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3 easy ways to cut down on takeaways

Life can be hectic and all too often we end up reaching for the takeout menu rather than cooking a meal. While it's ok to indulge in takeaways every now and then, getting into a habit of eating fast food is bad for your health, your stress levels and your bank balance. Here are three ways for you to break the habit.

1 – Meal planning

A little organisation can go a long way. One of the most common situations where a takeaway feels like it might be a good idea is when your day has been hectic or stressful and you feel too drained to think of what to have for your dinner.  However if you plan out your meals for the week then you'll already be prepared for what's to come.  On a Sunday evening, or whenever is convenient, read through some recipe books, look on websites like BBC Good Food and Pinterest for recipes and make a list of the ingredients you need.  Stick the list on the inside of your food cupboard so you're constantly reminded when feeling peckish.

2 – Cook in batches

Another reason for choosing takeaways is that they are fast. If you've had a late day in the office then you'll probably want to rest up in front of the TV, not slave away in the kitchen.  A good way to get around this is to reduce the size of your dinner plate but cook the same amount of food as you normally would.  If you do this then you'll have extra food leftover that you can be heated up in the microwave when time is short.

3 – Get excited about cooking

Let's face it, not everyone is destined to be a Michelin star chef – and for many of us cooking is a real chore. One way that you can avoid getting someone else to cook for you is to try and find other ways to enjoy cooking. You could ask your friends and family to cook a meal with you, or hold a dinner party where you can get feedback on your food – 'Come Dine With Me' style. 

 

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Eating by the seasons: what to eat this spring

What is seasonal eating?

In an age when we can buy pretty much any fruits or vegetables, at any time, in our supermarkets you may not believe that there was a time when you could only get certain produce at certain times of the year.  With factory farming methods and modern technology, the supermarkets can supply us with nearly anything we want to eat, but it might not always be tasty.  We’ve all picked up a plump juicy strawberry from the fruit aisle only to find that it tastes bland and sour. That’s because it was probably grown in a greenhouse or flown in from another country where they are picked before they are ready and ripened in transit. 

We all want to eat food when it’s at its tastiest right? Well there is a time of year when all fruit and vegetables are at their ripest and most delicious.  Fruit and vegetables grow in natural cycles.  During different seasons each year, fruits and vegetables come into “season” and are at their tastiest and most nutritious.  For example, asparagus starts to emerge from the ground in the spring and are crisp and full of flavour.  Later on in the year they will become less tasty and tough.  In the summer strawberries will taste sweet and delicious.  Late summer sees the best tomatoes, sweet, juicy and ripened by the summer sun.  Autumn brings us pumpkins and squashes and root vegetables like carrots and parsnips arrive in the winter months.

Why should you eat seasonal food?

Government findings during a 12-month research project into food purchases show that almost three quarters of people questioned look to buy British fruit and vegetables and there are a wide range of benefits to choosing to eat British food when in season:  

  • You are supporting your local economy and British farmers.  
  • It is better for the environment. Produce is grown by local farmers which means it does not need to be grown in greenhouses or flown in from other countries, reducing energy and CO2 emissions.
  • It’s generally cheaper as the produce hasn’t been transported across the world or intensively farmed.
  • The food is fresher, more nutritious and above all more delicious.

Where can you buy seasonal british food

  • Farmers’ markets
  • Local food markets
  • Organic or local veg box schemes
  • Supermarkets - Just be sure to check what’s in season with our guide when you go shopping and ensure the fruit or veg you choose comes from British producers
  • Grow your own!

Our guide to what’s in season throughout the year

Winter (Dec to Feb): Apple, brussels sprouts, cabbage (savoy and white), carrot, cauliflower, leek, onion, parsnip, pear, potato, pumpkin, purple sprouting broccoli, rhubarb (forced), swede, turnip.

Spring (Mar to May): apple, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cabbage (savoy), carrot, cauliflower, cucumber, lettuce, onion, parsley (flat -leaf), potato, purple sprouting broccoli, radish, red onion, rhubarb.

Summer (Jun to Aug): Apple, basil, beans (runner and French), beetroot, broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, celery, courgette, cucumber, fennel, lettuce, onion, potato, radish, raspberry, red onion, rocket, rhubarb, strawberry.

Autumn (Sep to Nov): Apple, blackberry, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (savoy and spring green), carrot, cauliflower, celery, kale, leek, onion, parsnip, pear, potato, pumpkin, purple sprouting broccoli, spinach, turnip.

5 ideas to make the most of this spring’s seasonal produce

  1. Purple Sprouting Broccoli:  Simply trim off any woody parts and divide the florets into equal sizes.  Best cooked for 3 - 6 minutes in boiling water, drained and tossed in butter and lemon juice. It’s also a great addition to stir fries.
  2. Red onions: Slice thinly and add these mild onions to salads or salsas. Roast in the oven or bake whole for 45 mins with butter, honey, thyme and balsamic vinegar.
  3. Carrots: Grate and add to coleslaw or use a peeler to add fine slices to a salad.  For sweet and sticky roast carrots bake whole in the oven with butter or olive oil and a drizzle of honey until tender and jammy.
  4. Cauliflower: For a chilly spring day warm up with a hearty bowl of Cauliflower cheese.  Parboil the florets first for 5 minutes then transfer to a baking dish and cover with a rich cheese sauce.  Sprinkle over extra cheese and breadcrumbs then bake in the oven for 20 mins.
  5. Rhubarb: An excellent addition to porridge when stewed with a touch of sugar and honey or when turned into a crumble it will rarely disappoint!
Written by Mike Pye

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Use this trick to clear mental clutter

Morning Pages is an idea created by Julia Cameron in her book 'The Artist's Way'. The basic premise is to dedicate a small amount of time each morning to writing before beginning your day.  Three pages are ideal, which sounds like a lot but they don't have to be well written or legible to anyone other than you. In fact they don't even have to be words, you can draw pictures, doodles or anything that comes to mind. It could be your next big creative idea that you're confident will transform the world, or it might just be a reminder that you need to buy cat litter – there are no rules.

The reason that Morning Pages has caught on is that many entrepreneurs attribute it to their success. They say that being able to vent and unleash ideas first thing in the morning means they can start the day with a 'clean palette'.  This gives them a level of clarity and focus that they would otherwise struggle to obtain.

While Julia Cameron prefers to use an old fashioned pen and paper to write her pages, websites such as 750words.com exist, where users can write 750 words and they will be saved in a private place where only they can access them. What makes 750 Words even more interesting is that if you write enough you'll be able to see some interesting stats such as the most common emotions that you mention such as 'happy' or 'self-important'  and the topics that you most frequently write about such as 'relationships', 'work' and 'success'. 

Have you tried Morning Pages? Did it work for you, or do you have any other tips for starting the day with a clear mind?

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5 healthy habits to take up

When you're asked to think about your habits, is it your positive or negative traits that spring to mind? Habits don't have to be bad and with a bit of patience and practice you can make changes which could improve your health, happiness and your quality of life. Here are 5 positive habits for you to try.

1 - Sit down less

Although you might not realise it, sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen can be very bad for your health.  Health problems such as colon cancer, heart disease, visual disorders and obesity are all said to be aggravated by sitting down all day.  Try taking your work out of the office every now and then, walk around for a short time every hour that you are sat down and try and get some light exercise done on your lunch break. 

2 - Get 8 hours of sleep

Despite what you might tell yourself, sleep deprivation takes its toll.  A lack of sleep can leave you fatigued and make your day wholly unproductive. One of the best ways to make sure you get plenty of sleep is to take up some light exercise in the afternoon or early evening. Activities such as swimming, jogging or even just reading a book can all help your body to wind down quicker when it comes time to go to sleep.  However, if the problem is that you are overworked then you might need to look at how you manage your work / life balance.

3 - Swap caffeine for green tea

Nothing can quite beat a good cup of tea. While coffee can make you feel energized, tea is much more beneficial with suggestions that it works as an antioxidant, fights cancer and heart disease and aids weight loss.  While coffee can stain your teeth, green tea is known to fight off nasty bacteria linked to tooth decay.

4 - Cut the carbs

The problem with carbohydrates is that they are digested all too well. This leads to spikes in blood sugar and weight gain. The biggest offenders include spaghetti, bread, pasta and white potatoes. So try and avoid these types of foods or simply replace them with healthier varieties such as whole grain bread or sweet potatoes.  Another easy way to cut down on your daily carb in take is to cook food yourself rather than buy from shops or restaurants. This means that you have more control over what is going in your food.

5 - Get your 5 a day

By now you've probably heard about how important it is to eat a minimum of 5 fruit and vegetables a day. There's a reason for that. A high intake of fruit and vegetables can have a significant impact on your health, loading you up with essential vitamins and minerals that your body requires to function. One easy way to pack them in is to get a smoothie maker or juicer and make yourself a healthy shake for breakfast - what better way to start your day?

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5 ways to learn a foreign language, fast!

It's no secret that when it comes to speaking other languages, the British aren't exactly leading the pack. In fact even our teenagers who receive lessons at school are the worst in Europe at speaking other languages

Although you might think you'll never need to use it, being bilingual can come in handy. It can help you find a new job, make new friends and navigate yourself around new and exciting places. Research has shown it can even help in delaying the onset of dementia.

It doesn't need to take a lifetime either and you can pick up some basic vocabulary without too much disruption to your daily routine.

1 – Watch movies

How many of us switch off at the end of the day by watching a film or a TV show?  One way that you can pick up some foreign lingo is by watching an international movie.  With subtitles switched on you can read exactly what the words mean and learn how words are pronounced. If you are watching the film on a streaming service or on DVD then you will also be able to pause and rewind sections so you don't miss anything.  Of course, no matter how much you might hope you become fluent in French by watching the whole of 'Amelie' with a bag of Malteasers, it's probably not going to happen.  To get the most out of watching international movies you really have to study them and that means taking notes, repeating sections and even trying to mimic the movies dialogue.

2 – Read children's books

The dialogue in movies and TV shows is likely to be quite complex, so if you are just starting out then you should try and get hold of some children's books, especially those with drawings and illustrations which can help you get some basic understanding.

3 – Use apps

Language doesn't change all that much but technology does and learning a language has become a lot easier in recent years. There are a wide variety of apps which can help you develop your language skills, such as Duolingo. Duolingo is an ad-free mobile app which teaches you either French, Spanish, German and Italian using a mixture of multiple choice questions, picture games and speech recognition software.  Other popular apps include Busuu and Memrise.

4 – Listen to music and podcasts

Another good way to get a grip on which ever language it is you are trying to learn is to immerse yourself in the culture.  To do this you need to be regularly looking at news articles and books but also listening to podcasts, radio shows and music. You'll be surprised at how quickly you begin recognising words. It will also help with your pronunciation, something which you'll struggle to pick up from books alone.

5 – Practice makes perfect

Becoming proficient in another language isn't particularly easy but if you dedicate just a small amount of time each day to one of these tasks then you should start to pick up the basics. Here are some further tips to help you in your quest for dual linguistics:

  • Stick post it notes on items around the house with the translation written on, for example ''caffè" on your coffee pot.
  • Once you feel confident try switching the language on your TV, phone or tablet
  • Applying your language skills to everyday life is the best way to learn, so try your new skills out on your friends and family or if you're feeling adventurous try a website like WeSpeke, which pairs you up with a foreign partner to simultaneously improve each other's language skills.


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10 brilliant Christmas dinner hacks

clip_image002Christmas dinner is a joyous occasion - that is unless you’re the chef! Serving up festive meals for a large number of guests is no easy feat; timings can be complex, recipes hard to get right and there can be other added pressures involved too. Here are 10 tips to help you save time cooking, spice up your dishes and make your Christmas dinner slightly more bearable.

1 - If you’re worried about burning your turkey then cool down the breasts with some ice packs or cubes before you put it in the oven. The breasts tend to cook quicker than other areas so by cooling them first you lessen the chance of burning them. If you want to achieve a golden look but want to avoid dryness then cook your turkey on a low temperature for longer than you normally would and apply some aluminium foil.

2 – You can save yourself lots of time by preparing your roast potatoes in advance. Boil them in salted water until they are on the brink of falling apart, and then let them cool on a baking tray before popping them in the freezer. On Christmas day, they can go straight into hot oil from the freezer.

3 – Other vegetables like carrots, parsnips, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts can also be prepared as early as you’d like. When you find yourself with a spare half hour, select your veg, chop it up and store away ready for heating up on the day.

4 Although microwaving elements of your Christmas dinner is sometimes frowned upon, it will save you precious time, and after all no one needs to know. You can heat up some of your vegetables, trimmings and even the Christmas pudding with the addition of some grease-proof paper to protect the edges.

5 – Saving time doesn’t necessarily mean compromising on quality. You can still be creative with your cooking methods; try roasting your Brussels sprouts with salt, black pepper and olive oil, add spices and seasoning to your vegetables and honey glaze to your meat.

6 – There is nothing wrong with buying some items of your Christmas dinner pre-made. Even the most cool headed of chef’s is likely to find cooking an entire dinner from scratch somewhat stressful. Give yourself a fighting chance by purchasing items like pigs in blankets, puddings and sauces from the supermarket.

7 Everyone enjoys eating from a warm plate but often heating them in the oven can make them way too hot, so put them on a short rinse in your dishwasher and then wipe them down ready to go just before you begin serving.

8 – The fridge can get pretty full at Christmas time and no one likes a warm beer. If you’re stuck for space then you can make the most of the winter weather by leaving them outside in the garden to chill, or alternatively place them in a bucket with some cold water and ice.

9 – Once you’ve all finished eating there’ll be a mountain of washing up to rival Mount Everest. If you’ve been the one to handle the meal preparations then make sure your guests all chip in with their fair share of the chores.

10 Our eyes are always bigger than our bellies at Christmas time and there are bound to be plenty of leftovers. Store them away and make some simple turkey and cranberry sandwiches come Boxing Day, or even later on Christmas Day if people get peckish!

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How to handle family arguments at Christmas

clip_image002[8]While your TV might be filled with families enjoying a harmonious and joyful Christmas dinner around the table, it couldn’t be any more different for those of us who find personalities clashing and tempers fraying come Christmas.

According to research from Travelodge, the average British family will have around five arguments on Christmas Day, with the first one taking place as early as 10.13am.

One of the most common arguments comes first thing in the morning. Christmas morning is especially exciting for kids and chances are they will be up at the crack of dawn eager to open their presents. However, conflict can arise when other members of the family are slightly less enthusiastic about getting out of bed. Try and find a compromise and encourage bed dwellers downstairs with the smell of coffee and breakfast.

Once presents are out the way, the next big arguments tend to come from the kitchen where, oblivious to the rest of the family, the person designated to cook for the day is on the edge of madness and just a curious inspection from one of the in laws about how the turkey is looking could send them over the edge. The best way to avoid a meltdown is to ask in advance if the chef would like some help and if not then avoid the kitchen like the plague. If you’re unlucky enough to be the chef then make sure you do as much cooking prior to the day as possible and make it clear to your guests as to whether you would like their help or not.

You might think that food could quash further arguments but disagreements during meal time are just as likely to happen. With a long morning before your Christmas dinner and plenty of time sat around with not much else on your mind but food, it’s very easy for everyone to get a bit greedy when certain dishes get passed around. To avoid arguments over who ate all the stuffing, you should plate up meals in advance and leave the leftovers in the kitchen for everyone to pick through once their main meal has gone.

Once all the food has been gobbled away and the washing up taken care of it’s time to relax and this usually involves some Christmas themed TV. Unfortunately, not everyone can always agree on what to watch and you might find that many of the requested programmes clash. You can solve this problem in a few ways; first of all, many channels now have a +1 version where their shows are broadcast an hour later. You could also record it, watch it on an “On Demand” player like BBC iPlayer or simply opt to ditch the TV all together and play some party games.

Christmas is all about making the most of the time you have with your family but if you are feeling anxious about making it all go to plan then have a read of our free guide on taking the stress out of your Christmas.

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How to have a low calorie Christmas

According to the British Dietetic Association (BDA), the average Brit will gorge on over 6,000 calories on Christmas Day alone resulting in an average weight gain of 5lb by New Years Day. We all know how difficult it can be to avoid the mince pies, chocolates and bread sauce, and after all for many people it’s the one day of the year where they allow themselves to eat exactly what they want, so is there a way of getting your fill of festive treats without the stress of added weight gain?

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15 Xmas gift ideas for people who have everything

Whether it’s an awkward aunt or a crabby cousin, almost of all of us have someone in the family that make your Christmas shop a painful chore. Here are a 15 gift ideas for the people who are really hard to buy for.

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7 ideas for magical Christmas crafts

Christmas is almost upon us and what better way to spread some cheer throughout your home than with some homemade decorations? Here are four easy crafts which are guaranteed to get you in the festive spirit and transform your home into a winter wonderland.

clip_image002Snowmen crafts

You can make your own snowmen with everything from light bulbs to candles and salt and pepper shakers, but one of the most enjoyable ways is with pom poms.

First, get hold of two fluffy pom-poms, one large and one small. Take the ends and tie them together so that they form the shape of a snowman’s body and head, then trim off the ends of the string. After that’s done, you can attach some pipe cleaners for arms, sequins and buttons for eyes and then finish them off with some old shoelaces for a scarf.

DIY advent calendars

Not everyone has a sweet tooth and sometimes it’s much more fun to create your own advent calendar. Hanging shoe racks are great for this purpose and you can transform them into an advent calendar simply by sewing or painting numbers on to each of the pockets. For gifts, you should think about what your loved ones might enjoy. While chocolates are the traditional treats, you could store everything from miniature homemade chutney and jams to poems, bookmarks and photographs inside.

Stockings

What would Christmas be without stockings hanging by the fireplace? They are a traditional part of Christmas decor and are quite easy to make. Simply find two pieces of matching felt, draw a sock shape with a pen and cut out. Next, staple the edges together, add a loop so that it can hang and embellish it by sewing in your child’s or loved one’s name.

Homemade cards

In all the rushing around for presents, it can be easy to forget about Christmas cards. Don’t fear though as you can have lots of fun making your own provided you have a few pens and some craft materials. Try drawing a smiling Santa Claus and gluing on cotton wool for a beard, or make a 3D Christmas tree out of felt triangles and circles.

Snowglobes

Snowglobes are fascinating for children and adults alike. To make your own, find a jar with a lid and pick out a plastic figure that you’d like to house inside. Next, fill with tap water (boil it first), glitter and liquid glycerine, available from most craft stores. Then all you have to do is screw on the lid tight and turn it upside down!

Cookie decorations

If you think you can restrain yourself from eating them all before Christmas then edible gingerbread or cookie decorations are a great way to bring your Christmas tree to life. Simply bake cookies using your favourite recipe and make sure to cut out a small hole before baking so that you can insert ribbon for hanging on the tree.

Festive pinecones

A nice touch for your home can be the addition of some painted pinecones. Popular colours for painting them include gold, silver and white and they can either be placed upon the mantelpiece or hung on your tree with your other decorations. For added shine, you should use spray paint.

Christmas crafts are a great way to get in the festive spirit but they are also an enjoyable and productive way to spend time with your family and friends. Click here for more inspiration for making the most your time with your loved ones.

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Fun activities to make the most of your time as a family