Health and Lifestyle

The 400-600-600 plan – delicious, low-calorie recipes to keep you on the right track
01 March 2018


By Xanthe Clay

Got to grips with five fruit and veg a day? Welcome to the new healthy eating mantra: 400-600-600. Last week Public Health England launched its One You campaign, designed to make people more calorie aware, and stick to 400 calories for breakfast and 600 each for lunch and dinner.

The overall daily calorie guidelines remain the same (2000 for women and 2500 for men) so the extra is for coffee, drinks and snacks. The aim: to cut our calorie intake, and bring down spiralling obesity rates.

Critics have  pointed out that the plan doesn’t focus on healthy eating: you could have a Mars bar and a can of Coca-Cola for breakfast, chips and curry sauce for lunch and a Big Mac for supper and still stick to the recommended calories.

This is unfair. While calories are a blunt instrument, and the plan doesn’t differentiate between good calories (protein, healthy fats, vegetables) and bad (refined carb and bad fats), it still has a valid point to make.

Most adults consume more calories a day than they need, and children even more – boys as many as 500 calories in excess. And let’s face it, the extra isn’t made up of a bag of apples – it’s often junk.

The scheme is targeted mostly at fast-food producers, persuading them to cut the calories in their offerings, and to make us think again about what we order.

That Big Mac might fit the bill at 508 calories, but a Big Mac and medium fries (845 calories) is far is more than a meal’s worth. And a Starbucks blueberry muffin and a latte might sound like a good breakfast choice, but at more than 500 calories it’s well over the limit.

There’s definitely more that could be done. PHE  might like to step in to stop shops marketing “meal deals” that can consist of crisps, a ham sandwich, a cake and a bottle of Coke. Surely a meal has fruit or vegetables in it.

On the home front, well, if you are cooking from scratch, you’re on to a good thing. That said, measuring and recalibrating portion sizes might be tedious but it’s worth the effort, as I found when working on these recipes. A little circumspection with the oil and carbs, more generosity with the veg, and you are sorted.

If you’re confounded by calorie counting, simply mix and match the recipes on the following pages, sticking to the 400-600-600 formula, and you’ll be eating plenty of fruit and veg and hopefully dropping a few pounds while you’re at it.


Kick-start your day with something nutritious and tasty

Baked eggs with spinach and  tomato

Eggs are magic food, power packs of nutrition, so this is perfect if you wake up ravenous. After three of them, it may take half an hour or so for that blissfully replete feeling to kick in, but once it does I defy you to be hungry before lunchtime. If it all seems too much then stick to two eggs, in which case you can have a slice of toast to go with.




½ tsp oil

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1 tsp cumin seed

2 handfuls of spinach or 170 g frozen spinach leaf, defrosted

200 ml passata

3 large eggs Pinch of chilli flakes

20 g KDD Royale yoghurt

Leaves from a sprig of fresh coriander


Heat a frying pan or hob-proof dish about 20 cm across and add the oil.

Stir in the onion and cumin and cook gently until softened.

Stir in the spinach until it wilts (or heats through if frozen).

Pour over the tomato passata and 50 ml of water and bring to a simmer.

Make three indents in the spinach and break an egg into each.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover and cook for five minutes until the eggs are set.

Sprinkle with chilli flakes. Serve hot, with a dollop of yogurt and some coriander leaves over the top.

Chia seed bircher muesli with apple and raspberry compote

AKA overnight oats, I make this in jars for a grab-and-go breakfast. Chia seed gives a creamier texture and boosts the protein content but replace it with more oats if you prefer. Change the fruit with the seasons: cubes of mango are lovely, too.




1 apple

50 g porridge oats

2 tbsp chia seeds

2 tsp ground cinnamon

150 ml semi-skimmed milk

100 g KDD Royale yoghurt

100 g frozen raspberries

1 tsp poppy seeds

2 tsp honey


Grate the apple (skin, core and all), into a bowl. Mix in the oats, chia seeds, cinnamon and milk.

Divide half the mixture between two jars.

Top with half of the yoghurt and raspberries.

Spoon the rest of the mixture into the jars and top with the last of the yoghurt and raspberries, plus a sprinkle of poppy seeds and trickle of honey.

Put lids on the jars and store in the fridge overnight or up to three days.


Forget sad salads and get creative with your midday meal

Celeriac-crusted fish pie with leeks and dill

Proper comfort food this, and a really filling family lunch, too. You could also make individual pies and freeze them. The helping is generous, and you could stretch it around an extra person, making leeway for extra vegetables or some fruity pudding.




1 small celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks

1 tbsp fresh dill, roughly chopped

125 g salmon fillets

150 g skinless and boneless smoked haddock fillets

150 g white fish

300 ml semi-skimmed milk

1 bay leaf (1 cal)

20 g butter, plus 2 tsp

2 leeks, sliced and  washed

1 large clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped

20 g plain flour

1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

100 g frozen garden  peas


Boil the celeriac in salted water until tender, then drain well and use a stick blender to mash to a smooth purée. Season well with salt and pepper. Mix in the dill.

Put the fish in a  pan with the milk and bay leaf. Slowly bring to a simmer. When the fish is just flaking, lift it out (keep the milk) and lay it on a plate. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones.

Preheat the oven to 180 C/Gas 4.

Melt a teaspoon of the butter in a medium-sized pan and add the leeks and garlic. Cook until soft. Scoop out and keep to one side.

Melt 20 g of the butter, stir in the flour and cook for a minute before gradually whisking in the fishy milk to make a smooth sauce. Mix in the mustard then gently fold in the fish, peas, and leeks. Taste and add seasoning.

Pile the mixture into a dish. Top with the celeriac-dill mash. Melt the final teaspoon of butter and brush the top of the pie with it. Bake for 30 minutes until browned and hot through.

Quick Asian slaw with chicken and sesame

This recipe started as a way to use up a jar of sauerkraut. There’s a lot of interest in the pickled cabbage, and fermented food generally, since studies suggest that they are good for our “microbiome” or gut bacteria, and so great for our health overall. You can get ready-made sauerkraut in a jar from health food shops – the kind that’s really gut-friendly is found in the fridge and marked “live”. If it’s not in the fridge, and this includes pretty much any supermarket sauerkraut, it has been pasteurised, which kills those good bacteria – but it will still taste good. It leaves 200 calories clear to have a cappuccino and banana afterwards.




500 g sauerkraut

1 carrot

1 small raw beetroot

2 spring onions

zest of 1 lime and juice of 2

20 g fresh ginger, grated

1 fresh chilli (remove the seeds if you don’t like it too hot)

1 tsp honey or maple syrup

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 tbsp fish sauce

mint leaves from a 20g bunch

coriander leaves from a 30g bunch

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

200 g cold cooked chicken (without the skin), sliced


Drain the sauerkraut and give it a quick rinse. Squeeze out the excess water and tip the kraut into a large bowl.

Grate in the carrot and the beetroot. You could spiralise them if you prefer.

Slice the spring onions finely (both green and white parts) and lightly massage them to separate the slices into rings. Add to the bowl along with the lime juice and zest, the ginger, chilli, honey or maple syrup, sesame oil and fish sauce.

Mix well, massaging the mixture to blend the flavours. Toss with the herbs and chicken. Pile into a serving bowl and sprinkle over the sesame seeds.

Spaghetti with purple sprouting broccoli, goat’s curd and pangrattato

Spaghetti is notoriously tricky to eat tidily, but I like that as it slows me down. In an ideal world, I’d use stroncatura, a traditional Calabrian whole wheat pasta, which is a slightly flattened version of spaghetti. Load up the veg and flavours to make a satisfying meal, but don’t expect a very liquid sauce, as this is more of a tumble of vividly flavoured ingredients.




1 slice of bread

2 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

grated zest of ½ lemon

30 g bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped

150 g wholewheat spaghetti

300 g purple sprouting broccoli or tenderstem broccoli

1 x 50 g tin anchovies

30 g goat’s curd or soft goat’s  cheese

2 lemon quarters to squeeze over


Make the pangrattato first. Turn the bread into crumbs in a food processor. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a small pan and add the garlic, then the crumbs, plus salt and pepper. Cook until the crumbs are golden, then draw off the heat and stir in the lemon zest and parsley.

Cook the spaghetti in well-salted water (taste it: it should be almost like seawater). Add the broccoli to the pan four minutes before the end of the cooking time.

Meanwhile, heat the last spoonful of olive oil (or the oil from the tin of anchovies does well here) in a large pan and add the anchovies. Heat, stirring, until they collapse, and add a good grinding of pepper.

Scoop a cupful of water out of the pasta pan and keep to one side. Drain the pasta and broccoli and tip into the pan with the anchovies. Toss until well coated, adding a little of the saved cooking water to moisten it if necessary.

Drop tiny spoonfuls of the cheese into the mix and stir, allowing them to remain more or less intact.

Divide between two bowls and sprinkle over the pangrattato. Serve straight away, with lemon wedges to squeeze over.


Stave off cravings with a hearty, yet healthy, final dish of the day

Featherblade steak with cauliflower mash, crisp leeks, puy lentils and truffle oil

Featherblade or skirt steak is one of my favourite cuts of steak, as it is incredibly good value but packed with flavour. It’s very lean, so it is juiciest and most tender cooked to rare or medium-rare and sliced across the fibres, which give the cut its feathery appearance. Truffle oil can be incredibly overpowering, but just a few drops can give this dish swagger.




For the steak

200 g featherblade (skirt) steak

1 tsp olive oil

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 small clove of garlic, crushed

For the vegetables

1 small cauliflower, about 15cm across

70 g puy lentils

1 clove garlic, whole but peeled 1 tsp olive oil for the lentils (40 cal), plus 2 tbsp for cooking the leeks

1 small leek, very thinly sliced

40 g bunch watercress

1 tsp truffle oil


Rub the steak with the olive oil, vinegar, garlic and a hefty pinch each of salt and pepper. Leave in a dish for an hour (or overnight).

Break the cauliflower into florets, and steam until really tender – include the stem, it’s just as good to eat. Purée with a stick blender. Season with salt and pepper.

Boil the puy lentils with the whole clove of garlic until the lentils are tender. Drain, then stir in the oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Cook the leek in the oil until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper, dabbing to get rid of as much oil as possible.

Pat the steak dry and cook on a hot griddle pan for about three to five minutes on each side, until cooked to rare. Leave to rest for 15 minutes on a warm plate.

Divide the lentils and cauliflower purée between two plates. Slice the steak thinly across the grain and lay half on each plate. Trickle the truffle oil over the cauliflower and sprinkle on the crisp leeks. Finish with a posy of watercress.

Poussin with harissa, lemon and  couscous

A whole bird is a very satisfying meal, and poussins are available in most supermarkets. A pigeon would be superb here too, if you happen to have a good butcher.




500 ml vegetable stock

150 g wholewheat couscous

1 tbsp plus

1 tsp olive oil

2 tbsp chopped preserved lemon

2 poussins

1 tbsp harissa

2 red onions, peeled and cut into eighths through the root

50 g rocket


Preheat the oven to 200 C/Gas 6.

Bring the stock to the boil over a high heat. Add the couscous and cook for six minutes, or for the time recommended, until tender. Drain and stir in a teaspoon of oil and the preserved lemon. Taste and season.

Ask your butcher to spatchcock the poussin or butterfly them yourself by cutting down on either side of the backbone with kitchen scissors, then pressing down hard on the breastbone to flatten them.

Rub the poussin with harissa. Toss the onion in the remaining tablespoon of oil and a fat pinch of salt. Spread the poussin and onion on a baking tray and bake for 30 minutes or until the poussin is cooked through. Pierce the thigh with a skewer and check that the juices run clear.

Stir the couscous into the onions, around the poussin. Just before serving, add the rocket. Eat warm.

Pan-charred sweetheart cabbage with miso roast fish and black rice

Chargrilled cabbage is turning up on smart restaurant menus these days and no wonder – it is a simple way to make the humble brassica both beautiful and delicious, as the cut edges of the leaves turn black to make a pattern like the whorls of a fingerprint. The smoky flavour is gorgeous with the miso-glazed fish.


CALORIES PER SERVING 537/495 mackerel/salmon


180 g Thai black rice or brown rice

1 pointed cabbage

1 tsp olive oil

½ tbsp miso

1 tsp soy sauce

½ tsp honey

1 tbsp mirin (or sherry)

1 tsp ginger, grated

2 x 100 g mackerel fillets or salmon


Cook the rice according to the packet directions.

Cut the cabbage into quarters, brush with the oil and sprinkle with salt. Heat a heavy frying pan or griddle pan to very hot and cook the cabbage on both the cut sides until charred to an alarming black – this is what gives it the appealing smoky flavour. The cabbage will soften nicely, too.

Mix together the miso, soy sauce, honey, mirin (or sherry) and grated ginger. Lay the fish on a piece of foil, with the skin side down, and brush liberally with the marinade.

Grill under a very hot grill until just cooked through, but still slightly translucent at the centre.

Serve the fish with the rice and grilled cabbage, pouring over any juices from the fish.

Lamb and feta with tomatoes and freekeh (or bulgur wheat or spelt)

Freekeh is a Middle Eastern speciality, grains of green wheat, dried and used a bit like rice. If you can’t find it (Palestinian fair-trade company Zayutoun does a good version) then bulgur wheat, spelt or brown rice will do just as well.




400 g tomatoes

200 g lamb fillet

1 tbsp za’atar

1 tsp honey

1 tsp oil

1 lemon, halved

100 g freekeh or bulgur wheat

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Leaves from a 20 g bunch of mint, roughly chopped

Leaves from a 20 g bunch of parsley, roughly chopped

50 g feta


Preheat the oven to 120 C/Gas 1.

Halve the tomatoes and spread on a baking tray. Sprinkle with salt and grind over pepper. Bake for around three hours, until slightly shrivelled.

Trim any fat from the lamb. Mix together the za’atar, honey and oil and rub over the lamb. Griddle over a medium heat until well browned but still a little pink in the middle. Griddle the lemon, cut side down, until browned, at the same time.

Cook the freekeh or bulgur according to packet instructions and stir in the cinnamon, followed by the mint and parsley.

Tumble the grains and tomatoes together in a serving dish and sprinkle over the feta. Slice the lamb and lay over the top. Serve with the griddled lemon to squeeze over.

Some other ideas...

Oaty fruit smoothie, 267cals

Blend a medium banana (81 cals), 2 tbsp porridge oats (42 cals),125 g plain yogurt (71 cals), 6 almonds (24 cals) and a handful of frozen strawberries (49 cals).

Broccoli, lentil and tahini salad, 566 cals

Drain a 400 g tin of green lentils (218 cal) and mix with 1 tbsp olive oil (120 cal) and squeeze of lemon (2 cal), 200 g steamed broccoli florets (80 cals) and a grilled, peeled pepper (34 cal) cut into strips, plus salt and pepper. Mix 1 tbsp tahini (99 cal) with 1 tbsp lemon juice (5 cal) and 1-2 tbsp water to make a single cream consistency. Trickle over and sprinkle with 1 tsp nigella seeds (8 cals). 

Turmeric, sweet potato and coconut mussels (dinner for 2), 531 cals per person

Slice a red onion (49 cal), a lemongrass stem (10 cal) and a chilli (9 g; 2 cal), and cook in a large pan with 1 tsp oil (40 cal) and 1 tsp turmeric (9 cal). Add a tin of low fat coconut milk (300 cal), 200 g sliced pak choi (38 cals) and 175 g cooked, cubed sweet potato (147calories), plus 1 kg cleaned mussels. Cover and cook for five minutes, until the mussels open. Sprinkle with coriander leaves (5 cal) and serve with 100 g jasmine rice cooked (350 cal).

© Telegraph Media Group Limited 2018