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January can be such a dull, long, dreary month when darkness falls in the late afternoon and we are more inclined to be mooching about indoors, indulging in stodgy foods. It is, however, the ideal opportunity to make a fresh start by committing to a bit of good old-fashioned New Year detox. My interpretation of this is more fresh air, more exercise and a regular diet of good nutritious food prepared at home.
We all need some inspiration, discipline and, most of all, self -belief if we are to make it work. This doesn't call for a strict regime but a sensible and practical approach.
Without wishing to sound smug, we have got off to a pretty good start. Mind you, we are only a couple of weeks in! I have filled my kitchen with fresh unadulterated ingredients ready to be home cooked. There isn't a salty potato snack in sight, the Christmas biscuit tin has been reduced to the leftover ones no one is prepared to eat in both layers and the alcohol has been safely hidden away. Needless to say, we don't live in the kind of household where leftover cheeses, Christmas cake and other goodies will be around to enjoy in the ensuing month, everything is gone! We quite impressed ourselves by managing a family swim before devouring an ever so slow cooked, full flavoured braised beef shin last night. Served with an abundance of fresh vegetables, it really hit the spot.
The thing is, how do we make our newly adopted lifestyle last and by that I mean the entire year, not just a nod to the first month whereupon we give ourselves a hearty slap on the back and fall back into slovenly habits? I have a strong feeling that we will slip up in our endeavours from time to time but who doesn't? In my opinion, the answer is to take small practical steps in the right direction and hang onto my mother in law's wise words, "the person who never made a mistake, never made anything!"
As with many aspects of life, the first step is proper planning. There is no point in delighting in the enticing recipes in your cookery books if you don't have the ingredients with which to cook them. This can happen all too often and the cupboard becomes bare half way through a busy week. Designate some time every week to planning meals and shopping for the ingredients. If you are not doing so already, try it for a couple of weeks. You will actually find that you are less time poor and have avoided any reliance on ready meals or the odd takeaway.
This creates a foundation on which to build a healthy diet. We need energy and nutrients every day and this is the most effective way of meeting those requirements.
Breakfast, unsurprisingly, means 'breaking the fast' which our bodies have undergone for many hours during sleep. For children this will be even longer. When we are asleep our metabolism slows down and requires a 'kick-start' of energy in the way of nutritious food if it is to function at its best throughout the day. Enjoy fruit or vegetable smoothies which are incredibly quick to make, easy to absorb and can be prepared the night before. Green juices are very fashionable at the moment and you will find raw winter vegetables being showcased in many top restaurants due to their nutritional qualities. Please check the website for my own take on this!
Remember to eat at regular intervals throughout the day, snacking on fruit, nuts and yoghurt when hungry. This will avoid overeating and indulging in unhealthy foods later in the day.
There is no need to miss out on your favourite meals, just think about how you can prepare them in a healthier way. Consider using less oil or none at all if you can get away with it. Enjoy my recipe on the website for British Bacon and Egg Buns which is a convenient and healthy approach to a tasty snack involving dry frying and baking. My kids adored them.
Taste food regularly as you are preparing it. Only add salt or sugar if required, not just from habit. Think about using flavour enhancers such as herbs and spices in place of traditional seasoning. For example, ground fennel is a great addition to homemade burgers, chilli flakes spice up a stir fry and star anise works well with many meats such as pork or beef. Try out your favourite pudding recipes reducing the sugar content by twenty five per cent. You may find they taste just as good as before. Avoid peeling vegetables if you don't have to. For example potatoes and carrots need only be washed and scraped lightly. This will avoid the loss of water soluble vitamins during cooking as well as much of the fibre.
Have a piece of your favourite cheese, a little piece of chocolate and perhaps a small glass to wash it down if you want it. We are all far more likely to stick to a healthy regime if we approach with moderation and common sense.
Eating nutritious healthy food starts in your own home. If you are preparing it and cooking it, you know what is in it and can prepare more satisfying wholesome meals than any processed supermarket option. You only have to compare a home cooked Shepherd's Pie or Lasagne to that of a gloopy, salty often flavourless ready meal and you have your answer.
Home cooked food is not only more nutritious for the body it has 'feel good factor' oozing from it and will detox the soul! It has originality, whether it be a steaming bowl of vegetable soup, stringy cheese melted onto freshly toasted bread or the undeniably sensuous caramelised notes of roasting meat hugging the kitchen.
So go on, lay the table, light a candle, put on some favourite music and enjoy some healthy happiness on a plate!