Brian Stormont spent a week trying the Marks & Spencer Eat Well range to discover what is available and how Olympian Tom Daley uses their food and drink offering.
During the month of January, the majority of us tend to be thinking about getting our diets back on track after the excesses of the festive period.
However, inspiration is definitely key when it comes to making an attempt to kickstart that healthy lifestyle.
So, when I had the opportunity to try out some of the dishes, snacks, drinks and ingredients available in the Marks & Spencer Eat Well range, I was happy to take up the challenge.
M&S have worked with Olympic medal-winning diver Tom Daley, who has come up with a healthy meal planner using their range.
While, I was really impressed by Tom’s planner to get a real feel for the range, I opted to mix and match the foods I was going to eat by taking inspiration from his choices and combining those ideas with meals I wanted to make and items I thought looked most appetising.
I also added in some of their plant-based products so we could get a feel for how the range could benefit a vegan diner.
During the week I stuck to a few basic breakfast options and then upped the ante a little bit at the weekend.
Three seed granola, which I had with 0% Greek yoghurt, was very tasty, although the yoghurt was just a little too tart for my liking so I added a banana (or you can use honey) to sweeten it up a little. The smoothies too were a delight and a great start to the day.
Having a little more time at the weekend I adapted Tom’s poached eggs and smashed avocado on wholemeal toast by making poached eggs with Eat Well pork sausages and some sautéed mushrooms which were delicious.
The sausages had less than 3% fat, but they were not lacking in flavour and I would recommend as a perfect breakfast treat if you are trying to eat healthily, but don’t want to miss out on a sausage.
I have even bought more for this weekend as I enjoyed them so much.
For lunch, I used M&S Eat Well carrots to make some jalapeno and cheddar soup which I had a few times during the week, swapping with some of the Eat Well ready meals, such as the Buddha Bowl which was delicious.
Black rice, mushrooms, butternut squash, kale and turmeric combined to make a truly moreish meal which you genuinely would not have believed was a ready meal if someone had put it down in front of you.
Including two of your five a day, this was a real winner for me and I served it with cauliflower popcorn which came from the Plant Kitchen range, also delicious accompanied by a spicy buffalo dipping sauce.
Also from the Plant Kitchen range was the chickenless tikka masala which was a real eye-opener.
Made with pea protein, the biggest compliment I can pay the dish is that it didn’t taste as though there was no meat in it. It was succulent and the roasted veg that was included was the perfect accompaniment. I served it with some boiled rice – simple but ideal.
Also for a tasty lunch treat, and again vegan, was the no chicken mini kievs, coming from their Plant Kitchen.
A nice alternative to chicken kievs, they were lovely and had an amazing crispy crumb coating.
I had these with some chips – and it was probably my most unhealthy combination of the week, but I think that was permitted as it was the only time I strayed.
Turning to dinner, another favourite during the week from the Eat Well range were turkey meatballs.
Accompanied by butternut squash spirals, courgette and feta cheese, these again included two of your five a day and were of extremely high quality with amazing taste and texture. The pack contained only 277 calories which, for the flavour, is a great achievement, in my opinion.
Although it’s a meal that comes in a pack, the pan fry Indian chicken masala, with real chicken this time, was a meal I had to cook myself.
Tender pieces of chicken breast in a masala spiced sauce, all the ingredients are chopped and ready for you to add. All I had to do was cook them off in my frying pan following the instructions on the pack.
My wife, Karen, and I enjoyed this on a Saturday night, rather than getting a takeaway, and we found it a more than able substitute.
The chicken pieces were beautifully moist and tender and the sauce was the ideal consistency and wasn’t overly spiced.
I love my curries so I tried another couple from the range – the chicken katsu curry and the red Thai chicken curry – both of which also hit the spot.
I love a good salad and I cannot wax lyrical enough about the salad leaves and the vine tomatoes which were ideal to accompany some of my meals.
The leaves were fresh and peppery, while the tomatoes tasted exactly how tomatoes should – ripe, juicy and were such a vibrant red colour you knew they were going to be good before your tucked in.
The Eat Well range also includes a wide selection of snacks and I was hugely impressed with the tasty treats on offer, in particular the pressed fruit and nut bars which are part of their vegan range.
I opted for the raspberry and almond butter, and the cocoa, orange and hazelnut.
As well as being suitable for vegans, these bars are gluten free and a source of fibre, but most importantly, they are incredibly appetising and I found them to be an ideal snack to take away those mid-afternoon hunger pangs.
I also tried the “popped not fried” chips, opting for the salt and vinegar and chipotle varieties – great for snacking in front of the TV at night while you are watching a movie, while the oat and honey cereal bars were the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.
On the drinks side of things, I sampled a couple of the ready-made smoothies which were really refreshing and, I know this might sound silly, but you actually felt like you were doing yourself good as you drank them.
After a week of mostly consuming products from the Eat Well range, the million-dollar question is “did I feel better or healthier”?
And I will be entirely honest, I genuinely did.
After a couple of days I felt I had more energy, I was sleeping better and my mood was more upbeat, which continued as the week wore on.
Was this down to the food and drink I had consumed? Probably not entirely as I don’t usually have the worst diet by eating lots of fruit and veg, and drinking lots of water anyway.
But what eating these foods definitely did was give me a real boost and proves, to me anyway, that taking time to examine what you are consuming on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis and choosing a healthier option if it is available can certainly be beneficial to you in the long term.
There are more than 1,400 Eat Well products in the range which provide plenty of variety to ensure that people will always find something they like and can make good nutritional decisions for a balanced diet.
They are easy to spot as each one has a yellow sunflower on the pack and the full nutritional information is included.
You can find out more about the M&S Eat Well range, Tom Daley’s tips and nutritional advice by clicking here.