Don’t let your isolation meals get boring – or less nutritious!

Here are some ideas to add new flavours to your cupboard-staples and give them a much needed nutritional boost to support immunity and general health.

ALMONDS – ground almonds are a gluten free substitute for flour (cakes, pancakes) and provide plenty of good monounsaturated fats that support heart health. I also use them to thicken soups and stews, like this fish and red pepper dish.

You can also soak them overnight and blend them with cod water to make almond milk if you are out of cow’s milk!

BARLEY – this chewy grain makes an amazingly easy risotto (technically a barlotto) as it doesn’t need to be stirred and is a wholegrain – so get a lot more B vitamins than from arborio rice. Try adding some kale (frozen is OK) and a few walnuts for a quick no fuss lunch. Don’t forget to drizzle it generously with extra virgin olive oil.

BRAZIL NUTS – packed with selenium to support your thyroid. Dry roast them for 5 minutes and then chop them up to add to salads and even ceviche.

CASHEWS – soak for a couple of hours and blend into soups to make them creamier without the dairy. I also add them to veggie curries for a bit more protein and to stir-fries for that extra bit of texture.

CHICKPEA FLOUR – amazing for fritters, flat breads and to lightly dust fish before pan frying. It is high in protein, B vitamins and gluten free. Here is a recipe for mussel fritters which you can actually make with prawns or any firm-flexed white fish you’ve got in the fridge or beans or tofu.

COCONUT MILK/CREAM – Add to porridge for a more nutritious breakfast or use in smoothies instead of dairy milk. Also, add a few tablespoons per portion to soups to make them creamier and more satisfying.

CHIA SEEDS – these seeds are high in fibre and omega3 fats to support brain and eye function. Chia can be used as egg substitute in baking, just mix 2tbsp chia seeds with hot water and let it sit for 5min before adding to he mix.

Chia is amazing as a pudding or added to your porridge/usual (low sugar I hope!) muesli. I also add them to sticky rice together with quinoa when making sushi bowls.

DATES – are a great sweet treat with a couple of walnuts or add a few pistachios and some goats cheese for a savoury snack.

DUKKAH – is s gorgeous mix of spices, nuts and seed that can liven up soups, dips and is great with bread dipped in olive oil. Here is a 5 minute Dukkah recipe

ENERGY BALLS – They tend to be my go to snack but unless you are working out at home, I’d exercise moderation since they can be quite high in calories. Mind you… an energy ball will always better than a chocolate chip cookie.

FLAXSEEDS. They are high in omega3 fats to support brain and eye function. Flaxseed is also high in phytoestrogens to help balance sex hormones. Don’t forget that flax seed needs to be ground as the husk is too hard for us to digest and free the nutrients inside.

GINGER AND TURMERIC – What can I say…I just love them both! I keep both fresh (they last a crazy long time in the fridge) and dried to add to literally everything: smoothies, soups, marinades, teas, cakes, fried rice, noodle dishes, etc

Both ginger and turmeric have anti-inflammatory and immune regulating properties so great in the face of COVID19.

KIMCHI – if you’ve followed me for a bit, you’ll know that I love a bit of food fermenting. Kimchi is not just delicious but packed to the brim with amazing probiotics to support the gut and immune system.

It keeps for ages and it can lift up any boring leftovers: add to leftover rice, add to noodles, use as part of a different dressing for sandwiches and, for some reason, I love it with eggs for a quick supper or in a quinoa salad. I’d encourage you to make your own – totally easy and once in the fermenting jar it looks after itself.

LEMON/LIME JUICE – I’ve never been one to recommend bottled juice but if you cannot find fresh lemons/limes, bottled juice can add a lot of zing to a simple dressing or marinade.

MISO PASTE – My new go to flavour booster which also supports your gut and immunity.. I add to soups (once they’ve cooled down to nearly serving temp to avoid killing the good bacteria), marinate fish and tofu in it with a little soy sauce and ginger before baking at 200C. And for those days when you are fed up with cooking 3 meals a day, just mix into hot chicken stock, add wakame, tofu and noodles and lunch is ready!

MUNG BEANS FOR SPROUTING – we all have a bit more time around the house so why not start sprouting beans? Takes no effort and once nicely sprouted you don’t even have to cook them, just add them to salads, sandwiches and any leftovers can go into soups and stews to add protein and ready to absorb vitamins.

NUTS – Since they are nutritional powerhouses (good fats, fibre, protein, minerals, antioxidants, etc), add them to salads, soups and smoothies to take dishes to the next level…nutritionally speaking! You can make pesto and freeze it, whizz some nut butters (try mixing them, yum! and energy balls.

OATS – they are not just for porridge! Add them to smoothies, bakes, breads, energy balls and pancakes for extra fibre especially beta-glucan that boosts immunity and can help lower cholesterol.

OLIVE OIL – the best you can find to drizzle on … everything! I add it to bean salads, mashed potatoes (with garlic and parsley), roasted root veg, toast, hummus, poached fish, steamed veggies, lentil salads, etc Olive oil is packed with monounsaturated fats that protect our heart and reduce inflammation.

OLIVES – not everyone’s favourite food but I haven’t met an olive I didn’t love! I add them to marinades (great with chicken thighs, onions and garlic), salads, pizza, cheese toasties and use them as stuffing for lamb with some garlic, lemon rind and breadcrumbs … trust me, amazing! Here is a tagine recipe that you can make with chickpeas for a vegan option.

QUINOA – I’ve learnt to love this little pseudocereal, it wasn’t love at first sight… Quinoa is not a gain, it’s a seed and therefore quite nutritious. It’s a great source of fibre and protein and takes whichever flavours you want to dress it with very happily. I love making quinoa tabbouleh which keeps really well in the fridge and works a treat for fuss-free lunches. For the kids…I mix cooked quinoa into rice dishes for a bit of extra nutrition.

ROASTED PEPPERS – I always keep a jar of Spanish (you can get the girl out of Spain but …) to add to sandwiches, wraps and pasta and to turn leftovers into a different dish, eg add to roast chicken with some caramelised onions and serve on a flat bread. They re also fabulous with some avocado, spinach and feta on toasted sourdough.

SEAWEED – is high in iodine a mineral we get form fish and seafood and supports our thyroid function. Toasted nori is great as a snack but it can also be sprinkled on salads and used to wrap fish like cod or salmon before pan frying (shrinks to size!). Wakame is fantastic in soups (and loves a bit of miso and tofu!) and kids love the texture.

SPICES – cumin, coriander, cinnamon, saffron, turmeric, black pepper, chilli to add flavour but also for their immune boosting and anti-inflammatory properties.

TINNED SARDINES – as boring as they sound they are a great source of iron, calcium and omega-3. I love them as they are but you can make a gorgeous pate for a light lunch. Here is quite an old video…

TOMATO PASATTA is a brilliant cupboard staple but it is even better if you add loads of veg to those tomatoes to it for extra nutrition. Tomato (and veg!) sauce also looks after itself once it’s on the hob, so you can get on with other important stuff…like home-schooling your kids!

TIP 1: make a large vat of veggie tomato sauce and split in three, one to make baked beans or a minestrone (or both!), another to freeze as tomato sauce and another for bolognaise (or a vegan version made with lentils) or chilli a con/non carne.

TIP 2: When freezing your sauce, ensure you portion well to avoid wasting any! I use a silicon muffin tin so I can defrost what I need that day to add to a stew, soup or risotto.

Veg that go well in a tomato sauce include: garlic, onions, celery, courgettes, aubergine, mushrooms, red peppers and herbs.

Baked beans are a great cupboard staple but you can make you own so easily with the tomato sauce above and (much) less sugar and a few carrots and celery for an added veggie punch. And if you buy them you can always add a few herbs and even an extra can of beans to dilute the sugar!

TOMATO PASTE – adds sweetness and colour to many dishes and can even turn a pretty boring hummus into a tomato version – just add a little pepper and chilli flakes.

Walnuts – great source of folic acid and good fats. I add them to my bread dough with a little maple syrup for a delicious breakfast loaf and energy balls which are a great alternative to sweet treats.

Stay healthy everyone – we are in this together!!

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