What does your traditional Christmas dinner consist of?

Merry Christmas to you, loyal followers of my blog posts.

Have you ever thought how Christmas was celebrated a few decades ago?  What was a traditional Christmas dinner like? On the spur of the moment, I thought I’d have a quick look at Christmas in Malta, not so long ago.

At the time, Malta being a devoutly Catholic country, Christmas centred around ecclesiastical celebrations.  In the run up to Christmas, young children participated (some still do, today) in a procession around the village (il-purcissjoni tal-bambin), carrying a figure of the baby Jesus and singing Christmas carols along the way.

Christmas
Baby Jesus, black treacle rings and imbuljuta

The Christmas crib and baby Jesus were typical decorations of every household with midnight mass, on Christmas eve, being the highlight of Christmas celebrations.  During this mass, a young boy was chosen to deliver a heart-felt Christmas sermon.  Another tradition that’s still around, to this day.

A tradition which seems to have died over the years is the traditional Maltese Christmas meal.  Turkey was not always on the Christmas menu.  In most  families, the Christmas menu consisted of a fattened capon (ħasi) accompanied with baked potatoes (patata l-forn) and a selection of seasonal vegetables.  Very often, the big bird and potatoes were cooked – kind-of baked but not exactly roasted – in a very large, tailor-made dish. On Christmas day, in the morning, housewives and husbands alike would take their dishes to the local bakery – home ovens were not large enough to cook the traditional Christmas meal. Crusty, local bread was typically served with the meal to mop up the juices from the bird and potatoes.  Usually, vegetables were cooked at home.

The main course was followed by a pastry ring stuffed with black treacle.  Nowadays, these traditional sweets, known as treacle rings (qagħaq tal-għasel), are found at local confectioneries, but they do not necessarily form part of the Christmas meal.  They’re more likely to be served at tea time.

As if that wasn’t enough, the traditional Christmas meal would end with a thick, warm drink of stewed chestnuts and cocoa (imbuljuta tal-qastan).  The warm, thick, chocolaty beverage was also the go to drink after midnight mass and throughout the cold, winter months.

I remember my mother cooking a traditional Maltese Christmas lunch.  What was Christmas lunch like, when you were younger?

My thanks go to

Azure.com – Top 5 Christmas Customs in Malta
A Maltese Mouthful
Ilovefood.com.mt
196flavors.com

Image:  Introduzzjoni ghall-ikel u nbid ta’ Malta – Puligraf Publishing

 

 

 

 

Meal Planning Made Easy

Hi! Good to be back! It’s been very busy indeed, with plenty of study and a fair amount of experiments in the kitchen.

Speaking of cooking … a blessing or a curse?  A pleasure for some but a headache for others.  Would you like some tips on  how to make your meal planning easy?

I came across “Planning Meals” in my course work Childhood Nutrition and Obesity Prevention and it inspired me to share these tips with you.

As a working mother, I always found meal planning very helpful.  But when my children left home, I was less fussed about planning meals. Old habits die hard and when I came across this section in my notes, it rekindled a passion from the past.

Historically, I used to spend a good couple of hours, typically on a Sunday afternoon, leafing through my cookery books.  I love it; so relaxing (agreed – not everybody’s cup of tea!) But the advent of the Internet changed all that!

From my course work I picked this very good tip – “theme nights” – which inspired me to write this piece and share it with you. Here goes …

Write down your “theme nights” – example: Monday – pasta; Tuesday – fish; Wednesday – mince / grains / pulses; Thursday – rice; Friday – soups / salad; Saturday – kids’ favourite meal; Sunday – family treat out / old favourite recipe.

There are various meal planning apps these days. Alternatively, you can go for a more flexible approach and run a search for the food you’d like to eat. Keep your searches simple – do not choose complicated recipes with plenty of ingredients – unless you are blessed with time on your hands.  The trend is five-ingredient recipes.

Refine your searches as you go – browse by ingredients instead of recipes.  If you have leftover pasta in the fridge and a broccoli head that’s losing it’s bright green colour, Google “pasta with broccoli” and presto! You end up with a number of recipes to choose from. It’s that easy!

Ask your kids for their suggestions, even if they’re still young.  Involving your family with meal planning will make it less likely you have complaints at supper time and instills good habits in kids.

What are the benefits of meal planning?

  • Meal planning saves time, effort and stress;
  • It’s cost effective;
  • You have all your ingredients readily available;
  • You can work around commitments by preparing ahead.

 

The secret behind successful meal planning is not how detailed your plan is, but how varied.  Make it interesting – present a rainbow of colour and texture with every meal.  Ensure meals contain carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats to meet your family’s nutritional needs.  Look for seasonal offers, especially at your vegetable man and buy local produce.  Local fruit and veg in season, is likely to save you money and give you a product that’s more fresh than it’s imported counterpart.

Download your weekly menu planner, courtesy of Future Fit Training School of Nutrition, to get you started.

Weekly Menu PlannerWeekly menu planner (1)

My thanks go to:

Future Fit Training School of Nutrition
Lifehacker.com – Five Best Meal Planning Apps
Allrecipes.com – 5 Ingredient Recipes
Seriouseats.com – Dinner tonight: Pasta e Broccoli Recipe

 

15 Benefits of Pomelo

What is Pomelo?  Pomelo or Chinese grapefruit is pomelo-in-netthe largest of citrus fruits.  It can weigh up to nine kilos and has a soft outer skin which makes it easy to peel.  The taste is a cross between a sweet orange and a grapefruit.  The pulp of the pomelo varies in colour from a pale yellow to orange, to a bright red.

The pomelo is a native of China but is now found growing across South East Asia, the United State and India.

As you know, fruits and veg have numerous health benefits, but this fruit checks so many tick boxes – it’s unbelievable!

The pomelo 

1. Prevents Urinary Tract Infections
2. Promotes Healing
3. Keeps Gums Healthy
4. Promotes a Healthy Heart
5. Prevents Anemia
6. Prevents Colds and Flu
7. Fights Cancer
8. Keeps Aging at bay
9. Aids in Weight Loss
10. Prevents Osteoporosis
11. Helps Digestion
12. Prevents Muscle Cramps
13. Speeds Wound Recovery
14. Checks Blood Pressure
15. Cleanses Arteries

Nutrition Facts

As with other citrus fruits, the pomelo is rich in vitamin C.  It also contains vitamin A (beta-carotene), essential for maintaining a healthy skin and for growth.

Pomelo contains vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and B2 (Riboflavin).  It also contains potassium a mineral involved with maintaining a healthy heart besides other organs.  Over and above, this fruit is a good source of folic acid, healthy fats, protein and fibre.

In other words, it packs a punch!

Pomelo In Recipes

I like using fresh fruit in my salads and citrus add a nice tangy taste, especially with fish.  I ran a quick search for a recipe using pomelo and came across this interesting Thai Salmon and Pomelo Salad which I intend trying out tonight.

thai-salmon-pomelo-salad
Thai Salmon and Pomelo Salad

By the way, in Malta you can get pomelo fruit from the big supermarkets.

Try this recipe and leave your comments.  Sharing is caring; please share any pomelo recipes you come across.

Good weekend everyone!

My thanks go to

Stylecraze.com
My Relationship with Food

 

 

Carbs and weight gain: myth or fact?

You want to lose weight. Should you stop eating carbs, even if for a short time? How fast can you lose weight if you cut out on your carbs?

What are carbohydrates (carbs in short)?

The term carbohydrates is given to a food group which provides the body with energy. Carbs provide energy for the brain and the central nervous system to function. The brain in particular, needs a constant supply of glucose for it to function properly.

There are two types of carbohydrates – simple carbs and complex.

Simple carbohydrates, or sugary carbs, as they are more commonly known, are found in fruits, vegetables, milk and dairy products.  They are also found in manufactured food stuffs such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and processed foods.

Starchy carbs on the other hand are more complex.   The reason why they’re referred to as ‘complex’ is because this type of carbohydrate can be sub-divided into various components such as resistant or digestible starch and soluble or insoluble fibre.

Starchy carbs can be found in foods such as bread, pasta, rice, cereals, potatoes, rye and barley.

starchy-carbs
Starchy Carbs

Are carbohydrates making you gain weight?

One gram of carbohydrate has less than half the amount of calories found in fat. There are 4 kcals in one gram of carbs as opposed to 9 kcals in one gram of fat.

Carbohydrates do not contribute to your weight gain if

  • they are consumed in the right amount, as part of a calorie-controlled diet and
  • you do not add too much fat to them.

Cooked in the right way, served in proper-sized portions and with low-fat ingredients added, carbs can be a low calorie food.

Will you lose weight if you cut out carbs?

You will lose weight if you cut out any food group from your diet.  However, knowing how important carbs are for your body, would you be ready to cut out them out long term or for good?  You may be able to cut out carbs for a few months, but it will not be sustainable in the long run.

If you cut out carbs completely from your diet, you notice you will find it difficult to concentrate.  Your brain gets ‘foggy’. You will also slow down your metabolism and when you re-introduce carbs to your diet, your slow metabolism will not cope and you end up gaining weight.

You want a long term solution to your weight management. Cutting out food groups, such as carbs, certainly does not help you achieve your goals.

Instead of eliminating carbs, go for wholegrain varieties  which keep you full for longer. Wholegrain carbs also provide you with fibre, B vitamins, iron, calcium and folate, which are all very essential vitamins and minerals.

For further reading on the benefits of including starchy carbs in your diet go to Nutrition.org.uk

 

 

How to ‘eat clean’

‘Clean Eating’ is trending in the world of nutrition.  It is not a fad diet; it’s a chosen lifestyle and celebrities like Katy Perry and Gwyneth Paltrow are two of the many fans supporting this trend. So, what is ‘clean eating’ and how is it good for you?

Definition of ‘clean eating’?

Put in simple terms, ‘clean eating’ is the consumption of unprocessed food.  ‘Clean eating’ consists of whole food – real food – from its origin to your plate.

clean-eating-pyramid
Clean-eating Pyramid

It does not mean eating only raw food.  Some whole foods benefit from cooking because it removes toxins and kills bacteria.  However, with the exception of food like white meat (which needs to be cooked through), it is best not to over-cook your food cause you lose out on nutrients.

What are the benefits of ‘eating clean’?

Plant-based diets are good for you.  And ‘clean eating’ is mainly made up of fruit and veg.

A diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables

  • helps in reducing / preventing high blood pressure
  • prevents type 2 diabetes
  • prevents cardiovascular disease
  • helps you maintain healthy weight
  • gives you glowing skin and healthy hair

Is that a good enough reason to ‘eat clean’?

How do you ‘eat clean’?

If you would like to ‘eat clean’, avoid processed foods. ‘Eating clean’ begins at the supermarket.

Processed foods are stripped of all nutrients and they

  • contain salt or sugar or both
  • may contain fat
  • may contain flavouring
  • contain preservatives (those words difficult to pronounce or those E numbers)
  • contain added vitamins

Carlos Monteiro, professor at the Department of Nutrition at the School of Public Health, University of Sao Paolo says, processed foods claiming they contain “less fat”, “less sodium” or “vitamin enriched” are bad for you.  This is the manufacturer’s cunning plan to make highly-processed food look ‘healthy’.

“The key is to avoid foods that are ‘ultra-processed,'” says Jessica Fanzo, Assistant Professor of Nutrition at the Columbia University. ” … basically, anything food-product-like or ready-to-heat.”

Foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are also a big NO NO! GMOs are linked to cancer and infertility.

Just in case you’re not put off by processed foods yet, bear in mind that additives in highly-processed food make you crave junk food.

What is considered to be ‘clean’ food?

‘Clean’ food is unprocessed food such as fresh fruit and veg, dried legumes, nuts and farm-fresh eggs.

In addition to the four groups of unprocessed food above, you can add the following food which is slightly processed

  • unrefined grains – as in wholewheat bread, pasta, oatmeal, quinoa and brown rice
  • frozen fruit and vegetables
  • unprocessed meat
  • hormone-free dairy
  • oils

Organic food can be costly.  But when possible choose organic to avoid pesticides, hormones and chemicals in your food.

Wild and sustainably-caught fish have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Whilst grass-fed livestock is also rich in omega-3 fats.

If you are unsure of the origin of your food, ask where it’s coming from.

How do you cook ‘clean’?

Cooking ‘clean’ is easy.  The secret is – keep things simple and avoid fats.

Dos and don’ts

  • avoid sauces and gravies; go for simple olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice
  • do not deep fry
  • do not stew using animal or vegetable fat
  • do not over-cook your vegetables to a pulp
  • stir-fry or steam your food

You  will soon learn how to appreciate the good taste of ‘clean’ food.  Sauces and gravies musk the taste of your food and increase your waist line.

Food portions play an important part in your ‘clean eating’ lifestyle.  Do not over-eat; aim to have three fifths of your plate full of veg, one fifth of protein and one fifth starchy carb.

And you wondered how celebs look good?  Now you know how … enjoy!

My thanks go to

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding food labels

How many times were you tricked into buying a ‘healthy’ product?  You get to cash point and reach out for that cereal bar?  It contains oats, fruits and nuts; must be good for you.  Or that muesli packet with sugar and salt reduced? Surely, that’s OK?

Are food labels credible? Should you believe what they say?

Yes; if you read between the lines, you will find that what they say is correct.  You just have to understand what they say and the way they say it.

Manufacturers are smart.  They use words which grab your attention to make you believe the product is good for you.  They do not lie, because that would get them into trouble with the law.  They simply use generic terms and take advantage of any loophole in the law.

For example, if a packet of muesli says “no sugar added” that’s just what it means – no extra sugar was added.  That is not to say the product is not high in sugar.

If a product says “vitamin enriched” does that make it healthy? Not necessarily.  Have a look at the rest of the ingredients and check things like fat (especially saturated), salt and sugar.

What information should you find on a food label?

By law a food label should give you the following information.

  • contact details of the manufacturer
  • country of origin of the product
  • list of ingredients in descending order
  • allergens
  • processing
  • dates

You have a right to know where a product is coming from, especially if it contains produce such as meat or fish.  You should also find details of the manufacturer, should you need to contact them.

Look at the list of ingredients.  You will notice it is in descending order.  This gives you a clear indication of what are the main ingredients and their quantities. In the image below you will notice that the main ingredient in this quinoa porridge is not quinoa flour.

Flavouring does not mean the product contains that ingredient. A strawberry-flavoured yogurt will not contain strawberries; you will only find strawberry flavouring listed.

Check the ingredients in bold font.  These are the ingredients which you may be allergic to or cause you some form of intolerance.

The label should indicate any process the food has gone through.  Is the product dehydrated, smoked?

You will also find dates on a food label.  Very often you will have two dates – the manufacturing date and the “best before” or “use by” date.  These dates are meant to indicate whether the food is good for human consumption.  The “best before” date means just that – a product is best before the date indicated.  The “use by” date is used for perishables; food which will not be good to eat past the date shown.

What should you look out for in the nutritional information?

After checking the list of ingredients for allergens, go to the nutritional information and check the salt, sugar and fat content in the product.

Aim at keeping your sugar levels to no more that 5% of your total energy intake and salt at a maximum level of 6g per day.

Another ingredient to avoid is saturated fat.  These fats are harmful to the body and can cause heart disease.

Serving Size

More often than not serving sizes are misleading and far from realistic. You look at the front of a packet and think a bowl of cereal gives you 130 calories.  Take a closer look – it says “per 30g serving”.  Weigh 30g of muesli and let me know if you think it’s a realistic serving.

Very often, the serving size shown on the front of packet is misleading.  Follow the nutritional information per 100g of product for accurate data.

Know your terms

‘Low fat’ – < 3g of fat / 100g of product

‘Fat free’ – < 0.15g of fat / 100g of product

‘Salt reduced’ – < 0.5g of sodium / 100g product

‘Organic’ – a minimum of 95% organic product

‘Alcohol free’ – product can contain up to 0.05% alcohol

Are food labels a legal requirement?

Yes; food labels are mandatory by law.  As of 13th December 2016, new legislation has come into force in Europe to ensure that the information on food labels is clear and not misleading in any way.

My thanks go to:

The British Nutrition Foundation

The British Heart Foundation

European Commission