Cooking up a healthy lifestyle

Lin Atkinson, a food and health project worker with Portsmouth City Council, teaches Tony Smith how to cook. Picture: Malcolm Wells
Lin Atkinson, a food and health project worker with Portsmouth City Council, teaches Tony Smith how to cook. Picture: Malcolm Wells
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A course has been started to give people the knowledge of how to cook their meals from scratch.

Health reporter Priya Mistry went along to the You Can Cook tutorial to find out more.

I was a walking stroke just waiting to happen.

That was the scary realisation Robert Cunningham had after visiting his GP and having a health check.

For the previous three years the 64-year-old was enjoying retirement, but he was eating plenty of food and doing very little in terms of exercising.

But when he was given the stark warning he knew he needed to make a change.

And one of the things he did was sign up to a Portsmouth City Council healthy-cooking scheme called You Can Cook.

Mr Cunningham, of Hartley Road, North End, says: ‘I have been retired for three years, and until the start of this year, I hadn’t done anything in those three years.

‘I was doing a few bits around the house, but I was living a very sedentary life and wasn’t moving much from the couch.

‘I was never a small person, but I put on more weight than I used to carry.

‘When I saw the doctor he gave me the usual advice, but also that I could develop diabetes and that I was a walking stroke waiting to happen.

‘I knew then I had to do something about this.’

In January this year Mr Cunningham started going to the gym three times a week, something he still does.

He also joined Slimming World and started dieting.

The former trade union officer says: ‘I knew there was no quick fix and I had to go through a lifestyle change, which involves exercising and healthy eating.

‘I started eating the five a day and things like cutting the fat off meat before cooking it and eating it.

‘I then attended the You Can Cook classes and started discovering things I had never cooked before, and healthier ways of having my favourite meals.

‘This includes pizzas and curries, both of which I was making before, but the class showed me a different way.’

Since the start of the year Mr Cunningham has lost three-and-a-half stone and says he feels much more energised.

You Can Cook is a two-year Big Lottery funded project, which is run by Asha Lal, health development officer for food, health and obesity.

She says: ‘Our aim is to get more people in Portsmouth cooking from scratch and understanding where their food comes from.

‘Meals can be filling and nutritious even if you’re on a budget.

‘The cooking sessions are perfect for those new to cooking, those who would like some new healthy recipes to try at home or want to make some positive changes to their diet.

‘The classes are free to attend and the ingredients are provided by us, all you need to bring is yourself and some containers so you can take your food home.

‘We want to give people more confidence to cook from scratch and ensure they are having a healthy, well-balanced meal.’

In the first week those running the course come up with the meal that will be cooked by the class, and after that the participants can say what they would like to cook the following week.

Tony Smith, 57, of Edgbaston House, in Sedgley Close, Somers Town, took part in one of the courses.

He says: ‘I suffer from depression and wasn’t cooking much before.

‘I found out about the course and decided to go along as well because I wanted to improve my cooking skills.

‘I can now cook Moroccan chicken and I can make soup, which is brilliant as I have learnt new things.

‘It’s built up my confidence and I’m slowly getting there.’

Pizza (serves four people)

- 175g self-raising flour

- 100ml (3.5oz) milk

- Four dessertspoons olive oil

- Eight dessertspoons passata

- 1⁄2 teaspoon garlic paste

- Pinch of mixed dry herbs

- Toppings


1) Pre-heat oven 200°C/gas mark six

2) Pour the flour in to a mixing bowl

3) Pour the milk and oil in to a jug and mix together

4) Add the milk mixture a little at a time to the flour

5) With your hands mix the milk and flour together and make into a soft dough ball

6) Roll or pat out to the size required

7) Place on a baking sheet

Salmon noodles (serves two)

- 1⁄4 packet of medium egg noodles

- One dessertspoon of olive oil

- One clove of garlic, crushed

- One teaspoon of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped finely

- 1⁄4 lemongrass stalk, trimmed and chopped finely

- Pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional)

- Two salmon fillets, chopped into bite sized pieces

- Three spring onions, washed and chopped

- Three teaspoons of low salt soy sauce

- Three dessertspoons of sweet chilli sauce

- Three dessertspoons of chopped fresh coriander

- Freshly ground black pepper


1) Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the noodles and simmer for four minutes. Drain

2) Place oil in a pan and stir fry the garlic, ginger and lemon grass for one to two minutes. Add dried chilli flakes if required

3) Add the salmon and fry for five minutes, then add the spring onions and soy sauce and continue cooking for a further four minutes

4) Add the noodles to the pan and combine all the ingredients together mixing well to cover the noodles with the sauce

5) Add the sweet chilli sauce and stir through then add the coriander and ground black pepper

6) Serve immediately

Turkey and ginger stir-fry

- One teaspoon olive oil

- Three turkey fillets or chicken breasts, cut into strips

- One medium red onion, peeled and cut into strips

- One red pepper, deseeded and sliced

- Two courgettes, sliced

- Eight mushrooms, washed and sliced

- One large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced

- Two teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

- Two dessertspoons low salt soy sauce

- Dessertspoons clear runny honey or mango chutney

- Two teaspoons chilli sauce


1) Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan and fry the turkey strips for five to six minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside

2) Return the pan to the heat and add the onion, red pepper, courgette and carrot, fry for two to three minutes

3) Add the mushrooms and fresh ginger mixing well

4) Return the turkey to the pan and continue cooking

5) Mix together the soy sauce, honey or mango chutney and the chilli sauce and add to the pan

6) Stir-fry for five minutes combining all the ingredients until the meat is fully cooked

Sweet and sour chicken with rice (serves four)

- One teaspoon of sunflower oil

- Four chicken breasts, boneless, skinless and chopped into small chunks

- 1⁄4 teaspoon of ground ginger

- Four slices of tinned pineapple in natural juice, chopped, reserving juice

- Four dessertspoons of vinegar

- Four dessertspoons tomato puree

- Two teaspoons corn flour

- Two teaspoon low salt soy sauce

- 375ml boiling water

- 125g easy cook long grain rice


1) Heat the oil in a wok or saucepan, add the chicken and fry

2) Add the ginger and pineapple and fry for one to two minutes

3) Mix vinegar, tomato puree, soy sauce and pineapple juice together in a bowl before adding to wok/pan

4) Blend the water with the corn flour, add to wok/pan and mix well

5) Simmer for 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked

6) Serve hot with noodles/rice or a selection of stir-fry vegetables