A-Z of low cal heroes

Low calorie (and low carb) foods that I rely on when I’m watching the calories and carbs eg on the 5:2 or Fast 800 approaches.  Inspired by my friend Helen’s A-Z of  Scottish Dancing, here’s my list of foods I find help me enjoy cooking and eating this way.

A- Anchovies.  Yes, those wee fish you find on pizzas.  A few snipped into a salad add a real salty tang, as well as a hit of protein.


B- Bovril.  Although I don’t eat meat I’m not a strict vege (or pesce-) tarian, and a mug of Bovril is very satisfying when hunger pangs strike. A 12g spoonful is 17 cals, and 4g of protein.


C- Cottage cheese.  A useful non-egg breakfast, I like a spoonful of this with radishes, cucumber or tomato, and a sprinkle of za’atar (see later)


D- dulse.  This dried seaweed is a bit of an Irish seaside tradtion, but Belfast wans can get it in Sawyers or greengrocers. Chewy and salty with a hint of the ocean, it packs a few useful vitamins as well,  Try it as an alternative to nori or other seaweeds in miso soup (see later) or a Bhudda Bowl.


E – eggplant, or aubergine.  Very useful in making dips like baba ganosh, or cut into steaks and spread with miso (see later) paste as a “steak”.  Essential element of ratatouille, or as caponata.


F- Frozen berries.  I try not to have too much fruit, but once a week or so I’ll make overnight oats or chia pots.  Mixed berries keep well in the freezer, and are ideal for this.  If added to the dish the night before they will have defrosted by morning.

G – Greek Yoghurt.  There is always a vigourous debate on social media about the “best” or “right” Greek yoghurt to get, unsurprising given the wide variety of natural, plain, Greek, Greek-style, Skyr etc available.  Check the label, avoid extra additives,  and don’t go for low-fat.


H – Herbal teas.  I surf through the day on water (see later) black coffee, and herbal teas,  I keep a little “lucky dip” carousel at work, but the Yogi Choc flavour is heavenly when you need a hit of chocolate.


I – Itsu brand.  Miso soup (see later) is a great standby for light lunches or quick pick-m-ups.  I like this brand, at 21 cals per sachet.


J – jackfruit.  As a not-quite-vegetarian, I’m always on the lookout for ways to add more variety.  Jackfruit, available in cans, make a good sturdy textured addition to curries and stews.


K – Konjac noodles.  Substiture noodles, pasta and rice made from konjac root are sold under names like Slim or Naked.  They are not to everyone’s taste, some say they taste like rubber bands, and can have a  fishy odour when the sachet is opened, but when well rinsed they can have the right look and feel.

L – lemon and lime.  Always in my fridge, add a slice of either to hot or cold water, squeeze over salads or in stirfries.  Keep some wedges in the freezer to add instead of an ice cube to cold drinks.

M – miso soup.  You can buy sachets to which you just add hot water, or make your own with miso paste.  I like to make a “fully loaded” version with thinly sliced mushooms, cubes of tofu, beansprouts, spring onions, and a sprinkle of dulse (see above).

N – nuts.  Useful for ading a wee bit of protein, though not as much as some people believe.  Cashews are great in stir fries, walnuts are lovely with a bit of blue cheese, and almonds have a satisfying crunch.

O – Olive oil.  The best oil to use.  I also use coconut oil, and locally grown rapeseed.

P – prawns. These pack an amazing protein to calorie ratio, are great hot or cold, in spicy dishes or in cool salads.  I try to keep frozen raw prawns as a freezer standby, they can be defrosting under cold running water.

Q – quinoa. I cut right back on cereals and grains, but quinoa has protein content as well, and cooks in 15 mintues.

R – rainbow.  Eat the rainbow!  Aim to get a range of colourful foods, like beetroot, peppers, courgettes, cauliflower, tomatoes.


S – spices are key to maing food tasty.  And don’t underestimate the importance of Sleep.

T – Trout, Tuna, Tofu.  Great protein sources.  I prefer smoked trout to salmon, it is tastier and has slightly fewer calories.


U – Un-alcoholic drinks.  Ok I know that’s not a real word!  There’s a great many not-gins on the market at the minute, add a frozen lime wedge and a diet tonic to a large glass and you’ll not feel you are missing out at all.


V- vegetables.  Eat lots of them, especially those that grow above the ground.  Spinach, pak choi, broccoli, mushrooms, and salad veg like tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, are always in my veg drawer.  And onions!  But no potatoes.

W – water. Drink lots of water.  I aim for 2l a day, and try to keep a bottle by me at all times.  First thing in the morning, start with a  large glass.

X – F.U.N.E.X? S, V.F.X.  So goes the old Two Ronnies sketch, and S, I always have a plentiful supply of X.  I go for large free-range, local if possible.  I probably eat at least one a day, love a quick scramble with whatever veggies are about for breakfast.  My Sunday standard breakfast is a soft boiled egg with asparagus dippers, and I usually boil a couple of extras to have during the week.  I’ll also whip up a a batch of fritattas with eggs, cheese, and veg – spinach, cooked cauli, spring onions, roast peppers, olives.  They make a handy portable late breakfast to have at work, and can be frozen.


Y – Yukata, is another brand I like for miso soups, sushi ginger, and other Asian ingredients.


Z – za-atar, one of my favourite spice mixes to sprinkle on scrambled egg, soups, or cottage cheese.


Home Alone Cooking 7: 5:2 noodles

I used to be very good at following the 5:2 way of eating, but have got out of the habit lately. However, the mental attitude of KNOWING that I can get through a day on less than 500 calories makes it pretty easy.  I tend to base low-cal meals around fish and veg, and whilst they are not to everyone’s taste, I don’t mind these konjac slim noodles, which are around 10 cals for a whole packet.

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I had the rest of my smoked salmon to finish, and there was still plenty of veg in the drawer, include these cute mini-peppers.

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I rinsed and dry fried the noodles, and set them to one side,

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while I sauteed the veggies in lemon juice and tamari, with a splash of water.  To be honest, I didn’t cook them for long enough, as they were still very crunchy in the finished dish.

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I stirred the noodles back in, and added the smoked salmon in shreds, as well as more lemon juice. I get through a lot of lemons!

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Result – a big satisfying bowl for around 150 calories.

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5:2 recipes – Quick Quorn Supper

Frozen quorn fillets are a must-have in the 5:2 faster’s freezer – 45 calories each, and ready in minutes, they are packed with protein, low calorie and low carb.

I made this hearty bowl of broth with 2 fillets, which I simmered in a vegetable stock cube for added flavour.  Added about 6 stems of broccoli and 6 chestnut mushrroms, cut into chunks.  These are so low in calories that you don’t need to be too precise about the amounts.  Just before the 12 minute simmering time was up, I added in 2 fillets of anchovy for an extra kick.  But you could omit this for a vegetarian version.  I cut the quorn into bite sized pieces before serving.


In total, the calories were around 150.  You could reduce them further by just using one fillet.

Chive flower salad and vinegar

The chives in my herb planter have been flowering glorious bright puple balls, and I remembered last year discvoering that they were edible.
I’d been doing my first 5:2 fast day in ages, and so I reckoned they would make a pretty addition to a salad.


I rinsed them thoroughly, and drained.

I kept aside 3-4 heads for my salad, and packed the rest into a jar and covered with some warmed-through white balsamic. I will put that away for a few weeks to make a faintly onion-scented dressing.

I diced a granny smith apple and half a cucumber, and let them soak in the remaining balsamic for an hour.
On a plate I arranged:

  • some salad leaves (10)
  • apple (60)
  • cucumber (15)
  • hard boiled egg (75)
  • slice of parma ham (30)
  • A blob of Greek yoghurt (40)

and sprinkle with the individual segments from the chive flowers.  Total calories 230.


I’m interested in what else they can be used for – have you ever seen them in a recipe?


Creamy salmon pasta

The original recipe for this dish comes in at about 400 calories, so I tweaked it by swapping half the pasta for courgette ribbons. Still, 40g spaghetti is a pitifully small amount for 130 calories, and wasn’t really worth it. Next time I’ll use all courgette, or the slim pasta.

I made a sauce by stirring 2 generous tablespoons of Tesco’s healthy living creme fraiche (80 cals) into a scraping of leftover light Philadelphia with cucumber (20 cals). I added the zest and juice of half a lemon, and plenty of black pepper.

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I made courgette ribbons by running a cheese slicer down the length, and then slicing the resulting strips down the middle. One courgette at 150g is 30 cals. I put them to boil with 40g spaghetti.

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Once the pasta was soft enough, I drained it, and stirred in 60g smoked salmon trimmings (130 cals), and then my cream sauce.  I topped the lot with a blob of caviar/ lumpfish roe (10 cals)

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The end result was rather decadent.  I’d definitely do the sauce again! 400 cals, 25g protein, 40g carbs.

5:2 Green Eggs And Ham

Eggs are a key part of my 5:2 meals.  At only 70 calories each, with egg white even less, their versatility and ease of cooking make them a must-have staple in my kitchen.

I made this scramble on a non-fast day, but it would work well on fast days too.  The cheese and avocado can be omitted for even fewer calories.

egg scramble with ham and brocolli


1 cup Leftover cooked broccoli – 30

1 egg – 70

2 egg whites – 30

2 slices ham- 60

1/4 avocado – 40

20g hard cheese – 70

Total: Approx 300 calories and 30g protein.  Low carb.

Chop the brocoli into bite-sized pieces and place in a microwave bowl.  Blast for 30 seconds to warm it through.  In the same bowl add in the chopped avocado, and the ham, torn or cut into small pieces.  Break an egg and 2 egg whites into the bowl, and mix well.  Add some black pepper to taste.  Cook in the microwave for 1 minute, keeping an eye on it and stirring if needed.  Check that it’s solidifying nicely, but not too much.  Dot the cheese in thin slivers over the top, and microwave for a further 30 seconds to melt the cheese.

Spinach would work well in this too, and keep the “green eggs” theme.

5and2: fishy stuff

Really pleased with how my shape is developing – loved picking up some size 8 clothes last weekend. The Bank Holiday Monday was spent with DH downtown, including a rather lovely lunch, so Tuesday became fast day instead. I’d defrosted some of my chicky-leeky soup for dinner, but then husband requested the mussels that we had in the fridge, and they turned out to be very 5:2 friendly.

On Wednesday, I experimented with a recipe that had appeared in the Guardian, shared on the Facebook forum.  It was a roast broccoli and garlic soup.  DH doesn’t really like tomato based soups and sauces, so I’m always keen to try out alternatives.

The ingredients weren’t complicated – broccoli, veg stock, garlic, chilli, lemon.

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Roast the broccoli in the oven for about 20 mins until starting to char. If using garlic cloves, put them in beside the broccoli – I just used ready squeezed garlic in a tube. Blitz in a blender with stock  and chilli (this was the trickiest bit for me, had to try several vessels till I found one that didn’t spurt everything all over the kitchen).  Before serving, add lemon zest and juice.

I thought it was rather nice – DH wasn’t impressed.

On Thursday, I tried going without food as long as possible, but was seduced by a little Graze box.  Only 95 calories! it promised.  So I succumed.  And set off a massive sugar craving, which was hard to control for the rest of the day (lesson learned there!)  I had that chicky-leeky soup for dinner, but the nibbly biscuits I had took me to about 600 calories for the day.

Friday weigh-in – 135, same as last week.  No surprise, no big deal.

Went shopping on Saturday and found a lovely freezer standby – 24 calories per skewer – so 4 skewers is still under 100 cals!  Perfect for keeping in the freezer, ready to serve with a salad on fats days.

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Monday and Thursday again this week, which worked really well.

I’ve been playing with some of the yoghurt-like products, and so my breakfast was fromage frais with berries.  FF is ok, but it tastes a little grainy for me.

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The nutritional content for Fromage Frais, quark, and 0% greek yoghurt is very similar  100g of each gives about 60 calories, 10g protein and 4g carbs, with very little fat.  Differences come into play with the higher fat  or flavoured varieties, but it’s good to experiment nd see which texture and sharpness you like best.

I remembered I had a meeting mid-morning, so I allowed myself some Ryvita and low-low cheese. I’ve switched from rice cakes to Ryvita – although the rice cakes have slightly less calories, (less or fewer?) they are a higher GI food. I skipped lunch – went downtown to return the iPod Shuffle which I’d bought on Sunday but which wasn’t what I needed at all, and also had my now long and strong nails done properly at the Nails Inc stand in Victoria Square.

I’m not a coffee drinker – I only consume it on fast days. Ordered a regular black coffee to go at a cafe, and was astonished at the volume of it! Kept me going till mid-afternoon.

Dinner was with husband – we have GOT to stop buying so much food. We had to eat a couple of breaded cod loin steaks or they’d be thrown out. I scraped most of the coating off mine, and had it with microwaved courgette cubes. Husband had his with a Rice fusions pyramid. Scottish dancing – had one digestive.

Thursday fast – liquids only all day. Lemon water, tea, bouillon, Bovril (I’d forgotten how much I love Bovril!), coffee, ginseng tea, more Bovril….. I ate a satsuma about 4 pm, as I was heading out to the gym later on. When I got home, husband was cooking some fresh pasta parcels stuffed with pine nuts and basil, with a spinach and ricotta sauce. Again, needed to be used before its sell-by. Thank goodness I had plenty of calories to spare – I enjoyed 2 of the delicious pillows with a little sauce, before my treadmill session. Actually, I got a stitch about half way through the run, which may have been from eating too soon beforehand.

Post gym, I made a snack wrap – discovered these new mini wraps at under 100 cals each, which are a sensible size. Spread with a blob of salsa, a handful of spinach, and 50g cooked turkey, it was the perfect post-workout food. I snuggled on the sofa with husband enjoying a diet shandy and feeling really positive.

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My good mood continued on my Friday weigh-in at under 135 pounds, with a bmi now under 25!  And it was really exciting to go shopping on the Saturday, and find that I now fit into a size 8 in many stores.

I intend to continue with the “liquids only as long as poss” approach next week. Bank Holiday Monday, so I may try Tues-Thurs for a change.

5and2: Tuna-shrooms

Another week where I managed to get my fasts in on Monday and Thursday, which is by far my favourite pair. Husband has put on a few pounds, and said he’d like to join me on Monday. I chose a harissa chicken dish from the Hairy Dieters book, but I did it in the oven on roast veg (leek, courgette, mushroom) instead of the buckwheat salad they’d served it with (husband don’t do cold food). The chicken was great and very easy to do – just rub some harissa over chicken breasts and oven cook. They’d have been nicer if they’d had a chance to marinade first. Husband wasn’t really into this calorie counting malarkey, and had a slab of soda bread alongside his, with butter, before pouring himself a vodka. Oh well, at least he’s willing to eat the low-cal meals I make.


I tried an aubergine and haloumi burger with harissa relish mid-week, which he sullenly pushed around on the plate, much to my annoyance.

For my Thursday fast I turned to my low-cal standbys – mushrooms, tuna, and salsa.

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I mixed a small tin of tuna (65 cals) with a good dollop of salsa (30 cals) which was enough to pile into 2 portobellos (50 cals).  I even shaved a few slivers of cheese over the top, before putting in a 200 degree C oven for 20 mins.  Quick, easy and tasty.

I bought today’s Times as it has a pullout section of 5and2 recipes, so I might try some of those over the coming weeks.

Weight stable at 137 pounds, but I’m delighting in my strong nails, which have never looked better!  Maybe a manicure reward when I get to 135….

5:2 Just One Day

I only had one fast day this week: a work conference on Thursday and Friday ruled those days out, and while I COULD have gone for Monday and Wednesday that would have meant sharing no meals with my husband all week. So I did just Tuesday. And thought, I’d better make it a good one!

Up till now, I’ve eased myself in gradually by eating in a very similar way to my normal days.  So that was breakfast, a mid morning snack of cheese on rice cakes, soup and a salad for lunch, something like fruit mid afternoon, and then dinner at 6, with possibly an evening snack.  This week I cut out all the snacks, I’ve dropped the salad from the lunch so it’s now down to an under-50 calorie soup.  I might try to get to the stage where I can do just breakfast and dinner, with a longer fasting period in between.  But making the change gradually has certainly helped.

For dinner I brought together some of my low-cal heroes: portabello mushrooms, a tin of shrimp, spinach, and a tub of salsa.

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The mushrooms are about 25 cals each, half a tin of shrimp is 50 cals, the spinach is negligible, and the salsa – well, I discovered that shop bought salsa varies quite a bit from brand to brand, so the lesson learned is to read the nutrition labels carefully.  This Sainsburys one worked out at about 60 cals for half the tub, but was quite high in sugar.  I cut out the stalks of the mushrooms  and chopped them with the shrimp, spinach and salsa.  I then stuffed the mushrooms with this mixture.

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I baked them in the oven for about 20 minutes.  They were really good, and it’s a versatile dish that would lend itself to different stuffings.  I used the rest of the salsa and shrimp next day in a salad, with the addition of a chopped avocado.

shrimp 005Other progress – down to 139 pounds, and able to fit into my skinny dark green trousers.