Let’s see how I went the week of my experiment creating delicious, healthy, balanced meals. I found this really fun, but also tiring. Getting the copmuter out, to read and follow recipes takes more effort that ‘just winging it’. Worthwhile, sure – because I learnt to trust myself.


1) Creamy French Lentils with Mushroom & Kale 


So this was DELICIOUS. But, I realized I had half the amount of mushrooms (about 175, instead of 425 g). As such it took a bit longer to thicken up. Admittedly, I added 1/3 C of cream, so much for being 100% healthy, opps! The flavour may have benefited from chicken, rather than vegetable stock (but I was cooking for a vegetarian). I also added 1/2 Tsp mixed spice and 1 Tbsp dissolved cornflour to thicken. Then I served with roasties and a touch of grated parmesen. Without the roasties this would easily be 35 minutes. The cost is not bad, French puy lentils are not as cheap as Brown Lentils which would also work fine, then mushrooms. Puy Lentils = $7 (used about 1/3, so $2.5) Mushrooms $6, Saved on Kale usually $4, Extras roughly $3. = $16 serves four so $4/ each. 
Taste – 4.5
Health – 3.5 
Time – 4
Cost – 4
Total: 16/20
Creamy-french-lentils-mushrooms-kale2. Courgette Pasta with smoked salmon


This was also delicious, but the ingredients (rocket, salmon) are expensive – luckily courgettes and avocados are in season but still this was quite a gourmet meal. As you may have noticed, it requires a noodle or spiraliser machine. If you don’t have one – consider it because courgette pasta is beautiful gluten free replacement for pasta. But my cheaper version would just be basil pesto and olives, which is much better on the budget. Zuccinni $4, Samon $8.95 for 150g, Avocado $2, Rocket $3.29 so $18.24 two so $9.12/ each. Easily 36 minutes including prep, but I did slightly overcook the avocado sauce which I personally don’t like, so note in this recipe you only toss that through.
Taste – 4
Health – 5
Time – 5
Cost -2 
Total: 16/20  


 3. 20-Minute Moo Shoo Pork Tacos


Yum, and fairly easy but on second thought I wouldn’t chuck the coleslaw through the cooked pork. It was very saucy, so Mike was getting frustrated eating his tacos as they were falling apart. To be fair the recipe calls for those Western crispy ones not traditional tortillas. I rated it 3.5 and he wanted to rate it 3. Just needed some more lime or zest for x-factor, and actually would have been nicer with rice as a dish. Cost wise, Pork $8.74, Shitake mushrooms $2.99, Coleslaw $3.99, Tortillas $6 (only used half, so $3), Hoisin half jar $2 so total = $20.72 easily would have served 3 or 4 people at a stretch, let’s say $6.90 each.
Taste – 3.5
Health – 4
Time – 3.5
Cost – 3.5
Total: 14.5


4) Steamed Fish & Pak Choy Parcels


The fish was beautiful and fresh. The combination of ginger, bok choy and sauce in these parcels was a little off. Pre-marinating the fish would have been better. Overall the flavour could have been better with another recipe. Time, amazingly easy and quick, less than 20 minutes.
Taste – 2.5
Health – 4.5
Time – 4
Cost – 4
Total- 15/20


5) Friday night PIZZA [An interlude]


Yeah, sometimes we have a lapse! All you need for a chicken, cranberry & halloumi pizza is: 2 pizza bases $5, organic chicken about 250g $5, half halloumi block $5, plum or cranberry sauce $5 = $20 Serves 4 with salad so $5 each. Just pre-fry your chicken in a little coconut or olive oil, and put on a handy towel to soak up excess fat. If you like in the same pan, fry small cubes of halloumi and use tongs to brown each side well. Line your pizza bases with tomatoe paste, cheese, scatter chopped up chicken, halloumi pieces, drizzle over cranberry/ plum/ satay sauce, scatter basil leaves and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until golden and crispy. YUM (except the chicken, this was not included in this week’s shop or budget).
Taste – 5
Health – 1
Time – 4
Cost – 4
Total = 14/20


6) Cauliflower Gratin


This recipe was super delicious with my fresh, garden picked brocoflower heads. Jamie Oliver’s recipe is super healthy or fat free, but its certainly a great way to dress your vegetables! I realized on closer inspection that I did not have a kg of brocoli as well, only about 300g. You blend this in the sauce so it would have been a little more green if I’d had that much but then the beautiful garden brocoflower flavours  might have been a bit drowned out. There is a bit of prep, including processing the bread crumbs – but they really make the meal. With a big fresh and zesty salad its a gorgeous meal, about 30 minutes prep and 1 hour baking time its the worst in this list for time. Cost wise without garden produce, probably $3 head x 3 = $9, milk, cheese and butter about $4 worth = $13 serves 4 / $3 each but with a nice salad this might be closer to $5 / head.
Taste – 4.5 
Health – 3.5
Time – 2
Cost – 4
Total = 14/20


7) Quinoa & Lentil (or Chicken) Red Curry


We ended up making this chicken-free. The result I liked but I used tri-quinoa mix and with the lentils this made it too grainy. Also the kale, is nice at first but if cooking it as leftovers gets overdone and bitter.  Mike labelled it a 1 out of 5 for taste. I wouldn’t go that low, more like 2 because the curry flavour was all there. Quinoa $4, Lentils, $4, Capsicum $3, corriander $3, curry paste $2, Other $2 = $18 serves four so $4.5/ head.
Taste – 2
Health – 5
Time – 2 
Cost – 4
Total = 13/20
Overall the first two were clear winners and the only ones I would use again, though the courgette noodles have many different variations. It was a fun experiment but of course my best friend Zoe was actually like “You can do better than all those recipes, just trust yourself.” Which got me thinking.


Next week I am going to try and plan a week with no-fuss, no-recipe meals that go the distance. This week was interesting and full of great dishes, most of which took reasonably little time, but not as healthy or cost effective enough to be sustainable. I found this great little mag “Recipes + New Zealand – saving you money @ The Checkout” and picked the following dishes: 


1) Beef Brocoli Stirfry 
2) Sweetcorn Fritters, homemade tzatziki, salad (my recipe)
3) Eggplant & Mince Lasagne (my recipe, to last two nights)
4) Curried Chicken Thighs with Black Bean Rice 
5) Zucchini Cabonara with cherry toms and basil pesto (my recipe – a cheap version of this week’s one)


Shopping List

1) 500g beef stirfry, 500g brocoli (I got beans), 2 red onions, cashew nuts and rice 
2) Canned sweetcorn x 1, Can or corn kernels, capsicum, spring onions, corriander, cucumber, yoghurt, rocket
3) Eggplant, beef mince, passatta, cheese
4) Chicken thighs free range, spring onions, chilli x2, rice,  can black beans x 1
5) Zucchini x3, basil pesto, olives


These recipes might not be quite as healthy as the initial experiment, but they are in fact closer to my style, more affordable, not to mention delicious, healthy, balanced meals that took less than 30 minutes! Most impressive that I could then take them and make them my own.
Lots of love, Ayla