Monday, 14 July 2014

Don't 'beef up' this winter, veg up instead!

Let's be honest: frosty mornings, rainy days and cold dark nights don't make exercise the most appealing activity during the freezing winter months. Similarly, salads and light meals become less appealing and we instead yearn for warming comfort foods. Typically these are rich, stodgy foods which are washed down with sweet energy dense beverages such as hot chocolates, chai lattes or endless cups of tea or coffee. And maybe a sweet biscuit or two to boot. Yes, these are warming and comforting foods.... but after months of eating stodgy foods and a staying curled up inside, you may welcome spring with a few extra kilos to your name.

The good news? It does not have to be this way!! You can still stay warm, comforted and satisfied throughout the winter months without 'beefing up.' How? Again, it comes down to the veg. Don't veg out during winter; be sure to maintain at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Additionally, remember to veg up and pack all your winter meals full of low starch vegetables. You can read more about vegetables and why they are so important for our health in my previous post here.

By 'vegging up,' you increase the volume of your meals and consequently increase the fibre and nutrient content whilst keeping the kilojoule (calorie) content lower. The end result: a full belly but a trim waistline!

Below is an example of a veggie-packed comfort meal which is a trustworthy winter staple:

Veggie-ful Spaghetti Bolognese 
Serves 6

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil 
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 brown onion, diced  
cracked pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes 
500g lean mince
400g can crushed tomatoes
2 ripe tomato, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste 
1 large carrot, grated
1/2 zucchini, grated
100g baby spinach leaves
1 can salt reduced red kidney beans*, rinsed and drained
8 button mushrooms, diced

 500g spaghetti 

Parmesan cheese, to serve 

*Brown lentils could be used instead of red kidney beans 

1.  In a large saucepan, bring 2 litres of water to the boil. 
2. In another large saucepan, heat extra virgin olive oil. When warm, add onion, garlic, pepper, herbs and chilli and cook, stirring, until onion is translucent. 
3. Add lean beef and cook until mince is cooked through. 
4. Add can of crushed tomato, diced fresh tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook, stirring, until combined. 
5. Add grated carrot and zucchini, baby spinach leaves, mushrooms and canned kidney beans. Stir to combine. 
6. Leave bolognese to simmer, uncovered, over medium heat. 
7. Add spaghetti to saucepan of boiling water and cook according to packet instructions until al dente. Drain and set aside. 
8. Remove bolognese from heat and serve on top of cooked spaghetti. Top with extra cracked pepper and grated parmesan cheese if desired. 

Healthy veggie-ful spaghetti bolognese. 

Buon Appetit! Enjoy!

- Em xx 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Spiced Pumpkin, Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

I'm in love with pumpkin. It's no secret. I've had plenty of dinner dates with pumpkin over the past couple of years, and even a number of lunch dates too. In fact, pumpkin even snuck it's way into my breakfast today, in the form of 'pumpkin pie porridge.'  Now that was a good start to the day. Actually, if I'm honest, I've been enjoying a lot of pumpkin lately. The more I have, the more I want. Despite the fact I had pumpkin in my breakfast and lunch today, I yearned for it's sweet, delicious and comforting characteristics again for dinner. Some may say this is pumpkin overload (that includes a work colleague who recently told me I looked jaundiced....) but I say this is a healthy, seasonal fling. You see, pumpkin is both sweet but savoury, uplifting but grounding, comforting but exciting, and ever so versatile. I know I can rely on pumpkin; it is a trustworthy staple that is available all year round, and thus can always be found in my fridge or just chilling on the outdoor setting in the cool winter air.

As well as tantalising my tastebuds, pumpkin also nourishes my body in many ways. Pumpkin is a wonderful source of fibre and thus fills my belly without a significant kilojoule intake. It's also a wonderful source of vitamin C and beta carotene (which our bodies can convert into Vitamin A); these nutrients boost our immune system, keep us well during the cooler months and can even reduce our risk of developing certain cancers. These nutrients also promote healthy glowing skin and good eyesight. As if that wasn't enough, pumpkin also provides iron, folate, magnesium and calcium, making it a very nutrient dense food indeed. 

With this impressive nutrient profile in mind and a strong hankering for yet more pumpkin today, I got to work in the kitchen tonight and whipped up this delicious, comforting and satisfying soup.

Spiced Pumpkin, Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup 
Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
cracked pepper
2 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (or to taste)
1kg pumpkin (I used a Jarrahdale variety, but any type of pumpkin could be used).
1/2 large sweet potato
3 large carrots
3 cups salt-reduced vegetable stock
1x 420g can salt-reduced butter beans, rinsed
1/2 cup plain natural yoghurt (I used Tamar Valley for it's thinner consistency)
1 cup of water, optional

To serve:
1/2 cup yoghurt, extra
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
6 slices good quality seeded sourdough bread

1. Dice the onion, crush the garlic, and set both aside.
2. Peel the pumpkin, sweet potato and carrots, and chop into small cubes.
3. In a large saucepan or soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sautee until onion is translucent.
4. Add the cracked pepper, Chinese five spice powder and chilli flakes and stir until combined.
5. Add the chopped pumpkin, sweet potato and carrot and stir until coated in spice mixture. Add the 2 cups of vegetables stock and stir to combine. Cover with a lid and allow to simmer over low-medium heat for about 30 minutes or until all ingredients and soft.
6. Add the can of drained and rinsed butter beans and 1/2 cup of yoghurt and stir well to combine. Leave to simmer for a further 10 minutes.
7. Remove saucepan from heat and blend well using a hand held stick blender until smooth and creamy and free from lumps. *Note - you may wish to add an extra 1-1.5 cups of water at this point, depending on how thick you like your soup.
8. Spoon into bowls and top with a dollop of extra plain yoghurt, chopped fresh coriander and black pepper to taste. Serve with seeded sourdough bread and enjoy!

 Spiced pumpkin, carrot and sweet potato soup. Perfect on a cold winter night. 

I hope you will enjoy this soup as much as I did. Please leave a message below if you do try this recipe or if you have your own special pumpkin soup recipe to share. 

Until next time, stay warm, dry and well nourished, 

- Em xx


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Veggies: Do you get your 5 serves a day??

Vegetables are a crucial part of a healthy, balanced diet. A variety of different coloured vegetables provides fibre, antioxidants and vitamins including vitamin A, C, E and folate as well as minerals such as magnesium and potassium. Even better is that vegetables are low in kilojoules (calories) and thus are a great way to provide bulk and fill your belly whilst keeping your weight in check. As if that wasn't enough, eating your 5 serves of vegetables per day can also protect against developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Despite this impressive nutrient profile, only 8.2% of Australian adults consume the required 5 serves of veggies daily. Yep, you read correctly, only 8.2% (this is according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Health Survey 2011/12).

So, what is 'a serve' of veggies? According to The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (2013), a serve of veggies is defined as 75g of vegetables, which is equivalent to:
  • 1/2 cup cooked green or orange vegetables (such as broccoli, spinach, carrot or pumpkin)
  • 1/2 cup cooked dried peas, lentils or beans (such as red kidney beans, chickpeas, 4 bean mix)
  • 1/2 cup sweet corn 
  • 1/2 medium potato or equivalent amount of other starchy vegetable (such as sweet potato, cassava or taro)
  • 1 medium tomato 
  • 1 cup of salad leaves    
Every day in my work I find myself encouraging people to eat more vegetables. A common complaint is that people say they "don't like" veggies or find them boring. Now I must admit that I am a veggie fanatic, so it does still baffle me when I hear some people report they eat vegetables only once per fortnight. Eating vegetables should not be a chore, it should not be boring and it should not be tasteless. Vegetables are vibrant, colourful, nutrient dense and flavoursome but we do need to treat them with respect and get creative in the way we use them to unlock their full potential!

For some tasty ideas and inspiration on how to incorporate vegetables into your diet check out the Eat For Health website. I'll also bring you some of my favourite ways to meet your vegetable requirements each day.

I'm pleased to say I've had vegetables in all my main meals and snacks today! I kick started my day with my take on the oh-so-satisying 'Carrot Cake Porridge,' as per my recipe below:

Fruity Carrot Cake Porridge 

Serves 1

-  1/4 cup muesli (I make my own muesli with rolled oats, sultanas, chopped walnuts and almonds, pepitas, sunflower seeds and linseeds)
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- splash of milk
- 1/2 cup grated carrot
- 1/4 cup grated apple
- 1/4 cup halved red grapes
- cinnamon to taste
- generous dollop of plain yoghurt, to serve

1. Place muesli and water in a small saucepan over low heat. 
2. Whilst porridge is cooking, grate carrot and apple and chop grapes. 
3. Add carrot, apple and grapes to porridge and stir to combine.
4. Add cinnamon and milk to taste (every likes differing quantities of cinnamon and milk, so I'll leave this to your discretion!) and cook, stirring, until desired consistency is reach (again, this is very personal!)
5. When your desired consistency is reached, remove porridge from stove and serve with a generous dollop of yoghurt. Enjoy!

This is not exactly your typical porridge with the inclusion of carrot and grapes but it honestly tastes divine! The carrot provides sweetness and a nutrient boost, whilst the grapes are just like big juicy sultanas which provide a nice moistness to the porridge. Even better is you know you can tick off one serve of veggies before you even head out the door for work. This dish is an all round winner if you ask me (though I may be slightly biased!). Please try this recipe, let me know your thoughts and share your tips for incorporating vegetables in your diet. 

Until next time, eat well and stay well, 

- Em xx