldn’t really be a habit. Always ask yourself ‘do I really feel like this?’. If the honest answer is no, then it would just be a waste to eat it- save it for a time when you know you’d really enjoy it!
  • And who said dessert has to be ice cream or cake? When I think of dessert I think of sweet, but that doesn't mean you're limited to ‘dessert’ foods. How about yoghurt with berries? Or a hot chocolate? Or a muesli slice? Or even a handful of trail mix or dry cereal? 

Healthier dessert options
  • Fruit salad with yoghurt.
  • Milk based rice, semolina or sago pudding.
  • Baked ricotta with berries.
  • Homemade cake lower in sugar and butter, made with wholemeal flour and flavoured with fruit, cinnamon, vanilla, coconut or nuts.
  • Individual serves of (ricotta-based) cheesecake, pudding, cake or pie, baked in a muffin tin or small ramekins. 

Links to some of my healthier sweet treat recipes:

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Lentil ‘meatballs’ with pasta, greens and lemon pesto sauce

Lentils. They were once only the domain of vegans and 70's hippies, but I'm keen to bring them back. Small legumes, full of fibre and protein, they make a wonderful meat alternative, and are a great way to bulk up a meal (without the cost of meat). You can buy them dry or canned and I must say, for me canned is the way to go. No soaking or cooking required, you just open the can, pour into a fine sieve and rinse. 

Brown lentils especially go well as the basis of burgers, rissoles and 'meatballs'. I adapted this recipe from another one I saw floating around the internet and they're super tasty. They work especially well with my homemade basil pesto, but if you don't have the time, you the bought stuff and just add a good squeeze of lemon.

Lentil ‘meatballs’ with pasta, greens and lemon pesto sauce

375g tagliatelle or fettucini
1 leek, sliced
3 C silverbeet, finely sliced
1 large zucchini, cut into matchsticks
½ medium eggplant, cut into matchsticks
1 C beans, halved crossways
1 C broccoli florets

Lentil ‘meatballs’
2x400g cans brown lentils, rinsed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¾ C reduced fat ricotta
¼ C grated parmesan
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp mixed herbs
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
¾ C breadcrumbs (preferably panko)

Lemon pesto sauce
1 bunch basil (~2 C)
4 Tbsp toasted pinenuts
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp water

1. In a food processor, process lentils and parsley until mostly smooth, but some texture still remains. Transfer to a large bowl.
2. Add eggs, ricotta, parmesan, garlic, mixed herbs and breadcrumbs. Stir well and let mix sit for at least 20 mins.

3. Make lemon pesto sauce: in the same food processor process all lemon pesto sauce ingredients until smooth. Add more water to thin further, if desired. Refrigerate until needed.

4. Roll tablespoons of lentil mix into balls and place on lined baking trays. Spray with a little olive oil. If making 'meatballs' ahead of time, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until needed.
5. Bake lentil ‘meatballs’ at 205°C for 20-25mins or until golden brown.
6. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a saucepan of boiling water and stir-fry greens in a large frypan.

7. When pasta is cooked, drain and toss through vegetables along with lemon pesto sauce. Divide among bowls and top with ~6-8 ‘meatballs' per bowl. Top with extra parmesan.

Serves 6 plus a few leftover ‘meatballs’ for lunches :)