What constitutes “healthy” food is very much a subjective term: no food alone is intrinsically healthy, rather health is achieved through balanced, non-faddy eating that generally incorporates all food groups.
But with Christmas behind us – which is undoubtedly the most indulgent time of year when it comes to food – as well as those wonderful cheese courses, tins of chocolates and everything else, we're in search for some greenery back in our life.
Happily, attempting to have a healthier New Year doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom: from brightly coloured exciting veg packed recipes to saintly snacking and vegan feasts, there’s a whole host of goodness-giving cookbooks out there to help you shake off the January blues.
Whether you’re looking to eat less meat, to cut down on sugar or simply cook delicious, wholesome meals from scratch there’s plenty of inspiration on the shelves.
We’ve rounded up a few of our favourites that will put you in good stead for a happy, healthy and delicious New Year…
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
‘Eat Yourself Healthy’ by Dr Megan Rossi. Published by Penguin Life: £11.61, Wordery
With increasing amounts of us being diagnosed with gut issues, Dr Megan Rossi (or, The Gut Health Doctor) and her new recipes in Eat Yourself Healthy should be your first port of call for a diligent digestive system. Bringing a decade of knowledge as a dietitian and clinical research to the table, this book is filled with more than 50 gut-friendly recipe ideas to inspire your mealtimes: from creamy pistachio and spinach pesto to banana, fig and courgette breakfast loaf, every page is packed with health-giving ingredients that won’t irritate or inflame. There’s also advice on how to deal with common gut problems such as IBS, bloating and intolerances and it’s worth noting that Ella of Deliciously Ella credits Megan with transforming her own gut health. Be gone, tummy troubles, hello healthy new you.
‘The Self-Care Cookbook’ by Gemma Ogston. Published by Vermilion: £9.07, Wordery
A healthy New Year needn’t be all about calorie cutting or deprivation. Instead, this book focuses on that oft-repeated buzzword, "self-care", which it turns out doesn’t just mean cancelling your plans for a long bath instead but concerns how what we put into our bodies can improve our mind, mood and relationship with ourselves. The Self-Care Cookbook is split into four sections, Restore, Rebalance, Reflect and Renew with mood-boosting, comforting and calming recipes in each: think green goddess risotto, a coconutty “sleepy rice pud” and a “mindful” ramen accompanied by advice on life admin. The recipes are all plant-based but don’t feel too worthy and can easily be adapted should you desire some meat, fish or dairy in there. Spend a little time caring for yourself and eating nutritious, easy meals like these and you’ll feel nourished inside and out in no time at all.
‘Naturally Delicious Snacks & Treats’ by Gracie and Sophie Tyrrell. Published by Pavilion Books: £9.99, Amazon
When the time finally comes to put down the stollen for another year, your afternoon cuppa feels somewhat bereft without an accompanying sweet treat. Never fear, the Squirrel Sisters, aka Gracie and Sophie Tyrrell, have your back with their book of virtuous yet indulgent snacks. With recipes for grab and go breakfasts like pecan pancakes and smoothies all the way through to seed and salted honey energy balls, bacon maple popcorn and coffee and walnut muffins, each recipe is easy to follow, uses easily available ingredients and is naturally nourishing to keep your energy levels stable and stop you reaching for a KitKat. There’s also a handful of really nice dinner recipes – we made the deeply savoury dark chocolate chilli tortillas with great success.
‘Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite’ by Gizzi Erskine. Published by Octopus: £15, Waterstones
Gizzi is a sensible woman who knows that healthy eating doesn’t mean dieting and we find ourselves coming to this book published back in 2015 time and time again for real, wholesome and hearty recipes that just so happens to be super-nutritious. At the time, the #eatclean concept was going crazy and this book felt – and still feels – like a reaction to that madness, so while you won’t find any cauliflower crust pizzas or spiralised veg taking the place of pasta, you will instead find a collection of lighter, satisfying recipes that are both healthy and delicious. We love the divine chicken Caesar salad which has a brilliant lower fat dressing than usual, and the smoked mackerel cauliflower rice kedgeree is also a favourite. You’ll also find some downright dirty feasting ideas – because a healthy diet is all about balance, isn’t it?
‘Pinch of Nom – Everyday Light’ by Kate Allinson and Kay Featherstone. Published by Pan Macmillan: £9.99, Argos
Ex-restaurant owners and friends Kate Allinson and Kay Featherstone had the big hit cookbook last year with the original Pinch of Nom book of low-cal low-fat “fakeaways” – it was the fastest selling cookbook of all time. Their new bible, Everyday Light, is still Slimming World and Weight Watchers friendly but this time everything is less than 400 calories. All recipes are super family-friendly and range from things like healthier fish and chips to hash brown breakfast bake; everything is so approachable that you find yourself marking half the recipes simply flicking through the book. Also, over half the book is vegetarian and we barely even clocked it: testament to how tempting and filling the recipes are. We love the fact that it’s so down to earth; there’s nothing intimidating about any of the meals, ingredients or techniques – these women embrace a shortcut which is great for making your New Year health drive so painless.
‘Vegan (ish): 100 simple budget recipes that don’t cost the earth’ by Jack Monroe. Published by Pan Macmillan: £11.55, Amazon
Not a health cookbook per se, but food writer and campaigner Jack Monroe’s approach uses the most basic of ingredients that it always ends up accidentally healthy regardless; this book is her first foray into meatless cooking, so by rote becomes better for you (generally) and the planet too. Comprising 100 un-snobby plant-based recipes, Jack proves that veganism doesn’t have to involve pricey meat substitutes or unusual, expensive ingredients and that it is possible to create budget-friendly meatless versions of classics like carbonara, and beet rather than beef wellington. We’ve got the bakewell tart bookmarked and feel healthier just thinking about it.
‘Deliciously Ella The Plant Based Cookbook’ by Ella Mills. Published by Hodder & Stoughton: £14.50, Book Depository
The biggest selling vegan cookbook ever had to be included in this list because whether you follow a plant-based diet or not, it’s clear that Ella Mills aka Deliciously Ella, knows how to create crowd-pleasing healthy food. This book shares recipes for some of the most popular dishes from her original blog and now her central London café, Mae Deli and covers everything from breakfasts, salads, burgers, one pots and sweet things. We’ve cooked our way through a lot of this book, and find it invaluable for staying on track during the working week: choose a few recipes from the salads or stews sections and cook in advance to ensure you always have something healthy ready-to-go in the fridge. The squash and corn salad with jalapenos and coconut is a winner, as is the Sri Lankan curry which is packed with sweet potato, spinach and warming spices. Some ingredients aren’t your usual storecupboard staples (coconut sugar, cacao powder) but can be bought in most large supermarkets or substituted. Look out for her new one coming this summer which is sure to be a hit too.
‘Chetna’s Healthy Indian’ by Chetna Makan. Published by Mitchell Beazley: £14, Amazon
It is bizarre that Indian food has a reputation for being unhealthy, because the opposite is true. Real, authentic Indian food is nothing like a greasy takeaway; Indian home cooking is fresh, seasonal, packed with nutrients and usually low in fat and high in fibre with a focus on vegetables and perhaps a little meat or fish. Great British Bake Off alumni Chetna Makan’s book, Chetna’s Healthy Indian, showcases all of these things and is a joy to cook from. We’ve created delicious bright chutneys, a creamy but light yoghurt chicken curry and so many veggie delights that have gone down well with friends, young family and for solo dinners. As a handy January extra, much of the ingredients are cheap as chips – red kidney bean curry, so many daals, sides cooked with frozen peas etc – so you can knock up fabulous healthy meals without breaking the bank until payday. A fuss-free book that’s full of flavour and is easy to cook and eat from for any occasion.
The verdict: Healthy cookbooks
Dr Megan Rossi’s very sensible, very nutritious collection of recipes in Eat Yourself Healthy is a trove of mouthwatering, accessible recipes that don’t demonise carbs, meat, dairy or fat but promote genuinely healthy eating.
We’d like to give a significant nod to the new Pinch of Nom which has made low calorie eating doable for so many people and will continue to do so with this new one – just be careful not to load up on substitute diet foods at the detriment of real health. Actual vegans have so much choice these days in recipe books, but both Jack Monroe’s and Ella Mills’s latest books should have a place on your bookshelf. Go forth and cook healthy things.