Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Information for healthy lifestyle habits

How and why I’ve changed my drinking habits

alcohol drinking habits

How and why I’ve changed my drinking habits

Firstly, I want to be clear that I’m only talking about changing alcohol drinking habits and NOT alcohol addiction.  Alcohol addiction is a serious condition that requires specialist medical advice, which I’m not qualified to comment on.

Also, I don’t want anyone to think this is some sort of prudish, judgmental post about people who drink alcohol.  I love alcohol but I think it is necessary for us all to be aware of the health implications and make informed decisions about our drinking habits.

Humans have enjoyed alcohol for centuries from the ancient Egyptians to the Victorians.   Our love of alcohol hasn’t changed in modern society.

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed drinking alcohol.  My first experiences of alcohol were one or two glasses of cider or Pomagne at teenage parties.  As I grew older and started frequenting pubs and bars, I moved on to trying as many different drinks as I could!.

Growing up in the ’80’s, I was bombarded with advertisements from Babycham, Martini Rosso and Cinzano which aimed to glamorize alcohol (do you remember the ads with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins?).

These advertisements portrayed alcohol as decadent, luxurious and grown up.  Drinking these drinks was something to aspire to – it’s amazing the power of advertising! (separate rant – this is why we need regulations on how we advertise to children).

My student years were spent enjoying as many different drinks as possible.  Once I started work however,  drinking alcohol became more of an occasional treat, reserved for a weekend meet up with friends in the pub.

Buying alcohol from supermarkets become more popular in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, with people drinking increasingly in their homes.  It became the ‘norm’ to have a glass of wine with your meal at the weekend.  Now, I think most people see it as the ‘norm’ to have a glass of alcohol every night with their meal.

In many families juggling work, childcare and domestic chores, parents see the evening glass of wine as their treat to help them unwind and relax.  Sound familiar?

I know this was a habit that had developed in our household and for a long time I didn’t think twice about it.

So, what affect does drinking alcohol have on our health?

The Pros

  • there are studies that suggest that moderate, responsible wine consumption can lower overall health risks associated with cardio vascular disease.  However this benefit is only relevant for people of middle age or older and only has a small protective benefit.
  • In the Blue Zone areas of the world, particularly Sardinia, the inhabitants enjoy a glass of wine with friends every evening.  Blue Zones are renowned for the longevity and health of their inhabitants, so it could be argued there is a link between their health and drinking alcohol.

The Cons

Unfortunately there appear to be far more cons than pros:-

  • alcohol is perceived by our bodies as a poison.  Prolonged use can therefore seriously damage our liver, causing cirrhosis and liver failure.  It can also damage the pancreas, causing bouts of pancreatitis.
  • alcohol affects our brains, messing with our judgement, reactions and impulses.  This is why it’s illegal to drink and drive a car.
  • alcohol impacts our sleep patterns.  New research is showing that a lack of sleep can have serious implications on our general health.
  • alcohol can cause osteoporosis, making bones thinner and weakened.
  • alcohol can weaken heart function.
  • alcohol generally increases our risk of cancer, particularly breast, bowel, liver, mouth and throat.
  • alcohol consumption during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, the baby having a low birth weight, learning or behavioural difficulties.  Drinking heavily through pregnancy can result in a serious condition called foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
  • alcohol can affect your mood and lead to depression, anxiety or anger.

(source: http://www.drinkaware.co.uk)

 

Why I’ve changed my drinking habit

I’m sorry for the long list of doom and gloom regarding alcohol.  Whilst I was aware of some of these health implications,  I had never really considered my daily glass of wine could be playing havoc with my health.  It’s only as I have grown older that I’ve begun noticing alcohol having a more direct affect on my day to day health.

Some of my readers will be aware that I suffer from arthritis.  Over the last year, I’ve noticed that wine seems to increase the pain and swelling in my joints.  I’m also at the dreaded menopausal age when hot flushes, brain fog and a tendency to gain weight can kick in.  I’ve again noticed that alcohol can have an impact on these symptoms.

Lastly and most importantly, I’m concerned at the link from drinking alcohol to an increased risk of breast cancer.  As my mother is a breast cancer survivor, I know genetically I may be at increased risk.  Drinking alcohol could increase my risk further, but this is something I can control and change.

How I changed my drinking alcohol habit

Now, as I mentioned earlier having a glass of wine (or other alcohol) with our evening meal had become a regular habit.

The problem with regular habits is that they become very ingrained within the brain.

Simplistically, habits are formed when the brain is provided with a cue (in our case our evening meal).  This then triggers the routine i.e. a glass of wine.  Our brain then enjoys the reward of feeling relaxed by the release of dopamine as we enjoy our wine.  Eventually,  the loop of cue, routine, reward becomes automatic and we do it without thinking about it at all.

The cue and reward triggers become so intertwined, that we begin to have a sense of anticipation and even craving to get to the cue i.e. dinnertime and our expected reward – the enjoyment from the glass of wine.  (source: The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg).

 

Have you had that craving during the day to just get to ‘wine o’clock’?  Thankfully, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are an alcoholic, but just that your brain has become addicted to your evening habit and reward.

Unfortunately, trying to break this loop is really tough at first, as we have to re-train our brains.  Now, in my opinion brains are a bit like toddlers.  If you say “no” or change their routine, they have a complete melt down and a tantrum.  If you persist with the new routine, eventually they stop fighting it and adapt to the change.

Our brains are exactly the same.  When we tell our brain it can’t have a glass of wine every night, it fights back really hard and makes us crave wine even more! (most of us experience the same with food).  But, with time and by replacing wine with another routine, it begins to accept this change.  The time it takes to achieve a change in habits can vary from individual to individual and on the type of habit being changed.  A general rule is anywhere between 21 days to 8 months but research suggests the average time is usually about 66 days to begin to see a true change.

So, just prior to Christmas 2017, I decided I wanted to change my alcohol drinking habit.  I knew it would be tough over Christmas and New Year, so I just started slowly by only having a drink every other night.

Then in the New Year I went to not having any alcohol from Monday to Wednesday, slowly increasing this to Monday to Friday.  These days, I go weeks without having any alcohol and amazingly I really don’t miss it.

Another trick I tried during the Christmas period, was to replace my alcohol drinking habit with low alcohol and alcohol free drinks such as Eisberg Wine and low alcohol G & T’s.  Many of these drinks are much better than they were 5 or 10 years ago.

One of the biggest hurdles I’ve found though has been social expectations when I go out.  It does feel very odd not drinking alcohol when we go to the pub with friends or for a meal in a restaurant.  Usually people assume you must be driving but if they know that’s not the case, you do get some strange looks and raised eyebrows.  Also the shadow of the marketing of the 80’s means I don’t feel very grown up if I’m not drinking alcohol.

The benefits of  changing my alcohol drinking habit

Since reducing my alcohol consumption I have noticed improvements to my general, everyday health namely:-

  • I sleep much better and don’t wake up from hot flushes
  • I feel like I have much more energy
  • I’ve noticed I am more patient and far less snappy and short tempered with the kids
  • I find I can concentrate better and have far less brain fog days
  • I have less joint pain
  • I may have lost weight but I don’t tend to weigh myself very often, so I’m not sure.
  • My skin certainly looks better with less fine wrinkles and dryness.  Alcohol is known to dehydrate skin and strip skin of nutrients.  It probably helps that I’m drinking more water now (instead of that glass of wine with dinner!)
  • it’s also saving me money!

My conclusion on changing my alcohol drinking habits

Overall, I feel much better for reducing my alcohol consumption.  I still enjoy alcohol every now and again.  Certainly whilst on holiday I reverted to having a glass of wine most nights with dinner.  I haven’t re-trained my brain completely from enjoying the taste of alcohol.

However, I think my brain is beginning to appreciate how much better it feels for not having alcohol and that has become it’s new reward.

Whilst, I don’t want you to see this article as a “you should do this” argument, I would suggest that if you think you have become stuck in an alcohol drinking routine that may be affecting your everyday health, perhaps you can experiment with seeing how you feel if you change your habit.  There are several challenges around the world such as Dry January, Dry July, Sober October which you could join in to get you started.

Unfortunately, the downsides of alcohol drinking are rather numerous and can have huge implications for our health, so I believe it is in our benefit to kick the habit if we can!

If you enjoyed this article or think a friend may enjoy it,  please like and share it on social media.

You can also sign up for our free New Leaf Newsletter here to receive regular updates and tips and inspiration to make healthy habit changes.

 

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5 Quick tricks to help you eat less and this week’s meal plan

 

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quick tricks to help you eat less

5 Quick tricks to help you eat less

Over the summer my food intake has certainly increased.  All those little treats you allow yourself because “you’re on holiday” can soon become an everyday habit.

The problem with small increases in food intake is that they soon add up and you begin putting on weight, especially if you’re not moving more to compensation – me completely!

However, the same is true if you make small decreases here and there in your food intake.  Over time these changes help to reduce any possible weight gain and could even help you reduce weight.

Of course, you could make a radical change i.e. drastic diet and probably see some immediate results.  The problem with this strategy is that we usually can’t sustain it and invariably slip back into our old habits.  This is why drastic diets never work long term.

So, I recommend implementing a few simple tweaks to your eating habits to get you started.  These are changes that are hardly noticeable in your day to day life but they soon become everyday habits that you do without thinking.

1. Change your plate size

Dinner plates have been getting bigger and bigger.  Some plates, particularly in restaurants can measure up to 12″/30cms.  Change your plate size to no bigger than 10″/25cms.  This small change could reduce your food intake over a year by 22% (source: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think – Dr Brian Wansink)

If you want to really reduce your food intake then you could try using a side plate, which usually measure around 8″/20cms.

The reason this small change works is because you are tricking your brain into thinking you are still enjoying a full portion of food.

Small portions of food on a large plate make you feel as if you are depriving yourself.  However, the same portion of food on a small plate looks larger and your brain feels more satisfied that it’s eating a full size meal.

2. Fill half your plate with vegetables first

When you are dishing food out onto your plate, fill half the plate first with salad or vegetables.  The other half of the plate should be a quarter of protein and a quarter of carbohydrates, with a small portion of healthy fats.

If half your plate is already stacked with salad or vegetables you will automatically reduce the amount of foods you place on the other half.  This is a really important trick to use at ‘all you can eat buffets’ or carveries if you are dining out.

3. Change the colour of your plates

Research suggests that when we use white plates, foods such as popular carbohydrates like rice, pasta and potatoes become lost against the white background.  This increases the chances of overloading our plates with these foods as we find it harder to judge our portion size.

If you pick a coloured plate, particularly green or blue, the contrast against the ‘white’ carbohydrates helps you assess your portion size.  Conversely, green vegetables don’t stand out so well on blue and green plates so you pile these portions higher – a healthy result!.

I’m currently using these plates from  Mason Cash:

4. Make healthy foods in the home prominent

I’ve talked about this before in my super size challenge post

 

Make your fruit bowl visible and accessible – either on your kitchen worktop or your dinner table.  Whenever you are feeling peckish or if you are in a rush to go out, you are much more likely to pick up a piece of fruit.

To make this work though you also need to hide away the cookie jar and unhealthy snacks.  The harder it is to see and access them, the less you will choose them.  If you are really struggling with sugar cravings, I would go so far as to say don’t even have them in the house.  Temptation is everywhere outside our homes.  Human beings have limited amounts of willpower.  The best place to control your environment is in your home.  Reduce all the temptations in this zone so that you only need to rely on your willpower once you leave the house.

5. Drink more water

Often we crave food simply because we are dehydrated.  It’s really important to drink plenty of water throughout the day.

When we are dehydrated we feel weak and fatigued and are much more likely to cave into the temptations of unhealthy food.

The NHS recommends we should drink about 6-8 glasses of liquids or 1.2 litres per day.  This can include water, low fat milk and sugar free drinks like tea and coffee.

Invest in a beautiful water bottle to keep with you at all times, particularly on your desk at work.   Work out how much water your bottle holds and then how many refills you need to maintain your recommended 1.2 litres.  Pop a rubber band around your bottle for each refill you require.  Each time you refill your bottle, you can remove a band.  This will help you keep on track with your goal each day.

This week’s meal plan:

  • Balsamic and green bean salad with salmon and sweet potato wedges
  • Roast Pork with a pistachio stuffing, vegetables and roast potatoes
  • Breaded chicken fillets and salad
  • Chilli con carne
  • Spicy stir fried pork with rice (left overs from roast)
  • Indian chicken curry and rice
  • Chicken pie, mashed potatoes and vegies

 

Wishing you all a wonderful week.  Don’t forget to hop on over to my Facebook Page or Instagram page and let me know what changes you are making to your everyday habits.

You can also sign up for my regular New Leaf Newsletter here to receive up date information, recipes and tips.

 

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Everyday healthy habits I try to do

Do you often feel frazzled and exhausted?

Do you suffer from brain fog?

Are you searching for some ideas for healthy habits to help calm you day?

Why not check out whether these habits help:-

 

everyday healthy habits

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Everyday healthy habits I try to do

I think we all know the importance of habits in our everyday lives.  Habits can effect whether we live healthy, happy lives or lives that are plagued with bad choices.  Some habits are so ingrained, often we don’t even realise we are doing them.   I’ve been working recently on establishing the healthy habits I think help me live a more balanced life.  I will then tackle the bad habits that I probably need to change – that’s a post for another day!

So, here are some of my everyday healthy habits:-

1. On waking

When I’m having my cup of tea in bed (see my school morning routine here) I prepare for the day ahead.  I usually mentally work out my to-do list for the day.  I then prioritise around 3 to 4  items that I know really need to be completed  – anything else that gets done is a bonus.

I also consider who I am likely to interact with during the day and decide how I will handle any discussions/meetings I may have with them.

I try to perceive whether there will be any difficulties with my to-do list and think about how best I can deal with them.  However, I try not to get too bogged down in negative thoughts about what could go wrong.  I prefer to focus mainly on positive outcomes.  My mum always says ” if you use positive problem solving to prepare for the worst – then hopefully it won’t happen!”.

2. Exercise habits

I’ll be perfectly honest and own up to the fact that I’m not good at prioritising exercise into my day.

I do try to find time first thing in the morning to walk the dog.  Dogs are great motivators to get us out!

If like me, you struggle with an exercise routine,  perhaps you could walk to work/school or anywhere on your commute?  The other option is to try and get out for a walk at lunch time.  (You can check out the benefits of walking as exercise here)

As much as possible I try to do a home work out of say Hiit or yoga as well.  I have signed up to regularly classes in the past and whilst these have helped, it’s inevitable that something crops up and I miss the class.  I then get frustrated that I have wasted money.  I suspect I will dip back into this form of exercise, as it does help keep me accountable but it’s difficult when you have kids.



3. Tackling the to-do list

Like most mums, I end up spending much of my time trying to multi task.  Research shows that this  is actually not a very effective use of our brains.

If I spend too long multi tasking, I begin to feel frustrated and anxious.  This is probably because I’m not really completing tasks sufficiently to cross them off my to-do list.

I’ve now started setting a timer on my phone and/or breaking my time down into blocks to allocate to certain tasks.  This really helps me to focus my mind on the job and stop procrastinating.  By the end of the task I usually feel more energised as I’ve actually completed something.  Also my brain doesn’t feel so scattered and confused.

Another tip, is to work out what time of the day you feel at your most energised and focused.  For me it is definitely the mornings when I’m fuelled with coffee! I know some people who love getting up super early (my husband) to get stuff done, whilst others prefer to work into the night (my brother).

4. Try to eat healthy and drink lots of water

I think we are all trying to do this habit, some are just better at it than others!.

I go by the 80:20 rule (eating healthy for 80% of the time, lapsing 20%)  and balance.  I try to eat healthy as much as possible.  To me this means eating lots of fruit and vegetables, trying to avoid overly processed foods and watching my portion sizes.  However, I’m not into banning sugar completely from my life, eliminating food groups or never eating fish and chips.   It’s important to find a healthy eating plan that works best for you and your lifestyle.

I’m also trying really hard to drink more water through the day.  I’ve noticed I have less brain fog when I achieve this habit.

Whilst it’s not technically an everyday habit, I do firmly believe in weekly meal planning.  By looking at my meal plan in the morning, I can take out the necessary meat or items from the freezer required for our evening meal.  Then, I don’t need to think about what we are going to eat until I come to prepare it that night.  This removes a huge amount of stress and extra planning from the day.



5. Do something kind or helpful for others

As a mother and a wife this kind of comes with the job description!  However, I do try to throw in a few other acts of kindness – maybe helping a relative or friend, or complimenting a complete stranger, opening the door for someone and smiling as much as possible!   Apparently, acts of kindness to others helps to improve our own feelings of self worth.

5. Read something!

I’m a huge reading fan.  I usually read for about half an hour before I go to sleep.  I find this really helps to calm my mind.  I also snatch 10 minutes here and there in the day – having my morning cup of tea, waiting for appointments, waiting at school pick up etc.

There’s so much reading material available in the world, that no matter your interests I’m sure you will find something to read about.  Reading helps to relax the brain, spark creativity, teach new skills, inform and explain our life and world.



6. Enjoy moments of complete quiet

This one is especially important to me.  In a house with 4 boys I find I really need little pockets of pure quiet now and again to just recoup and regroup my mind.   It might just be 10 minutes whilst I put the washing on, but just that little escape from all the noise of life really helps to keep my brain calmer.

7.  I always try to find things in my day to be grateful for

For me this is mostly observing things in my environment that cheer me up –  something in nature that I’ve seen on my morning walk, the kids being funny, or the way the sunlight dances on the wall.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not some overly cheerful person.  When it’s cold and pouring with rain or there’s a problem to sort, I really struggle to find anything to be grateful for.  But it’s at these times that we need to focus on something to be grateful for to stop ourselves sliding into negativity.

 

A few other things I would like to do regularly but don’t always manage

Strenuous exercise

I really struggle to find time to fit in a good cardio or weight bearing exercise block.  I know I need to and it makes my body feel good when I do it but committing time to it is always a struggle for me.  It’s something I’m continually working on.

Review my day

I know it would be helpful (in the same way that I prepare for the day ahead) to review the end of my day.  Reflecting on what I have achieved, what’s been good about my day, would probably be a useful habit to implement.  However (I suspect like many of you) I just fall into bed exhausted and forget to complete this habit.

Have a regular bedtime

Wow – that sounds so old and boring doesn’t it!

But, I really do need my regular 7-8 hours of sleep, and science is now proving how important sleep is for all aspects of our lives such as weight loss and mental health.

I usually head to bed between 10-11 pm, have a read for half an hour and then hope to sleep through until the alarm goes off.  It doesn’t always work – why is it that we seem to wake at 4am?

Without proper sleep though I can struggle with my mood, feel lethargic and unproductive and stray from my healthy eating habits.

 

So, that’s it.  These are the everyday habits I try to include into my day.  I’d love to hear any suggestions about the habits you do each day that help you live a healthier life.  Comment below or hop over to my facebook page or Instagram page.

 

I hope you have a fabulous weekend and week ahead.

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P.S Don’t forget to sign up for my Newletter for regularly updates, news and views.

 

 

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6 Healthy eating holiday tips and this week’s meal plan

6 healthy eating holiday tips

6 Healthy eating holiday tips

I absolutely love holidays.  They’re a great time to relax, enjoy time with loved ones, explore new places and enjoy food!!!

When on holiday though,  the last thing you want to do is restrict what you eat and drink.   However, I believe that by making a few simple little tweaks here and there to your food choices you can still stay on track with your healthy goals.  Here’s my 6 holiday tips:-

1. Enjoy Breakfast

If you are staying in a half board or bed and breakfast hotel then make the most of the breakfast on offer.  You’ve got the whole of the rest of the day to burn this food off, plus you’ve paid for it up front!

If you are self catering, make sure you eat a healthy breakfast to start the day off right – lots of fresh fruit, yogurts, eggs and maybe a croissant or two!

2. Eat a light lunch

If you’ve eaten a big breakfast, then only eat a very light lunch.  A salad, or some fresh fruit should keep you going.  Obviously, children will need more – mine are always starving no matter how big a breakfast they’ve had.

3. Do some exercise

Try to do some exercise.  Get out and explore your holiday destination by walking as much as possible.  Use the pool or sea to set yourself a swimming challenge each day.  Spend time playing with the kids – tag, table tennis, cricket or tennis if available.

4. Keep track of your drinks

It’s easy whilst on holiday to drink more beer, cocktails, wine and even sugary, fizzy drinks.  Whilst, it’s important to enjoy your holiday, these extra calories do add up.  Just try to alternative your drinks with lots of water.  Tea and coffee is also fine but preferably without any added sugar.

5. Listen to your body

When your body says it’s FULL – stop eating!

Yes, I know there are lots of temptations to carrying on eating but you really will feel better for listening to your body.  Filling up on the “all you can eat” buffet before bed will affect your sleep as your body thinks it needs to digest all that food instead of resting.

6. When eating out try some healthy swaps like the ones in this chart:-

 

 

If you want some more ideas about changing and making new habits check out this post HERE

This week’s meal plan:-

  • Cumin and garlic fish with salsa and creamy potato bake
  • Mexican chilli chicken and rice
  • Satay pork and oven baked turmeric rice
  • Quiche and salad
  • Sweet chilli chicken stir fry with noodles
  • Thai turkey burgers and salad

 

I hope you all have a wonderful week and if you are off on holiday soon, have a great time!.  I will be having a little break from the meal plan posts whilst I’m on my holidays.

Don’t forget to sign up for my regular newsletter for updates and recipes from this site.

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My school morning routine and this week’s meal plan

My School Morning Routinemy school morning routine

One of the biggest obstacles to eating healthy is usually time.  Many families in the UK sacrifice breakfast because they say they just don’t have time.

Dutch kids are some of the happiest in the world and research has concluded that one of the reasons is because they have a family breakfast together.

Now, I don’t want this blog post to come across as smug and righteous but I do believe that 1) kids need breakfast and 2) if you stick to a routine you can find time.  Ironically, I hate routines but once you have kids you just have to start adopting them, otherwise nothing gets done.

Getting six people ready in the mornings has become a bit of a military exercise in our house, so I thought I would share with you what we do.  Hopefully our routine may help you work out a plan for your mornings.

6.oo am – Our alarm goes off

6.10 am – We are lucky that usually only one of us has to leave the house to do the school run so that person hops in the shower.  The other parent will then go downstairs to let the dog and cats out for a pee, give the dog breakfast, lay the table for breakfast, probably empty the dishwasher from the night before, make a cup of tea!

6.30 – 7.00 am – We enjoy a cup of tea in bed!  If we both have to leave the house though, the other parent will jump in the shower during this time.

7.00 am – Wake the kids up and get their breakfast orders!  Hubby and I then get breakfast ready.  Mealtimes in our crazy house can often resemble a café with 6 different orders.  Usually there are combinations of eggs (boiled/scrambled), toast, fruit, yogurt, granola, cereal and COFFEE!!!

We usually eat breakfast together around 7.15/7.20am, assuming the kids have fallen out of bed.

7.30 am The two younger kids get dressed into their school uniform.  I pack their school lunches, school bags and games bags ready to leave.  (I usually prepare their packed lunch and sort out their uniform and PE stuff the night before).

7.40am  Everyone’s in the car and off to school!

Once everyone’s gone this gives the remaining parent time to tidy up breakfast and maybe sneak in some exercise!

Obviously our routine probably won’t work for you but once you find one that fits your lifestyle it does make life easier in the mornings.

Some other tips that might work for your routine: lay the breakfast table the night before, prepare a takeaway breakfast to eat on your commute or when you get to work.  Getting teenage kids to eat breakfast is usually impossible so I try to provide them with some snacks to take with them to eat at break-time, which is when they’ve usually woken up sufficiently enough to feel hungry.

I hope you find this insight into our routine helpful.  Do you already have a morning routine that incorporates breakfast?  I’d love to know what your routine is – tell me in the comments below, on Facebook or on Instagram.

This week’s meal plan:-

  1. BBQ marinated chicken fillets and BBQ corn on the cob, courgettes, tomatoes and roasted baby potatoes
  2. Paprika pork steaks, Portobello mushrooms, sweet potato wedges and pineapple coleslaw.
  3. Curried turkey and vegetable pie with salad
  4. Creamy chicken and tomato pasta
  5. Spicy beef burgers with salad

 

I hope you have a super week.  Why not sign up to the New Leaf Newsletter here to get regular updates, recipes and articles.

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