Tag Archives: healthy eating

Simple Meal Planning

English: Kuaichap (Thai script: ก๋วยจั๊บ) is a...

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Eating healthy often requires that you prepare your own meals.  Fast food, restaurant fare, and prepared foods at the market are usually laden with salt, fat, sugar, and chemicals.  While eating these foods from time to time won’t cause any lasting harm, daily consumption is hardly recommended.

But preparing your own food may seem like a difficult task.  You may not know how to cook, you may not have the time, or you may not have the interest.  Relax, you don’t have to be a health nut and master chef with loads of time on your hands to be able to feed yourself well.  The key is to create a meal plan that’s simple and easy to follow.

Here’s how my family eats:  Breakfast is a routine affair.  It involves little or no cooking.  It’s usually one of three things: cereal with milk, whole grain bread with peanut butter and/or Nutella, or whole wheat crepes that I make on the weekend and serve during the week.  If I cook other things like oatmeal or french toast, I always make enough for at least two meals.

Lunch is usually leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.  Only reheating or assembly is needed!  Again, I purposely make more so there will be enough for two meals and perhaps some for the freezer as well for those weeks when there’s no time to shop or cook.

Snacks vary, including fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, whole grain crackers, cheese, yogurt, popcorn, and occasionally cooked items such as hard boiled egg, corn on the cob, or baked sweet potato (yum!).

So in reality, I only cook dinner.  Some examples of meals that work for my family include curry chicken and veggies over rice, pasta with tomato sauce, wonton and veggie soup with noodles, veggie and sausage fried rice, tuna and green apple sandwich.   Dessert is usually fresh fruit.

To make your own simple meal plan, do the following:

1) Come up with a list of breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner foods that meet all the following criteria:

  • You must enjoy eating them.  Why suffer?  How are you going to stick with a plan and motivate yourself to do the work involved if you don’t like what you’re eating?
  • The food should be reasonably healthy and meet your needs, whether that’s no carb or vegetarian or low salt, etc.  Minimize use of processed foods when you can.
  • The food should be fairly easy to prepare, preferably taking less than 30 minutes of hands on time and not require fancy ingredients or equipment.  This minimizes shopping and clean up time.  You can search online for simplified versions of your favorite recipes.  If you’re a new cook, see #5 for some resources.

2)  Plan a week’s worth of meals in advance.  Figure out exactly what you’re having each day to eliminate the need to think about it later when you’re tired and hungry.  Fill in a chart like the one below if it’ll help you.  You don’t have to plan something different for each meal.  If you are okay with leftovers, you can eat the same thing for several days.  You decide how much variety you need.  Plus, you might want to plan on having a couple of meals out each week for the sake of sanity or variety.  This is especially important if you’re new to cooking.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Breakfast
Lunch
Snack
Dinner

3)  Comb your pantry and refrigerator to see what you already have and what needs to be purchased for the week ahead.  Make a shopping list and buy everything you need all at once.  There shouldn’t be any extra trips to the store during the week.

4)  Do any prep work you can ahead of time.  For example, bookmark recipes, chop vegetables, put snacks in single serving containers.  Some people cook a week’s worth of food on Sundays.  Some cook everyday.  Some set aside a whole weekend to cook and freeze meals for the month.  Do what works for you.

5)  Once you’ve gotten the hang of creating and following meal plans, try something new every week or every month.  This expands your repertoire and keeps your diet interesting. Allrecipes.com has an extensive database of user rated recipes, including “healthy” and “quick and easy” categories.  In his New York Times piece, Mark Bittman lists 101 foods that you can cook in 10 minutes (okay, maybe 15 if you’re not Bittman).  And then there’s Rachael Ray with her 30 minute meals.  I’d love to hear if you have other food resources to suggest.

Preparing your own meals does take time but it’s not only good for your waistline, it’s good for your wallet as well.  So invest some energy in planning healthy, tasty, and easy meals so you aren’t as tempted to hit the fast food joints.  The benefits are well worth it.  Happy eating!

Feel Better – Eat Real Food

Raspberry fruits

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I recently learned of a great website called 100 Days of Real Food.  Blogger Lisa Leake and her family committed to eating no processed foods for 100 days and she recorded their experiences, experiments, and recipes on the site.

Lisa posted a list of the food rules they followed during that time.  In looking over the guidelines, I felt both great admiration for people who are able to rise up to the challenge and skepticism over the sustainability of living and eating that way over the long haul.  After all, not many people want to bring their own food everywhere as Lisa and her family did (and still does).  She admits that after the challenge, they no longer adhere to all of the rules.  But her family’s diet has changed immensely for the better and she invites readers to take a 10 day real food challenge if they’re not up for 100 days.

I know there are so many compelling reasons to reject processed foods, both for our own health and for the health of the planet.  Yet, I’m not ready for the 10 day challenge, though I do want to eat healthier.  So instead of overhauling my (and my family’s) entire diet,  I’ve decided to go at my own pace and make changes slowly to ease the transition.  Suddenly adopting strict new habits that invite rebellion will likely do little good.  But gradual changes that give us time to adjust can work best in the long run.

So if you’re like me and not ready for a complete food makeover, here are some simple ways to improve your and your family’s diet:

  • Swap a refined grain such as white bread or white rice for a 100% whole grain version at one meal a day.  If that’s too much, you can substitute items that are a mix of whole and refined grains for the all white stuff.  For instance, I now serve rice that’s a mixture of brown with white.  That’s an improvement and it’s a change my family can accept.
  • How much fruits and vegetables do you eat on average?  Can you increase that by one serving a day?  For instance, add fruit to your breakfast or snack on cut up veggies w/dip instead of chips.  If possible, buy organic but if not, the benefits of eating more fruits and veggies still out weight potential harm from industrial farming methods.
  • How much sugar are you drinking in a day?  From soda and juice to sweetened coffee and tea to Gatorade and smoothies, there’s no lack of sugar in our diets.  The average American consumes 20 added teaspoons of sugar per day according to a USDA survey.  Granted it’s not all through beverages but they are a major source of sugar.  Pick one sweet drink and replace it with water or a non-sweetened version if possible.
  • Conventionally produced meat, poultry, and seafood (and their milk and eggs) are full of antibiotics and/or toxins.  Though they aren’t exactly processed foods, the way they’re produced is anything but natural.  This hurts not only the animals but also the people who consume them and the environment.  Consider switching to one of the following in your diet: sustainably caught seafood, grass fed meats, pastured poultry, or their dairy and eggs.
  • Stop eating any food out of a box, package, can, bottle, or bag that has more than 10 ingredients.  It’s not Lisa’s 5 but 10 is still better than the 25+ ingredients common in many processed foods.
  • Cut back on junk food such as fried food, fast food, chips, candies, cakes, and cookies.  If you currently eat them twice a day, try cutting down to once a day.  If you eat them four times a week, trying reducing to twice a week.  Brainstorm a list tasty and healthy meals and snacks that you can substitute for junk food.

Eating real food is fantastic for your health.  It does call for learning new habits and skills such as changing where you shop, learning to cook, and planning ahead.  But the benefits are well worth it.  Go at your own pace with balance and sanity and find the changes that work for you.  Happy eating!