Need to Get Your Eating Back on a Healthy Track? A Nutritionist’s Top Tips and Quick Fixes

Whether you’re stuck inside at level three still or relatively free at level two, there’s no denying it’s been a tough year when it’s come to sticking to the healthy eating plan.

When some of our only pleasures were cooking and eating (absolutely no judge, there are no rules in lockdown, right?) it’s totally understandable that things have, er, blown out a bit.

But if you’re just not feeling like yourself, or you reckon your body could be in stronger shape to tackle God knows what else this year can throw at us, we’ve enlisted nutritionist Mikki Williden who’s given us some top tips and tricks to getting back on that wagon, as well as her guidance around catering for your little athletes (or not so little) athletes.

It’s been a crazy year! In terms of our diet, what should we be focusing on right now to make sure we’re staying as fit and healthy as we can be? 

The best foods to focus on are those that are protein-rich with an abundance of in-season vegetables. The key to our long-term health comes from keeping the immune system supported through good dietary choices and regulating blood sugar to ensure our metabolic health is also optimised. It’s also important to add some fat from good quality sources (such as olive oil, coconut oil, animal fat, nuts, and seeds) to help your body absorb the vitamins from vegetables and to support hormonal, immune and brain health.

Do you have any quick fixes or life hacks when it comes to getting as much nutrients and goodness into our diets? 

  1. If making a smoothie, add in fresh (ideally organic) herbs and greens – keeping them in a smoothie rather than as a juice keeps the fibre in, which is good for our gut. Make it thick enough to require some chewing (good for your digestion) rather than a thin liquid!
  1. Pate – from a brand such as L’Authenthique – as a snack or part of a meal to boost intake of organ meat is a delicious way to gather nutrients, while also getting a boost of iron, zinc and b vitamins. It really is a superfood.
  1. Hard boil a dozen eggs and keep them on hand as a snack (they will last for around 5 days in the fridge) – carbohydrates are convenient but, for the most part, not that nutritious. 
  1. Start the day with minimum 30g of protein – this is important for muscle protein synthesis (building muscle) and blood sugar regulation. What you eat at the start of the day impacts how often you eat later in the day. Don’t work on the basis of five small meals each day, this takes time and effort to organise. Instead, a fat/protein based breakfast with some vegetables will keep you fuller for longer and less likely to have to rush out for an afternoon snack. 
  1. A good diet doesn’t happen by accident – plan your meals in advance, stick to a shopping list and prep food for the week (both lunch and dinner). I know, not rocket science and nothing you haven’t heard before, but it really does make a difference. 

A lot of people are cooking more than they used to after (the first) lockdown – what are you finding people are wanting guidance on the most when it comes to cooking healthy food at home? 

The most common request I get is for time efficient meals. While in lockdown a lot of people cooked more, they also had more time to do so. Generally speaking, most of us are now back to our usual schedules of work, sport and family, which leaves little time to have the luxury to linger over food preparation and cooking. Recipes that use the slow cooker or one tray (‘tray bake’) options are two of the best ways to save time. For a lot of people, the slow cooker can be hit or miss, and getting the ratio of flavour to liquid is key, so you’re not left with a meal that has no texture or flavour. 

Flavour is key  – people want guidance on ingredients that give the meals some flavour but don’t have an ingredient list that is the length of their arm (with a lot of additives and preservatives). Identifying flavour combinations from common herbs and spices, or brands that keep the list of ingredients low and recognisable is another common request.  

Finally, cost-effective. Food isn’t that cheap, so meals that use cheaper cuts of meat and in-season vegetables is another big request. I try to create recipes that don’t rely on hard-to-find or expensive ingredients. Fresh produce is flavoursome when in season, and also provides the most nutrients (depending on how long it has been sitting in the refrigerator for!) If you do have vegetables lingering from last week, utilising these as a base for a soup or roasting in the pan with a chicken or lamb is a good way to make sure they don’t go to waste.

What should we be feeding our kids (or ourselves!) in the hours before sport? We’ve been watching 2 Degrees and Three’s Second Chance Charlie and saw Wellingtonian father and firefighter, James Cockburn, win a second chance at rugby stardom – and the whole family follow his meal plan!

Feeding your active kids definitely takes forethought, but doesn’t have to be hard. A couple of hours over the weekend to prepare options that can be popped in the fridge or freezer will help out when time is short. Get your children’s buy-in by involving them in this process — if they are choosing what to make they are more likely to eat it, right?

It’s important that kids get some fuel before morning training AND have something substantial before heading into class. The pre-training meal can be tricky as a lot of kids (and adults) don’t like having a lot of food in their stomach when they exercise. Smoothies, fruit, and peanut butter, a couple of hard-boiled eggs and a glass of milk are all easy options that won’t sit heavily in the stomach. 

Additional substantial snacks on the go for kids:

Though this is targeted for active kids, anyone who is active and struggling with ideas may benefit from this list. All it takes is a bit of prepping because a good diet doesn’t happen by accident.

  • Frittata slice plus a piece of fruit
  • Plain yoghurt mixed with nuts, some dried fruit and a dollop of peanut butter in a small container
  • Smoothie made with peanut butter or tahini, banana, some coconut milk, add in a raw egg for a protein boost
  • Corn or rice cakes with peanut butter or tahini, banana and chopped nuts or seeds (chopped in a food processor), sandwiched together
  • Sticky rice balls with salmon or avocado
  • Egg omelette wrap filled with sliced ham off the bone and cheese, with tomato relish
  • Roasted kumara or potato bites
  • Sliced banana with chia pudding made from coconut milk, chia seeds, and a tablespoon of dark chocolate chips or cacao nibs thrown in.
  • Leftover cooked sausages or other meat leftover from dinner
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Hardboiled eggs (you’ve boiled these the night before)
  • Tahini chia loaf with some nut butter and banana spread on it.
  • Kumara ‘toast’ — slice and toast kumara as you would bread and top accordingly (mine took a couple of goes on high to get it to a cooked but still firm stage. So easy!)
  • Three ingredient pancakes made with banana and eggs
  • Slice of cheese and a piece of fruit with some nuts
  • Baked kumara or potato with cottage cheese and tomato relish
  • Chicken drumsticks
  • Glass of full cream milk and a banana

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