Wednesday, 1 July 2015

New Tinware Range from Wrendale Designs by Hannah Dale *REVIEW*

Oooh I've got some lovely stuff to share with you all today. Some inspiration for breathing new life into your kitchen with the fabulous new tinware collection from the uber-talented Hannah Dale of Wrendale designs.

Hannah is the most stunning artist, she captures animals in such a beautiful and unusual way - I've never seen work quite like it! I've been a huge fan of her artwork since discovering her through Facebook a few years ago, and have sent many of her greetings cards over the years. As well as greetings cards her artwork is also available on an amazing selection of prints, stationary, kitchenware and tinware for you to purchase in her online shop. 

Hannah's recent launch of an amazing tinware collection includes cake tins, a biscuit barrel, cracker tin, tea/coffee/sugar canisters, rectangular tin, round canister, and a pencil tin. I knew as soon as I saw them that they would make the perfect addition to my home, and wanted the biscuit barrel, cracker tin and tea/coffee/sugar canisters to liven up my cream country kitchen. I knew that Bert would go mad for the quirky animal designs, as he is just animal crazy at the moment! You haven't lived until you've heard his animal noises, especially 'Baa!" - it's hilarious!!

We were badly in need of a new biscuit tin, as ours had recently broken, so this delivery couldn't have come at a better time. We were sent the kitchen tinware to try out and now they've been living in our kitchen for a few weeks I thought it was time to share them with you!

This collection is so wonderful that I can pretty much let the pictures do the talking...

biscuit barrel priced at £13.99 and cracker tin priced at £8.99 

Each item of tinware uses the classic Wrendale Designs colour-scheme of a gentle green and white: soothing, classic and bang on trend with the shabby-chic/French rustic colours around at the moment. The tins are covered in Hannah's beautifully quirky animal-themed artwork and each stunning animal is full of life and character. 


The best thing about this tinware collection aside from how beautiful they are to look at, it that they are incredibly well made and robust - plus they are priced very reasonably. Each tin has so much attention to detail with artwork adorning the lids, and inside the tins too! 

So much detail on the tea, coffee and sugar canisters!

Ducks, ducklings, hares and owls smother these fabulous kitchen essentials: Hannah's cheeky animals are full of life and frivolity and I defy anyone who wouldn't smile at seeing these little faces every time they grab a biscuit or make the tea! 

There's nothing quite as glorious as a full biscuit tin! 

We have been using the tinware for a few weeks now and we're super-chuffed with them. Everything is staying really fresh inside, so they're clearly air tight, and they're incredibly well made and sturdy. 

Filled to the brim with Bert's crackers and breadsticks - he loves the duck design on the tin and shouts "duck! duck!" every time I get him a snack from it. 

Without exception everyone who has come to the house to visit since the addition of these new tins, has commented on how lovely they are! So many visitors said they hadn't heard of Hannah's work or Wrendale Designs, so I'm really happy to be getting the chance to spread the Wrendale-word. 

a close up of some of Hannah's incredible artwork featured on her tinware items

The tins have made the perfect finishing touch to my kitchen, I love how well they fit in with my cream shabby-chic units, appliances and existing decor, and the fact that I have multiple matching items pleases me greatly - I love a bit of co-ordination, even in the kitchen! 

I love how they look in my kitchen - the perfect addition adding a little edge of quirky charm - I smile every time I make the tea and coffee now!

I hope you love these tins as much as I do - please do go and check out all of Hannah's fantastic products on the Wrendale Designs website: there are so many stunning animal designs - the website is the perfect place to shop for any animal-lover! 

Next on my wish-list from Wrendale Designs are...

these coasters
and of course this cotton apron, to make that 20 aprons in my collection! 

Bye for now & happy shopping!!

Mrs B 

xxx

For more information on Wrendale Designs follow them over on their social media channels:

@wrendaledesigns on Twitter
Wrendale Designs on Facebook 

Disclaimer: I was sent a biscuit barrel, cracker tin and tea/coffee/sugar canisters from Wrendale Designs for the purpose of this review. All words, opinions and photographs are my own.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Our Wonderful Weekend and The #GoodNightGuarantee from Premier Inn Victoria

I'm feeling like I'm floating on cloud 9 right now after having the most marvellous weekend away! Weekends like the one that's just passed is what life is all about for me: making memories and having brilliant experiences with the ones you love. 

Our long weekend was the perfect balance of selfish (but oh so important) grown up time and beautiful family time with our gorgeous boy, Bert. 

Our weekend kicked off on Friday night when we headed down to Surrey to my Mum's house - my mum, stepdad and my twin sister Jo had offered to babysit Bert for us all day Saturday, Saturday night and most of Sunday, so Liam and I could get away together for some grown up time, much needed when you're the parents of a super-busy toddler! 

Life flashes by so fast sometimes, and Bert of course takes up much of our time and energy - we have found that it becomes so easy to forget about your roles as 'wife' and 'husband' because ultimately, being Bert's parent is always at the forefront of each day, the priority.  So being given the chance to escape from being in charge of Bert for a few hours meant we could relax and enjoy each other without our little dude to distract us. 

Luckily for Bert, my lovely family had planned an amazing little trip away for him too - they took him down to Pagham on the south coast on Saturday and stayed in a caravan for the night, visited the beach, the swimming pool, and a big soft play centre - he got treated to a dinner and lunch out, and was spoilt rotten with gifts of a new bucket and spade, and big new bouncy ball - what a lucky boy! He didn't even have a chance to miss us!

After catching up with my family on Friday night, we got up on Saturday morning and said goodbye to our gorgeous boy before we headed off to London for operation #grownuptime. 



We were excited to arrive at our hotel - The Premier Inn Victoria and check out our room. I haven't stayed at a Premier Inn for around 10 years, so I was intrigued to see what the rooms would be like, how good the breakfast would be and wondered how we'd rate the hotel overall? Premier Inn offer the guarantee of a good night's sleep, and I was really hoping they would deliver. I was a bit nervous...I so wanted everything to be perfect for our time away. I find that I always have that jittery feeling when staying somewhere new - what if it's really awful? 

Luckily for us, we were so happy with our room, and our overall stay with Premier Inn was just brilliant!

We chose the Premier Inn at Victoria because of its brilliantly central location - just a five minute walk from Victoria train station, a short walk to Buckingham Palace, and just half an hour or so walk to Piccadilly it couldn't have been situated in a better location for our weekend plans. We arrived at Victoria station in the beautiful sunshine, and headed round to our hotel for 2pm to check in. The staff were friendly and checked us in really quickly, we were in our room with the kettle on by 2.15pm, you can't ask fairer than that! 



Our room was really great - spacious, very clean and well decorated. Usually with chain hotels I've stayed in in the past they have been tatty, and badly in need of updating - but our room was bright, airy and modern. The bed was big and very comfortable, we had two pillows on the bed, with two extra pillows stored in the wardrobe (which was great as hubby and I both sleep with two pillows each) - we really couldn't fault it. 


The room facilities were fabulous - we had a kettle with complimentary tea, coffee, sugar, sweetener and milk, a hairdryer, a desk with lamp, phone, wardrobe, and plenty of plug sockets for chargers etc. The room's free wifi worked instantly and stayed connected the whole weekend - we didn't have to keep signing in and the signal didn't drop once! Perfect!

There was an in-built bottle opener attached to the wall, which was a nice touch, and there were various lighting options, with handy little reading lights built in by the bed: it seems as if Premier Inn really have tried to think of everything when it comes to your satisfaction and comfort.


I liked the decor of the room and hallways: they used the recognisable Premier Inn colour-scheme of purple, yellow and white throughout. Everything was in brilliant condition - the carpets looked brand new! Everywhere we went in the hotel was freshly hoovered, and smelt clean and fresh. 


The bathroom was really clean, and had everything you could need for a night away: bath with shower above, toilet, basin with complimentary hand soap and a wall pump full of hair/body wash to use if you didn't bring your own cosmetics.  


We bought our own bottle of red wine to drink in the room, along with some chocolate and other snacks to enjoy at lunch time. Once we had unpacked we just enjoyed chilling out together in our room - a well earned rest from the hustle and bustle of life as busy parents. 

At around 6pm we got dolled up and headed out for an evening of fun together. Liam and I have a pact about any time we spend in London: we have vowed to always walk around London rather than get the tube or buses. Not only do you get to see a lot more of London than you would if you travelled by tube, but the pace of your trip slows when you have to walk from place to place, which for us, makes the time we spent in the capital much more pleasant. Also, there's the added health-benefit - it's amazing just how many calories you can burn when you clock up the mileage around London. So, with that in mind, and in the beautiful sunshine, we walked the 40 or so minutes across London to Regent Street and Piccadilly, and headed to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co (in the Trocadero) for dinner. 

I've been wanting to eat at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co restaurant ever since it opened, and had heard such great things about it. Anyone who has ever watched and loved the film Forrest Gump will know and understand the restaurants' heritage. A perfect homage to the amazing film, this restaurant is so much fun and so well designed. 

The decor is just amazing, and the food is TO DIE FOR. 

I ordered the Dumb Luck Coconut Shrimp and fries, which comes with a side of fries, coleslaw and a mustardy/oniony/orange marmalade dip which was delicious. Liam went for the Shrimper's Paradise, which was a selection of battered shrimp, hush pups (kind of like fishcakes) fish goujons, fries and loads of dips - there was SO MUCH FOOD but it was so good we had to eat it all and order dessert! 

Well, it was treat night after all. 


For dessert I went for Mama's Bread Pudding with ice cream, and boy was it good! I've never seen Bread Pudding on the menu anywhere else, and the only one I've ever eaten is my own mum's recipe (which I LOVE & is my favourite thing she bakes!) but I have to say (sorry Mum!) that this bread pudding blew all other bread puddings out of the water. Served smothered in a syrup with a strong taste of cinnamon and allspice, it was warm, slightly gooey, and oh so decadent. 

Hubby opted for the giant pudding selection platter which was reminiscent of an episode of Man Vs Food! Ha! He did really well and almost ate it all, he said it was totally delicious - and I had a taste and can vouch that it was really very good. With full tummies and totally raving about this fab restaurant we then took the short walk round to Regent Street to visit ICEBAR LONDON

Our friends Danni & Charlie had kindly gifted us a £50 voucher to spend at ICEBAR LONDON and we were excited to be able to fit this into our weekend away - booked in advance into the 9:30pm slot, we couldn't wait to see what the ICEBAR had to offer. 


After donning our super-warm hooded robes and thermal gloves, we headed into what can only be described as a nightclub made completely from ice!! It was a truly incredible experience. 

Walls of ice, a bar of ice, sculptures and even the glasses we drank out of were made of ice - I've never seen anything like it! However, anyone who really suffers in the cold, beware! Despite the robe and gloves it really is quite cold (mainly on your hands and legs)...still, you only stay inside for a 40 minute slot, which is the perfect amount of time, I wouldn't have been able to cope with any longer, but any shorter time and I wouldn't have been able to take in everything. We slurped down 2 totally delicious cocktails each, and marvelled at the amazing icy sights: we took loads of photos - we were pre-warned by other friends that ICEBAR has it's own photographer who will take 'official shots' of you whilst you're inside, but they will charge you £12 each photo if you want to download them online, ouch! Luckily, they don't stop you from taking your own photos, so we had fun snapping away and got some great photos to treasure.

We stumbled back to Victoria after a lovely evening of decadent food, cocktails and icy-fun, and had the best nights sleep ever! The hotel room was so peaceful - we didn't hear any noise from outside, or from other rooms, and it was hard to drag ourselves from our slumber in the morning.

One of the only downsides to our stay was the unfortunately timed fire alarm that went off at 7:45am on the Sunday morning, oh dear! We jumped out of bed faster than the speed of light - luckily, it wasn't anything serious, and the alarm stopped after a minute, so we clambered back into bed and managed another hours sleep before getting ready and heading downstairs for a Premier Inn breakfast.

We both had showers and got ready for the final day of our London adventures, unfortunately, we only managed to get lukewarm showers, which was a shame. The shower pressure was absolutely fine, but it just wouldn't run hot: maybe due to the high demand of showers at this time? But still..it was a shame for hubby as he loves a really hot shower.

We loved that at Premier Inn they serve breakfast until 11:30am on the weekends, as it meant we could enjoy a 'proper' lie in, without worrying about missing breakfast. So at just after 10:30am we trickled down to a blissfully quiet breakfast. I was so impressed with the beautiful restaurant situated downstairs, called 'Thyme'. 


Thyme was very tastefully decorated, and again looked brand new! The restaurant was the perfect environment for a chilled out, leisurely breakfast with Liam. 


Honestly, for me, one of the best things about staying in a hotel is the breakfast. 

As a major foodie I love a big English breakfast, and the fact that someone else cooks it for you and does all the washing up is just an amazing treat! I'm always pretty impressed at just how much I manage to eat at breakfast time - it's definitely my hungriest time, and is always my favourite meal of the day, so I was really excitedly anticipating a breakfast feast! 


The selection of food available at breakfast was truly brilliant - there really was something for everyone. The full English selection included: bacon, sausage, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash browns, fried eggs and scrambled eggs. It was all totally delicious, and hot (a rarity for buffet breakfasts). The hot food was replenished frequently so nothing sat on the pass for too long, and it all tasted really fresh. 

Their was a fully stocked cereal bar with plenty of choice, plus a variety of different milks to choose from. Their was also a fresh fruit salad, yogurts, fresh fruit, pastries, muffins, toast with jams/honey etc and a selection of fruit juices to drink.



We literally cannot fault the Premier Inn breakfast, it was the best one I've ever eaten in a chain hotel ever! In fact, it was so good that hubby had two plate's full of Full English!! I had one plate of Full English, followed by a delicious bowl of cereal, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, yoghurt and honey. And wow - we were so full up we didn't eat again until 9pm (seriously!) 


Tea and coffee was literally on-tap: you could help yourself to a variety of teas, and  there was a Costa Coffee station where you could make anything from an espresso, to a cappuccino at the press of a button! Hubby was in coffee heaven.  

It is also worth noting that had we had Bert with us, he would have eaten breakfast for free! All kids breakfasts are free when you book with Premier Inn, how great is that? The perfect choice for families. I definitely wouldn't hesitate to visit again with Bert in tow. 

We ate our breakfasts until we could barely breathe, and then packed up and checked out at 12pm. The kind staff members offered to look after our luggage for us while we went off and explored the city a bit more, and the check out process took seconds, literally! 

We cannot fault the hotel and its staff - they were so attentive, and nothing seemed like too much trouble: a kind hotel staff member even replenished my tea/coffee/sugar/milk supplies at 11:30pm on Saturday night when I'd run out! Brilliant! 

As we left we noticed this sign posted on the door in reception, and we truly appreciated their apology for the fire alarm that morning, luckily, no harm was done, and we soon got back off to sleep. 


I would highly recommend the Premier Inn Victoria to anyone wanting to stay in Central London - it ticked all the boxes and more for us, and we had a really great stay! We would absolutely agree with their #GoodNightGuarantee - as we had a sound night's sleep in beautiful and uber-comfortable surroundings! 

Thank you to Premier Inn for putting us up for the night!

Premier Inn rates vary but our one night stay including breakfast should have cost around £156, absolute value for money right there. 

--------------------

After leaving the hotel we headed across London to Southbank, where we happened upon the most amazing little food market situated outside the Royal Festival Hall: it was a good job we'd just eaten a delicious breakfast otherwise we would have definitely been tempted by all these foodie delights! Photos had to suffice this time as I was just too full to contemplate any more food, still, it was amazing to walk around and see what the market had to offer. 


We finished our day in London with more walking, taking in the sights, and a coffee and kindle reading for a few hours in a coffee shop near Victoria. We then headed back to Surrey to join one of my bestest friends Carmi for a drink in a lovely little pub called The Home Cotage in my old home town of Redhill. It was great to catch up with her properly sans Bert - as we got to have a proper chat, which isn't usually possible with Bert in tow! Although she did miss seeing her little B-Man, naturally. 

We had lots of fun playing with my new selfie stick over the weekend too - a kind and very funny present from my lovely sister, Liam and I are total selfie-stick converts, and think it's a brilliant piece of kit! 


Of course, it was magic to get home to Bert - who'd had a whale of a time with his Nanny. Grandad and Auntie  - we missed him so much, but came back feeling really refreshed and ready for loads more adventures with our gorgeous boy. 



Yesterday (Monday) hubby had booked an extra days holiday from work and we had a morning of getting jobs done like taking Bert to get a much-needed haircut, and I had to visit the emergency dentist (boo) due to an infected wisdom tooth (not so fun!). In the afternoon we headed back into London along with my mum, to super-sunny Richmond, to take Bert to see In The Night Garden Live, in Richmond Park. 

We headed up there a bit early with a picnic in tow and enjoyed the sunshine before the show started at 2pm. Bert absolutely loved the show, despite being a little overwhelmed and nervous at first. He got so excited when he saw his beloved Makka Pakka and Upsy Daisy in real life! It was a truly brilliant show, pitched perfectly for toddlers, and he was literally dancing in aisles. Bert was talking about 'Daisy' all the way home, I even caught him kissing his Upsy Daisy soft toy when I glanced back at him in the wing mirror in the car on the journey home. Adorable! 

It was a perfect weekend from beginning to end, and I'm left feeling so lucky! It's amazing what a great nights sleep, good food, great company and some down time can do for the soul. Time away from the everyday grind is so vital for health and happiness, and Liam and I are so lucky to have had the opportunity to do such wonderful things and stay in such wonderful places. 

Mrs B

xxx

If you'd like more information about Premier Inn then head to their social media pages:

Premier Inn on Facebook
@premierinn on Twitter

Disclaimer: We were gifted a one night stay in a double room with breakfast at Premier Inn Victoria for the purpose of this review. All words, images and opinions are my own. 

Cooking With Wine - For Absolute Beginners


Why should I cook with wine?
The great thing about wine is that it’s not just for drinking; adding wine to a dish will not only enhance the flavour, but also the aroma of the meal.
This is because heating the wine simply concentrates the flavour of it, which means it will accentuate all the best parts of the meal. Remember, the wine needs to blend and meld into the other ingredients, not be a noticeable and overpowering ingredient. Wine can also be used instead of large quantities of oil to reduce the calorie content of your meals, and with supermarkets like Tesco offering such a large selection of wines, you have no excuse not to pick up a bottle with the weekly shop and get started today!
Match the wine to the dish
One of the first issues that you might face when cooking with wine is how to select the right wine for the dish. But before you panic and worry that your lack of experience of cooking with wine is going to count against you, don't worry - you can totally do this!
As a general rule, fish and white meat, such as turkey or chicken, should be accompanied by a dry white wine, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Meanwhile red meat, such as beef, goes best with a full-bodied red wine, such as a Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel.
When should I add wine to the pan?
While it may be tempting to add the wine to the pan straight away (and then pour a generous glass for yourself, too, obviously!) the trick is to wait.
Hold off until the ingredients have been simmering for a while, but there is still a lot of cooking time left, this way it will enhance the dish without being too obtrusive.
Let the wine cook before adding another liquid
This is probably the biggest mistake that a lot of people make, as it can be tempting to add all the liquids that the recipe requires at once. Doing this will only accentuate the taste of the wine, which will overpower the other ingredients.
Instead, take the time to let the wine cook before adding your stock or other liquid to avoid serving something that tastes like uncooked wine.
Can I bake with wine?
It’s not just pan-fried food that tastes great with added wine, but baked goods too! Wine can be added to all sorts of desserts, such as champagne cake, which can be created by following a simple sponge recipe and (slowly) adding champagne when the dry and wet ingredients are being beaten together.
Red wine and chocolate cake also go very well together, just remember to add exactly the amount of wine that the recipe calls for. The heat of the oven will burn off the alcohol and leave you with a rich, moist and simply delightful cake that will leave your guests wanting more.
Cooking with wine is so much easier than you think, so why not have a look at a few recipes online and see what you can create in your kitchen?
Image by Montaplex used under the Creative Commons license.


Thursday, 25 June 2015

Urban Country Bags - Felt Satchel *REVIEW*


Urban Country Bags is a handbag and accessories design company based in the very lovely local (to me) town of Hitchin. 

I first discovered them when a friend of mine (hey Anwyn!) walked past a shop in Hitchin that was displaying some of their gorgeous bags in the window...she said as soon as she saw them she thought of me (and my love for bags - namely satchels & anything quirky AND pretty) - and she Instagrammed a photo, tagging me in it. I'd never seen such a beautiful satchel - made in such an interesting material (felt) - and I knew I just had to share these awesome bags with you, my lovely readers. 

The wonder of social media: via Instagram my good friend introduced me to the wonder that is Urban Country Bags. 

I got in touch with Urban Country Bags and they kindly offered to send me their Large Navy & Grey Felt Satchel priced at £41.50 to take with me to last weekend's BritMums Live conference! I might have done a little dance around my kitchen!

When it arrived, beautifully packaged in its own dust jacket/bag I did a little squeal! It was so pretty in real life and I just couldn't stop stroking it - the felt it's made from is such a sensory material, and such an unusual material for a bag. I was pleasantly surprised by how big it was in the flesh - the perfect weekend conference bag for all my essentials...notebook, pens, Kindle, purse, power pack, snacks, bottle of water, phone, cosmetics...you know, the kitchen sink!

My stunning Urban Country Felt Satchel in all its glory the day it arrived! 

The large felt satchels come with various colour options for the main body of the bag: navy, orange, burgundy red, cerise pink, green, and grey. Smaller satchels are also available in other colour options (including mustard, swoon!) 

Priced at £41.50 I think these bags are amazing value - trust me when I tell you that the quality of my satchel is second-to-none: it wouldn't look out of place on the shelves of Harrods or Liberty, and I'm quite frankly amazed that it came with such an afforable price tag. 

I chose the navy satchel because I knew that both of my outfits for the BritMums Live conference (and 90% of my whole wardrobe come to that) were navy and/or Breton stripes, and I hoped that the navy satchel would co-ordinate beautifully with each outfit. 

From top to bottom/left to right: At The Brewery, London for BritMums Live, at home before I set off for my weekend in London with my satchel and gold cabin case (I love me a bit of sparkle!), my satchel on the day it arrived. 

Striking a pose with my navy felt satchel - filled to the brim with blogger conference essentials. 

The bag comes with two perfectly sized pockets: an internal iPad/Kindle pocket plus a front pocket. In the main cavity of the bag there's plenty of room for a laptop (up to 15.5") and all your other essentials - a great business bag if you want to commute with a little more style! There's also a little see-through business card/pass pocket at the front which I handily used to display my blog business card throughout the BritMums event. It would also be cute to place a personal photo in there to personalise your bag a little more. 

The main cavity of the bag is covered by a velcro closing lid, and the main lid closes using two magnetic fasteners (see picture)

Plenty of room for a Kindle, iPad, laptop and other necessities...

Stunning detail, sturdy and well made, with adjustable and detachable shoulder strap. 

My new favourite bag! 

I literally lost count of all the wonderful compliments I got about my bag over the weekend: I think on the whole people love to see something a little different - and this striking bag definitely caught people's attention...I should have been giving out Urban Country business cards, not my own! Ha! 

Do you have a favourite bag?

Bye for now

Mrs B 

xxx

For more information on the beautiful ranges from Urban Country Bags head over to their social media platforms:

@urbancountrybags on Instagram
Urban Country Bags on Pinterest

Disclaimer: I was sent a large navy felt satchel from Urban Country Bags for the purpose of this review. All words, images and points of view are my own. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

My Opinion of Meal Replacement Diets (Exante Diet 4 Day Trial)

Last week I agreed to put the Exante Diet to the test for four days. 

Generally, I would say I'm pretty against meal replacement diets: I think that although they often have impressive results, those results are hard to maintain once you're back to eating "normal" food, and the method of replacing your meals for calorie controlled packets/shakes/bars teaches you nothing about how to moderate everyday food - so you often find you go back to your bad habits as soon as you stop the meal replacement products. 

Although nutritionally balanced, the products in meal replacement diets don't teach you about nutrition in "real" food, nor do they educate you to make positive choices when it comes to exercise, which is also vital for healthy weight loss. 

Here's how I see it: meal replacement diets for me are useful for extreme cases of obesity where it is vital for health (maybe you need surgery, or maybe your health is failing very badly due to obesity) to get the weight off as quickly as possible. After a meal replacement diet has been used in this instance to get the dangerous weight off then I think it's pretty paramount that the person then gets lots of dietary advice and support from a professional dietician and maybe a counsellor, to work through their food issues and re-educate themselves about calories, portion size, moderation and general nutrition so that they can then keep that weight off for life.

However, in today's market, meal replacement diets seem to be everywhere, and everyone is trying them! Often marketed as a "quick fix" with "fast results" promising you'll drop a dress size in 30 seconds (okay, I'm exaggerating) - but you catch my drift. Everyone is hoping for a miracle cure for weight gain - and are foolishly led to believe that eating from packets for a few weeks will solve all their food woes. 

Before I lost all my weight through balance, moderation and exercise I would have totally been the sort of person to buy into one of these schemes. In the past I've tried shakes and bars, to no avail - sure I'd lose a few pounds here and there but I'd either a) get bored of the food and give up after less than a week or b) put the weight back on as soon as I began to eat normally again. I went round in circles like this for the whole of my teenage years and early twenties. The quality of the food back then was pretty diabolical, and realistically I was never going to stick to it for very long. 

For me, any "diet" which means you have to follow very limited food choices, or super-strict guidelines (such as no carbs, high protein, fast days, absolutely no junk etc) is just so unrealistic for a foodie like me. One of the biggest steps for me overcoming my weight problems and food addictions was embracing and accepting my love for food. All food. From the junk right through to a rainbow of fruit and vegetables - I love it all - and as soon as I accepted that and felt brave enough to shout it from the rooftops I was amazed by how relieved I felt, how confident, and how I became desperate to get into the kitchen and create delicious foods. Before this I'd been naively hoping that if I didn't share how much I loved my food and how often I thought about it, then no-one would notice how fat I was - how bizarre is that? 

Over the course of my 6 stone 9 lb weight loss, I found something interesting happening - I slowly began to understand the appeal of the "quick fix" diet: at my heaviest with 7 stone to lose the promise of dropping one dress size, or losing 10lbs in two weeks was a little irrelevant - I had so much more than that to lose, and I could see little point in these extreme diets. As I near the end of my weight loss journey (not a diet - I plan to eat this way forevermore!) with just 7lbs left to lose, I can finally see the attraction. If you only have a small amount of weight to lose (perhaps you put on a few pounds over Christmas, or you'd like to drop a bit of weight before your summer holiday, maybe you are getting married in a few weeks and would like to feel at your best and drop a little weight beforehand) whatever the reason, if you're looking at needing to lose less than a stone, then I understand why a meal replacement diet might be appealing. It's a quick way to get a small amount of weight off, its prescribed and easy to follow, and pretty fool-proof if you stick to plan - anyone can stick to anything for a couple of weeks, and on these plans it only takes a few weeks to see some pretty good results. What happens after that very much depends on what your relationship with food and exercise is like to begin with: if you generally eat a healthy, moderate diet with plenty of exercise, and the weight gain was due to christmas treats, or a holiday - then you'll probably keep the weight off and be fine until your next big indulgence. If however, you have any bad habits albeit with food or exercise (lack of) then you're likely to put on the weight you lost from the meal replacement diet just as fast as you lost it. 

When the people over at Exante Diet asked me to give their meal replacement products a try, I decided it could be an interesting experiment. I have been maintaining my current weight (10 stone 7lbs or thereabouts) for almost 4 months, and it is beginning to frustrate me! I really want to get the final 7 lbs off to get to my 10 stone target, but it just doesn't seem to be happening - I lose a pound, then gain a pound, then maintain for weeks, and can't seem to break that cycle. Would a blast of the Exante Diet be the answer I needed? Would it kickstart my body back into weight loss mode? Would it be a quick way to just get this last bit of weight off? 

I headed over to their website to check out their diet options - they have many combinations of diets from VLCD diets (Very Low Calorie Diets) of around 600 calories per day which will put your body into ketosis (burning your internal fat), to stabiliser programmes for people like me with only a little weight to try and lose now and again. 

It was recommended I try the Stabiliser programme, and I decided that 4 days before I headed off to BritMums Live for the weekend, would be a great time to do it. I had many doubts, and lots of pre-conceptions, but anyone can stick to anything for just 4 days, right?

How would I feel on the diet?

What would the foods taste like?

Would I feel hungry?

Would I see good results when I jumped on the scales?

Stabiliser Programme (amounts per day)

  • 1200 kcal in total
  • 80g approx. carbs
  • 2 x 200 calorie or 3 x 150 calorie Exante Diet products
  • 800 kcal extra food (for me in the form of dinner)
My plan was to eat an Exante diet product (each around 200 calories) for breakfast, and lunch, followed by 800 calories of extra food - usually in the form of a small snack and my usual dinners. 

When the packets arrived I was pretty dubious - when a third of my food for 4 days would be coming out of silver packets when I'm used to eating fresh, homemade from scratch dishes a lot of the time, I was more than a little bit nervous. 

My 4 day supply of Exante Diet products: from shakes and bars to meals such as noodles and shepherds pie.

Over on their website they make the food look pretty appetising - realistically I know this is down to great photography and some serious food styling, so I wasn't expecting miracles to come from the little silver packets...I was genuinely interested as to what I would find. As a foodie with reasonably high food-standards would I find this palatable? 

The pictures of the food from the Exante website...would they seriously look like this?

Here's how my 4 day planned looked on paper:

Monday: 

Breakfast - Exante Chocolate Coconut Bar 

Lunch - Exante Strawberry Cheesecake Shake 

Dinner - Spicy chicken nuggets (homemade) with new potatoes roasted in rapeseed oil and callaloo gratin (Jamaican spinach mixed with egg, parmesan, breadcrumbs and seasoning and baked in the oven) - 766 calories

Snack - 1/2  a packet of Exante Choco Balls (79 calories)

Tuesday:

Breakfast - Exante Chocolate Coconut Bar

Lunch - Exante Creamy Coconut Shake

Dinner - Jerk chicken thighs x 2 (homemade), with potato salad & coleslaw - 800 calories.

Snack - 1/2  a packet of Exante Choco Balls (79 calories)

Wednesday:

Breakfast - Exante Breakfast eggs with one slice of wholemeal toast.

Lunch - Exante Shepherd's Pie

Dinner - Baked eggs with feta and peppers with half a part baked wholemeal baguette - 783 calories.

Snack - 1/2  a packet of Exante Choco Balls (79 calories)

Thursday:

Breakfast - Exante Strawberry Shake

Lunch - Exante Sweet and Sour Noodles

Dinner - Baked Potato with baked beans and half fat cheddar (672 calories)

Snack - 1/2  a packet of Exante Choco Balls (79 calories)

Most of the Exante products are super-simple to prepare - with the shakes you just add cold water and blend/whisk, with the hot meals you add boiling water and then microwave for a short time, and the snacks are pretty much ready to eat. I undoubtedly therefore spent far less time in the kitchen over the four days: the only meal I had to spend any time on was dinner. At first it was quite liberating and I felt like I had so much more time to do other stuff - but after a day or two the novelty wore off, and I was missing being in the kitchen and preparing my food from scratch.

How Did It Taste?

Okay, so most importantly - how did it taste?

Honestly, overall it was tastier than I imagined it was going to be. Would I choose to eat it every day? No. Could I eat it once in a while for a few days to get a little bit of weight off? Yes. 

My favourite item was the chocolate coconut bar which I actually found to be really delicious. It was SO FILLING I couldn't quite believe that one bar could make me feel so full all morning, but it really did, and it was a joy to eat - chewy and glucose-y in the centre, it reminded me of a coconut flavoured boost bar, minus the biscuit pieces. It felt like a real treat, but is packed full of vitamins and nutrients, and only 207 calories - so for a breakfast or lunch substitute it worked really well. 

In fact, I liked the chocolate coconut bars so much that I'm going to order some to have at home on the days when I don't have time for breakfast or I need an easy but super speedy lunch. Each bar retails usually at £2.20 (so they're not cheap) but remember it is meant to replace a whole meal, so it's definitely cheaper than say buying lunch out, or a breakfast on the run. They're currently on offer for £1.99 - and if you're serious about giving the Exante Diet a go they currently have an offer on for 60 of their diet products for £60 - which is pretty great value (thats 20 days worth of 3 meals - considerably cheaper than your food shopping, I bet). 


My four days of meals on the Exante diet.

The shakes tasted good, and had a nice thick texture - they were creamy, and the flavours on the whole were really nice. My favourite was the strawberry cheesecake flavour as it was extra-creamy and tasted pretty decadent. The shakes are priced at £1.59 each, so pretty good value for a whole meal replacement. What I will say, which I found to be true of all the shakes I tried is that they all have that slight vitamin tang to them - I don't mind that at all, but please don't expect it to taste like the creamiest of real ice cream shakes that you'd get at your favourite burger joint, as you'll just be disappointed- these are diet shakes after all.

The actual hot meals I tried came in the form of a Shepherd's Pie and Sweet and Sour Noodles. I was most scared of these products! A meal that comes in a silver packet in powder form is never going to get me excited - and although they both smelt okay, they looked pretty grim. 

In order to get through this diet you definitely have to ignore how the food looks, and have to lose all hope of getting a variety of texture in your hot meals - the shepherd's pie was reminiscent of the baby food shepherd's pie that I fed Bert as a baby, granted, it tasted slightly better than its baby food contemporary, but a shepherd's pie as I know and love it was not. 

The same goes for the noodles - if you are a regular eater of Pot Noodles, Super Noodles or the such then you might quite enjoy these, but to me they just aren't a meal. It takes minutes to cook some brown pasta, or cous cous, and there are some very easy sauces you can make from scratch and even some great shop bought ones these days, which are infinitely better for you. Yes, the Exante products are all fortified with vitamins etc, so I was getting goodness in some form from these hot meals, but the pleasure element just wasn't there - I missed cooking, and I missed being excited by the fresh look of my plate of food. 

Was I Hungry?

Over the four days I didn't really feel hungry, which I was surprised at - I had a couple of extra snacks here and there, but nothing major - on the whole I felt satisfied. I did find I was really looking forward to my evening meal of "real" food, and totally relished every mouthful of my dinner. I would definitely struggle to eat only Exante products on one of their more extreme diet plans, and don't think I could stick to it without losing my tiny mind a little bit. 

The Results

On the Monday morning on the day of starting the diet I weighed in at 10 st 7 lbs

On the Friday morning after my 4 days Exante experiment I weighed in at 10 st 6 lbs 

So, I lost 1lb in 4 days.

Not overly impressive, I hear you cry, and no, it isn't - I could confidently lose the same amount using My Fitness Pal to count 1200 calories a day for 4 days - that is how I have lost my weight up to this point, and it works. 

I would enjoy a diet of balanced and moderate "real" food each day so much more than I would eating diet replacement products, and I'd be learning so much about portion control and wise choices as I went along. 

So, why haven't I been losing over the past four months then? 

Well, because I've been eating more. I now average around 1600 calories per day, and have been enjoying being able to eat more (still balanced and in moderation, but those extra 400 calories per day make my eating day so much nicer). I have found that 1600 calories per day is just the right amount for me to maintain my current weight with the amount of exercise I do - and so in order to plough on and lose this final 6 lbs of weight to get to my 10 stone target I either need to lower my calories once again, or step up my exercise. 

Moving Forward

From now on I'm planning on trying a combination of lowering my calories to 1400 per day, and upping my exercise. By doing this I hope that I can finally get to my 10 stone weight goal by the end of the summer.

I'm going to continue with the large amount of walking I already do, but I'm going to add into the mix two new workouts: a 100 squat challenge workout which I found on YouTube and started this week. It works on strengthening and reshaping your legs, bottom and core - and it feels just brilliant - I felt stronger literally after the first workout. My plan is to try and do it 2-3 times per week for the foreseeable, and see how I go.

I have also found an arms workout with dumbbells that I'm desperate to try (I plan to start it this week) - my arms are definitely the part of my body I like the least, and I'd love to work on toning them, and making them stronger. I love that both these workouts can be done at home (probably while Bert is napping, or in the evening), and cost nothing to do. I won't count the calories I burn doing these workouts, and so twinned with a 1400 calorie per day diet, I hope to see weekly losses. I will, of course, keep you posted. 

So, To Sum Up

Would I recommend the Exante diet to others? To those who have less than a stone to lose for a specific occasion (Christmas, wedding, holiday etc) then yes, it could work in the short term for you, if you are only working off a brief indulgence, or wanting to just drop a little bit of weight swiftly. If however, you have a complicated relationship with food, and you have lots of weight to lose, then in my opinion, meal replacement isn't for you. 

If you have a serious amount of weight to lose and your health is failing because of your size, then it may be an option to explore - please go and talk to your GP before you embark on anything like this, and if you have food addiction, emotional eating or binge eating tendencies then please seek the help of a dietician and counsellor who can help you fight those demons. 

For me going forward I think that some of the products in the Exante range would be useful for replacing the odd meal here and there. I trust that the products are fortified with balanced vitamins and minerals which means I could rely on them for being a nourishing quick breakfast or lunch on the run. I would see the bars/shakes as 'health food' rather than full-on diet replacement products, and will definitely use them going forward for weight management. 

Have you ever tried a meal replacement diet? 

What are your thoughts and experiences? I'd love to hear from you...

Mrs B

xxx

For more information about their diets, and if you'd like to give them a try then why not head over to the Exante Diet social media pages...

@exantediet on Twitter
Exante Diet on Facebook
Exante Diet on Pinterest
Exante Diet on YouTube

Disclaimer: I was sent all 10 Exante Diet products for the purpose of this review/experiment. However, all words and opinions are firmly my own, as I feel it vitally important to be 100% honest and upfront with my readers about the products I try, especially on a topic so important to me, like weight loss. 



Super Busy Mum