Healthy themes for special summer days

28 June 2012

Healthy themes for special summer daysIf you’re opting to stay at home to save cash this summer, there are many ways to mimic - or even exceed - the kind of benefits you’d get out of flying off to the sun for two weeks. "With stress being a common problem for people both in and out of the workplace, the psychological benefits of getting away or taking a break are invaluable - but they don’t only apply to holidaying abroad," says Judi.

She explains that a big mistake of staying at home is that we often just 'veg-out': "We hang about the house or take trips out, but without changing some of our more intrinsic rituals."

Create change for the sake of change

According to Judi, creating change for the sake of change is an excellent idea. "Embracing the benefit of an escape from the familiar will help refresh your mind, as well as your body," she notes.

"One of the key psychological benefits of a holiday is the way it forces us to make big changes in our daily behaviour and rituals. These changes stimulate motivation and energy because they spring-clean the mind.

"Challenge all your normal choices and habits. Buy a different newspaper, listen to another radio station and eat new foods. Take risks and visit places or events you would normally think weren’t ‘you’."

Whether it's a romantic picnic for two in the park, a Caribbean dinner party with friends or a themed pirates day on the beach with the kids, the more we use our imagination, the greater the sense of anticipation, explains Judi.

"Although spontaneous days out can be fun, looking forward to an outing with specific treats in mind can create days of pleasure, as well as enhancing the enjoyment of the day itself."

Judi's tips for special days out

  • Plan and anticipate. Anticipation is key to creating maximum benefit from a break. Research is easy on the Internet, so instead of just visiting a historic sight or theme park, try learning about and looking forward to some of the rides or points of interest instead.
  • Be creative. If your job is primarily logical or time-managed, any break will be a good chance to flex your creative muscle for a change. Try things you haven’t done for ages, like drawing, painting or writing. Even if your results aren’t wonderful, your lowered stress levels and heightened sense of contentment will make it well worth the effort.
  • Make it a treat. Instead of feeling cheated that you couldn’t afford a holiday abroad, create positive thoughts and discussions about where you are going. Look at the benefits in advance. Days out in the UK can be great fun - but not if you’re grumbling about the weather before you even leave the house! Kids are especially keen on seeing even quite mundane things as a treat. Your enthusiasm and your build-up to the day will be vital.
  • Involve the whole family. Try sharing out the selection process to get kids more involved by allowing them to choose one element of the day, like the theme, a ride or a meal. This will help them feel more involved in enjoying the day, rather than being critical if it doesn’t come up to scratch!
  •  Switch off. If you were abroad you wouldn’t be armed with mobiles and laptops, so apply your own rules to these things well before you go. It’s impossible to enjoy breaks or days out if you’re distracted. Aim for total absorption, rather than allowing a ringing phone to intrude into your chosen theme or event. Be bored!
  •  Boredom is a very healthy by-product of a break. During a working week you’re probably over-stimulated by tasks and deadlines, and sitting in a park or on a beach and tuning out will allow your brain to re-boot. Don’t pack so much into your days out that you end up as busy as you are at home. Boredom allows your brain to do some deeper-level thinking, meaning you’ll be able to take stock of your life in a way you can’t when you’re rushing about.

Healthy themed menus for summer days

To provide some inspiration on planning healthy themed meals inside or out this summer, nutritionist Sarah Schenker has designed two special menus that can be adapted for a couple or a large gathering of friends and family.

1. A romantic picnic

What could be more romantic than eating al fresco on a barmy summer evening? But your picnic doesn’t have to be a calorific overload of fat, sugar and salt. Prepare a couple of portable nutritious dishes using fresh, seasonal ingredients to make a real impression on your beau!

The menu:

  • Potted crab with oatcakes
  • Asparagus tart
  • Watermelon and feta salad
  • Cherries
  • Pimms

Crab is high in protein and low in fat. It is also a rich source of vitamins and minerals, including zinc, needed for immunity and fertility, and selenium, which acts as an antioxidant in the body, protecting against heart disease and cancer.

Oats have a low glycaemic index (GI), so they release their energy slowly, keeping blood sugar stable and helping to regulate appetite.

Lightly steamed spears of tender asparagus signify summer is here just as much as much as a punnet of fresh strawberries. Asparagus is a rich source of the B vitamin folate, needed to prevent anaemia, and provides good amounts of the antioxidants vitamin C, beta-carotene and a little vitamin E, all of which are needed for healthy skin and a healthy heart.

Watermelon is one of the lowest calorie fruits. It is high in fibre and provides plenty of vitamin C and beta-carotene, both important antioxidants needed by the body to prevent damage to cells from free radicals.

Cherries have been growing in the UK since Roman times, when they were valued for their cleansing properties – it was believed cherries could rid the kidneys of toxins. They are now recommended as a good source of potassium and vitamin C. They have a low GI, making them a good choice of snack between meals.

2. A Caribbean dinner party

People living in the Caribbean benefit from an enormous sense of well-being, due to the relaxed lifestyle, slow pace of life and a traditional healthy diet.

Traditional ingredients include root vegetables, such as green bananas, yam and plantain, which are a rich source of starchy carbohydrate. Although they are often fried or roasted, the oils used tends to be a healthy seed or nut type, so saturated fats are kept to a minimum.

Other vegetables include beans, sorrel and ackee, and a popular fruit is pineapple. Fish features heavily in dishes, in particular red snapper, codfish and shrimps, which are all a good source of protein and minerals.

The menu:

  • Chicken and banana skewers
  • Red snapper with roasted red peppers
  • Rice and beans
  • Fresh pineapple
  • Ginger beer

Red snapper is low in fat and rich in protein needed for the growth and repair of muscles. It is also a rich source of minerals that are important for good health, such as selenium and iodine.

Peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, which is needed for healthy skin and ligaments. Green peppers contain more vitamin C than red or yellow peppers, while red and yellow varieties contain more beta-carotene. Peppers also contain bioflavonoids, which act as antioxidants that neutralise the effects of free radicals.

Rice is a good source of starchy carbohydrate, and most varieties have a low GI, which means energy is released slowly into the blood, preventing peaks and dips in blood sugar levels. This in turn helps to control appetite. Rice is gentler on the gut and easier to digest than wheat products, so it's a good choice for people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, especially when linked to stress.

Red kidney beans provide plenty of fibre that can keep the gut healthy and help to lower cholesterol levels. They also provide some protein and are a good source of potassium, as well as iron and folate, both needed for healthy blood.

As well as being a good source of vitamin C and fibre, pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain. It has been suggested that bromelain can help to break up blood clots and therefore be beneficial in the treatment of heart disease. It has also been used as an anti-inflammatory agent for the treatment of arthritis and to treat sports injuries, including bruises, blisters and sprains.