Five easy lunch salads

One of the best things about finishing school in my view was the end of boring sandwiches for lunch. There is no reason that this needs to be the only option and having a variety of easy salads for lunches can be a good way to improve your child’s diet as well as adding some variety. There are a few salads it’s easy to pack for lunches and if you can add a small ice brick to the lunch box it can be kept cool as well.

What would I recommend ? These are my top 5 for the lunch box.

  1. Easy Chicken Caesar.
  2. Wombok with grilled chicken
  3. Tuna nicoise salad – this is an easy version from Delicious. Roasted potatoes can easily be substituted for the boiled version and add more flavour.
  4. Mexican rice salad
  5. Ham and corn pasta salad – a simple favourite from Taste.com and I usually try and use good quality ham off the bone to give it better flavour.

Easy Chicken Caesar

  • 300g chicken tenders
  • 1 Cos Lettuce
  • 100g proscuitto
  • 2-3 slices of old bread
  • 1/4 cup Aoili mayonaise (or plain mayonaise with 1 clove crushed garlic)

Grill chicken tenders until golden brown and set aside to cool. On a baking tray lightly oiled cook the prosciutto and diced bread at 180C for 8-10 minutes. Prosciutto should be crispy and able to be flaked across the salad. Wash the cos lettuce well and spin dry and then cut into 2 cm slices. Combine lettuce, prosciutto and dressing and serve with grilled chicken and croutons. For the lunch box it may be better to package the croutons separately and add just before eating. (Makes 2 serves).

Wombok with grilled chicken

  • ½ wombok (Chinese) cabbage
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 red capsicum
  • 2 stalks celery or 100g beans sliced
  • 100 g snowpeas or a small can of corn
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Olive Oil (2-3 tblesp)
  • White wine vinegar (1/4 cup)
  • 1 ttblsp each of soy sauce and sesame oil

Cut up finely and toss together. Finely sliced vegetables enhance each others flavour.

Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, soy sauce, sesame oil and white wine vinegar and toss through the salad. The more robust vegetables keep well and you could easily have this as a side with dinner with leftovers for lunch the next day. Just add shredded chicken (150g per person) and make sure you drain well before storing.

Mexican Rice Salad

1 cup cooked rice

1 can of black beans washed and drained

1 small can of corn

1 red capsicum diced

1 punnet cherry tomatoes halved

1 avocado diced

Dressing : 2 Tablespoons of lime juice and 1/4 cup olive oil

Combine ingredients including dressing and mix well.

A nice addition to this recipe is a small bag of corn chips or a tortilla.

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. She typically tries to send her family with leftovers for lunch the next day and it probably works 3 days of the week! Appointments can be made on 8084 0081.

A Gluten and Dairy Free Christmas

Whilst organising a Christmas menu around allergens may seem a little challenging the basics such as prawns, ham and turkey don’t require a lot of modification apart from finding a suitable stuffing! Mince pies and puddings require more significant modifications.

One significant issue is the ratio of stuffing to turkey. This recipe for stuffing cups from Donna Hay is a great solution to that option. I have made it by substituting gluten free breadcrumbs and nuttelex (for the butter) and they work really well. Just make sure your pancetta is gluten free too!

The side dishes for Christmas can be a range of salads or hot dishes, there are some useful suggestions in my blog on Four easy ways to add Brassica vegetables to your meals. Salad options with a dressing based on either mayonnaise (no dairy) or oil and vinegar can also be a good way to add vegetables and variety to the day.

Focussing on baking these are my two essential Christmas recipes and they are both from my Mum!

Mince pies (Makes approx 36)

Fruit mince – I jar

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

2 1/2 cups of gluten free flour,

1/2 cup castor sugar ,

185g butter (or Nuttelex for milk protein allergies)

2 eggs.

Combine butter and sugar, add flour until mix is like crumbs and then mix through egg to combine. Put on a floured surface and loosely knead. Wrap and chill in fridge for an hour before using.

Rollout pastry between two sheets of baking paper or on a floured surface. Cut into small rounds and use half for the base and the remainder for the lids. Spoon a heaped teaspoon of fruit mince into each pie and then seal lids by pinching the pastry together. Cook at 180C for 12-15 minutes.

Christmas Pudding

250 g each raisins, currants, sultanas and 60 g peel

1 1/4 cups brown sugar

4 eggs

1 cup plain gluten free flour

3 Tblspn Rum

250 g Butter or Nuttelex (Dairy Free)

2 cups soft breadcrumbs from gluten free loaf

Rind of an orange and a lemon

1/2 tsp each salt, mixed spice, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and bicarb soda.

Chop raisins and peel, add other fruit and combine with rum. Leave covered overnight.

Cream butter, sugar and fruit rind. Add eggs slowly beating each in well then stir in fruit in alternation with the sifted flour and spices and breadcrumbs.

Place in greased pudding dish. Cover with foil and simmer for 6 hours. Keep water level about half way up the pudding bowl and check levels regularly.

Serves 10-12 people.

Ideal to serve with Coconut Milk icecream such as Over the Moo Vanilla Bean or Coyo Vanilla or Vanilla Bean and Nutmeg.

Dealing with the smoke haze.

The smoke haze in the Sydney basin has already lasted longer than most of us expected and many people are suffering particularly those with respiratory conditions or allergies. This week Sydney jumped to the ninth most polluted city. So what you can do to protect yourself for the next few weeks?

1. Hydrate – the body needs to be properly hydrated to keep mucous membranes moist and to flush out toxins. The mucous membranes filter out toxins and provide protection so if you are really dried out consider using a saline nasal spray or eye drops for more protection.

2. Exercise Indoors or not outside when smoke is visible. Air quality may be better inside with air conditioning rather than outside. This is particularly important if you are already asthmatic or lung function is compromised.

3. Avoid other toxins because this is a good way to lighten the load on your bodies detoxification systems, like liver and kidneys, as they already have more work to do. Toxins could be cigarettes or alcohol or foods which your body reacts such as dairy or gluten.

4. Supportive nutrients for detoxification. This could just involve dosing yourself on Vitamin C twice a day or with chronic mucous you could look at N-Acetyl Cysteine to help reduce mucous in your system.

5. Increase intake of anti-inflammatory foods: garlic, turmeric, ginger, green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, nuts, beetroot and pineapples. Foods with a high sulphur content like garlic help support detoxification pathways.

6. If you do work outside consider the use of a well fitted mask to reduce exposure to fine particles.

What other strategies can you suggest? Please add your ideas in the comments section below.

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health St Ives. Appointments can be made on 02 8084 0081 or online at www.elementalhealth.net.au .

Okra – mucilaginous veggie

Okra is an unusual vegetable as it contains a mucilaginous gum which thickens stews and casseroles. It is known for its use in gumbo in Creole cooking however it has a wider range of uses and is worth including on a more regular basis.

A small study of okra conducted in 2013 (1) showed that okra reduced the production of fat and increased the breakdown of cholesterol. The only other food with a similar cholesterol lowering effect is oats.

Nutritionally okra has a high level of Vitamin C and folate as well as moderate levels of magnesium and potassium.

Looking around for recipes for okra I was focussed on finding a breakfast option to copy the one I had enjoyed in Fiji at a breakfast buffet. What I did find was some really useful side dishes which would add flavour to any meal.

1 Roast sweet potato and okra this is a good combination of flavours and additional vegetables as a side for grilled meats.

2. Tomato and okra stew a filling side dish or a tasty breakfast option.

3. Okra and Potato Hash this would make a good breakfast option as well as a side dish.

4. Easy Roast Okra this is a simple roasted version with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Of course no blog on okra would be complete without a gumbo recipe and this chicken and chorizo gumbo from Taste.com looked straightforward.

Let me know whether you find okra is a worthwhile addition to your vegetable intake after you have tried the recipes.

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. You can make appointments on 02 80084 0081 or online at the website .

(1) Hypolipidemic activity of okra is mediated through inhibition of lipogenesis and upregulation of cholesterol degradation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23606408

Carrots – seasonal veggie inspirations

Carrots are a versatile vegetable and nutritionally a great source of Beta-Carotene, Vitamins B6 and K as well as minerals such as potassium . The beta carotene in carrots can be converted to Vitamin A. They are also good food for the microbiome as the soluble starch in carrots is largely pectin.

Carrots have the advantage of being ideal raw or cooked. Carrots are available year round and are usually very reasonably priced so a great addition to the weekly shop.

How do you include carrots in your meal plan? Well in addition to being a great side dish on their own they combine well with so many flavours to add to a meal. Often the base of many casseroles or pasta sauce is to start by sauteeing carrot and onion as these “fragrant” vegetables add to the flavour profile of a dish. Adding a carrot can be a good way to increase the quantity of vegetables in a dish.

Here is a list of recipe suggestions for including more carrots in your cooking. Some of these are from recent blogs and others are just recipes I use all the time at home. Carrots are also a favourite to add to roasts as they absorb flavours beautifully specially if you cook them with the lamb or chicken.

Turkey Mince bolognaise – turkey mince is a good light option for pasta sauce.

Carrot and Apple Salad – an easy and quick combination from Carol Ray with walnuts and a lemony dressing. A nice change from coleslaw.

Carrot Pumpkin and Coriander Dip this is a slightly spicier combination but makes a really interesting change from humuus.

Carrot and Onion Side Dish

  • 500 g carrots peeled and cut into rings
  • 2 brown onions peeled and sliced in thick rings
  • 2 Tblsp fresh chopped continental parsley
  • Olive Oil

Steam carrots lightly for 3-4 minutes so they are still crisp but cooked. Saute onions in olive oil for 3-4 minutes until clear and then add carrots. Saute for 2-3 minutes. Serve with chopped continental parsley.

My favourite way to serve carrots is roasted however this combination with roasted parsnip (Maple roasted carrots and parsnip) is simple and a delicious way to get children to eat more vegetables as well.

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health St Ives. You can make an appointment on 8084 0081 or online.

Is your house making you sick?

How would you know if your house is making you ill ? Symptoms can be really diverse and include allergies, fatigue, sleep disturbances and less common symptoms like multiple chemical sensitivity and infertility. To really determine whether its related to the environment you need to look at a detailed history.

The acronmyn for the history taking is PHOLD which stands for place, hobbies, occupation, lifestyle, dental, diet and drugs. So lets look at how the first issue ,place, can contribute to making you ill.

Place – your geography and your home. From everyday exposures such as living on a major road and being exposed to high levels of petroleum by products to living near an airport or a coal mine, your geography increases your risks. Both of those locations create a toxic environment in the house and are associated with a higher incidence of asthma for example.

Another common issue is mould particularly in Sydney with its high ambient humidity in Summer. Often you can smell that a house is damp or musty as you walk in. The cause of the mould is often moisture or leaks that have not been treated quickly. Other examples can include old bathrooms where the waterproof membrane has decayed and mould has built up behind the tiles and fittings. In Sydney roof leaks and rising damp often contribute to problems particularly in older houses. Mould spores whether dead or alive can contribute to chronic respiratory problems, like allergies or asthma.

Another increasingly common challenge for people is EMF fields particularly from smart meters for monitoring electrical use. People who are sensitive to these fields may find that they need to move away from the smart meter to improve their sleep. For people who are very sensitive to electro magnetic radiation it is also a good idea to switch off the wi-fi overnight. It will become increasingly more difficult to remove these sources as we switch to 5G so it is a good idea to reduce your exposures wherever possible. This could mean using headphones for the phone or the speaker where possible.

Within the context of the home its also important to consider hobbies which can involve exposure to toxins or chemicals on a regular basis. Artists for example are constantly exposed to a plethora of chemical solvents, photochemicals, and chemical additives. If you are planning to become pregnant it is important to be aware of the dangers that exist when working with various arts & crafts. Hobbies that involve the handling of dyes, pigments, metals, ceramics, glass, and chemical solvents create the potential for toxic exposure.

If you are not sure whether the home environment is contributing to ill health you can get a building biologist to do a review and advise you of concerns. This is a good starting spot and the Australian College of Environmental Studies has a list on its site if you need a referral. If you are unsure as to whether the house is the problem make sure that the next time you holiday away from home you really observe how you are feeling and it may shed some light on the issue. Certainly I know people who have told me they are always better when they are on holidays, however it may be that they are away from their mouldy house !

Constructing a timeline can often help you determine if it is related to the location or if something in the environment triggered the issue originally.

If you need a bit of assistance determining the causes Christine Pope is based at St Ives and available for appointments on 8084 0081.

Iron for vegetarians (or anyone who likes plants)

Legumes a good source of iron

One of the more difficult nutrients in a plant based diet is iron, partly because it is more difficult to absorb and partly because women in particular may have higher needs at different stages of their life. In this blog we will look at requirements at different stages, good plant sources and factors that affect absorption.

How much iron do you need ?

Requirements change depending on your age and stage, but also whether there are other stressors which may affect your needs. For women who are having heavy periods extra iron is often needed. For athletes who are doing intensive training they have a higher need for iron as the training stimulates production of red blood cells.

Generally the recommended iron intake for adults is 8mg for men and 18mg for women. For women this increases to 27mg during pregnancy. Post menopausal women drop to 8mg a day the same as men. Babies and toddlers have similar requirements regardless of gender but typically around 8-11mg a day depending on the stage.

Good plant sources of iron

  1. Nuts depending on the type are good sources of iron. Pistachio’s have 14mg of iron per 100g and are about four times higher than almonds, brazil or cashew nuts. Nut butters could be a good way to increase iron in the diet.
  2. Seeds particularly pumpkin, sesame, hemp and flaxseed. Two tablespoons average between 1 – 1.4mg of iron per serve.
  3. Legumes such as beans, peas , chickpeas and soybeans with soybeans topping the list at 8.8mg of iron per cup. Legumes are also an important source of protein for vegetarians so they have multiple benefits.
  4. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, chard and kale often have between 2.5-6mg per cup of cooked vegetables. Included in a dish with legumes it gets easier to meet your recommended intake.
  5. Potatoes but the iron is under the skin so make sure you scrub the skin before cooking and don’t peel it off. A large potato has around 3mg and sweet potato a little less.
  6. Oyster and white mushrooms are good sources, however shitake and portobello have little iron content. The varieties noted above have around 3mg per 100g.
  7. Olives hold around 3mg per 100g .

How do I digest iron easily ?

Most people seem to know that having foods containing Vitamin C at the same time as eating iron sources improves their digestion, leafy green vegetables are a good source of iron as they usually contain both. Other factors which may impact absorption are consuming dairy products or tea at the same time as the iron source.

Dairy products may impact absorption of iron due to the high calcium content, which in some studies has been shown to lower absorption of the iron. This may not be an issue if your levels are adequate as its only reducing absorption however if you are suffering from iron deficiency it might be best to have your capuccino at least 30 minutes away from your meal.

Tea is high in tannins which constrict the mucous membranes lining the stomach. If consumed with meals it may limit your absorption of nutrients such as the non-heme iron from plants significantly, by up to 62% in one study. Again enjoying your tea away from your iron containing meal is probably fine.

Christine Pope is a practicing naturopath and nutritionist who is based at Elemental Health at St Ives. Appointments can be made through the website at www.elementalhealth.net.au or by calling 8084 0081.