For the past 17 years, Jennifer Irvine has run Balance Box, delivering healthy, delicious meals to time-poor customers who want to ensure they’re putting the best food into their bodies.
Together with her team of nutritionists and chefs she manages to pack in at least 10 fruit and vegetables to every day’s plan, spread over breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. And her knowledge and knack for making seriously healthy dishes that pack a flavour punch hasn’t gone unnoticed, as everyone from Millie Mackintosh to Laura Whitmore and Amanda Holden are just some of her clients.
We tried Balance Box out for ourselves, not for weight loss but to take a little more control over our lockdown diet and get back on that wagon, and we can confirm that it was utterly delicious, filling and got us thinking about what we’re putting into our bodies during these strange times – read: too many 3pm sugar hits.
We spoke to Jennifer to find out how she’s coping with lockdown life and to steal a few of her cooking and healthy eating tips to stay on track while we’re all working, eating and entertaining ourselves at home.
Let’s talk lockdown: how are you feeling and how have you coped with the change to life?
I’m feeling incredibly thankful to my team who have worked so hard and been so great during this time. We have been able to continue working to deliver thousands of meals across the UK each week – especially helping those people who have had to stay home and need it most.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
I have four daughters, so my biggest challenge has been homeschooling. I take my hat off to teachers who constantly need to keep children motivated.
It seems like everyone has become reacquainted with their kitchens. Has this impacted the business or are people keen to order pre-made meals even in lockdown?
Our clients are very loyal and a lot of them have been working from home during this time so are still short of time and have relied on us to continue making their lives easier.
We have also found that people have been very conscious of their health during this change and have wanted to ensure they are remaining strong and healthy. We’ve been there to help with that.
What does your average lockdown day look like?
I wake up early with dawn every day and start looking at what is going on in the news around 5am. I grew up in a self-sufficient farm in West-Cork so have always been surrounded by animals, and this is no different.
I tend to the animals straight away and take the geese for a walk. I then get myself organised for the day, dealing with a lot of my correspondence, before my family are up by 7am. I prepare a big family breakfast, laying out healthy foods and a smoothie bar, and then walk the dogs.
Everyone is normally at their ‘desks’ by 9am, so I can then get some work done before clearing breakfast and getting lunch ready. During lockdown we have taken to having our big family meal at lunchtime, instead of in the evening, so I’ll prepare a roast chicken or some fish, and when it has been hot, we’ll have a BBQ. We then go for a walk, before everyone is back to their work.
About 5.30pm we all hang out – everyone tends to do their own thing in the evening, but some nights we will watch a movie together or play an online quiz.
What’s your advice for when the sugar cravings or snack cravings start?
First of all, if you do something “naughty” don’t beat yourself up about it, you can come back from it. Just because you’ve had a whole lot of sugar doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world, get back on the wagon and make sure you are being kind to yourself.
I always plan everything in advance, meals and snacks, to make sure I’m not left craving sugar and snacks all day. A good tip is to always blanche too many veggies so you always have leftover veg to snack on the next day.
What are your tips and tricks for making healthy food pack a flavour punch?
I can grow a lot in the garden with helps, from fresh herbs to lemon trees and chili plants.
Something I do always have in the cupboard, however are tins of sea vegetables like seaweeds and kelp. They are delicious used as a seasoning and add an umami taste to dishes. I also love shaving Parmesan over the top of food. And finally, truffle artichoke butter is great for dipping veggies in and spreading over fish to jazz it up.
What’s your approach to alcohol?
I drink very little so when I do, I find it incredibly therapeutic. I used to only drink once or twice a month, but during lockdown it has been once or twice a week. However, instead of wine, I prefer to make one delicious cocktail that I can savour.
I’ve been playing around a lot with mojito-style drinks and when days haven’t been so good, I’ll make a nice drink with ginger and chili. I think I enjoy the process of making it more enjoyable than drinking it – and because they take me so long to make, it tends to slow down the rate I drink them.
I love shaving Parmesan over the top of food and truffle artichoke butter is great for dipping veggies in and spreading over fish to jazz it up.
What’s the best way to start the day?
No question, sunlight and fresh air, even if it is just looking out the window or ideally stepping outside. If I go straight into my day I’m not as productive as I haven’t yet been outside.
And best way to wind down before bed?
To stop looking at my phone at around 6pm. Instead, I love to read books or play some sudoku, and just spend time with the family. My youngest loves board games so we do that a lot and we have a giant Jenga that the whole family play – the winner gets to pick the main meal the next night.
Jennifer’s Top 5 Tips For Eating Well
1. Plan ahead
Always look at the weather and plan meals ahead to minimise how often you shop and make sure you have the food you want to eat.
2. Plan snacks
Especially if you’re working out more and if your new office is only a few steps away from the kitchen.
3. Eat a variety of fruits and veg
Try and have lots of different fresh veg and fruit at hand to keep your gut healthy and fill you up too.
4. Up your protein
Make sure you have some in each meal and snack so you’re fuller for longer. For example, I mix some cream cheese or beans through guacamole if I’m having this as a snack with crudités and then I’m not tempted to keep snacking.
5. Always make food you enjoy cooking and eating
You will enjoy the pattern of doing it.