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Food for Living Newsletter - Issue 11

February 1, 2024 10:47 pm
posted by Lucy

Dear All,

My Healthy Eating Spring schedule at Thompson’s Farm Shop and Brennans in Cork is starting to fill up so take a look at the What’s coming Up section of the website and book fast on

I hope you’ve been up to some great cooking. More and more evidence is pointing towards a plant based diet (fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes) in terms healthy eating and disease prevention, however it is important to maintain a good variety in your daily and weekly eating pattern. Therefore adding 2-3 servings of fish (especially oily fish) and 2-3 meat can be beneficial. This week I’m covering one of the leanest forms of meat…

Healthy Eating with Chicken

Chicken is an incredibly versatile ingredient and can be so tasty when cooked well. For those who are trying to cut back on their saturated fat intake (which have been linked to increased rates of heart disease and cancer), lean chicken is considered more of a healthy eating option, especially chicken with its skin removed - I always prefer chicken cooked with the skin on and then removed after cooking. Removing the skin from chicken can half its saturated fat content - helping with healthy meals.

Chicken is an excellent source of protein, especially a protein called tryptophan which can help with mood and sleep and Niacin (Vitamin B3) which assists the body process fats and stabilise blood sugar levels. It is also a good source of selenium, a major antioxidant.

It is hard to mention chicken without mentioning trying to buy free range or organic chickens, or chicken from a well known source. Commercially reared chickens have been linked with heavy antibiotic use, hormone use and inhumane conditions and make up 68% of the chickens reared in Ireland. Organicaly reared chicken must be allowed to roam, given organic feed and are given minimal chemical interventions. It is important to know that free range simply means that must given certain access to open space but not necessarily that they are given organic feed.

When buying chicken, if you can touch it, it should be pliable when pressed. The skin should be opaque and not spotted. Also be careful if every purchasing frozen chicken that there are no ice deposits or freezer burn.

When storing chicken, keep it in the fridge in its packaging. Do not remove it from packaging until you are ready to use it and make sure the packaging is not leaking before putting it into fridge. It can keep for 2-3 days in the fridge -always check the use by date if it has one.

Chicken can be cooked in so many ways - a lovely roast chicken for Sunday lunch with heaps of roast veggies, stir fried with Asian greens, marinated in herbs and placing under the grill or simply cooking in a stew. During the winter months I find I use chicken a lot in stews and always cook it on the bone, with the skin on, leaving it moist and tasty. If you are stewing for a while, seal first to keep in the juices flavours.

Healthy Recipes

When I’m eating chicken, I generally try to add some sort of legume to it in order to increase the fibre and carbohydrate content of the meal. Simply eating chicken in a sandwich or with potatoes rarely provides you with enough fibre to satisfy you for long.

Healthy eating recipes: Chicken, thyme and barley stew

I’ve really got into barley this winter. Its so easy to add to soups and stews to bulk or thicken them - similar to what you do with potato but barely is considered a wholegrain. This dish can be cooked in the one pot and can be served by itself with a sprinkling of chopped parsley or coriander. Serves 4

4 chicken thighs
100g yellow split peas (or lentils)
150g/ pearl barely
1 litre of chicken stock (see health tip below)
2 onions, chopped
2 medium leeks
6 springs of thyme
4 medium carrots
4 small handfuls of Kale, about 50g/2oz (left over from last week!)
A little peanut oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Place the barely and split peas to soak in a little water while you are preparing all of the ingredients.
Heat a little peanut oil in a large pan and place 2 chicken thighs in at a time, sealing on all sides. The oil is ready when you hear a sizzle when you place the chicken in.
Place the sealed chicken in a bowl to the side.
Add the chopped onions and a little water and cook for 5 mins. Then add leeks and cook for another 5 mins. I usually stir quiet well so I can capture any bits of browned meat on the bottom of the pan.
Drain and give a good wash to the soaking barley and split peas.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the onions and leeks, including the sealed chicken, carrots, thyme, barley, split peas, pepper and chicken stock.
Bring to boil and then allow to simmer for around 40 mins or until the split peas are cooked.
Just before serving add the kale, stir through and season with a little salt and pepper if needed.

Chicken Stock

You’ll have plenty of bones left over from the stew above. You may also decide to roast up a chicken over the weekend after reading all these great things about it and you’ll have plenty of bones and the carcass from this.

I used to think making my own stock is a big deal and extremely time consuming! However, I started to notice that as I bought more chicken on the bone (which I find tastier and a little more nutritious) and cooked more dishes with chicken on the bone, I always had left over chicken bones. All I do is chuck these into a large saucepan and throw whatever happens to be in my fridge at the time. I usually add 1 carrot, 1-2 onions, a stick or two of celery, a few peppercorns, a few bay leafs and any herbs I have at the time.

The important thing with making your own stock at home is once you have all of the ingredients in the saucepan, cover with cold water (never hot) and put on a low heat. Sometimes it can take up to half an hour to come to the boil, and let simmer away for about 30-40 minutes after this.

Allow to cool slightly, drain in a sieve and put in fridge for a few days or mark and date it and put into freezer - easy.

Health Tip: You’ll probably notice that I rarely, if ever, use stock cubes for my soups or stews. I generally try to use water with a mixture of spices, herbs or other sauces to flavour my dishes rather than bought stock cubes. I would rather season a dish and have control the ingredients rather than buying stock cubes which generally contain a high amount of salt, vegetables oils or even MSG (go and read your packets now). I have given a recipe above for chicken stock, but you could easily do this with lamb bones or just a bunch of left over veggies.

If you have to buy stock cubes, I’ve done a bit of research and could not find one brand stock cube or granules that are exceptable in terms of ingredients - all brands have salt or vegetable oils as their top ingredient, or most contained MSG - none of which are needed for stock. The only brand I found that was ok was a Knorr Simply Stock Chicken which is a liquid stock. So if you have to use this one.

Resource: OK, you might consider this quite sad, but I just love this website - the name alone should give it away!! It give you inforamtion on almost every type of fruit and vegetable in terms of healthy eating, what counts as a cut or portion size and recipe ideas.

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