SO, HOW’S that “New Year New Me” plan working out for you? Call me a cynic, but just 10 days in, I’m willing to wager your resolve to eat better is already beginning to flag. The problem? That life-changing regimen you signed up to takes more time to shop, prepare and pull together than you have motivation for.
Thankfully, if you lack the kitchen hours required of your new lifestyle, but you still want to eat healthily, there are plenty of professionals on hand to do the menu planning and meal preparation for you. All you have to do is pay up, eat what you’re given — and if you stick with it — reap the rewards.
Oliver McCabe of Select Stores in Dalkey, Co Dublin, is one of them. His business offers a range of menu options for those trying to clean up their act.
“Through having the shop, I’ve noticed people getting increasingly stressed out about food and trying to be healthy,” he says. “There’s even a name for it, orthorexia, and I see it mainly among younger people who are very influenced by social media. But food isn’t something you should get stressed about; you should enjoy your food. The four building blocks of good nutrition are essential fats, complex carbohydrates, dietary fibre and protein. You need those for energy production and brain function. So in devising the meal plan, I’ve come up with three meals and two snacks that are simple and tasty and provide good nutrition. There are only a few choices, deliberately. I like to base breakfasts on oats and eggs, because I think people get the most out of those at the start of the day. And I love using grains like millet, brown rice and quinoa, which are easy to digest. I use pulses and beans to gather minerals, and lots of fresh local fruit and vegetables. At this time of year, when people feel sluggish and run-down after Christmas, it’s a dependable way of getting back on track without stress. People have so much going on — work, kids, general life circumstances — and they’re bombarded with information from blogs and recipe books and they don’t know what to eat.”
He says his plan makes it easy to eat well without stress: “I’m not a fan of eating regimens that involve eating too much of one thing. If you eat too much of one thing you become intolerant of it; it’s good to have variety.”
Morton’s in Ranelagh is one of Dublin’s best-known old-school grocers, but Mary Farrell, its head chef, and a nutritional therapist, has given its repertoire of pre-prepared meals a makeover. Farrell has made subtle changes to old favourites, swapping in healthier ingredients (crème fraiche instead of cream, for instance) and increasing the amount of dishes with vegetables, pulses and grains. She has also devised a new range of take-out lunches, sold in both the Dunville Avenue and Hatch Street branches, with portion sizes optimised to control calories.
“Our Healthy New Year plan includes tasty but healthy soups, salads and dinners that make for an easy start for anyone looking to improve their diet,” says Farrell. “The labels indicate how the dish meets various dietary requirements; the idea is to make healthy eating more accessible, rather than a daunting challenge that’s unlikely to succeed.”
Domini Kemp, chef and owner of Alchemy, has devised a €28 per day meal plan to kickstart a healthier way of eating. For that fee, you get a green juice for breakfast, a protein ball for mid-morning, a salad box for lunch, another protein ball for mid-afternoon, and a paleo stew with a second salad box for dinner. Sign up for three days, and Alchemy will deliver to most Dublin addresses.
“The main thing is not to be miserable and starving when trying to get into better eating,” says Kemp. “The food is all healthy and an opportunity to eat well, and light, for a few days without the hassle of having to make it at home. All the salad boxes, soups and stews are wheat-free, dairy-free and gluten-free, full of good fats, proteins and greens. Eliminating wheat, dairy and refined foods for a few days or a week can really help you feel better, especially after a month of excessive eating and drinking, which is what we tend to do in December.”
Kemp says she avoids terms such as “detox”. “Everyone gets a bit hysterical. Really, all we should be doing is eating a bit lighter, avoiding processed foods and giving our systems a break.”
For those not in a position to sign up for the full package, everything is available to eat-in or take-out at the Grafton Street Alchemy café, where you’ll also find smoothies such as the Green Brute and trendy bone broth, made with the bones of grass-fed beef, simmered for 48 hours and flavoured with ginger and turmeric.
And of course there are juices, for a quick blast of greens and vitamins. Kemp’s personal favourites in winter are the Mean Greens or the Anti-Everything. The latter is an orange-coloured juice, made with flax oil, which, I can’t help noticing, has suspicious-looking black bits floating around in it.
“That’s because there’s turmeric in it, which is one of the most anti-inflammatory foods. It needs essential fatty acids, fats and black pepper to help it break down, so it can be absorbed properly,” explains Kemp.
At Paleo Meal Deliveries, James Statham numbers Conor McGregor amongst his clients. McGregor’s tweeting about Statham’s service has ensured that January is already busy. The firm’s most popular offering is a five-day meal plan for the working week. Each Tuesday, customers receive a delivery of breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week ahead, with the first half of the week’s food going into the fridge, and the second half into the freezer. There’s a different menu for each week of the month, and it’s overhauled seasonally, so the food changes every three months or so.
“One of our customers has been following the plan every week for the past two years,” says Statham. “He’s lost seven stone and feels great.”
The meals are based on meat, poultry and seafood/fish, with vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. It follows paleo rules, so there’s no dairy, grains, pulses or processed food. The five-day fat loss plan costs €111, including delivery. “Paleo is evolving, in that when it first became popular, people used to eat way too much animal protein, and now they are focusing more on vegetables. What’s important is the quality of the produce: we use all free-range chicken and pork.”
Statham eats a paleo diet himself up to 90% of the time, but says it’s good to cut loose once a week. “Last night I had a burger with sliced pan.”
THE BEST NEW YOU MONEY CAN BUY
NO NEED TO THINK
DropChef delivers all the ingredients you need to make a healthy, portion-controlled meal.
“We put lots of effort into sourcing, and all our meat is 100% Irish,” says owner Roman Grogan. “We give full nutritional information. Cooking healthily is not complicated; the difficult part is the thinking and the shopping.”
Delivery, in a smart temperature-controlled box, is available in Dublin and the cost of dinners works out at €7.95 per person, when catering for two people for one week.
The menu changes weekly and includes dishes such as seared Irish steak with sweet potato fries and baked mushroom, or warm chicken salad with mango, quinoa and red curry dressing. Most meals are gluten free as standard; other dietary restrictions can be accommodated.
When Robert Hallam was diagnosed with diabetes eight years ago, he learnt so much about sugars and how they are processed in the body that he decided to put his knowledge to work, setting up 250Kal with his sister, Denise.
“A typical cake has 30g-35g of sugar, but ours have less than 5g, because we use alternatives such as coconut blossom sugar, agave and xylitol,” says Hallam.
“Our cakes are not a health food, but they are a healthier option. We know how difficult it is to abstain completely from sweet things, and some raw-food options are a bit of a stretch for people. It’s quite difficult to make a nice cake with fewer than 250 calories, so we’ve put a lot of work into making them taste great.” The cakes are stocked at Insomnia, Topaz, and selected SuperValu and Tesco stores.
LEARN TO COOK
The New Year New You cookery demos at Avoca are run by Indy Power (the Little Green Spoon), Arun Kapil (Green Saffron), Leylie Hayes (Avoca’s executive head chef), Eimer Rainsford (formerly of Pink Ginger Cookery School), Rebecca Redmond (nutritionist), Greg Molloy (head chef at Avoca Malahide) and Aoife Whelan (aka Sweff the Chef). The 90-minute classes start at 9.15am on Tuesday January 19 and 26 and February 2 and 9 in Avoca Kilmacanogue, and they run on Wednesday January 20 and 27 and February 3 and 10 in Malahide.
Classes cost €15. avoca.com
TAKE HEALTHY AWAY
Having been head of menu-planning at Universal Music in London, Lizzy Lyons knows a thing or two about cooking for the health-conscious and those on restricted diets. You can find her meals at Listowel Farmers’ Market, in Co Kerry, on Friday mornings.
She also delivers to regular customers. The seafood chowder comes highly recommended, as does the lamb tagine with lemony couscous.
SELECT AT HOME
Oliver McCabe’s Select Stores in Dalkey stocks a huge range of hard-to-get ingredients and serves smoothies and meals to the health-conscious of South Co Dublin in its onsite cafe. Now McCabe has devised a Fuel Food Meal Plan to collect, priced from €23 per day for breakfast, lunch, a snack and dinner, catering for all restricted diets. Home delivery is also available.
EAT LIKE A RUGBY PLAYER
Limerick-based Gasta Good ‘n’ Healthy, run by Jeff Treacy, is a hit with Munster rugby stars Keith Earls, David Kilcoyne, Conor Murray and Paul O’Connell, all of whom are past or present customers. It offers two meal plans: the Performance plan, and the Fat Loss plan (which is 100% paleo). A week’s worth of lunches delivered anywhere in Ireland costs from €37.50.
Order online. gastafood.ie
The OXO Julienne kitchen peeler gives perfect matchstick vegetables every time. If you’re careful enough, you can also use it to make unbroken threads of courgette “spaghetti”, and it’s handy for dishes that call for fine chopping, such as coleslaw, as well as for citrus zest. It has a stainless-steel blade, and a plastic safety cover.