Spicy Turkey Sweet Potatoes


Turkey thigh mince is a brilliant budget choice

Turkey thigh mince is cheap as chips and typically 7% fat, making it a decent alternative to beef, pork or lamb mince. Spicy Turkey Sweet Potatoes from BBC Good Food is a quirky take on a jacket potato with a rich, smoky filling. Topped with a dollop of sour cream and some chives – easy peasy and I love it!

If you’ve got any sweet potatoes leftover, I’d wholeheartedly recommend cajun sweet potatoes, sweet potato saag aloo and penang chicken and sweet potato curry. Alternatively, if you have a tighter budget, try turkey keema peas which is fab.

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Spaghetti with Prawns and Courgettes


Don’t judge until you’ve tried it, and for under a £1 per serving, you can’t afford not to

Spaghetti with Prawns and Courgettes from the Hairy Dieters might seem like an odd combination. However, for 250 calories per portion it is packed full of bold flavours coming from the lemon zest, capers, nutmeg and basil, making it something of a surprise, and all for just 90 pence per portion!

I tend to order courgettes on autopilot in my weekly supermarket deliveries, regardless of whether I plan to use them or not, so always tend to have some hanging around in my fridge. This recipe is perfect for using them up, but if it doesn’t float your boat, then try spaghetti on fire or tagliatelle carbonara.

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Crispy Pork Schnitzel with Potato Salad


This can be a messy job, so why not get the kids involved and make it fun?

Crispy Pork Schnitzel with Potato Salad from the Hairy Dieters is a substantial meal that you can enjoy for lunch or dinner. I always thought schnitzels – which are traditionally thin, breaded and pan fried cutlets made from veal – originated from Poland, but it turns out they herald from Austria. You learn something new every day…

Schnitzels can be unhealthy as they are typically pan fried in oil, but this lighter version requires them to be baked in the oven. With the whopping side salad of potatoes, onion, celery and apple, the Hairy Dieters’ recipe comes in at only 406 calories per portion. I won’t lie and say you can’t tell the difference between this and having the real thing, but the low-cal alternative still tastes good.

A word of warning. If you can’t stand your kitchen getting messy, then give this meal a wide berth. You’ll have plates, cutlery and messy hands from making the coating for the schnitzels. However, if you’ve got children who are showing an interest in cooking why not get them involved? You could even get them to wash up afterwards for a full 360 degree culinary experience, ha ha!

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Mustard Pork


The mustard-based sauce is delicious

If you’re a mustard junkie like me, you’ll love Mustard Pork from Tom Kerridge which contains Dijon and wholegrain mustard in a creamy-based sauce and is much lighter than the French classic dish which is swimming in butter.

This is a well-balanced meal accompanied with corn-on-the-cob and green beans, and it’s impossible to feel hungry after demolishing one of Tom’s recipes. This one comes in at 438 calories per serving and is ideal for an easy weeknight meal. Pork is one of my favourite meats and is quick to cook. I’d also recommend pork and black bean stew with salsa and pork medallions in BBQ sauce, if you’re looking to jazz up your meal plan.

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Tuna and Sweetcorn Cheat’s Jackets


This is a great standby option when you’re hungry but struggling for inspiration

Food snobs may disagree but who doesn’t love a jacket potato? Justine Pattison’s Tuna and Sweetcorn Cheat’s Jackets uses new potatoes instead of proper jackets, but it still tastes great and is ready in half the time. Such a simple and cheap meal to make and only 206 calories per serving.

If you’ve got any new potatoes lurking in your fridge that need using up, try halloumi and smoky bacon hash, Spanish-style chicken bake or creamy chicken and tarragon pots with rosemary potato wedges.

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Quick Cod and Prawn Gratin


Quick Cod and Prawn Gratin is fish pie to me and you

Life is too short to spend ages making a fish pie, in my opinion. So the Hairy Dieters’ Quick Cod and Prawn Gratin recipe is a speedy solution and still contains most of the bells and whistles that you’d expect to find in this classic dish, except for the mash topping.

Get all the ingredients out on the side before you start cooking and read through the method carefully. This isn’t hard to make, but there’s a bit going on and if your brain is fried after a day at work you could become flustered. I had low expectations for this meal but it tasted far better than I imagined and was ready in 30 minutes – a diet friendly version of fish pie on speed, and all for less than 300 calories per portion.

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Minted Pea and Feta Omelette


Omelettes are a dieter’s best friend

Omelettes are brilliant for a quick meal and this version from the Hairy Dieters with minted peas and feta cheese is surprisingly tasty with a salad on the side. Prepped and ready in under 10 minutes, under a quid per portion and 382 calories per serving. Job done.

Wondering what to do with any leftover feta? Try mushroom, feta and tomato baked peppers, spinach, tomato and feta scrambled eggs or menemen.

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Rich Beef in Red Wine


I’d probably need a loaf of bread to mop up that sauce

Rich Beef in Red Wine from the Hairy Dieters is a little too rich for my palette, but nevertheless is a lower calorie adaption of the French classic dish, beef bourguignon. After 2 hours and 25 minutes of cooking in the oven my patience was waning, but in hindsight I should have put it back in and reduced the sauce down further.

Some dishes are worth the wait, but when watching my weight I want something on my table a bit more pronto. But at least I got to guzzle the remaining wine out of the bottle while becoming increasingly starving. One slower cooking recipe I would wholeheartedly recommend though is lamb tagine. Different meat, different country of origin, different culinary experience entirely. Try it.

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Philly Cheesesteak


Get stuck in!!

I’m really feeling the love for classic US dishes right now and Philli Cheesesteak from Pinch of Nom is another belter. Steak, cheese and onion in a ciabatta roll – what’s not to like? If you’re not a fan of mushrooms and/or peppers leave them out.

You can use whatever steak you like, but remember you only need 150g (based on serving 2 people) and this is going in a sandwich, so don’t go out and buy fillet. Quick-cook beef sizzler steaks are ideal, however the quality from supermarkets can vary. I get my steak from a local butcher so this meal really felt like a naughty lunchtime treat yet it’s less than 400 calories per serving.

If you love your ‘butties’, check out sloppy dogs and monte cristo sandwich, also from Pinch of Nom.

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Buffalo Wings with Blue Cheese Dip


Messy and sticky, great for snacking in front of the telly

Buffalo Wings with Blue Cheese Dip is a cheap and very cheerful American bar snack from Justine Pattison, which creates the sticky, smoky flavours you know and love for a fraction of the calories (under 400 in this case, with dip).

You can save yourself some time (and hassle) by not attempting to cut each wing into two meaty pieces. Unless you’ve got a really sharp knife, you might find this tricky, so why not just bake the wings hole and allocate 200g to each person, per serving. I enjoyed these wings with a few naughty chippies and the blue cheese dip. I just forgot to include it when taking the photo, but I’d definitely recommend it with some celery sticks to accompany.

If you’re having some mates round for a big match or fight, or just a girly night in (ladies), why not go all out and make sloppy dogs as well which is equally cheap and wonderful to tuck into. You can start your diet ‘tomorrow’ ;-). Or, if you’re wondering what to do with the leftover cheese, try COBB salad with blue cheese dressing or the equally divine chicken and leeks in blue cheese sauce.

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Sloppy Dogs


This is sooo good, you could eat it twice. But factor in the extra calories you dirty dawwwwggggggg

Sloppy Dogs is Pinch of Nom’s new take on the hotdog, using pork mince, not the manky, calorific hotdogs you get in jars or at football stadiums (though chance would be a fine thing right now). Not many healthy eating cookbooks feature pork mince, but Pinch of Nom’s two books do which make for a welcome change and this recipe is bangingly good.

Pork mince can be cheaper than beef mince in some supermarkets (notably Sainsburys) and this meal works out as just over a £1 per serving. For those who miss tucking into a tasty, lunchtime sandwich on a diet, this is for you. But be warned, it isn’t called Sloppy Dogs for nothing. The filling is likely to spill out and you will get sauce around your chops, however eat this at home instead of at work and no one will know ha ha. The calorie count is 379 per serving, but not all finger rolls are created equal, so do check the calorie amounts before you buy.

If you love tucking into a bap, wrap, sandwich or toastie (or whatever else you call them), check out monte cristo sandwich, also from Pinch of Nom.

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Swedish Meatballs in Gravy


You don’t need to go to IKEA to enjoy meatballs, although it might be quicker

I’ve never been to Sweden, or to Ikea for that matter, so I can’t vouch for the authenticity of Justine Pattison’s Swedish Meatballs in Gravy. But meatballs can be quite fatty and Justine’s dish comes in at a much more diet friendly 324 calories per serving. So with a small portion of mash you’re looking at about 500 calories all in. Impressive, although I wish healthy eating cookbooks would factor in the extra calorie counts to include accompaniments – you’re hardly going to scoff these meatballs on their own!

This isn’t a quick meal to prepare, so I recommend making this on a weekend. Despite the level of effort involved, the end result was enjoyable, with the ‘gravy’ particularly flavoursome. My only gripe was that it tasted too much of dill, which is a strong tasting herb even if you’re only using 15g of it. I also should have reduced the gravy down a little as the sauce was a bit runny.

If you’re buying bigger packs of beef and pork mince, you will have some produce leftover. I’ll give you some ideas as to what other meals you can make on this blog in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

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Thai-Style Butternut Squash Soup


This tastes suuuppperrrr

I mentioned earlier this month that I’ve gone through lockdown without making the same meal twice. But paneer and pea curry was stretching it last week, and Thai-style Butternut Squash Soup from Tom Kerridge is also tenuous, given I made curried butternut squash and apple soup at the back-end of March. But this Tom Kerridge recipe is great, so let me off?

So, what’s the difference? Well, actually it’s pretty obvious. Thai flavours are very distinct and the lemongrass and chillies really give this a punchy flavour, whereas the curried apple and butternut squash soup flavours are more subtle. Both soups are fantastic, even though I find ‘squash’ a pain in the backside to prep.

As the nights draw in, I’ll feature some more soups on this blog. But for now, you can check out the current ones here. Oh, and if you’re wondering what to do with the remaining 200ml of coconut milk, try coconut prawn curry or turkey keema peas.

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All-Day Mexican Breakfast


If you like neat and tidy meals, this probably isn’t for you

True but pointless story. In my younger student days, I was once removed from a public house establishment over a row about an ‘all-day breakfast’. It was 8pm, I’d had a couple of beverages and fancied a good old-fashioned ‘fry-up’. “We stopped selling the all-day breakfast sir at 12pm,” said a patronising waiter. He may not have been, I was pissed. “An all-day breakfast should be all day, it’s 8 o’clock, I want an all-day breakfast,” I insisted. It didn’t end well.

Anyway, I digress, but the point of this pointless story is that you can enjoy this All-Day Mexican Breakfast from Jamie Oliver whenever you like, and you only need 5 base ingredients to rustle it up. Eggs and avocado together can be a messy job, as the photo below indicates. My wife likes soft eggs, I like hard, as I was making this I got my wish but I do think this recipe lends itself better to soft / medium cooked eggs. We opted for 2 chillies which made this really hot! So, if you’re not a heat freak, maybe opt for 1 chilli instead.

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Diet Cola Chicken


Are you a Coca-Cola or a Pepsi fan?

If I told you to pour diet coke over your chicken stir-fry, you’d tell me to do one, right? But wait. Diet Cola Chicken from Pinch of Nom in theory shouldn’t work, but it absolutely delivers. Somehow the geniuses at ‘Nom’ towers determined that pouring diet coke (or Pepsi or other cheap diet cola, I’m not judging) into the pan creates a sticky and sweet sauce that is heaven in a stir-fry. Don’t knock it until you try it!

As with some other Pinch of Nom recipes, you’ll have some odds and sods ingredients left over, so what should you do with them? To use up the peppers, mushrooms and baby corn, I would opt for cajun dirty rice and hot and sour soup. And for the chicken, I’d go for sweet and sour chicken or chicken and mushroom risotto.

By the way, this fab Diet Cola Chicken recipe is only 217 calories per serving. You can serve it with rice but there is so much packed into this I don’t think it needs it. One more thing. This cooks relatively quickly once all the ingredients are prepped. The book says the prep time is 10 minutes, but not even Jamie Oliver on coke could get everything ready in that time. Or, maybe he could, but unless you’re Speedy Gonzalez with a knife I’d allow for the extra time. As good as this is, quick it aint.

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Paneer and Pea Curry


This is great, with or without the addition of cauliflower

Geeky fact alert. Since lockdown began I’ve not had the same meal twice, which is pretty remarkable even though I say so myself. My motivation was mainly to try different foods and give me more excuses to update this blog. Having said that, Paneer and Pea Curry from the Hairy Dieters is (unsurprisingly) remarkably similar to cauliflower, paneer and pea curry from BBC Good Food which I featured back in May.

So, what’s the difference with this recipe from the Hairy Dieters? Well, apart from the cauliflower and the additional spices, not a lot. But don’t let this detract from what is an excellent, low-cost vege curry which is enriched by the texture and taste of the paneer cheese which is regularly used in authentic Indian curries.

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Smoked Ham and Courgette Tortilla


Tortilla is just a fashionable word for quiche

The concept of “cook once, eat twice” is worth bearing in mind when you’re following a diet, as invariably making fresh meals from scratch day-in, day-out can take its toll. Smoked Ham and Courgette Tortilla from Tom Kerridge fulfils this brief perfectly as it can be enjoyed hot or cold, and keeps well in the fridge.

This meal fed my wife and I over consecutive days and is ideal to have for brunch or lunch, depending on your schedule. Like me, Tom Kerridge loves a courgette and you’ll find various recipes featuring this underrated vegetable in his Lose Weight for Good book. But if you need a courgette fix now, check out tagliatelle carbonara, warm griddled vegetables and courgette caponata pasta.

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Mediterranean-Style Lamb Shanks


A proper treat for special occasions and/or ‘date nights’

Ok, so this might be 582 calories (and more if you opt to add couscous), but Mediterranean-Style Lamb Shanks from Pinch of Nom tastes divine so why not treat yourself once in a while? You deserve it!

Lamb Shanks literally melt in your mouth when slow cooked and I’ve recently switched to a fab local butcher who provides top-quality meat at affordable prices. The perception that butchers are more expensive than supermarkets isn’t always the case, but the quality you get from them is undoubtedly superior. I’m not sure I’d go back to buying meat from supermarkets again

In their book, Pinch of Nom provide two alternative cooking methods for cooking this recipe – electric pressure cooker and slow cooker – so check them out if they appeal to you. I decided to ‘rough it’ by using a conventional oven and it was ready in about 2 ½ hours – perfect for a lazy Sunday. If you decide to have couscous with this (in hindsight, I’m not sure it needs it), make sure you buy a decent quality brand. Ainsley Harriott is pretty good and is available from most supermarkets.

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Prawns with Tomato & Feta


Prawns and feta – can you think of a more random combo?

Prawns with tomato & feta from BBC Good Food sounds totally random, and it is. But I decided to give this a go as it was about the only meal I could make with what I had left in the fridge. I love prawns and I love feta, but together? Hmm, I’m not sure.

As a quick meal though it did the job, although it’s an expensive snack if serving between 2 people. For cheaper, arguably tastier alternatives, I’d opt for warm green bean and feta salad, prawn pasta salad and quinoa, prawn and mango salad.

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Satay Burger


Best burger, ever. And ready in under 20 minutes

Satay Burger from Two Chubby Cubs is, quite possibly, the best burger I’ve ever tasted – and that includes the unhealthy ones I’ve demolished from takeaways and pubs over the years. But this home-made burger is only 390 calories and will cost approx £1.36 per portion to send you into food heaven / porn – delete as appropriate.

Normally you associate satay with chicken, so having this with beef made for a welcome surprise. And it tasted even nicer because my wife made it :-). This is proof that you can still enjoy a burger on a diet, but if you’re going to have a treat I recommend you get top-quality beef mince from a butcher instead of from a supermarket.

Most low-fat burgers require you to bulk out the filling with onions and courgettes, and while they taste good, I love the fact that this amazing burger from ‘the Cubs’ requires zero pissing about. Just mix together the soy sauces, peanut butter and lime juice with the beef mince, form into a burger and pop them in a frying pan or griddle pan. From start to finish, you can be savouring this in less than 20 minutes. Why are you still here? Go, go, go!!!

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