Health-kick cooking by television chef Dale Pinnock

Want to know how to eat healthy – and stick with it? Dale Pinnock knows how.

ONE of the questions I get asked incredibly often is: “what one step can I take to make my diet a bit healthier?”

Now, many nutritionists may say cut down on your fat, eat less calories, eat less white bread etc, etc. These are all great suggestions, but in practice these recommendations can often be ambiguous, and sometimes maybe even leave people feeling their diet is lacking something, and for many people, as soon as they are told not to do something, the recalcitrant teenager inside them rears its troublesome head, and they rebel against their own good intentions.

My approach when it comes to getting people switched on to real food, is not looking at all the things we should be taking away, but rather focusing on the things that we can add to our diet.

The most effective way to start adding better foods to your diet, is by adding delicious healthy side dishes to your meals. This could be as simple as adding a dense side salad to each meal, or getting really experimental and adding some glorious vegetable creations to whatever else you may be eating.

By doing this, we start to take in more healthy ingredients, start to experience healthier foods without taking the big gamble of it being our entire meal, which we may end up disliking, and also start ‘filling up’ on more good stuff than junk. Once you have got used to adding healthy side dishes, you can start adding more and more healthy additions to your daily regime, and before long you will find that you are gravitating more toward a diet based around wholesome good foods, without that nagging over your shoulder that you ‘should, or shouldn’t be doing this or that.

It’s all about what you can add to your life, rather than what you can take away from it.

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So, to get you started, here are a few of my absolute favourite ‘bits on the side’.

Power salad

Now for most people, the idea of a side salad means a manky piece of lettuce and a limp piece of cucumber. Yummy! If you want to get a rapid vitamin injection in your meal, make use of some of the nutrient dense salad vegetables.

Ingredients (per person)

1 handful of baby spinach

2 large tomatoes

Half a red or orange pepper

1-2 radishes

This simple side salad can be dressed with your favourite dressing. It will provide you with extra: beta carotene, vitamin C, iron, calcium, magnesium, lycopene, flavonoids, raphanol (a compound in radishes that benefits liver health), to name but a few of the nutrients. Such a simple step to ramp up your nutrient intake.

Garlicky White Beans with Kale and Parmesan

This makes a lovely light lunch that can be served on its own or with a nice side salad. It is flavoursome, filling, low calorie, and absolutely divine! I haven’t found a single person that didn’t like it yet.

Ingredients (serves two)

One can of cannelini beans - drained

One can of butter beans - drained

Two cloves of garlic - finely chopped

Two large handfuls of curly kale

Two tablespoons of grated parmesan

Sea salt to taste

Add the chopped garlic to a pan with a little olive oil and a good pinch of sea salt. Allow the garlic to brown, giving a deep smokey flavour. At this stage, add in the beans and the kale, and saute for several minutes, until the kale wilts. Stir in one tablespoon of Parmesan and mix through thoroughly and allow to melt. When the dish is served, sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the top.

This simple side dish gives you: dietary fibre, zinc, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, high quality protein, selenium, beta carotene.

Roasted butternut squash with sage and feta

This is a side dish to die for. I have a real thing about these kinds of flavours – deep, earthy, rich, warming. This is wonderful with many dishes, from vegetarian dishes, through to meat, and poultry dishes and even Sunday lunches.

Ingredients (serves 4)

One medium butternut squash

One 200g pack of feta cheese

Three cloves of garlic

Small bunch of fresh sage, or one teaspoon of dried sage.

Dice the butternut squash, leaving the skin on, and place into a roasting tin.

Keep the garlic cloves whole, and bash them with a knife, or even the palm of your hand, just to split the cloves. Add them to the tin with the squash.

Drizzle over some olive oil, along with sea salt, black pepper, and if using dried sage, add at this point. Roast in a hot oven for around 20 minutes, or until the squash is starting to brown and caramelise at the corners. If using fresh sage, chop it and add it in at this stage.

Once the squash has been divided up into four portions, top each portion with a quarter of a pack of feta.

This easy side dish gives you: beta carotene, calcium, zinc, B vitamins