Cook something easy

By the time I get home in the evening, I want to curl up in an armchair with a mug of tea and a good book. Preparing an elaborate meal is generally not the first thing on my mind, and the siren lure of the nearby Chinese is strong.

Over the past few years, though, I’ve learnt the knack of chucking together something healthy in under half an hour. As a student, I lived on rice and pasta because they only took ten minutes to cook (and can be stored pretty much indefinitely.) One of my favourite staples was pasta with tomato and bacon sauce: throw a couple of handfuls of dried pasta into boiling water, fry chopped low-fat bacon or turkey rashers in a large pan, then add crushed garlic, chopped onions, mushrooms, courgette and any other veg that takes your fancy. Just cook until the bacon’s crisp and the veggies soft, then add half a tin of chopped tomatoes, a dollop of tomato puree and a shake of herbs. The pasta should be done by now, drain it, plop the sauce on top: dinner, in about fifteen minutes!

This one also passes the Boyfriend taste-test (though I use “real” bacon when I’m cooking for him.)

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat Fibre
Pasta with tomato, veg & turkey rasher sauce 385 29.6g 57.3g 4.0g 10.4g
Prawn, noodle and veg stir-fry 490 34.9g 79.6g 4.4g 9.4g
Chicken with new potatoes and veg 450 47.2g 56.2g 4.8g 7.5g

(See the recipe page for ingredients and methods for all the above meals.)

Bribe a chef

Ideally, of course, you want to persuade someone else to cook for you – sadly, I’ve found that non-dieting partners, friends and relatives can have an odd idea of quite what “healthy”, “low-calorie” and “low-fat” might mean. It’s worth asking people to hold back on the oil, butter and cheese, or suggesting a dish which is naturally low-fat (prawn and vegetable stir fry, for instance, is good).

If you are stuck cooking all or most weeknights, try making double-quantities at the weekend and freezing half. It’ll save precious time mid-week, and it’ll probably work out cheaper to buy and cook in larger quantities. I tend to store these extra portions in empty ice-cream containers – we have a worrying number of these around the flat…

The hungry hours

Many long-term dieters will know the fatal trap of eating a virtuous breakfast, a light lunch then scoffing down a huge plate of chips at dinner-time – followed by a stodgy pudding, ice-cream, and a plate of cheese and biscuits. I’m convinced I get hungrier in the evening – but there’s also something about evenings which screams relaxation, indulgence, and stuffing one’s face in the privacy of one’s home.

All that works for me is to think up a healthy dinner ahead of time (something to look forward to on the way home) and plan some sort of treat for afterwards…


I am regularly told that I’m sweet enough already, but that never stops me wanting dessert. I went through a phase of sugar-free jelly, which is good if you’re in the mood to eat an entire bowl of something, but not especially nutritious. Juice-based lollies are a better option – remember the lolly moulds you had as a kid? I’m also particularly partial to frozen low-fat chocolate mousse – one of those weird food tips that sounded utterly crazy when I first came across it, but which actually works. Pop a pack of mousses in the freezer, then eat them individually – they’re almost as good as ice-cream and handily portion-controlled.

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat Fibre
Chocolate mousse (small pot, BGTY) 85 3g 13.5g 1.8g 0.3g
Chocolate fudge brownie frozen yoghurt in cone 160 4.4g 29.9g 2.1g 0g

Ready-meals and eating out

However formidably organised you are, there’ll be days when you just can’t manage to cook – maybe you’re off to the theatre, an evening class or meeting, or you’ve just had such a miserable day in the office that you can’t face doing more than zapping something in the microwave. It’s handy to keep some low-fat ready meals on stock for days like these: I wouldn’t recommend living on them night after night, but they can be very handy once in a while. The fresh ones are often on offer, and can be frozen for up to a month. As with shop-bought sandwiches, try a few varieties until you find some you really like. Marks and Spencer’s do a good range, and Sainsbury’s have some nice Italian options. The Weight Watchers meals are fantastically low-calorie, but sadly this is because they tend to be smaller than the other brands – fine for a snack, but you’ll be hungry again long before bedtime.

Some lucky folk, of course, might be regularly whisked out for a romantic meal accompanied by a fine tipple. While the rest of us turn green with envy, I’ll offer a couple of suggestions – stick with just a starter and main course (I can never quite believe how many calories restaurant desserts contain), and go easy on the booze. Will-power dissolving in alcohol is the fastest chemical reaction known to mankind…

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat Fibre
Sainsbury BGTY lasagne 350 31.2g 39.2g 8.0g 5.6g
Marks & Spencer COU chargrilled vegetable pizza 355 16.0g 64.4g 3.4g 7.7g
Weight Watchers’ Mediterranean vegetable pasta 260 10.4g 48.0g 3.2g 6.4g

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