So you've eaten your bodyweight in scorched almonds, brie and other snacks over the holiday period and now you're wondering if it might be time to think a little more tactically about what you put in your mouth? Declaring yourself off sugar, fat, dairy, gluten, refined sugar and alcohol is all well and good but what happens when there's no time to make lunch or you have to eat out for another reason?
Luckily, Auckland seems to have embraced nutritious eating in a big way in the past couple of years and you won't have to settle for a bowl of lettuce with sparsely placed vegetables and a sliver of cheese if you want to eat healthily.
Turns out you don't have to declare yourself off sweets either as some of the newer places are doing amazing things without any refined sugar. Here's our guide to healthy hot-spots in Auckland.
This place is heaving at lunchtimes and it's no wonder with the fare it serves. Try any of its juices or smoothies for hydration packed with nutrition (like acai, goji and blueberry, raw cacao, chia seeds, maca and sacha inchi powder blended into an amazing-tasting milkshake with banana and hemp milk - tastes great, take our word for it). If you want something more "solid", the salad selection is outstanding and bursting with big, bold flavours. The Malaysian slaw is exceptional, as are the other more substantial rice, quinoa and noodle options. It's one of those lunch options that leaves you feeling virtuous and thoroughly sated at the same time.
You won't find any meat, but you won't miss it either. There's a different hot dish and raw soup every day and sweet fiends are well catered for too. A range of cakes, slices and even a tiramisu are all sweetened with either date paste or coconut sugar. This is a haven for anyone and everyone: vegan, gluten-free, raw food fans or just people who love great-tasting food. Better still it's also a shop so you can stock up for your new healthier home pantry, too.
East West Organics Superstore
34D Portage Rd, New Lynn
Ph (09) 826 5454
Ethos Cafe is one of the newest kids on the block.
It's part of the new East West Organics superstore in New Lynn so great news for healthy Westies. It has opaque roof panels so is a cheerful, light-filled space - although can get a bit hot if the temperature is up. It has an onsite bakery, is fully vegetarian and almost totally organic and the menu is a good balance of uber healthy and less so (but all delicious). It's the perfect place for a mixed group outing where not everyone wants to eat a raw vegan meal but would be more than happy with a well-executed vegetarian breakfast or a plate of coconut pancakes. If you're feeling virtuous, definitely hit the salad bar for tasty, well thought-out combinations; if you're lucky it will have the raw energy salad or cauli and chickpea options on. And if you want something totally indulgent but still free of refined sugar, dairy and grains its heavenly raw chocolate cheesecake is a must - vegan, gluten-free raw food has never tasted as good as this sweet treat.
10 Vulcan Lane (above O'Carrolls) Auckland CBD
Ph (09) 303 3624
Raw Power must have been one of the first, if not the first, health-oriented cafe in Auckland. Gracing Vulcan Lane with its presence for 20 years, it serves simple, tasty, fresh salads (perhaps not as sophisticated as some of the new breed of cafes but still healthy and delicious) hot meals - we've heard it does a great tofu burger - breakfasts and fresh juice as part of its totally vegetarian menu. Its claim to fame is that Gwyneth Paltrow stopped in for lunch when she was in New Zealand but whether that's appealing to you or not is debatable. What will definitely appeal - vegetarian or full-blooded carnivore alike - is the vegan carrot cake. If you're lucky, you can eat it at a table by the window and watch the comings and goings of the city folk below.
Zest Organic Store and Cafe
8 Victoria Rd, Devonport
Ph (09) 446 1010
Although it's tempting to order fish and chips when you're frolicking in the sun at Devonport with the kids, Zest offers healthier and equally tasty options. It does great green smoothies which vary depending on how much "green" you're up for.
The wraps (wheat and gluten-free) are baked from scratch on-site and fly out the door daily once they are packed with Zest's delicious fillings. Rice paper rolls are another popular option, as are the salads and pies. We were especially intrigued at how a vegetarian sausage roll made from gluten-free pastry with a walnut and sunflower seed filling could give you the same satisfaction and hearty taste as its meaty counterpart - but it definitely did.
Zest is known for its bliss balls, which pack more superfoods than you could ever imagine into one sweet treat (walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia, linseed, cacao nibs, acai, maca, coconut, orange zest almond meal and dates). If you tend towards feeling guilty when you eat sweets, that's definitely your one-stop solution, although more decadent sweets are available too.
33 Lorne St, Auckland Central,
24 Wyndham St, Auckland Central, ph for both stores is (09) 303 0420
Ten years ago, Jeremy Dixon and his wife Verity went to a health retreat and found the benefits so incredible they decided to start a cafe so people could get healthy cooked meals without slaving over them. The food is entirely vegetarian with a focus on wholegrains; honey and date puree as sweeteners if needed; all natural flavourings; minimal use of dairy products and no deep frying. The salad bar changes weekly and the hot pot, meal and dahl change daily, so it pays to check the website before going (although we're pretty sure there will always be something you enjoy). Think courgette and tarragon frittata with feta, potatoes and free-range eggs; Tamil tamarind dahl with pumpkin on brown rice or Thai peanut satay with chickpeas on brown rice - great in summer but unbelievably nourishing winter comfort food too. Dixon's goal was healthy food that was accessible and easy-to-enjoy no matter where you're at on your health journey. We think he's done pretty well.
Much has been said about Little Bird in Ponsonby since it opened last year to great acclaim. It's all well-deserved praise and it can pat itself on the back for bringing healthy food closer to the mainstream. The reason everyone is talking about it is all the food is raw, vegan and nutritious but nothing has been lost in the flavour department. Along with its fabulous smoothies, juices, teas and other health-giving drinks such as kombucha, it does an incredible assortment of breakfast and lunch items. It's the perfect place to go if you need convincing that super healthy food and great taste are not mutually exclusive. We would turn raw foodist vegan tomorrow if handmade, soft, raw corn tacos filled with jalapeno slaw, capsicum salsa, chimichurri, guacamole dirty rice were on our daily menu. And we have no words for their blueberry cheesecake, except try it - soon.
Wilder and Hunt
15 Maskell St, St Heliers
Ph 021 270 5151
For those who want clean, healthy unprocessed food but don't feel the need to shun meat entirely, Wilder and Hunt is a small boutique paleo cafe in St Heliers just for you. With interesting lunch items such as sandwiches made from paleo soda bread or even banana bread (not as weird as it sounds) you won't find anything with refined sugar or grains in this place - hard to believe these ingredients are missing when the cupcakes taste so good. Basically it's meals and treats made from meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds - sophisticated caveman food. It also does wonderful fresh and frozen ready meals for you to take home and heat, such as spiced duck leg with cider pickled cucumber and zucchini, chilli and ginger, mung beans and eggplant puree finished with a coriander-infused vinaigrette or crispy-skin pork belly, with cumin roast kumara, red onion, wilted watercress, roast red apple finished with pork liquor.
Healthy food in the mainstream
Obviously Aucklanders are starting to take our obesity issues a little more seriously across the board as healthy options are popping up all over the place, including franchises. Columbus Cafe now has a Healthy Food Guide-approved menu as part of its offering (and some branches offer Paleo breakfasts too) and Mexicali Fresh also caters for vegan and paleo.
And of course you can't seem to enter a mall without being greeted by a Tank Juice Bar - some even offer greener smoothies alongside their more fruit-based options. So don't fret, being healthy doesn't mean cardboard and sawdust tasting food if you go out for lunch this year. Auckland has flavour and nutrition all sorted in some great venues and we expect to see many more appear over the coming year.