The good for you comfort food: Guilt-free start to a healthy New Year

The good for you comfort food: Toad in the hole, easy chicken & mushroom pie, and cinnamon and orange hot chocolate… the guilt-free start to a healthy New Year

Anxieties about your health or that of loved ones, money worries, loneliness in lockdown, the stress of an uncertain future — with so much to fret about, it is no wonder many of us have turned to food for comfort since the Covid pandemic began.

Research shows half of us put on weight during lockdown, snacking to alleviate stress or indulging in a few glasses of wine too many after yet another evening stuck on the sofa.

Studies show that anxiety and stress can cause you to gain weight.

This is partly because tension prompts your body to secrete the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, which can interfere with the body’s chemical signals regarding hunger and feelings of fullness — meaning you overeat.

You’re also likely to crave sugary or fatty foods when under pressure.

Research shows half of us put on weight during lockdown, snacking to alleviate stress or indulging in a few glasses of wine too many after yet another evening stuck on the sofa (stock image)

Eating them gives you a feeling of release and pleasure, which in turn has a temporary calming effect. But this can lead to feelings of guilt and negative self-image.

The relationship between mood and food is complex, but it’s clear that a calm and positive outlook can help in making healthy food choices.

‘The way you think drives the way you feel which in turn drives how you behave,’ says Julia Westgarth, head of programme at WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers.

That’s why WW’s mindset package plays such a vital role in the new myWW+ app, alongside healthy eating, fitness and good-quality sleep.

It’s also why today, in our brilliant WW series to help you lose weight and transform your health, we’re sharing expert advice to help you adopt a more contented view of the world, making it easier to reach your goals.

This is partly because tension prompts your body to secrete the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, which can interfere with the body’s chemical signals regarding hunger and feelings of fullness — meaning you overeat (stock image)

And nutritious food can help you unwind, so we’re sharing delicious recipes that can prepare you for a calm night’s rest.

Today’s recipes are simple, feel-good favourites — toad-in-the-hole, chicken soup and hot chocolate — and we’ve given them a WW make-over so you can enjoy your favourite foods while staying on track with your health and weight-loss goals.

Meanwhile, there are proven strategies to help you to manage your response to rising stress levels.

  • Focus on breathing. Use the Headspace meditations in the myWW+ app or concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes.
  • Head outside. Spending time in nature and focusing on what you see, hear and smell can reduce feelings of stress.
  • Reach out. Call or text a friend or relative for a chat, maybe mentioning the cause of any anxieties.
  • Use coping strategies. Apply any method used successfully in the past to your current situation.

And if you do find yourself raiding the biscuit tin in a low moment, don’t panic.

Julia Westgarth advises: ‘Everyone makes mistakes. Just because you’ve eaten a couple of biscuits it’s no reason to abandon your goals.

‘And WW is here to help. Make use of our extensive mindset toolkit for ways to get back on track tomorrow.’


We all have thousands of thoughts a day — words, sentences and even images that just pop into our heads.

Often we do not even realise we are thinking them. Yet they provide an immensely powerful narrative, constantly playing in our brains and profoundly affecting the way we view the world around us.

They become our ‘default’ setting for the way we see the world: a powerful ally if our thoughts are accurate and positive, but another story if they are negative and critical.

It’s important to recognise that thoughts are not facts. They are simply things we say in our heads. Once we notice an unhelpful thought we can change how we respond to help us feel and act differently. When one is identified, try the following:

  • Do a reality check. Imagine you ate much more than planned one Friday night then started thinking: ‘I’ve ruined my week!’ Ask yourself, is this really true? In the context of the whole week you may have only eaten too much on one day out of the past seven. Tell yourself you may well be annoyed about this, but in fact you otherwise had a decent week.
  • Observe and accept. Identify the thought as though you are observing from afar. You might tell yourself: ‘My mind often tells me that when I don’t do things the way I planned.’ Use this knowledge to commit to a positive course of action. For instance, you could say to yourself: ‘Just because I have this negative thought doesn’t mean I should give up and eat more. Thoughts are not facts. I can still carry on with my fitness and health goals the way I planned.’
  • Play the tape forward. This enables you to see the longer-term impact that one unhelpful thought can have. For instance, if you continue to believe you’ve ruined your week, you might be tempted to stop tracking your SmartPoints, not contact your WW Coach or skip your Workshop. Resolve instead to ask for extra help from family, friends or the WW community via the app.   

Wholemeal buttermilk scones

Wholemeal buttermilk scones

Prep 20 minutes l Cook 15 minutes

Makes 15

  • 160g wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 150g white self-raising flour, plus ½ tsp for dusting
  • 1½ tbsp caster sugar
  • 30g low-fat spread, straight from the fridge
  • 250ml buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp skimmed milk

Preheat the oven to 220c/fan 200c/gas 7. Dust a baking tray with flour. Sift both flours into a bowl. Add the wholemeal husks left behind after sifting.

Stir in the sugar. Using your fingertips, rub in the low-fat spread until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Using a table knife, gently mix the buttermilk into the dry ingredients until the mixture is just combined. The dough should be soft and sticky.

Tip onto a lightly floured or dusted surface and knead for 30 seconds or until just smooth. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to 2cm thickness.

Use a 5.5cm round pastry cutter to cut out 15 scones. Dip the cutter into flour before cutting out each of these to prevent the dough sticking. Pop scones on a baking tray. Brush the tops lightly with skimmed milk. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden; they should sound hollow when tapped.

Serve warm with a low-calorie jam.

Toad in the hole

Toad in the hole

Prep 10 minutes l Cook 45 minutes

Serves 4

  • 8 reduced-fat pork sausages
  • 125g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 200ml skimmed milk
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 300g shallots, halved, if large
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • 320g Savoy cabbage, leaves separated, trimmed and roughly chopped

For the gravy

  • 2 tbsp gravy granules
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard

Heat the grill to mediumhigh and cook the sausages for 15 minutes, turning occasionally until cooked through.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, eggs and milk, then season to taste and set aside in the fridge until needed.

Preheat the oven to 200c/fan 180c/gas 6. Put ½ tablespoon of the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan and set over a medium heat.

Add the shallots and cook for 10 minutes until softened and golden. Put the remaining oil into a 2-litre baking dish and put in the oven for 3-4 minutes until the oil is very hot. 

Remove from the oven and pour in the batter, then top with the sausages, shallots and sage, return to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and risen. Meanwhile, cook the cabbage in a pan of boiling water for 3-5 minutes, or until just tender, then drain. 

To make the gravy, whisk the granules into 200ml boiling water in a small jug until smooth and thickened, adding a little extra water if needed. Stir in the mustard. 

Serve the toad in the hole with the cabbage and gravy on the side.

Turmeric & coconut chicken soup

Turmeric & coconut chicken soup

Prep 10 minutes l Cook 15 minutes 

Serves 4

  • Calorie-controlled cooking spray
  • 15g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 480g skinless chicken breast fillets, cut into 2cm chunks
  • 1½ tsp turmeric
  • 400ml tin reduced-fat coconut milk
  • 400ml chicken stock, made with 1 stock cube
  • 150g mangetout, sliced lengthways
  • 1 large red pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • 150g fresh egg noodles
  • Small handful coriander leaves, picked
  • 1 red chilli, finely sliced

Lightly mist a large pan or wok with cooking spray and place over a medium-high heat. Fry the ginger and garlic for 1 minute, until fragrant. 

Add the chicken and cook for 5 minutes, until golden. Stir in the turmeric and cook for another minute. 

Pour in the coconut milk and chicken stock and bring to a simmer, then add the mangetout and red pepper and cook for 5 minutes. 

Add the egg noodles to the pan and cook for 3 minutes, until warmed through. Season to taste. Divide the soup between 4 bowls and garnish with the coriander and chilli to serve.

Easy chicken & mushroom pie

Easy chicken & mushroom pie

Prep 20 minutes l Cook 50 minutes

Serves 6

  • 15g low-fat spread
  • 2 leeks, trimmed and thickly sliced
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 3 tbsp plain flour
  • 300ml chicken stock, made with 1 stock cube
  • 150g half-fat crème fraîche
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 300g cooked, skinless chicken breast, shredded
  • Small handful fresh tarragon leaves picked and roughly chopped
  • 225g ready-rolled light puff pastry
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 400g new potatoes
  • 300g green beans, trimmed

Preheat the oven to 220c/fan 200c/gas 7.

Melt the spread in a pan over a medium heat. Add the leeks and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, or until softened. Season to taste, then stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. 

Gradually add the stock, followed by the crème fraîche. Cook for 5 minutes on a low heat, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened, then stir in the wholegrain mustard. Now stir the chicken and tarragon into the sauce, then spoon the mixture into a 23cm round pie dish.

Top with the pastry, pressing it along the edge of the dish to seal and trimming off and discarding any excess. Cut a small cross in the centre of the pastry, then brush all over with the beaten egg.

Bake for 35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden.

Meanwhile, cook the new potatoes in a pan of boiling water for 10 minutes. Add the beans for the last 5 minutes of cooking time. Drain the vegetables and serve with the pie.

Banana bread overnight oats

Banana bread overnight oats

Prep 10 minutes l Cook 3-7 hours

Serves 10

  • 1.8 litres skimmed milk
  • 320g porridge oats
  • 4 large ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3 tbsp light brown soft sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg

Put all the ingredients in a large (6-litre capacity) slow cooker and stir until well combined. Cover and cook for 3-4 hours on high or 6-7 hours on low, until the oats are soft and tender.

Divide between bowls and serve warm. Leftover oats can be cooled and refrigerated for several days.

Gently reheat in a microwave, or on the hob adding a little water to loosen the porridge.

Cinnamon & orange hot chocolate

Cinnamon & orange hot chocolate

Prep 5 minutes l Cook 5 minutes

Serves 2

  • 400ml skimmed milk
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 strips orange peel, plus extra to garnish
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 14g icing sugar
  • 2 tsp cornflour

Pour the milk into a pan, then add the cinnamon stick and orange peel. Bring almost to the boil, turn off the heat, cover and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, sift the cocoa powder, icing sugar and cornflour into a small bowl. When ready, remove the orange peel and cinnamon from the milk and place the pan back over a medium heat. Stir the cocoa mixture into the milk and whisk gently for 2-3 minutes, until it has thickened.

Divide between two mugs and garnish with extra orange peel to serve.

MOOD FOOD RECIPE: Chicken curry

Chicken curry

We’re a nation of curry lovers, and you can have this classic chicken dish with coriander rice on the table in just 45 minutes.

Serves 4

  • Calorie-controlled cooking spray, 4 squirts
  • 1 onion, medium, finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3cm piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 3 tbsp mild curry powder
  • 650g skinless chicken breast, diced
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 200ml chicken stock, made with ½ stock cube
  • 2 x 250g packs microwave brown basmati rice
  • Juice of ½ lime, plus extra wedges to serve
  • 2 tbsp roughly chopped fresh coriander, plus extra leaves, to garnish
  • 80g fat-free natural yoghurt, to serve
  • Pinch of garam masala, to serve

1. Mist a large pan with cooking spray, add the onion and cook over a medium heat for 6-8 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a minute, then stir in the curry powder and cook for 2 minutes.

2. Add the chicken and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to coat in the spice mixture. Add chopped tomatoes and stock, bring to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes until chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened.

3. Cook the rice to pack instructions, then stir in the lime juice and coriander. Serve the curry with the rice and lime wedges to squeeze over. Top with a dollop of yoghurt, a sprinkling of garam masala and extra coriander leaves.

Mind games to give you sweet dreams

Anyone who’s struggled to sleep knows just how debilitating and miserable this can be and what a far-reaching effect it has on every area of your life.

Feeling exhausted has an impact on your decision-making, leaving you prone to reach for sweet foods as a pick-me-up (with predictable effects on your waistline). It also makes you less inclined to exercise, so you miss out on the profound health and weight-loss benefits of being more active — which includes sleeping better at night.

Perhaps you find it hard to drop off to sleep and are kept wide awake by the constant churn of thoughts, problems and anxieties whirring around in your head?

‘We can’t always turn off our minds, but we can calm our thoughts so that sleep comes more easily,’ says Julia Westgarth, head of programme at WW.

Anyone who’s struggled to sleep knows just how debilitating and miserable this can be and what a far-reaching effect it has on every area of your life

There are techniques you can try, based on scientific research, which might help you to manage your stress levels as you prepare for bed.

Your myWW+ app is packed full of ideas and tools to help you nod off.

Meditation is scientifically proven to lower stress levels and ruminative thinking, helping you to create the right internal conditions for drifting off when you turn out the light.

Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or of the future.


Eating foods rich in melatonin ensures that your body has a good supply of this so-called ‘sleep hormone’ to regulate your natural sleep-cycle.

Try to eat these in the early evening — an hour or two before bed — so that they can take effect before bedtime.

Shellfish (0 SmartPoints on Blue and Purple and up to 2 on Green, depending on quantity and type of shellfish) is an excellent source of the amino acid tryptophan, which is converted to melatonin in the body.

Eating foods rich in melatonin ensures that your body has a good supply of this so-called ‘sleep hormone’

Plant-based foods rich in melatonin (known as phytomelatonin) include: white or button mushrooms, ginger, pepper, morello or tart cherries, cranberries and strawberries (all ZeroPoint foods on every WW plan) as well as whole grain rice (0 SmartPoints on Purple and 6 SmartPoints for 150g serving of cooked rice on Blue and Green) and lentils (ZeroPoint foods on Blue and Purple and 4 SmartPoints for 150g of tinned green lentils on Green).

Physical activity in the day can also help your body produce melatonin. And for a natural nightcap rich in melatonin (with 0 SmartPoints) try a cup of hot water with grated fresh root ginger a little lemon juice and a sprig of fresh mint.

This helps you break the train of everyday thoughts, helping your body to relax. Sleep music can also enable you to drift off with soothing ambient sounds such as waves or waterfalls or birdsong.

You’ll find a wide range of Headspace meditations and sounds, including those specifically designed for bedtime, on the myWW+ app.

And setting aside a few minutes in the evening to jot down your worries can help to clear your mind of damaging, negative thoughts.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that writing a journal for five minutes could substantially reduce the amount of time it takes you to start snoozing.

Participants who did this fell asleep nearly 30 per cent more quickly, dropping off in an average of 16 minutes instead of 25, according to American scientists from Baylor University and Emory University.

But fascinatingly, researchers found that this worked best for those who jotted down a to-do list for the following day (rather than noting what they’d accomplished that day).

It’s the act of physically writing things down that helps, apparently.

But what if you fall asleep easily, only to wake in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep again?

Experts say it’s important to resist the temptation to look at your phone.

The blue light given off by the device can suppress your natural production of melatonin (the ‘sleep’ hormone responsible for regulating your internal body clock), encouraging your body to think that it’s daytime.

If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, however, get out of bed and embark on a quiet activity such as reading a book in dim lighting until you feel sleepy again.

This helps you create a habit whereby your body sees getting into bed as a cue for sleep —replacing your current experience of bed as somewhere you lie awake and toss and turn for hours.

Finally, if you have problems sleeping, do be vigilant about caffeinated and alcoholic drinks as both interfere with sleep, leading to middle-of-the-night awakenings.

Avoid coffee from the afternoon onwards and limit alcoholic beverages too, particularly closer to bedtime.

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