With school starting back this week, many parents have to add the chore of making packed lunches back to their long “to-do” lists. Here are some nutritious ideas which will not only get your kids excited about opening their lunch boxes, but will also give them plenty of energy to learn and play until the home-time bell rings.
Think beyond the sandwich
Sandwiches are quick and easy to make but with a little bit of planning and some clever shopping, you can provide your kids with an interesting alternative. If cooking up rice or pasta sounds like too much faff, you can buy some great pre-cooked grain packages now. Or if cooking some for dinner just cook a little extra and keep in the fridge for the next day (cooked rice needs to be kept either hot or cold to stop bacteria from developing).
You could just pop some into a Tupperware with a little soy sauce and either some raw or cooked veg. You can even buy cooked flavoured rice such as Tilda’s Cheese and Tomato or Mild Curry rice that save you from having to do any prep at all.
All supermarkets now sell a range of flavoured popcorn. Many manufacturers such as Propercorn now offer a wide variety of flavours that contain no refined sugar or artificial flavours. At around 100 kcals per bag they are great alternative to a packet of crisps.
Bear, Nakd and supermarkets now offer a wide variety of bars and snacks made from dried and pureed fruit. These are sweet enough that children will enjoy eating them, but they also deliver a good serving of vitamins from the fruit.
Embrace the Tupperware
Make like the 80s and rediscover the world of Tupperware in order to package up a wide range of snacks. There is a world of shapes and sizes available now such as the great range from Sistema. You can cut up veg such as peppers, carrots or cucumber, pack little pieces of cooked meat, fish or cheese, hard-boiled eggs, nuts (although please check if your school has a ‘nut free’ policy first), mini breadsticks, dried fruit and more. The possibilities are endless.
(Rice)cake is on the menu
Rice cakes are no longer the cardboard-like offering they once were. There are now a huge variety of flavours available including chocolate and yoghurt covered, caramel, cheese, BBQ and more. Although the nutritional value of them is fairly low, they are a worthwhile addition to a lunchbox if they allow your child to enjoy a strong flavour without having to take on a high number of calories with equally low nutritional value.
(Please note, I am by no means suggesting keeping childrens’ caloric intake down. I am suggesting merely keeping calories that are low in nutritional value down.)
Want more inspiration?
For amazing inspiration for nutritious lunchbox ideas I highly recommend following @Paleoathome on Instagram. Creator Emma Farrell regularly posts pics of her daughter’s incredible lunch boxes. The enviable packed lunches feature a wide variety of creatively chopped fruit and veg, homemade “gummy sweets”, and ingenious meat, fish and egg creations. Warning: they will make the basic ‘cheese sandwich, packet of crips, KitKat and an apple’ lunch box seem well below par. They have been known to make me feel a large amount of mum guilt, LOL.
Please tag in my in pics of your most ingenious snack ideas on Instagram (I’m @hilton_health) in order to win a Sistema Bento Cube. I look forward to seeing your creations.
My motivations to be a personal trainer and nutritional advisor go way beyond wanting people to be proud of their big biceps and washboard stomachs. Sharing the story which lead me to this path is a bit scary, as it’s it not something I discuss with many people, but hopefully it will help people see why I preach and get so passionate about the things I do.
It’s rather long at just over 2000 words, but I hope you find it interesting, and that it helps you or someone you know in some way. Please feel free to share it.
Dog walking and dam building
I have enjoyed being active my whole life. My happiest memories as a child are climbing trees, building dams and wandering the fields near my home carrying a rucksack full of nature books in order to identify any critters that I came into contact with. I loved walking my dog and got up early to do so before school (I’ve always been an early bird).
My senior school had a leisure centre on site and as soon as I was allowed I spent my lunchtimes in the gym or pool. By this time though another motivation was at play. I had been bullied from the age of 12, which continued on-and-off for the remainder of my school years. With this, as is often the case, my confidence plummeted. Add the rollercoaster of teenage hormones and an increasingly negative relationship with my body image, and the result is that my exercise sessions became more about feeling marginally happier with my body than about having fun.
Wafer-thin ham sandwiches
Into this mix I now added what I was led to believe were healthy food choices. Thinking back to those days I remember eating a lot of rice cakes and sandwiches made from Weight Watchers bread, with no spread or a tiny bit of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Light spread and two slices of wafer-thin ham sandwiches. My lunches looked anaemic in short.
My mum is an amazing cook yet I felt terribly guilty eating her delicious meals, and enviably watched my brother devour his own bodyweight in food day after day, whist he remained lean. Meanwhile I was always hungry yet my body did not seem to reflect all the effort I was putting in. It was like I was baking a cake with all the “right” ingredients, yet the result was always flat, burnt and disgusting to taste. I could not understand it.
Discovering some confidence
It was a huge relief when I could finally leave the bullies behind as I left to go to university in Swansea when I 18. I was free to break free from the social anguish that had plagued me for six years at school. I could make friends based on who I was at that point in my life, not based on who I had gone to school with.
When I started uni I had been in a relationship for several years with a guy from home (not school, I was far too short on confidence there). About half way through that year though, the relationship came to an end. Although I felt devastated initially I very soon felt more free than I had for a really really long time. I was like an exotic bird discovering for the first time it’s beautiful wings, then realising that they were also my passport to freedom.
I made great new friends, many of whom I’m still close to. I had tons of fun, got involved in new things, in short I had the university experience. I felt loads happier and was more active. I was also thinking less than I had about food than I had for years and ironically weight started to fall off me, without my even noticing. I soon needed to buy smaller clothes and received lots of compliments from those around me. I felt ecstatic. Finally I discovered what it felt like to not completely hate my own body.
Heading into the danger zone
Subconsciously though, I linked my loss of weight to my new-found popularity and fun-filled life. Therefore once I slowly but surely started to gain weight again, I was terrified. In my head I would loose my great new friends and fab new life if I put weight on again. I once again returned to rice cakes and Weight Watchers bread sandwiches. They had just as much success for me then as they had last time though.
I was by now a second-year student; drinking most nights of the week, frequently grabbing takeaways on the way home and sleeping way less than I needed. As the weight increased I got more and more desperate. This is how I became bulimic.
In a shared house of nine I could easily get away with sneaking off to nearby shops to buy bags of “forbidden” foods, and then embark on binging and purging sessions. Or so I thought. I suspect my housemates were on to me far sooner than I realised.
I can’t really remember how long this went on for. I do remember though that at some point I realised that I needed to tell someone what I was doing in order to experience the shame needed to get myself out of it. I told my mum about it, who got me to see a counsellor, I read a book about it but it didn’t help a great deal.
It was meeting Dan that really put a stopper in it. Mainly because I was generally either at the gym or with him (or both) during my free time, so I had far less private time in which to embark on any bulimic behaviour. The binges and purges became less frequent, and at some point stopped altogether, but the poor body image and shaky self-confidence remained with me for years.
Throughout all of this I was still an avid gym-goer. I would come in from clubbing and be in the gym a few hours later. Looking at it now I must have been a metabolic wreck, but I guess you can get away with it more when you’re young.
“Running 20-odd miles a week unfortunately doesn’t mean you can get away with eating whatever the hell you like”
I continued to be a gym bunny when Dan and I moved from Swansea to Cardiff, where I studied to be a journalist, and then when we moved from there to Bath. Funnily enough the gym we joined when we moved to Bath was at the YMCA. If someone had told me then that I would be working for them in a few years I would never have believed them.
The nutritional side of things
As you do when you join a gym I had a programme written for me by the lovely Simon (who ended up getting me my YMCA job years later). I met with him every 12 weeks for a retest and at one of them we found my results weren’t what he’d expect given how much I was in the gym. I knew, and he most likely knew too, that was due to the nutritional side of things.
I distinctly remember him suggesting we look into my nutritional intake. I was petrified. I went to the gym so that I could eat chocolate, cake and all the rest of it. I knew he would tell me not to eat such crap and I couldn’t have coped with that. I vowed to just exercise more and decided to take on the London Marathon. I would surely loose weight if I trained for a marathon wouldn’t I?!
Not necessarily, so it turns out. Running 20-odd miles a week unfortunately doesn’t mean you can get away with eating whatever the hell you like, as I believed it would. I thought that if I was doing that much exercise I would get back the body I had at the end of my first year of uni, which was the smallest I had ever been.
Extra chocolate allowance
Maybe it would have done if I had been eating well, but it didn’t for me, no doubt partly because I was counterbalancing the running with chocolate. I had joined Weight Watchers by then and every time I came back from a run or gym session I would work out how many points I had just burned, and consume that exact amount of chocolate. I would even do an extra mile or an extra ten minutes in the gym simply to “buy” myself some extra chocolate allowance.
So this mentality went on until I fell pregnant with Jack. After having him I went straight back to the gym and to weighing out chocolate, despite the fact that I was breastfeeding and shattered. However now a change occurred. My gym sessions and runs were now the only headspace I got. They were the only times I saw people and did the things I had done before I became a mum. Over time my exercise sessions became more vital for my mental wellbeing than my physical wellbeing.
Huge amounts of cake and chocolate
Since having Jack I had been eating huge amounts of cake and chocolate because I was breastfeeding, and had been told by midwives and everyone else that I needed to eat lots of extra calories to produce the milk that he needed. Clearly I had been eating enough to produce milk for several babies, and consuming such a huge calorie surplus that my weight had gone up and up.
“Clearly I had been eating enough to produce milk for several babies”
I seriously needed to get my weight under control, but no longer had loads of spare time I could spend in the gym. I needed another tactic.
In searching for some help I came across ‘The Clean & Lean Diet‘ and everything clicked. The book spoke about cutting out refined, processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol, and about eating whole, clean foods. I decided to give it a go for a few weeks and have never looked back. Not only did I start to loose weight, but most importantly I felt far healthier that I probably ever had. No surprise. For the first time I was eating loads of nutrient-dense food instead of air-filled nutrient-poor foods.
This was real game-changer for me. I had discovered that the secret to being healthy wasn’t hidden in a certain number of hours logged in the gym or a particular “health” food. It was in a clean and, most importantly, healthy approach. Combine this with the fact that to me exercise was no longer a way to control my weight, but something I enjoyed in and of itself, and you can see why I felt better than I had in years. And I felt better not just physically but mentally and emotionally too. The bulimic inside me slowly grew smaller and smaller until I realised she had gone entirely.
Today I enjoy healthy food, and I also enjoy the occasional treat. I no longer fear “treat” foods, as I am in control of my feelings around them now. My own exercise sessions are now fun and something I love to do, not something I feel I should do in order to look a certain way, and I hope that my clients and class participants feel the same about the ones I deliver to them.
The road to making my discovery was a painful one for me, and it angers me that food companies, supermarkets and in many ways the government had made it so hard for me, and others like me, to make that discovery.
This is why I decided to retrain to be a personal trainer and nutritional advisor. I wanted to help educated people about how to live a healthy life, be it mentally, physically, nutritionally or emotionally. If I save just one person from going down the horrible road that I did, that I will have succeeded.
So when I tell you I understand how hard it can be to live a healthy life, I really do.
I will be there to help whoever I can in whatever way I can.
Mornings are hectic, I get it. It’s challenging enough to get everyone to where they have to be, with the right bag, snack and drink, without stopping to think about your own lunch. Then lunchtime comes around and your only option is the work canteen’s gloopy offerings, the vending machine or the cafe next door.
With a small amount of planning and savvy shopping though, you could change all of this. Here are a few ideas lunch hacks that will improve the nutrient density of your food you eat at work:
Pre-cooked chicken or fish– comes in a variety of flavours but plain is best if trying to avoid sugar and other additives. Pair with a bag of salad for a chicken salad.
No-cook grains – I love this one from Waitrose. You don’t have to cook it and paired with meat, veg, or even just some tamari soy sauce you’ve got a filling lunch.
Noodle pots – Itsu do some great ones but there are others available. Add boiling water and you have a healthy, filling lunch ready to go.
Last night’s dinner – It’s an oldie but a goodie. Cook a little extra for dinner and pot it up for lunch the next day.
Hopefully that gives you a few ideas to help revolutionise your lunch. If you have any other suggestions please share them.
For most people, week-day mornings are a flurry of teeth brushing, school uniform, packed lunches, trying to make yourself clean and vaguely presentable (in my case), and harassing the children to quickly eat their breakfast. It’s no surprise then that many mums fail to eat breakfast themselves, and that many who do munch on something that is severely lacking in nutrients, while trying to perform seven other tasks at the same time.
There is another way however. With a savvy shopping list and a little advance preparation advance, you can start the day in a much healthier way.
Here are a few breakfast ideas for those who feel their breakfast has reached a desperate state.
You could make a batch of granola at the weekend
Scrummy granola – I bake a batch a week. In the morning just add some milk or yoghurt (natural and organic if possible) to it, and fruit if you have time (I buy frozen berries and put a mixture in a tupperware in the fridge to defrost the evening before).
Chia seed pudding – I use the recipe in Ella’s book rather than this one, but the fundamentals are the same. Either way you can make it the night before and it’s ready to eat in the morning. This is a great option for eating on the go if you’re really tight on time, or if you can’t stomach eating first thing. Plus chia seeds are super good for you!
Soak the oats the night before and you can make this porridge quickly the next morning
Creamy coconut porridge – When I first discovered this recipe I had it daily for months. It’s wonderfully filling, delicious and nutritious. If you soak the oats overnight the 10-min cooking time reduces to two mins, and also increases their nutrient density too.
Scrambled eggs (preferably organic) on toast – at first this sounds like too much faff. But if you have a microwave this is easy peasy. Simply whisk an egg, milk, a little butter and pepper together, and microwave for about 90 secs, beating every 30 secs. Your toast will probably take longer than the eggs. We should all eat at least one egg a day, so this way you get yours in early, plus the protein of egg is slow to release so we feel fuller for longer. Add a little mashed avocado to this for a truly heavenly start to the day.
If like me, you are a frequent visitor to high-street cafes, you will have noticed that bircher is all the rage at the moment. No it’s not a type of tree but an oat, apple and lemon juice-based breakfast option. Jamie’s Overnight Bircher is another nutritious choice you can prep the night before.
So hopefully that list has inspired you in some way, and saves you from the bacon butties in the work canteen at least a few days a week. If you have any other breakfast suggestions, then please share them.
I’m often asked about quick yet nutritious breakfasts. This granola is a great option. I usually make a batch a week.
To make it I get 240g oats and add about 300g of nuts (brazils and almonds used here), about 300g pumpkin/sunflower seeds and about 200g milled flax seeds, but you can adjust those amounts depending on what you like and what you have in the cupboard.
In a saucepan melt 4 tbsp of coconut oil and 4 tbsp honey and two tsps cinnamon together. Poor the melted mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, mix together and bake in the oven at about 180C in a fan oven, or 200C in a conventional oven.
Stir it every ten mins to ensure everything toasts evenly. It will take 30-40 mins to cook. Once it’s done add a big handful of raisins to the mixture.
Enjoy with yogurt and fruit, or just on its own as an on-the-go snack.
If you’re anything like me you’ll have a vast number of recipe books in your bookcase, but actually use just a handful regularly. As many of you may be in the early stages of a new resolution to eat healthier, I thought now might be a good time to let you know the recipe books that I frequently turn to for inspiration.
Deliciously Ella by Ella Woodward – I love that most of Woodward’s recipes are based on a list of core ingredients, so that once you have those in the kitchen you can make loads of the recipes without having to buy a list of obscure ingredients you only need a tiny bit of. I use Ella’s almond butter, coconut porridge, chia seed pudding and cinnamon pecan granola recipes all the time, and many more are frequently used too. It’s probably the most-used recipe book I’ve ever had.
Hamlyn All Colour 200 Slow Cooker Recipes – Slow cookers are a great way to ensure that you don’t start raiding the cupboards for quick fixes as soon as you get home. Instead of quickly filling up on processed foods you can tuck into a delicious wholesome meal that’s been bubbling away all day. My family’s favourite recipe from this book is the sausage and onion gravy casserole.
Everyday Super Foods by Jamie Oliver – In this book’s accompanying series Jamie states, “I want you to eat healthy foods not because you have to, but because it’s delicious.” Now that is an ethos that I totally agree with, and with recipes like these I think it’s very easy to achieve. I’m working my way through the book, and the recipes are all very tasty and simple to prepare. I think the family favourite so far is the vegetable lasagne made with spinach and roasted butternut squash. Delicious.
Riverford Farm Cook Book – I use this book when I have a few veggies hanging about that need to be used up, as the contents are listed by veg. This allows me to be much more creative with veggies, which is fun for me and also means that my children and far more likely to eat them.
Neal’s Yard Healing Foods – This book turns your kitchen into a pharmacy, as it advises you which foods to use (and how) to cure a whole range of ailments. You can either look up a particular food, or the symptom you wish to ease. There are also meal plans with a particular focus, for example to improve heart health, maintain healthy joints and to help relieve stress.
Clean and Lean Diet by James Duigan – This book was a bit of a game-changer for me, because as I read it I experienced quite a lot of “light bulb” moments that enabled me to see where I’d been going wrong with my nutrition for years. Having implicated the changes Duigan suggested I saw my body shape improve in way that it never had before. Ever better was the fact that those changes were unbelievably simple, and also perfectly logical once I stopped to think about it.
BBC Good Food website – Ok, I know this isn’t a book, but I use it all the time so I couldn’t not mention it here. There are recipes on here from many celebrity chefs and you can search by difficulty level, preparation time, dietary requirements and more. Like the Riverford book I often use this when I have a particular ingredient I wish to use but am lacking in inspiration.
Do you have any other books that you would add to this list? If so please comment on this post.
This is something of a book review but also a reiteration of something I read and talk about a lot. That is the simple fact we as individuals are not as responsible for our own waistlines as we might think. The food manufacturers have got a great deal to answer for, as it is due to their addictive products, savvy marketing and the scientifically planned food shops that are actually largely to blame.
The people behind all the fattening and sugary products out there know full well that human beings are hard-wired to seek out the most delicious and fattening foods available. This harkens back to our caveman days when sweet foods meant the occasional berry bush you may stumble on, and fattening meant the fat of the animals you had hunted down with your bare hands. Of course food gathering is very different these days but our biology hasn’t changed. So the tastes and macronutrients (fat, protein and carbs) we were only supposed to consume sparingly, can be consumed as much as we like, and we do. As the book says, “They’ve discovered that the brain lights up for sugar the same way it does for cocaine, and this knowledge is useful, not only in formulating foods.”
And the people behind the products know this, as pointed out in the book with a quote from the former CEO of General Mills, the company behind Cherrios, Lucky Charms and the Betty Crocker products: “Don’t talk to me about nutrition,” he said, taking on the voice of a typical consumer. “Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.”
Some of the top food execs have had more of a conscience than others and tried to make changes to the nutritional profile of their companies’ products, but generally these execs have not lasted long when they have tried out this approach. Their companies are there to make money after all, and therefore the more people like the products the more they will buy, and the more money they’ll make. Duh!
The book talks about the various diet trends we go through, and how the food manufacturers cash in on this. All those “low fat” or “sugar free” products attract people to their products who would usually avoid them. But the loss of fat or sugar comes at a dietary cost. In order to make up for the removed element, a long list of additives are usually added to make up for the loss in flavour. As I’ve said in previous posts this makes for foods that our body is not designed to process, which leads to all manner of problems for the human body. It is very telling to me that the book points out that a great many of the people who work for the big companies avoid all processed foods.
I could go off on one because this is a topic that really riles me, but if you are in anyway interested then I urge you to read the book. The reason that I wanted to blog about it is because I want people to realise that the products that cause us to pile on the pounds have been painstakingly created so that you can’t resist buying and eating them, in order that you make the companies behind them lots of money.
We all beat ourselves up when we indulge and blame our lack of willpower but the reality is that in this day and age it is extremely hard to rise above all the salt, sugar and fat that is out there to tempt us. Once you know what the food manufacturers are up to however, you can see through their marketing strategies and consequently get much better at resisting their products. And when you do and realise how much you feel much better for it and it is strangely liberating.
If you even so much as flicked through a health magazine or book in the last few years then no doubt you’ve seen quinoa and chia seeds mentioned. The chances are you know you should be eating them but aren’t sure what they are and exactly what benefits they offer. I thought it was time I offered some answers as lots of people ask me these questions a lot.
Originating from Mexico and Guatemala chia seeds are tiny but packed with nutrients meaning that you get lots of benefits without having to eat loads of calories.
28 grams of chia seeds contains:
11 grams of fibre
4 grams of protein – this relatively high protein content is what helps them suppress appetite and therefore help those who are trying to reduce their weight
Nine grams of fat, including five of the important Omega-3 variety
A high quantity of calcium (great for those who don’t eat dairy), magnesium, zinc and some B vitamins
Lots of antioxidants
They absorb up to 12 times their own weight in liquid so once ingested absorb make you feel more full. This property also means they can be turned into puddings which vaguely resemble rice pudding without much bother.
The other great thing about chia seeds is that they are really easy to add to your diet as they are flavourless so can be added to a wide variety of foods including:
Fruit and yoghurt
And those are just a few ideas to get you started.
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) heralds from South America and in technical terms is a pseudograin. What this means is that it can be used in place of things like couscous and rice and offers very different nutritional benefits:
Gluten-free so is a great alternative for coeliacs or others wishing to avoid gluten
High in protein so great for vegetarians and vegans
High in some B vitamins
High in minerals such as iron and zinc
Reasonable offering of calcium so good source for those who can’t have dairy
You cook quinoa in the same way as rice, boiling for 10-12 minutes. Here are a few ideas of how you could eat it:
In place of rice when eating curry
As a substitute for couscous
Cold sprinkled over salad
You can buy quinoa flakes to which you add a little water and then can be mixed in with yoghurt and fruit for breakfast (I have this every morning actually)
Can be served with meat and fish
Can be used in baking
So I hope that answers a few questions. If you have any other health, fitness or nutrition questions that you’d like me to answer please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.