Six of the best from Nico

Liz Nicholls

food

Six by Nico is the newest addition to the Westgate in Oxford. Liz Nicholls was lucky enough to be among the first to try it at the weekend

As the city of dreaming spires (with a wondrous view of them from the top of the Westgate) Oxford is known for its old-school charm.

But when a newcomer to the foodie scene creates a buzz, it’s a real thrill. And when that newcomer is an original foodie fanatic who has made his name in other, bigger, brasher cities before landing here, I’m sniffing about for titbits and tasters.

This is how I found myself absorbing the neon genius of an Irn Bru sorbet with a perfect ‘deep fried mars bar’ (actually a very classy chocolate pave & associated bits) in the intergalactic bonsai zen den at Six By Nico.

If you haven’t been to one of Nico Simeone’s restaurants (there are branches in Leeds, Belfast, London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and his native Glasgow) the concept is magically enjoyable. For £50 a head you can sit back and relax while you’re served a six-course tasting menu (dietary requirements catered for if you’re that person) that changes every six weeks, drawing inspiration from a memory, place or idea. For an extra £39 you can enjoy an expertly matched wine with each course, which I highly recommend you do.

Now, you might hate a ‘tasting menu’. Weeny portions and a lack of imagination at other restaurants might have given them a bad name, but not here. Thanks to hard graft, his Italian heritage, a flawless service team and a real passion for food, Nico knows exactly what he’s doing. The first menu is ‘the Chippie’, a nostalgic chip shop-inspired half dozen.

This is no bodged assortment of battered bits, instead you’ll find the courses deconstructed and dreamed up as better variations. From the starter, a mindbending parmesan and tatty concoction with curry oil, through the mains including a ‘steak pie’ of meaty magic which arrives in a smoke-filled cloche for a theatrical flourish to that incredible pud, you’re taken on a journey. But, amid a stonking interior (top marks for the amazing banquettes and yellow leather scalloped sofas) the food manages to sing. It’s not fancy for the sake of itself, either, but the flavours and originality should, hopefully mean this place is here for many changing menus to come. Oxford is stony ground for people to take root (as I know, 12 years after landing here myself) so I hope the Westgate crowd take it to their hearts.

I can’t wait for the next one. And, take it from me, you won’t leave hungry or hammered but with a spring in your step.

Bookings from 20th May. Visit Home – Six By Nico

The Barn relaunches at Coworth Park

Round & About

food

New menus, new open kitchen and grill set to entice diners

The Barn has relaunched at Coworth Park near Ascot with a brand-new kitchen and produce-led, ingredient-focused menu.

Housed in the original barn frame, the new open kitchen and grill takes pride of place in The Barn. Guided by seasonal ingredients from the UK’s best producers, the menu features Executive Chef Adam Smith’s take on British classics, and encourages a convivial, relaxed style of dining.

Fresh and preserved ingredients from the Coworth Park estate feature on the menu, as seen in the elderflower vinegar and cordial used as a dressing for the Scallop crudo starter. Adam also works closely with leading British producers, such as Beal’s Farm Charcuterie for English mangalitsa coppa, and small-scale suppliers for English wagyu and wild venison.

Main courses on the new menu include classics such as Smithy’s chicken pie, alongside simple meat, fish and vegetable focused dishes, including Hereford côte de boeuf (to share); Spatchcock quail with rosemary and lemon; and a selection of day boat fish from Cornwall that can all be served either grilled or beer battered.

From Garden herb chimichurri and Tarragon Hollandaise to 50/50 mash and BBQ broccoli, the tempting array of sauces and sides will see guests ordering generously for the table, for a relaxed, sharing style of dining. Chef Adam’s playful approach and a touch of nostalgia can be seen through the dessert menu, which includes The Barn Trifle; Baked cheesecake with Yorkshire rhubarb; and Soft serve ice cream with flake and sprinkles.

On Sundays, guests will be able to enjoy perfectly executed traditional roasts, with starters such as Prawn cocktail followed by Waterford roast sirloin of beef or Whole roast Devon White chicken (to share), served with all the trimmings. Decadent British classics rule the Sunday dessert menu, with options including Sticky toffee pudding and Apple & cinnamon crumble with custard and ice cream.

The Barn welcomes groups of all sizes and generations to experience its relaxed, rustic charm. Feasting menus, for groups of 10 or more, feature many of The Barn’s signature dishes and are served family style down the table for everyone to share. There is also a kid’s menu, designed to include young guests in The Barn’s ingredient-led relaxed approach to dining.

For locals, hotel guests and diners from further afield, The Barn is a perfect restaurant for all occasions and seasons. In winter it is the height of cosiness with the roaring fire, in summer the floor-to-ceiling windows flood the space with natural light, and guests can also choose to sit on the large outdoor terrace.

Spring into Easter

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food

Easter comes early this year, March 29th – April 1st, which gives us an opportunity to enjoy the glories of spring as well of course, as eating chocolate!

There’s so much more to Easter than just choccy eggs, for many it has the deepest religious significance, for others it affords a long weekend of spending time with your loved ones hopefully with some bright cheery spring sunshine then and beyond.

This Easter pop along to a National Trust property near you for a family trail. Jam-packed with outdoor activities, games, riddles and crafts, every Easter celebration is different and ends with a chocolate egg.

Basildon Park is going to the movies, March 23rd-April 14th, as children and families become director of their own Easter movie in the parkland. Basildon Park is often seen on screen as a location in films and the 10 action stations of the Easter trail will help families create their own movie. There’ll be plenty of walking, fun games and photo opportunities to be had along the way. There are also two pre-bookable Easter wreath-making workshops on March 19th and 21st.

You may bump into some grazing sheep and early lambs on your springtime adventure across the country estate at Greys Court near Henley (March 23rd-April 14th) as you follow the Easter trail with 10 activity stations, showcasing the cheery signs of spring. Take part in an Easter wreath making workshop on March 20th and 22nd. Booking necessary.

Get ready for an egg-citing adventure at Stonor and Tumblestone Hollow this Easter when the popular Easter Trail returns to the gardens and adventure playground between March 29th and April 14th. Discover the nature walk, craft activities and storytelling sessions, all within the picturesque backdrop of the gardens and woodland adventure playground. Children are free to weave their way throughout the gardens, walkways, playground and woodland, solving riddles, spotting signs of spring, listening to stories and getting creative.

Wellington Country Park has fun activities for all ages including the very young (up to four) with the Mini Easter Eggstravaganza on March 26th to 28th. Enjoy Junk Jodie Easter crafts, interactive story time with Woolly the Rainbow sheep and Bo Peep and song and dance time with the Blossom Buddies, bubbles in the big top and the Welly Tots Showcase with six exciting new role play zones. From March 29th to April 7th, there are activities for children up to 8 with Easter crafts, singing and dancing with Canary Mary and friends, story time and Circus Wellingtonia.

Thames Vale Vultures are back on their motorbikes for the popular Berkshire Egg Run on Friday, 29th March in support of disadvantaged children/adults/families in Berkshire. Meet at 11.30am, Stadium Way Industrial Estate, Tilehurst (Scours Lane end), for 12.30pm ride to the Abbey Rugby Club, Emmer Green and presentation. Please bring an egg or two to donate.

Be an Easter Egg-splorer at Windsor Castle, March 30th to April 14th. Get crafting in the Castle’s Learning Centre, enjoy Easter themed-activities and while touring the State Apartments become an egg-splorer and follow the family trail to find some tiny objects in the Castle. Many activities are related to the 100th anniversary of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. Book here.

Join BBOWT at Windsor Great Park this Easter holiday and eggsplore the wild woodland and muddy meadow in search of egg-laying creatures! Around the trail you can learn all about the exciting eggs you can find in nature, and crack the egg mystery to win yourself a tasty chocolate egg. There will be activities, games and take-home crafts along the way, April 2nd to 4th. Visit here to book.

Create and grow at Squire’s Garden Centre, Wokingham and keep the little ones entertained. Plant three colourful plants in a wicker basket, decorated with a raffia bow, to create a lovely gift or place in your garden. Advanced booking essential. Follow the clues around the centre to help find the magic word and receive a sweet treat in the Spring Flower Hunt. No booking necessary. Activities April 2nd to 5th and 8th to 12th.

Have fun at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading and enjoy trails and activities in the galleries and garden, April 2nd to 14th. Have a go at a themed trail in the garden, free, discover the Spring Family Activity Packs, take part in a variety of gallery and garden trails including the woodland brass rubbing trail, ride on the fabulous wooden play-on tractor and wagon and bring a picnic or enjoy an Easter treat in the cafe.

Whether you’re in the mood for a thrilling night of drama, uplifting musical theatre, live music, or even standup comedy, Theatre Royal Windsor has a packed season, with something for everyone! Right in the heart of Windsor, they often host major shows before their national tours or West End transfers. Visit theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk for details of all their upcoming shows.

Image: National Trust/Paul Harris

Emily Roux’s packed lunch recipes

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food

Chef Emily Roux and Lexus have rustled up some posh packed lunches to enjoy in the car or on your next road trip!

Typical packed lunch fare such as pasties, soggy sandwiches and packets of crisps, can be bland and unappetising, so Lexus has teamed up with renowned chef Emily Roux to create some gourmet recipes that are perfect to eat in the car. Emily’s carefully crafted, delicious creations are easy to prepare and perfect if your picnic has been rained off, or if you’re waiting for a ferry or Eurotunnel.

Emily has honed her culinary skills in some of Europe’s most acclaimed restaurants and today is the co-owner of Caractère restaurant in London’s Notting Hill. She has used her expertise to create simple recipes that can add an element of delicacy and luxury to your packed lunch.

Wasabi crab tartlets

Ingredients:
• 250g double cream
• 70g milk
• 5g wasabi powder or paste
• 4g salt
• Two egg yolks
• One whole egg

Other ingredients:
• 270g pack of ready-made filo pastry
• 20g melted butter (for brushing)
• 100g picked crab (white, brown, or mixed according to preference)
• Zest of one lemon
• Fresh chives, mint leaves, coriander, or other herbs to suit personal taste
• Salt, pepper, olive oil

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 165°C fan (325°F/gas mark 4).
2. Brush each layer of filo with melted butter, stacking at least four sheets on top of each other.
3. Press and cut to the dimensions of your tart moulds.
4. Bake each filo stack in the moulds, with pressure on top, for between seven and 10 minutes (or until crispy and golden). To create the weighted pressure, ideally use the same-sized mould inserted one into the other; alternatively, baking beans will do the trick.
5. Leave to cool and lower the oven temperature to 165°C fan (325°F/gas mark 4).
6. Meanwhile, use a handheld blender to blitz all the wasabi cream ingredients together. Pass the mixture through a sieve for a smooth finish.
7. Once the tartlets have completely cooled, pour in the cream mix, filling to halfway.
8. Bake in the oven for a further 15 minutes until the mixture has cooked through and solidified.
9. Leave to cool – the tartlets are designed to be eaten at room temperature.
10. Season the crab to your taste and add any chopped fresh herbs that take your fancy.
11. Top tartlets with seasoned crab.

For a vegetarian alternative, replace the crab with mushrooms or courgette shavings and fresh herbs.

Dark chocolate crinkle cookies

Temperature and timing are very important with this recipe, so it is best to have all the ingredients weighed out before you start.

Ingredients:
• 200g dark chocolate, finely chopped
• 125g unsalted butter, diced
• 150g caster sugar
• 100g light brown sugar
• Two eggs
• 130g plain flour
• 3 tbsp cocoa powder
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1tsp sea salt (for sprinkling)

Method:

1. Line two baking trays with baking paper and preheat the oven to 175°C, fan oven (350°F/gas mark 4).
2. Place the butter and chocolate in a basin over a bain marie or a saucepan of gently boiling water, ensuring the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Stir occasionally until the mixture is fully melted.
3. Remove the bowl from the heat and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the eggs and sugars on medium-high speed, for five minutes.
4. Once the eggs and sugar have been mixing for exactly five minutes, pour in the chocolate mixture and mix for a further minute or so to combine.
5. Meanwhile, mix together the dry ingredients, then add to the mixer bowl, mixing briefly until just combined.
6. Use an ice cream scoop to form the cookies. The batter will be a little on the wet side. Make sure to leave plenty to space between each cookie on the baking tray, as they will spread as they cook.
7. Sprinkle each cookie with a little flaked sea salt before placing into the oven and baking for 12 minutes. The cookies will come out of the oven with a wonderful, crinkled look and a slightly domed shape. They will collapse a little as they cool but this helps form that perfect fudgy centre.
8. Sprinkle on a little sea salt to taste and let the cookies cool for at least 20-30 minutes.

Sushi masterclass with Tomono Davies

Liz Nicholls

food

Tomono Davies brings an array of Japanese joy to parties in local kitchens with her sushi masterclasses. She’s on a roll – here’s why you should book in for a masterclass or work party

Lockdown was difficult for all, not least Tomono Davies who was unable to fly home to visit her family in her native Kochi, a sunny city between Shikoku Mountain and the Pacific Ocean. However, during this homesick period she put all of her energy into her business, which has really taken off over the past three years.

“I’m amazed how successful the parties have become,” she says in her own spotless kitchen in High Wycombe. “I tried to be strong and focusing on work really helped me.”

Since moving to the UK 26 years ago, Tomono has missed Japanese food hugely, especially sushi. Back then, Japanese ingredients had not widely crossed the oceans, so she began making it with local ingredients and without special equipment.

“Sushi is not typically made at home in Japan,” says Tomono. “It is something we used to have as take-away for celebrations or enjoy out at restaurants. But when you miss something and know there’s no access to what you miss, people will always invent something new! After many failed, I found keeping it simple and authentic is the best way.”

With Tomono Sushi Party she takes hands-on masterclasses, demonstrations and parties to workplaces and homes across south Bucks and north London. From rolling maki to forming little gunkan boats or hand-shaping temari, guests have given great feedback, which has helped her business grow by word of mouth.

“My mother used to wake up at 5am to cook us a fresh breakfast – obento – and if she had 30 minutes to spare in her lunch break, she would drive home to start preparing for dinner,” adds Tomono. “I never appreciated my mother’s passion for food but now I am a mother myself, this is a tradition I would definitely like to pass on to the next generation.

“Some people might find sushi intimidating, but it’s not; it’s 90% rice, after all. What’s been lovely is helping all the generations enjoy food and new flavours together and it’s great fun. I bring all the kit and also my kimonos which people love to try on for photos.”

“What’s been lovely is helping all the generations enjoy food and new flavours together.”

For those who aren’t fish-lovers, Tomono can offer delicious alternatives such as teriyaki beef and she caters for all dietary requirements such as vegan, kosher and even gluten-free.

Enjoy a Sushi Making Workshop at The Front Room in High Wycombe, 1-2.30pm, on Saturday, 9th September.

At the moment, Tomono is offering an earlybird offer for a corporate event for booking for Monday-Wednesday in November and December.

Visit Tomono Sushi Party

Free lunch at M&S!

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food

M&S are running an instant, Lucky Lunch giveaway, placing 7,500 £10 gift vouchers into random sandwiches.

You may think there’s no such thing as a ‘free’ lunch, but thanks to M&S there is! Running until 14th August is Lucky Lunch, an instant ‘gold ticket’ giveaway.

Buy any sandwich and try your chance at being one of the 7,500 lucky winners of a £10 M&S gift card! This gift card is perfect to use on your next lunch or even next two. Whether it be the classic BLT or the best-selling prawn mayonnaise, whatever sandwich you buy gives you a chance to win the gift card.

The best thing about M&S sandwiches are their quality, with them being made with 100% British butter and vitamin D enriched bread. Imagine getting to eat such a great sandwich and then finding out you won a £10 voucher so you can buy another one!

Owen Lilley, Product Developer for M&S, said that ‘the M&S sandwich has become part of Britain’s cultural heritage’ and has sold over ‘over 4 billion sandwiches since 1980′. With such whopping numbers, the sandwiches are bound to be delicious. So, if you are working and looking for a place to grab lunch, or simply just out and about, buy one of M&S’ sandwiches and enter the instant giveaway.

Author: Daisy Harwood

Delicious grill deal at M&S

Round & About

food

M&S are here to feed your BBQ obsession with their three for £12 grill deal of bangers, burgers and kebabs

Do you love BBQs? Are you searching to find new dishes to impress your friends and family? M&S are here to the rescue. With their new three for £12 grill deal, you can make both your friends and your taste buds happy!

Not only do M&S offer such a banging deal, but they also offer a new range of bangers, burgers and kebabs, which holds a vast range of flavours. Having a staycation, but fancy a trip to Asia? Try their Asian-style chicken wing kebabs. If Greece is more your style, indulge in their Greek-style pork skewers. Where you are at home or away, M&S grant the opportunity to experience all the flavours from your very own home with their new selection.

Vegan? Don’t fret! They have a very special treat for you! M&S have made sure that there is something for everyone and have officially introduced their iconic posh dogs as a vegan dish as well. Now everyone can enjoy the BBQ together with their new selection, with food requirements posing no threat.

Still craving more flavours after this? Well, M&S still have plenty to please you! Explore their range of sauces to spice up your meals. From Piri Piri Marinade to Buffalo Sauce, they have a number of different sauces perfect for marinating, dipping and drizzling your dishes with, making them even more delicious.

Has this taken your interest? Click here to find out more: Best Ever BBQ.

Green goodness in watercress season

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food

Watercress is abundant at this time of year and it’s packed full of goodness with many health benefits

Grilled Nectarine & Feta Salad (pictured above)

Classic cassoulet

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February recipes: Batch of the day!

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food

Here’s a taste of Suzanne Mulholland’s The Batch Lady: Cooking on a Budget, out now, published by HarperCollins

She says in the introduction to this book: “As I became a busy working wife and mum I realised that those skills are also very much needed in our home environment too. We’re constantly playing the juggling game that is modern day life, and it can be stressful as we try to manage budgets, feed our families well, and get nutritious meals on the table that offer variety and keep everyone happy. That, combined with trying to reduce packaging, reduce food waste and eat less meat, can have our brains spinning.

“This book was packed full of hearty recipes designed to fill your freezer (and your belly!) with tasty food that could be put on the table with little fuss. My second, The Batch Lady: Healthy Family Favourites, focussed on making the comforting family food we all love a little bit healthier.”

Roast butternut squash with a couscous crust

Prep: 10 minutes | Cooking: 70 minutes | Serves: Four

Ingredients:

• Glug of olive or vegetable oil
• One large butternut squash, topped, tailed, cut into quarters and seeds removed
• ½ cup (100g) couscous
• ½ cup (120ml) boiling water
• 100g feta cheese
• Juice of one lemon
• Two heaped tbsp pesto
• Eight cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• Olive oil, for roasting

Roasting butternut squash in this way brings out its natural sweetness and delicious earthy flavours. Bulked up with fluffy couscous this is substantial enough as a main meal, but would also work as a side dish or even a dinner party starter.

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/gas mark 4. Add a glug of oil to a lipped baking sheet. Place in the oven to warm.
2. Once the oil is hot, add the butternut to the tray, turning to coat in the oil as you do. Bake for 40 minutes, turning halfway through, until the squash is golden and just tender.
3. Transfer the couscous to a large bowl and pour over half a cup (120ml) of boiling water. Cover and set aside for five minutes, then fluff the couscous up with a fork.
4. Crumble the feta into the bowl, then add the lemon juice, pesto, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

If you’re cooking to eat now… Spoon the couscous mix over the roasted squash and return to the oven for another 30 minutes. Divide the wedges between serving plates and serve. Zhuzh it up with a good drizzle of balsamic glaze.

If you’re making ahead to freeze… Set the squash and couscous aside until cooled to room temperature, then transfer the squash wedges to a large freezer bag and the couscous to a smaller bag. Seal the couscous bag and then place inside the bag with the squash before sealing. Label and freeze flat for up to three months.

Then… Remove the squash and couscous from the freezer and place in the fridge to defrost, ideally overnight. Once defrosted lay the squash on a foil-lined baking sheet and spoon over the couscous. Transfer to an oven preheated to 180˚C/350˚F/gas mark 4 and bake for 30 minutes, until piping hot all the way through. Serve as above.

Mexican beef nacho topper

Prep: 10 minutes | Cooking: 8-10 minutes | Serves: Four

Ingredients:

• Splash of vegetable or olive oil
• One cup (115g) frozen chopped onions
• 1 tsp frozen chopped garlic
• 250g minced beef
• 1 x 30g packet taco seasoning
• 1 x 395g tin mixed beans in chilli sauce
• 2 tbsp tomato purée 
• One cup (175g) frozen sliced peppers

To serve:

• One 200g bag lightly salted tortilla chips
• One cup (90g) pre-grated Cheddar cheese
• MAKE IT Veggie! Replace the beef with a plant-based mince of your choice.

Cheesy, spicy and loaded with flavour, this is the ultimate sharing dish for when you have lots of hungry mouths to feed. If you’re feeding more than four, this is easy to scale up by simply doubling or tripling the ingredient amounts.

Method:

1. Heat a splash of oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and mince and cook, stirring, for about five minutes, until the onions are translucent and meat browned.
2. Drain any excess fat from the pan, then return to the heat and add the taco seasoning, beans, tomato puree and sliced peppers. Give everything another stir to combine, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave to cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes. Remove from the heat.

If you’re serving now… Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/gas mark 4. Transfer the tortilla chips to a large baking dish and warm in the oven for five minutes, until crisp. Remove from the oven and ladle the chilli over the top. Scatter over the grated cheese then return the dish to the oven for 6-8 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Put the dish in the middle of the table for everyone to enjoy. Zhuzh it up… Scatter over some fresh coriander and serve with guacamole and pickled jalapenos alongside.

If you’re making ahead to freeze… Leave the beef chilli to cool to room temperature, then transfer to a large, labelled freezer bag and freeze flat for up to three months.

Then… Remove the bag from the freezer and leave to defrost in the fridge, ideally overnight. Once defrosted, tip the beef chilli into a large saucepan over a medium heat and reheat, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes, until piping hot. While the chilli is reheating, warm the tortilla chips then assemble the Mexican Nacho Topper as described above.

Recipes: Life on the veg

Karen Neville

food

Contents:
Nutrition basics
Budget Tips
Base shops
Example menu
Recipes

Lelita Baldock is a web-developer by day, fiction author by night. Part-time nutritionist, full-time foodie. She says: “I love food. But I am also very busy. So for me, healthy, satisfying meals that are quick and easy to prepare, that also come in on a tight budget are essential” Follow her tips & recipes here

It’s the new year, a time of renewal, resolutions and looking forward to the future. And if you are anything like me, a time to focus on healthy choices. The festive season is delightful, but it can often come with over-indulgence. And that’s all part of the fun. But by January our bodies can be crying out for simpler, more nourishing meals.

Luckily for us in the UK, January is also a time of hearty, healthy seasonal produce: think root vegetables and leafy greens. Perfect food to nourish our bodies and come in on a budget too.

The cost of living has been rising, and many of us are feeling the pinch. So it is natural that we are looking for savings everywhere, including on our grocery bill.

But budget doesn’t mean meals can’t be delicious too!

To help us all incorporate healthy, nourishing meals into our routine, while also being budget conscious, I have put together a series of tips and recipes to guide your choices. And have fun with food!


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Nutrition basics

Let’s start with the basics of nutrition. We all know we want to be eating a minimum of 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. This baseline ensures our intake of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Also fruits and vegetables are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. Low in calories, high in nutrition. The perfect bang for your buck!

So, the first focus is to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
Add berries or chopped fruit to breakfast cereals or toast.
Add spinach or kale to smoothies.
Include vegetables with lunch and dinner.

And my biggest tip? Include a serve of beans/pulses everyday. Beans are a nutrition powerhouse. Packed with fibre and plant-based protein, they are filling and great for digestion. Including them is easy. Spread hummus on wraps or sandwiches, add lentils to soups and stews, mix white beans into salads.

Aim for 30 different plants a week. Time and time again, research is showing the importance of fibre and consuming a variety or different plants. The fibre and variety supports the development of a healthy microbiome. Don’t get hung up though, 30 is just a positive goal.

Other tips to round out your nutrition basics are:

Enjoy dairy twice a day. Top porridge with yogurt, snack on a slice of cheese, add milk to coffee and tea. If you are plant-based or doing veganuary, swap your animal products for plant alternatives, just be sure to choose calcium fortified options (see more veganuary tips below).
Base each meal on whole grains or starches. Grains and starches are rich sources of soluble fibre, that type of fibre that adds bulk to our stool and helps waste move smoothly through our digestive tract. Full of nutrition and filling, these foods should form the base of each meal.
Snack on fruit, dairy or nuts. An easy way to reach your five a day.
Keep red meat to a maximum of two serves per week. Red meat is a great source of iron and protein, but we don’t need huge quantities. Enjoy up to twice a week.
Enjoy fish. Fish is a lean, healthy protein that also boosts our intake of healthy omega 3 fats. Aim for two serves per week.

So how do we keep to a budget?

With the rising cost of living many of us are looking to save where we can. And our food budget is a great place to look for bargains.

Healthy eating does not have to be expensive. Here are some tips to fill your plate with nourishing food at a low price.


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Budget Tips:

Buy in season
Use what you have: stew, soup, roast veggies – don’t let anything go to waste, it can all be made into a meal
Use fresh first so thing’s don’t go off
Add bulk: cabbage, kale, spinach will add nutrition and satiety to meals for low cost
Halve meat and add beans/ pulses to make it go further
Cook in bulk
Buy in bulk. Purchase large bags of staples like rice/pasta/potatoes. If you have time to prep them, choose dried beans/ pulses and soak, rinse and cook. With meat/poultry/fish buy large amounts when on special and portion and freeze
Focus on starches. Cheap and filling
Use herbs and spices for flavour, rather than buying packaged food
Buy the fruit that is on sale. If apples are 6 for £1, buy apples, if oranges are on special, buy oranges
Purchase essentials then add extras according to budget: fresh herbs, out of season veg (eg salad items for sandwiches/ wraps)

So what’s in season in January?

Think hearty roots and filling greens:
Potato
Swede
Parsnip
Carrot
Beetroot (can cook and eat leaves too!)
Cabbage
Kale
Onion
Leek

Another budget tip is to include frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen is great. Produce is snap-frozen as soon as possible after picking, which ensures that the nutrients are kept. You can buy frozen food at a lower cost and in bulk to save money. Great for fruit and meal bulking veggies.

Putting it all together

As an example, I have created a 2 week meal plan that will provide all your nutritional needs, with all meals coming in at under 30p per serve (most even less).

This menu is what I call a ‘base shop’. It is a plant-based menu that will cover all your nutritional needs, for around 30 pounds.


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Base shop

Potatoes x6
Carrots x4
Parsnip
Swede
Pumpkin
Cabbage
Onion
Leek x2
Avocado (if you enjoy them, buy the large bags much better value)
Apples x3
Pears x3
Frozen mixed berries
Frozen peas
Frozen ratatouille mix
Frozen spinach
Peanut butter
Bread mix
Canned tomatoes x2
Canned chickpeas x2
Canned cannellini beans x2
Canned red kidney
Canned lentils
Basmati rice
Porridge oats
Pasta
Almond milk (traditional milk is fine, this is just personal preference)

You can take this base menu and then add meat and dairy as per your taste, preference and budget. To keep the cost of these additional lower, go for bulk:

Dairy

Buy litre tubs of yogurt for breakfast topping and snacks
Choose large cheese blocks for sandwiches and grated on meals

Meat/ fish/ poultry

Halve your meat portion and mix with beans/pulses to make it go further
Look for bargains, choose cheaper options such as: beef chunk, chicken drumsticks, fish pie mix


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Example fortnight menu

All meals are quick and easy to make, simply peal, wash and chop the produce, put it in a pot, cover with water and cook. All can be cooked in a slow cooker or on a stove top. You can sauté or fry the onion first if desired. But I am a lazy cook, so I just put it all into a pot and cook!

All herbs are optional. Fresh or dried is fine. Add according to preference and availability

Breakfasts:

Oats, berries, linseed
Toast peanut butter apple slices

Lunches:

Leftovers
Sandwich topped with bean spread and lettuce/ grated carrot/ spinach/ tomato/ cucumber
Soup – I have chosen pumpkin, leek and white bean soup

Dinners:

Pumpkin, pea, spinach, thyme risotto
White bean, carrot, onion (sage optional) stew over baked spud
Slow-cooker root stew (beef optional)
Ratatouille and lentil pasta
Shepards pie with lentils carrots, peas, onion (mince optional)
Cabbage and red lentil dahl over rice (fish optional)
Chickpea, spinach, tomato stew over rice or pasta (chicken optional)

Other budget meal ideas:

Muesli and milk/ yogurt
Corn and potato chowder with peppers
Goan fish curry
Fish pie
Beef stew
Pea and ham soup
Tuna and corn in baked spud
Baked beans on toast with cheese
Potato and spinach pie
Sardines on toast with spinach and tomato slices
Chicken drumsticks with rice and steamed veggies (great in air-fryer)
Red lentil, chickpea, can tomatoes, onion, pepper and chipotle
Red lentil, grated carrot, onion, gammon soup
Peas, onion, bacon soup
Salmon, pea, spinach risotto with fresh dill

Time-saving tips:

I like to bulk cook on the weekend, portion and freeze. Great time saver.

I will cook up the following on a Sunday to enjoy through the week:

Soup for lunches
Bean spread (e.g. hummus) for sandwiches/ wraps
Stew for dinner
Pasta sauce to top pasta or baked potatoes
Curry to top rice
A bake/ pie

Some Veganuary swaps for healthy plant-based eating

Veganuary is a fun way to focus on getting more plants on your plate, and do something for the environment and animals. If you are vegan, or looking to eat more plant-based, here are some tips to ensure you are still getting all the nutrition you need:

Plant-based swaps:

Beef – lentils
Chicken – chickpeas/ tofu
Fish – white beans
Milk – oat milk
Iron – eat plant foods rich in iron with foods high in vitamin c, this helps iron absorption
Calcium – fortified plant milks such as almond, oat, soy
If you eat vegan long term, add in a high quality vitamin b12 supplement

Whole grain swaps

It is not essential to choose whole grain options. If you are getting a variety of fruits and veggies you will cover your fibre needs. But whole grains are more nutritious and higher in fibre than their more processed equivalents. Experiment and find some you like.

Bread – grainy/ whole grain bread
White rice – brown rice
Pasta – whole grain pasta/ bean based pasta
White wraps – corn tortillas

Herbs and spices

Herbs and spices add flavour and variety to your meals. The initial cost to purchase them can be high, but a little goes a long way. They will last you for many meals. My tip would be to stock up your spices over time, purchasing something new each week as you build up your selection.

The essentials I swear by for versatility and taste are:

Dried thyme
Paprika
Cumin

From just these three options alone you can create all manner of Mexican, Indian and European dishes.

Condiments

Mustard – a little goes a long way
Mayo – buy in bulk for dressings
Ketchup – if you like
Hot sauce – great for extra flavour and affordable

By focusing on eating a variety of in season fruits and vegetables, basing meals on grains and starches and adding small portions of meat/ fish/ poultry and dairy, you can build a tasty, health-promoting meal plan that is also affordable.

Experiment with different recipes, use what you have, and most of all, enjoy your food!


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Recipes

Breakfast Oats

Serves 3-4

· 1 cup rolled oats
· 2 cups milk
· 2 cups mixed fruit of choice
· Yogurt for topping

Place oats and milk in saucepan. Heat until oats are soft.
Serve with a dollop of yogurt and portion of fruit.

Breakfast fruit toast

Serves 1

· 2 slices whole wheat toast
· 2 teaspoons peanut butter
· 1 banana

Toast bread.
Spread with peanut butter. Top with chopped banana
(Tip: experiment with different nut butters and fruit combinations. I love almond butter and blueberries)

Bean-spread open sandwich

Serves 2

· 4 slices whole grain bread
· 1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
· 1 avocado
· 1 cup salad vegetables of choice, eg chopped tomato, cucumber, lettuce, spinach

Place beans and avocado in a bowl. Mash together until mixed like a chunky spread
Toast bread. Top with bean spread and salad vegetables. enjoy.

Pumpkin and white bean soup

Serves 4-6

· 1 whole pumpkin (technically out of season, but always a cheap staple at the supermarket)
· 1 can cannellini beans – drained and well rinsed
· 1 leek – green part discarded. Washed and chopped
· 1 litre chicken stock or water and salt to taste
· Dried thyme

Chop pumpkin and leek. Add all ingredients into a saucepan. Cover with chicken stock.
Cook until pumpkin is soft. Allow to cool. Blend with stick blender. Sprinkle with dried thyme.
Serve warm with thick slice of whole grain toast.

Pumpkin, pea, spinach, thyme risotto

Serves 4-6

·  1 cup basmati rice
·  1 cup chopped pumpkin
·  4 rounds of frozen spinach (or 2 cups fresh)
·  1 brown onion, finely chopped
·  1 cup frozen green peas
·  2 cups chicken stock, or water and salt to taste

Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until rice is cooked and vegetables are soft. Serve warm. Optional – top with grated cheese

Slow-cooker root stew

Serves 6-8

· 1 swede
· 2 potatoes
· 2 carrots
· 2 celery stalks
· 1 brown onion
· 1 parsnip
· 200 grams chunk beef (optional)
· Chicken stock to cover
· Black pepper to taste

Peal and chop all vegetables into large chunks. Place in a saucepan with beef if using. Cover with stock and cook on medium to low heat until cooked.
Serve warm.

White bean, carrot, onion (sage optional) stew over baked spud

Serves 3-4

· 1 can white beans, drained and well-rinsed
·  2 carrots
·  2 stalks celery
·  1 brown onion
·  4 sage leaves, chopped finely
· 1 potato per person

Peal and chop carrot, celery and onion. Place in a saucepan with white beans. Add chopped sage. Cover with water. Cook on medium heat until all vegetables are soft.
While cooking, wrap potatoes in foil and bake in the oven until soft.
Serve potatoes cut open with bean mix as filling. Optional – sprinkle with grated cheese.

Ratatouille and lentil pasta

Serves 4-6

· 1 packet of mixed Mediterranean vegetable: eg. courgettes, aubergines, peppers, tomatoes
· 1 can lentils, drained and well rinsed
·  Chicken stock
·  Pasta for number of people you are feeding

Place vegetable mix and beans in a saucepan. Cover with chicken stock. Cook until soft and soupy.
Cook pasta according to package instructions.
Serve vegetable mix over pasta. Optional – add a sprinkle of grated cheese

Shepards pie with lentils carrots, peas, onion (mince optional)

Serves 6-8

· 1 can lentils, drained and well rinsed
· 1 cup frozen pea
· 2 carrots, pealed and chopped
· 1 can chopped tomatoes
· 4 rounds frozen spinach
· 250 grams lean beef mince (optional)
· 2 large potatoes
· 1/2 cup grated cheese (optional)

Place all ingredients except potato into a pot. Cover with water and cook until vegetables are just soft. Add salt and pepper to taste.
While cooking. Boil and then mash potatoes.
Pour vegetable and beef mix into a baking dish. Cover with mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with grated cheese (optional).
Bake in the oven at 180 degrees for around 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown.
Serve hot.

Cabbage and red lentil dahl over rice (fish optional)

Serves 3-4

· 1/2 green cabbage, washed and chopped
· 1 cup dried red lentils
· 1 carrot grated
· 250 grams fish pie mix
· 1 can diced tomatoes
· 1 cup water
· 2 teaspoons curry powder (or, if you have them, a teaspoon each of: turmeric, cumin, chilli flakes)
· Salt and pepper to taste
· Rice for each person

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and cook until lentils are soft.
Cook rice according to package instructions
Serve over a portion of rice
Top with fresh herbs like coriander (optional)

Chickpea, spinach, tomato stew over rice or pasta (chicken optional)

Serves 3-4

· 1 can chickpeas, drained and well rinsed
· 4 rounds frozen spinach
· 1 can diced tomatoes
· Salt and pepper to taste
· 250 grams chicken thighs, diced (optional)

Rice or pasta for number of people
Place all ingredients in a saucepan and cook until soft.
Cook rice or pasta according to package instructions
Serve vegetables over rice or pasta