Helen James is a leading Irish designer, food blogger and TV personality whose ‘Considered’ range of homewares for Dunnes Stores has made her a household name. Helen’s beautifully illustrated new book A Sense of Home combines over 60 of her recipes with her design principles, natural beauty and gardening tips.
Where do you shop?
I mix a weekly shop in Dunnes in Rathmines where I get Sheridan’s cheese and Pat Whelan’s meat with local health food stores for specialist items.
Can you list the contents of your weekly shop?
Brown bread and half &half bread
Flour — rye, buckwheat and plain
Dark chocolate for baking
‘Roasted Brown’ coffee from Fia in Rathgar
Describe your typical breakfast
Coffee with milk (I tried all the substitutes — coconut, oat and almond milk but I just can’t give up cow’s milk in my coffee) and plain yoghurt with homemade granola. At the weekend I’ll have eggs.
Describe your typical lunch
Salmon with sweet potato and lentils or a chicken wrap.
Chicken with salad or brown rice.
Dark chocolate and I have a bit of an addiction to salted crisps (the posh ones)!
Is there anything you won’t eat?
Never say never! I’m pretty open. I don’t eat a lot of red meat and am squeamish about the usual things like tripe and offal. Although I have eaten them they wouldn’t be my go-to dish… ever.
What would you cook to impress someone?
It would depend on the person — to impress someone I would cook something I know they love! I’m not really into “impressive” food that is, food that takes a lot of fuss and faffing about. I like simple things that are wholesome and full of flavour.
What is your guilty food pleasure?
Liquorice and jellies and preferably both at the same time!
What is your ultimate comfort food?
Plum and ginger crumble with plain yoghurt. It says autumn like nothing else. I also love a good piece of buttery shortbread.
What is your favourite takeaway?
Have you tried any diet fads in the past six months?
No, I don’t really go in for fads. I did give up sugar last year for about nine months. I read an article about how sugar destroyed your skin and cut it out to see. I have a sweet tooth so it was a good experiment. I found it pretty easy but there were complaints at home because I wasn’t baking any more.
What would be your Last Supper?
My roast leg of lamb with minted yoghurt, roast vegetables and couscous followed by a large tray of Tunnocks tea cakes or a meringue roulade.
Helen’s weekly shopping list is a decent selection of nourishing whole foods, plus a few treats too, including frozen pizza and biscuits. It’s really good to see that she supports local health food stores too, and takes care to source high-quality meats and cheeses.
There are plenty of green and colourful vegetables in there too, including carrots and cucumbers. All year round but especially during the winter months when common illnesses are more prevalent, it’s important to remember to eat a wide range of colourful fruits and veggies each day. Five servings a day is recommended, but I would encourage people to aim even higher than that if possible. Including fresh produce in your weekly shop, making vegetables the focus of your dinner plate, drinking vegetable-based smoothies and juices frequently and adding plenty of vegetables to curries, stews, soups, casseroles and pasta and rice dishes are all great ways to incorporate more into your daily diet. They contain a rich quantity of essential vitamins, minerals antioxidants, dietary fibre, amino acids and even essential fats to keep your immune and digestive systems functioning optimally.
Helen’s shopping basket features good quality sources of complete protein, such as salmon and chicken, plus carbohydrates sources including brown bread, brown rice and white pasta. I would suggest that she looks out for brown or wholemeal pasta next time as it provides a slower energy release with less of an impact on blood sugar and insulin levels.
It’s great to see nuts included too, as they can make a really nutritious and satiating snack, and especially when you choose raw and unsalted brands. However, nuts are a surprisingly calorific snack and it’s best to enjoy just a moderate handful a day unless you’re particularly active or trying to gain weight.
Helen’s breakfast consists of homemade granola with plain yoghurt. It’s great that she makes time for the first meal of the day to break the overnight fast, and homemade granola can be a super option. Shop-bought versions are often packed with refined sugar, so it’s good to be able to control exactly what goes into your own. Nuts, seeds and oats are all healthy inclusions but it’s best to avoid too much dried fruit, as it’s both rich in natural sugar and often has extra sugar and preservatives added. Helen may also want to look for Greek yoghurt rather than regular plain brands as it’s a little bit richer in protein and usually unsweetened.
For lunch, Helen enjoys a healthy and balanced meal of salmon with sweet potato and lentils or a chicken wrap. Salmon is packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, while lentils contain plenty of fibre, iron and amino acids. Sweet potato is an excellent source of beta-carotene to support healthy skin and eyesight, and it’s a slow-release carbohydrate for sustained energy. Adding some dark green leafy vegetables to her lunch would boost Helen’s intake of greens and foods like spinach, kale and broccoli are full of iron and chlorophyll to support energy levels and reduce feelings of fatigue.
Helen’s evenings meal is another simple and healthy dish of chicken with salad or brown rice. It makes a satisfying meal based on protein and complex carbs. Ensuring she eats steamed, sautéed or raw vegetables with it each time will help her to reach her recommended intake of fruit and veggies.
Helen’s meals are nourishing and well-balanced to help support her energy levels, digestive health, immune system and overall repair and regeneration. Making some simple swaps for healthier versions of the foods she enjoys, ensuring she eats plenty of vegetables each day and keeping her favourite jelly sweets, crisps and desserts to just an occasional treat will all help to improve her diet even further. Keep up the good work Helen.