In the spirit of practising what we preach, we put our Healthy Diet Plan to the test, adapting it to fit around our busy lifestyles, young families and long commutes. So, how did we get on?
After lots of indulgent festive feasting, the team put their new year resolve to good use to test out our brand-new Healthy Diet Plan for January 2016. Whether your goal is to lose weight, cut back on sugar or simply glow with health, the seven days of recipes are designed to help you reach your goals, delivering an optimum balance of nutrients in around 1,500kcal's each day. But how did it stand up against the pressures and strains of daily life? Here's how we got on...
Natalie - cooking for two
Our features editor Natalie was keen to reduce her portion sizes and ditch some bad habits she'd picked up at Christmas. Nat did the plan with her husband Ben and with both of them being keen cyclists she was initially apprehensive as to whether the meals would satisfy their energy needs. Here's how they got on...
''The bircher and wholemeal bread with eggs were my favourite breakfasts – both packed with textures and natural flavour. The flatbread recipe is genius – three ingredients, one healthy bread fix (I’m also a carb lover, and have a bad habit of ripping at whatever bread I can find after a long cycle, so switching to wholemeal is a positive thing). I came unstuck with the granola – I didn’t buy the right oats, plus they weren’t wet enough to clump together! I made the oat milk from scratch as recommended, although my fridge is way too small to make this a regular habit.
My favourite lunch was the mackerel with beetroot and fennel. Such amazing flavours and it kept me full for hours – plus, as an oil lover the rich fish cut with the crunchy fresh veg was a dream. The soup I found a little bland, but I think that's because I’d usually throw in a couple of stock cubes and a load of salt in, so it was good to taste the ingredients. The avocado, labneh and carrot salad was a tiny portion, but amazingly kept me full until dinner. Making my own labneh (cream cheese) was a bit of a faff but it was absolutely delicious – one for special occasions!
I loved all the dinners – the portions were generous but didn't leave me feeling bloated. My favourite was the one-pot chicken. I never cook with skinless chicken breasts, favouring skin-on thighs for taste and crispiness, but I’ll be cutting back on this now. The lamb dopiaza was really flavoursome but it took a long time. I would always usually brown off meat, so to chuck it straight into the sauce in yogurt was inspired and a method I’ll be repeating. I loved the dressing that went on the steak and chips side salad – a simple combination of rapeseed oil, garlic and balsamic vinegar – which showed simple little flavour touches can really complete a ‘clean’ meal.
Overall, I enjoyed giving myself a boost by cutting out packaged food, although there’s a lot of prep involved in some of the dishes, so you have to be prepared to cook quite a bit that week to follow it exactly. I learned loads and even if you only try a handful of recipes, I recommend doing it properly as you’re bound to pick up ideas like I did.
Lily - feeding a family
Our family editor Lily lives in London with her partner Nick, and two young sons, Kip five and Edward 17 months. She says, 'Life is pretty hectic and I walk everywhere. As I'm often on the late side I probably end up doing a short sprint most days too. My youngest son is what people politely call busy (i.e naughty!) so I'm running around after him on my 'days off' too - which is basically like a non-stop workout!' Here's how Lily and her family made the plan work for them...
''The Healthy Diet Plan left me feeling fresh and light but most importantly it gave me a real energy boost. With two young children it’s very easy to get into a routine of cooking the same recipes, and although they are both fairly adventurous eaters it was satisfying to see them try and enjoy new ingredients, like quinoa.
I was really surprised how much Edward (17 months) enjoyed the Peruvian chicken, avocado & quinoa salad - he wolfed it down! Because he's a hungry little thing I bulked up the quinoa quantities and I also missed out the chilli (depending on your child’s tastes you might also want to add the spring onion to your dish separately).
One word of advice - it looked like we had a quinoa rug by the time they had finished eating, so I would recommend popping an old sheet under the high chair to avoid a big clear up if you have a young child. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it went down - I think Edward enjoyed us all eating exactly the same thing.
The bircher muesli with apple & banana was a big hit in our house, and being able to pull it straight out the fridge in the morning meant I broke my lifelong habit of not eating breakfast. We all really enjoyed this and I couldn't believe how much calmer the morning was after taking the time to sit and eat with the children before we all had to fly out the door.
The one-pot Moroccan fish stew was a real success with both boys - the sweet potato and orange makes this naturally sweet, which they both enjoyed. They did pick out the orange peel though! I also found that with two smaller portions for the boys, we had enough leftover for the children’s lunch the next day.
By the end of the week I was sleeping much better and found I wasn't relying on caffeine to get me through the day. Even though I love cooking, following the diet plan made me realise how much I had come to rely on processed foods for a quick fix, and how much cleaner I felt by ditching them. I also loved seeing my children enjoy new recipes and it gave me loads of ideas for new family meals to add to my repertoire.''
Sarah - the busy commuter
Our writer, Sarah, lives outside of central London, and commutes for about three hours every day – if the trains are on time! She generally fits in a few gym sessions every week, ranging from resistance training to running. Although a generally healthy eater, her busy schedule of late nights and early starts means relying on caffeine and quick-fix foods more regularly than she'd like.
''I was excited to start the plan - all the recipes looked and sounded delicious, and I was relieved to see that I could still have my much-loved weekend brunch and Sunday roast. However, with a long commute to contend with, I knew that I would have to be prepared, so I read through the plan and made a note of the recipes that could be made ahead and frozen. On the Saturday before starting, I went shopping, made the sweet potato dhal with curried vegetables and the chunky vegetable & brown rice soup, and froze these in individual portions for later on in the week.
My favourite breakfast was the Bircher muesli, which I found super-satisfying. I made it the night before, so there was no last-minute dashing around before catching my train. My boyfriend Charlie (who has plenty of experience in, well, eating) couldn't believe that the orange & raspberry granola didn't have added sugar in it, and even requested the recipe to make more in future. I also really enjoyed the brunch on Sunday of poached eggs with broccoli, tomatoes & wholemeal flatbreads. I was initially apprehensive about not having the time to recreate this cooked breakfast during the week, but because i'd prepared the flatbreads already it was really quick to throw together.
I normally take lunch into work with me every day, so I was glad to see that all the lunches can be packed up in Tupperware. The standout lunch, for me, was the chicken & quinoa salad, which was packed with satisfying textures and flavours.
One thing that really impressed me was how filling all of the meals were. I have an unshakeable habit of eating a snack (or three) after dinner, but after the Moroccan fish stew I wasn't tempted to pick at anything - not even chocolate.
The biggest challenge for me was cutting down on the amount of caffeine that I drink. I did cut back a bit in the week starting the plan in order to cushion the blow, but what really surprised me was that I actually felt more alert during the day and slept better at night.
After finishing the plan, I feel refreshed, rebooted and ready to reintegrate these healthy habits back into my daily schedule after all that festive feasting. Along with the obvious health benefits, I also feel that the plan has helped me to remember how much I enjoy cooking and eating fresh, healthy food - and that's definitely something worth taking a little more time to prioritise.''