Tips for a Healthier Christmas

It may be hard to believe, but the holiday season is fast approaching, which means that before we know it, we’ll be celebrating Christmas once again, before partying our socks off a week later as we see in 2016. For most of us, with the weather generally turning colder and darker, and the fact that unhealthy party food and alcohol is virtually everywhere at this time of year, it can be tough to maintain a healthy lifestyle during the festive season.
 

Most people just say ‘what the heck’ and dedicate much of December to stuffing their faces, drinking far too much alcohol and making themselves feel pretty ill and overweight in the process. Every year we do this to ourselves, and every year we swear that the next year will be different, particularly when we step on the scales when the party season is over and nearly keel over in shock at the number staring back at us. If, however, you’re truly serious about having a healthy Christmas and maintaining a healthy lifestyle this festive period, here’s a look at how you can have a healthy Christmas, whilst still having a great deal of fun in the process.
 
Set yourself goals and targets
 

Unless you happen to be incredibly dedicated, setting yourself weight loss targets are not the way to go here, but what you can do is set yourself different goals instead. For example, Christmas is really only celebrated on the 24th, 25th, and 26th of December for most people, so instead of having all of December off your diet and away from the gym, set yourself the goal of getting to the gym like you would normally for the rest of December. Obviously you may have office parties etc, but generally, try to give yourself a target of getting to the gym at least 3 times each week for example and look forward to some time off as part of a Christmas present to yourself.
 
Don’t go overboard with the party food and drink shopping
 

Let’s face it when it comes to Christmas, most of us find ourselves  buying far too much at Christmas in some sort of competition who can fill their trollies the highest and then struggling to find room to store it all when we get home. Most supermarkets only close for 3 days during the holiday period (Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day) so we really don’t need to be a victim of the media induced frenzy that seems to sweep the nation every year. By the time Christmas is over, we’re often left with huge quantities of questionable vegetables (more parsnips anyone?) with only junk food still remaining, threatening to ruin our new year diets before they’ve even started!
 
Everything in moderation
 

As previously mentioned, it’s a good idea not to go overboard when you purchase your party food around Christmas, but at the same time, it’s an even better idea not to go overboard when it comes to eating it either. If you can, choose healthy snacks when you shop so that when you settle down to a cosy Christmas film and your sweet tooth tickles your fancy, you can help yourself to sultanas, fruit or low sugar yoghurts before reaching for the dreaded biscuit tin or choose low-fat biscuits instead, there are many alternatives to our family favourites on the market these days.
 
Make healthy substitutions
 

Eat healthy and stay fit! This applies not only for Christmas dinner, but for all of your other dinners, snacks, and beverages leading up to Christmas. If you’re making roast potatoes, for example, instead of covering them in goose fat, how about giving them a light spritz of olive or coconut oil before roasting them in the oven? When making mashed potatoes, leave out the cream and butter and add a splash of milk instead. Choose leaner cuts of meat and trim away any visible fat. For cheese dishes, instead of full fat, opt for reduced-fat cheeses. You can even make smart choices with beer by opting for low-calorie beers or alcohol-free beers. If you do use oil or butter in various dishes, try not to use as much as you would ordinarily. That way, you still get the same great taste and texture, with less calories in the process.
 

All of these changes may not sound like much, but they all add up to a make a big difference this Christmas and less regret in the New Year! For the recipe to the delicious Creamy Camembert in the featured image click here. To share your tips, reviews and experiences, please go to the Share Your Experiences page, we’d love to hear from you!
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Is Juicing Causing you Health Problems?

As an avid fan of juicing, primarily to get those vital nutrients we hear so much about into my children on a daily basis, it came as a shock to me to read one day (whilst sipping my juice and feeling pretty virtuous I have to say), that the popular food fad is causing health problems for some people.


Apparently, there was a Nutribullet purchased every 30 seconds in the build up to Christmas last year, and (along with the Duchess of Cambridge, apparently!) I was one of the happy customers completely sold on the promise of getting vital nutrients, cancer preventing antioxidants and minerals into mine and my family’s bodies but it’s the level of sugar (be it natural or not) that’s causing some experts to worry about the contribution to the obesity epidemic sweeping the country.


Weight-gain, dental problems and type 2 diabetes are all attributed to a diet high in sugar and even though the vitamins in fruit and vegetables are proven to protect against health problems such as high blood pressure and low immune systems, the sugar content in an average juice can often be as high as that in cans of fizzy drinks and I certainly don’t want to be doing the equivalent of feeding my children the equivalent of a can of coke every morning! Even dentists are worried about this latest health trend. Tooth enamel decay is on the rise and the sugar content in fruit drinks is being partially blamed.


Another problem is the acid content that blending all of this fruit and vegetables can cause to the gut lining. Unlike juicers, blenders such as the Nutribullet pulse everything including the skin and all of the lovely fibre contained within it, into a liquid suitable for drinking. Although not scientifically proven, many experts now believe that it’s the blades in the machine that can heat up and damage the fruit cells, reducing the amount of fibre you are consuming so the amount of antioxidants and phytonutrients aren’t as high as if you were to eat the fruit in its whole form. By crushing the fruit, it also increases the body’s ability to absorb all of the fructose (or sugar) contained within it.


For example, a Cadbury’s flake contains 18g of sugar but your average apple juice contains around 25g in a single 250 mil glass. Now I’ve got your attention haven’t I?


But it’s not just these health hazards that have been on my mind recently. Being the self-proclaimed germaphobe that I am, I spent some time researching how to get the parts of my Nutribullet clean just recently and was quite astonished by what I found. A study in 2011 found the effects from serving drinks from unclean juicers to be incredibly dangerous with salmonella and E.coli present if they were not washed properly. Harmful bacteria can hide in the many crevices within the devices and pose serious health threats for you and your family. The raw pathogens can potentially cause diarrhea, vomiting and in worse case scenarios, kidney failure! I have been scrubbing then soaking mine in boiling water ever since this discovery!


So what are the best low sugar fruits and vegetables to juice with?


As a general rule, water-rich vegetables (cucumbers, celery) and leafy greens (kale, spinach, and lettuce) contain less sugar per ounce. Fruit such as apples and pears and root vegetables like carrots and beetroot contain more sugar per gram and should be used sparingly. Lemons and limes are high in vitamins and can be used to add flavor. The best fruit and vegetables to use for a low sugar juice are kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, tomato and collard greens.


In summary, juicing is a great way to increase your nutrient intake, but by reducing the amount of high sugar fruits and vegetables you include and substituting with some water-rich options from the list above, you will reduce the sugar and resulting calorie intake, which is healthier for you and your family.

 

Borani Bademjan – Eggplant and Yogurt Dip

Borani Bademjan – Eggplant and Yogurt Dip

It’s fair to say that I am pretty obsessed with aubergines. If I could find a way to combine them in my morning coffee, I probably would! Along with tomatoes, potatoes and bell peppers, the aubergine (solanum melongena) belongs to the nightshade plant family (Solanaceae). In fact, aubergines grow in a manner much like tomatoes, hanging from the vines of a plant that grows several feet in height. The most popular variety of aubergine looks like a large, pear-shaped egg, hence the American name ‘eggplant.’
 

Aubergines are packed with health benefits, including being an excellent source of dietary fibre, vitamins such as B1 and B6 and minerals like copper and magnesium. This is my favourite Persian dip and it is so simple to make with a delicious deep and earthy flavour from the grilled and lightly charred fruit, lightened by a touch of mint and creamy yoghurt.
 
Serves: 4-6
 
Ingredients:
 
2 large eggplants
2 cups plain yoghurt
2 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried mint
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
Vegetable oil or olive oil
 
Method:
 

  • Make 2-3 cuts in each eggplant to let the steam out and prevent it from bursting in the oven. Place the eggplants in a baking dish and cook in a 200°C/400°F pre-heated oven for about 30-40 minutes until soft. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
    Remove the skin by chopping off the stem and peeling with your hands, then chop eggplants into small pieces and place in a colander to drain.
  • Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onions, sauté until golden, add the turmeric and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
  • In a large mixing bowl, add the fresh garlic and combine all ingredients, mixing well. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer into a serving dish, garnish with fried onions and a sprinkle of coriander if you have any.
  • Serve cold or at room temperature with warm bread.
Don’t forget to register your details in the ‘Join us to follow our blog’ box to be the first to know when my ebook of 30 of our family’s favourite Persian recipes is ready!
 
Enjoy!
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Spirulina Smoothies

It’s no secret that we make a lot of smoothies around here! Really, we can’t get enough of the stuff! So much so that our Nutribullet lasted just long enough for it to be past the manufacturers warranty (typical) and so we had to buy a new one a week ago. But every cloud has a silver lining and all that – this new one is so much quieter and doesn’t shake the roof off the house or terrify the kids every time we use it!
 

I’ve mentioned some of our recipes in precious posts (here and here) but I just wanted to update you on the latest addition to our juices that we’ve been loving – Spirulina! I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it – I hadn’t until recently to be honest – but being the massive research geek that I am, I heard nothing but good so decided to give it a go. Here’s what I learned in brief if you’re interested:

 What is Spirulina?
 

Dried Spirulina contains about 60% (51–71%) protein. It is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids, superior to typical plant proteins such as legumes.  Spirulina is a single-celled, blue-green micro algae that has lived on Earth for roughly 3.5 billion years.
 
What health benefits are there?
 

Algae can work wonders for your health because it provides a rich source of nutrients and zeaxanthin, selium, zinc, and vitamins C, E and B-Complex. It is also rich in GLA (gamma linolenic acid) which makes it anti-inflammatory and beneficial for inflamed or dry skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and acne and it contains 17 detoxifying and alkalising betacarotenoids (antioxidants), over 2,000 enzymes and a full spectrum of minerals including sulphur, all of which are essential for vital, glowing skin.
 

Sound good? It did to me! So I purchased a pack here from Amazon for £9 and have been adding it to our smoothies since. I add less than the 10-15g recommended as it does change the flavour slightly and I don’t want to put the kids off their magic morning drink, so I use around a tbsp in a full Nutribullet jug. Our favourite other ingredients to add are banana, strawberry (preferably from our plant in the garden!) blueberries, apple, raspberries and always a little spinach to add some greens and soya, almond or oat milk to keep it dairy free for my lactose intolerant boy!
 

I’ll add some more detailed recipes soon. Let me know if you give it a go and don’t forget to add your details to the black box in the side bar for more of our favourite recipes I’ll send to you by email!
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Super easy omelette 

When I was young, my dad would make us these amazing omelettes on lazy Sunday mornings and I’d look forward to the smell and sizzle that filled the house while he stood patiently over the cooker working his magic, all week. His Persian culinary skills taught me simply that “everything begins with an onion” and his omelettes were no exception to that rule, which is lucky for us as I rarely plan our meals but I know you can’t go wrong with any dish by starting it with an onion fried gently and by adding the right herbs and spices – it usually is the beginning of something delicious in our kitchen!

If you’ve never grated a sweet potato into your omelettes, then you’re missing out on a taste sensation that really adds substenance to an already filling dish, but with the slow release energy of this complex carbohydrate you really won’t feel hungry for a very long time! Whatever vegetables you have in work great with a meal like this but here’s what I did and what Ste told me was “the best omelette I’ve ever tasted!”

I began by washing and grating a sweet potato (skin on) into some heated coconut oil in a deep frying pan. I fried it gently until softened, then added a chopped onion, half a tsp of turmeric, half a tsp of smoked paprika and a sprinkle of garlic salt and placed a lid on, allowing it to caramelise for around 10 minutes whilst stirring now and again. After it was all lovely, soft and golden I added 2 chopped rashers of smoked bacon, half a tube of tomato purée and 2 big handfuls of spinach and after stirring, replaced the lid allowing it to continue to cook on a low heat. After around 5 minutes of occasional stirring, I made a couple of holes in the mixture and dropped in 4 eggs, again replacing the lid to allow the eggs to cook through.

For additional yum, this is so tasty with cheese grated on top, then melted under a grill but I left out those additional calories for today!

For more of our family favourite recipes, don’t forget to subscribe to post notifications on the side bar and I’ll send you some tasty meal ideas really soon!

Hope you’re having a great day.

Love from Leyla

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Low Carb, No Sugar – Recipes for Looking and Feeling Better!

Since my beautiful babies were born, taking care of myself has fallen lower on my list of priorities than finally managing to match all of the kids socks and learning the names of all the Tinkerbelle fairies – and I’m now paying the price with my health.
 

If I could rewind a year, I would have a serious word with myself about the food I was eating (picture me throwing the kids leftovers down my neck, stood in the kitchen in between washing up and wiping down) and the lack of supplements I was taking to support the exhaustion I was feeling (unless wine and Digestives count toward my 5 a day?) My head has been so full of milk feed timings, medication administration and school applications that I’ve felt like a shadow of my former self and all it would have taken was a good look into my eating habits to avoid the past few months of feeling like it’s all been catching up with me.
 

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I had an operation in March and without going into too much detail, the affect all of the antibiotics I was taking during that time have had a really detrimental affect on my body. I’ve been lethargic even though the children are sleeping great, had a brain fog that I can only compare to being hungover, a twitch in my leg and terrible stomach cramps that the doctor prescribed a course of (useless) antifungal tablets for.
 

If you haven’t heard of candida, it’s a yeast infection that I think has spread throughout my body as a result of not enough good bacteria in my gut due to the dreaded antibiotics killing them off. The main thing I’ve realised is that I need to change my eating habits to prevent the infection from growing and I’m doing this by going back to basics with the meals I make. Reducing bad carbohydrates and cutting out all sugar is now more than just for my appearance sake (as it has been in the past) I’m now doing it to be able to function, and taking care of myself has become as important as taking care of everyone around me because I’ve realised that I’m absolutely no use to the kids if I’m not well enough to run around after them screaming “coming, ready or not!” while they scatter around 40 times a day.
 

It’s not been easy though. The second day without sugar or carbs for me is a real struggle. I crave chocolate so badly, my mood is really low but I know that I have to push through the pain barrier as day 3 is always so much easier. My cravings are usually gone and I feel relieved that there’s nothing toxic racing around my body and the pain in my abdomen, the leg twitch and lethargy are gone within a few days. It really is a no-brainer for me.
 

I’ll write more in detail about my experiences with fighting this dreaded infection and the supplements that are helping me on my journey another time but I just wanted to let you know what’s been going on with me and take the opportunity to share a couple of meals I enjoyed recently and I will add more really soon, should you be struggling with the same problems or just be on a health-kick and want to lose some weight (it really is dropping off fast!)
 
Tonight (as in the picture above) we enjoyed marinated chicken with a pea and edamame bean salad. It was so good. Here’s how:
 

This morning, I took the skin off around 8 chicken legs and placed them in a bowl with a large, chopped brown onion, a teaspoon of turmeric, rapeseed oil, the juice of half a lemon, around a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a little salt and pepper and covered it in the fridge until this afternoon when I grilled it in batches.
 

In my steamer, I added around 4 cups of frozen garden peas and 2 of edamame and placed a layer of tender stem broccoli in the pan above to steam while they cooked. When tender, I removed all of the vegetables and tossed them in a large bowl with chilli flakes, a teaspoon of fresh mint, garlic salt and then crumbled in some feta cheese.
 

I served all of the above with basmati rice for everyone but me and was thrilled to see the kids enjoy it so much! It really was delicious!
 
food, recipe, fish, diet, healthy eating, anti-candida, infection, recipe, low carbohydrate, sugar free, diet
 

I made a really easy fish dish! I emptied a bag of spinach into a deep baking dish, then added chopped spring onions, a couple of quartered lemons, some chestnut mushrooms, a few garlic cloves and topped it with fillets of cod, sprinkles of garlic salt, parsley and dill then baked it for about half an hour while the kids had their supper and it was ready by the time we’d tucked them into bed.
 

I baked the cherry tomatoes at the same time too, drizzled with rapeseed oil, apple cider vinegar and sprinkled with saffron and cayenne pepper. We ate it with brown rice (drizzled with the saffron juice from the tomatoes) and natural yoghurt. The apple cider vinegar takes the sweetness of the tomatoes to a whole new level!
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Let me know if you give it a go and if you have any other low-carb, sugar-free, anti-candida recipes you would like to share, please use the comments box below and if you would like me to send you some recipes and information about the techniques and supplements I’ve been using to improve my health, please leave your details on the contact form on the about  page. I’d love to meet you!

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A family tradition – cottage pie (with turkey)

I will never forget the sight of my mum’s cottage pie being carried hot to the table, oozing with deliciousness and an unmistakable smell that made my mouth water when I was a child. It’s such a simple dish, with heaps of vegetables for vitamins, meat for protein and mashed potatoes for…well…everything that’s wonderful about British cooking and although it takes a while to prepare (all that potato peeling is not something I enjoy!) my kids faces light up in the same way mine did when they see it coming, so it’s worth the preparation once a month at least!

Unlike my mum, I use turkey mince, primarily because of the lower saturated fat content than beef or lamb and I think it tastes (almost!) as good as her version. We throw in every vegetable we have in, I don’t think you can go wrong with a combination of tomato, sweetcorn, courgette, onion, celery, carrot, leek, pepper – the list goes on and on because it’s so versatile and with cheese added to the top before a final grilling (for none lactose-intolerant people) there’s a deeply satisfying, comforting flavour that makes me none apologetic for the amount of carbohydrates I’m consuming!

I made some this morning, initially doing the filling before Ste left for work and I left it in the slow cooker all day. I then made the mashed potato during the twin’s afternoon nap and put it altogether in a baking dish, ready to be baked in the oven 30 minutes prior to us wanting to eat it this evening but if I hadn’t been at home, I could have made it last night and left it in the fridge to pop into the oven whenever we wanted it. This is how I made it today:

Ingredients:

  • 6 medium sized sweet or normal potatoes peeled and cut into chunks
  • 500g turkey mince
  • 1 large onion finely chopped
  • 1 cup of frozen peas
  • 1 tin canned sweetcorn
  • 2 cups frozen broccoli
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp. tomato puree
  • 1 chicken stock pot
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Large knob of butter or dairy free alternative
  • Glug of milk (if using normal potatoes, none if using sweet potatoes)
  • Sprinkle of grated cheese (for none lactose intolerant family members)
  • Glug of good quality cooking oil (I use rapeseed)
  • Salt and white pepper (added after cooking for adults only)

Method

  • Add potatoes to a large pan of boiling, salted water and boil until tender
  • Meanwhile, fry onion gently in oil until tender
  • Add turkey, garlic and herbs and fry for 5-10 minutes gently until turkey is cooked
  • Add all remaining vegetables, stock, tomato puree and Worcestershire sauce and allow to simmer uncovered until the filling reaches the desired consistency (if the vegetables are frozen, it may need to simmer for longer to reduce the amount of liquid)

At this point, I added the filling to the slow cooker for the day but if you’re making it to be eaten straight away, continue with the following:

  • Transfer filling to a deep baking dish
  • Mash potatoes with butter (or dairy free margarine) add a little milk if necessary then top the filling with the mashed potato in the baking dish and sprinkle on the grated cheese
  • Bake in the oven until the cheese is golden brown or pop it under the grill just to brown the cheese if it’s already hot and serve.

I only added cheese to half of this dish as Kian still isn’t very good with dairy, so he had the cheese free side, which tasted just as good. The amounts above made enough to feed the 5 of us today and tomorrow, although rather than eat it again tomorrow I’ve frozen the remainder to be eaten again another time. It can also be frozen in portions for the children.

Hope you like it. Let me know if you try it!

Love from Leyla

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Pasta with apple cider vinegar 

The health benefits of apple cider vinegar are legendary as it’s proven to have antibiotic properties that can fight bacterial infections, reduce the risk of diabetes and in a recent study in Japan, to reduce the body’s ability to absorb starch and therefore contribute toward weightloss.  [Source]

food, recipe, apple cider vinegar, health, weightloss, healthy eating, recipe, pasta, tuna, dietNeedless to say, it’s been going into a lot of my meals recently including today’s pasta. I simply boiled wholemeal pasta and when al dente, stirred in tinned tuna, sweetcorn and  spring onion and for flavour added a sprinkle of dill, garlic salt, white pepper, lemon juice and of course some apple cider vinegar (to taste). It’s not something I’d serve the kids as it’s a little too acidic for their pallets but I love it!

From what I’ve discovered, it’s the good quality cider vinegar that contains the most health benefits. It comes in a cloudy form and is more expensive than the cheaper, clear versions. I add it to the vinaigrettes I make for salads (great with lemon juice and parsley), marinades for chicken (with lemon juice and garlic) and when I’m feeling run down, a little added to room temperature water and drank throughout the day. It’s kept the kids colds away from me so far!

Love from Leyla

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Chocolate and raspberry mini cheesecakes

Whenever Ariana is at home during Kian and Kaira’s afternoon nap, I try to give her the undivided attention she was so used to until her siblings came along 19 months ago. We draw, practice writing, attempt to make crafty things and cuddle up to watch films together but occasionally we’ll bake. I am not a cake maker! I’ll have a go to make anything savoury but the patience needed to measure out flour, sugar and all the rest of it I read in cake recipes really puts me off, so today we made mini cheesecakes. I hadn’t planned it, so I made this recipe up as we went along based on the ingredients we already had in. It was really easy and absolutely delicious, here’s how if you’d like to see. I included dairy free alternatives for anyone with lactose intolerances.

Ingredients

  • equal amounts of cream cheese (or lactose free cream cheese) and chocolate spread (or soya and cocoa spread), we used around 200g of each
  • digestive biscuits (we used about 10)
  • 250g (half a pack) butter or vegetable spread
  • raspberries (to taste)
  • 1 egg.

Method

  • turn on the oven at 220 degrees
  • crush biscuits with a rolling pin inside a freezer bag
  • melt butter in a pan, then add crushed biscuits and stir
  • separate biscuit mix into ramekins
  • add raspberries
  • mix the egg, cream cheese and chocolate spread in a bowl with a fork until smooth and pour over raspberries
  • bake in the oven for around 20 minutes, until the chocolate has gone firm.

We enjoyed these warm with the creamy chocolate like a soft mouse on top and the raspberries giving a beautiful tang against the sweetness and crunch of the biscuit but I suppose you could use any fruit you fancy. I just love that Ariana got to help me every step of the way with it and the ingredients were already in so I didn’t have to panic about what we needed. Super easy, and the rest of the family got to enjoy it too and I’m happy to finally find a use for the glass GU pudding ramekins that have been building up over the years!

Love from Leyla

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Healthy Summer smoothie lollies with silicone moulds

We are HUGE fans of the Summer in this house. Really, we can’t get enough! And for a full week without any rainy interruptions, the sun has shone down on us here in Manchester bringing with it lots of outdoor fun and the question that rings around in my ears long after the kids have gone to bed at night “can I have a lolly mummy?”

So with this obsession in mind and not wanting to overdose the kids with too many sugary lollies, I bought some silicone moulds from Amazon for around £8 for 4 and I’ve been really impressed with the design. It’s so easy to pour any liquid concoction into the mould, pop the lid on and place them in the freezer. They don’t even need to be upright as the lids hold the contents firmly in place. The kids have really enjoyed a variety of mixtures so I wanted to share with you their favourites. I am one of those really annoying people who are still in love with their Nutribullet so the following recipes were made with ours but can be done in any blending device!

Berry lollies

  • 100g frozen mixed summer fruits/berries
  • 2 tbsp thick plain or soya yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup.

Banana and strawberry lollies

  • 2 medium bananas
  • 12 strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons thick plain or soya yoghurt.

Chocolate lollies

Because of Kian’s lactose intolerance, for these I simply mixed chocolate soya milk in a large cup with chocolate soya yoghurt and poured it into the moulds!

The kids loved all of these and I’m going to carry on throwing whatever fruit we have into the blender and making these healthy Summer time treats for them to enjoy. It’s a great way to get more vitamins into their little bodies and I don’t have to worry about damaging their teeth either!

Love from Leyla