Keep it simple and make it easy. Weeknights can be busy and challenge us to make wholesome meals. Keep the “My Plate” picture in mind when putting together meals to ensure nutritional balance. By incorporating at least three food groups in each meal and focusing on variety of foods from each food group will make your meals healthy and interesting. Here are some simple combinations to make it easy for you to put together balanced meals.
- Add blueberries to your oatmeal and drink milk on the side
- Make an omelette with 2 eggs, some spinach, mushrooms and cheese, add a piece of whole grain toast with fruit spread
- Make pancakes using whole grain flour, eggs and berries, drizzle pure maple syrup on top with dollop of whipped greek yogurt
- whole grain toast with peanut butter and banana makes for a quick and delicious breakfast.
- Put canned tuna or canned salmon on salad greens, add sliced mushrooms, grape tomatoes, drizzle with a vinegar based salad dressing and pack a fresh, juicy apple
- Wrap the leftover grilled veggies in a whole grain tortilla with some goat cheese and baby arugula, take 1/4 cup nuts and 3 dried apricots for dessert
- Turn leftover chicken into chicken salad by adding some chopped celery, greek yogurt, lemon juice, apples or grapes. Serve 1/2 cup of chicken salad with whole grain crackers such as Triscuit.
- Make an enchilada with canned black beans mixed with diced onion, diced peppers, cilantro, cumin, lemon juice and shredded low-fat cheese. Add some salsa and fresh pineapple to complete the meal.
- Add chopped zucchini and onions to chunky tomato sauce and serve over whole grain pasta. Add a side salad and you have complete meal.
- Rotisserie chicken (even store bought) can serve up dinner paired with steamed broccoli or green beans and quinoa.
- Salad mixes make it easy to put together a main dish salad. Use the pre-washed, pre-cut greens, add tomatoes, sliced cucumber, sliced mushrooms, sliced cooked beets and top it with a filet of Rainbow Trout. Rainbow Trout cooks in literally minutes.
- Don’t forget the eggs. Breakfast for dinner is always popular. Boiled eggs can top a salad, you can make an omelette or scramble them with some diced veggies and serve with fresh waffles.
Now you have some ideas on easy, simple and balanced meals. Start planning your week’s menu and make that list for the grocery store trip.
I got so busy last week that besides planning my own family’s meals I did not get around to writing about it. Well, the family calendar dictates how much time you will have to prepare meals at home, or when you will need to be ready to pull something out of the refrigerator or freezer. Eating together has many benefits and if you can plan ahead of times for those busy weekdays, you can make it happen.
Consult your calendar and determine which days will you have time to prepare a fresh meal vs the days when you can pull together some leftovers. Yes, you can plan for leftovers. Planning some re-heatable foods also makes packing lunches easy.
- You can make a pasta dish once and serve it on multiple evenings or pack for lunches.
- Sauté or roast vegetables in season. Serve as a side one night and turn leftovers into soup or add to a tomato sauce with some lean meat or use it as a topping for pizza.
Wednesdays are good in most areas to look at what is on sale in your grocery store. Taking advantage of items on sale will keep your food budget in check and possibly increase your intake of seasonal produce. The stores will have better prices on the produce that is in season and available in plenty.
- Use your day off to not only shop for but also prep for the week. You can even use the online ordering offered by many stores to save time. Just pick up the groceries.
- Plan to use up the berries, and other ripe fruit delicate greens and fresh seafood first. Some of the heady greens such as collards and kale will withstand the refrigeration for 3-5 days. Melons, mangoes, apples, oranges, pineapple can fill your fruit bowl and grace your table and don’t have to be eaten right away.
- Buy pre-chopped items such as sweet potatoes or butternut squash, precooked beets, salad greens in oyster packs to reduce your prep time.
- Use your slow-cooker: prep all the ingredients the night before, add to the slow-cooker in the morning, let it cook all day and come home to a hot meal. This is especially helpful on the days when you come home from an athletic event and everyone is hungry (or my family calls it “hangry”).
- Make extra servings for soups, chili or casserole which can be then frozen into single servings and used later for lunches or dinners.
Need some inspiration to try some new recipes? Give My Happy Plates a try. You can even get the groceries you need for the recipes delivered to your door. Start by planning at least 3 meals per week. Once you get the hang of it, you can make it a full week.
Last week I wrote about cleaning out your pantry and refrigerator of any unwanted ingredients to help you clean up your diet. Ingredients are one thing to look for and the date on the label is another. There are several different ways a “date” appears on the label. What do they all mean? Do the products beyond the date become unhealthy or unsafe to consume?
According US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) the dates on products are all about the quality of the product and not necessarily about the safety, except for baby food and baby formula. Plus these dates are not regulated by the federal government. They only tell us how long the product will be at its best.
Best if Used by: It is important to store the foods appropriately for the best quality. Most packages will guide you to “refrigerate after opening” or “store in a cool dry place” etc. The “best of used by” date tells us that the best quality of the food can be expected until that date. It does not mean the product will be unsafe to consume after that date.
Use by: This is also an indication to use the product by the date to get the best quality. If the product is stored properly, you may be able to consume the product without any safety concerns. For baby foods and baby formula don’t even buy the product after the “use by” date.
Sell by: Again this is about how long the store has to get the product off the shelf. It does not mean that the product has to be consumed by that date. For budget-friendly buys products close to their sell by date are often marked down by the store.
No matter what type of date appears on the products in your pantry or refrigerator, use your senses. If there are obvious signs of color change, growth, and foul smell discard the product no matter what the date says. Do not allow your taste buds to guide you. When in doubt throw it out. You can also use the products safely after the dates on the labels, when stored properly, to reduce the food waste. If you buy in bulk store it appropriately and make plans to use it up. More on meal planning next week.
It is officially Spring! The days are longer, the trees and shrubs are blooming and putting out new growth and the farmer’s markets are beginning to pop up. Most grocery and home goods stores are overflowing with herbs and seeds to plant and begin your gardening projects. While all this is great outdoors don’t forget to clean up your pantry this spring.
Spring is a good time to go through all your staples in the pantry and plan to use up or discard some of the items. In case you need a boost for the resolutions you made around new year’s this is a good time. Clean up your meals!
Start by going through the expiration or sell by dates on the products in your pantry. If they are past any of these dates on the labels discard them. Don’t forget that the pantry is not the only place to look for staples. The refrigerator will have some products (such as mayonnaise, salad dressings, marinades, or sauces) that deserve a second look. Use your senses of smell and sight. If it doesn’t smell right or has obvious signs of growth (white or colorful), throw it out.
Other than the obvious spoiled foods you may want to consider getting rid of foods that may have a long shelf life but are not good for you. Those chips and crackers may not look or smell bad but are made from refined grains and may contain preservatives. Do you really want to consume those? If the packages are unopened, take them to a food pantry. Check the labels of everything in your pantry (and refrigerator). Here are some ingredients you want to look for: hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil(s), fructose or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), any artificial colors, flavors and any ingredients you cannot pronounce. If the label has any of the above mentioned ingredients, removing those products from your pantry will clean up your diet.
Hydrogenation of oil(s) makes it saturated and thus a naturally unsaturated oil can become unhealthy. Fructose syrup or HFCS has been shown to have impact on several conditions such as risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, increasing your “bad” cholesterol, causing weight gain and even liver damage. Artificial colors and flavors can cause inflammation (the root of many chronic illnesses).
Next, when you go to the store, examine the nutrition facts label for these ingredients before replacing any supplies you want to have on hand. Don’t forget to check those dates either. Next week, we can explore all the different types of dates we see on labels. For now focus on the ingredients and keep your food supply clean.
Last week I wrote about using a variety of herbs and spices to create ethnic flavors. Many of those herbs and spices not only provide great flavor and taste but also health benefits.
Turmeric, black pepper and ginger all have anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric and black pepper especially work better when ingested together. They are common in many east asian cuisines. Ginger also has anti-nausea capacity and you can find ginger lozenges in the grocery store check out aisles. Ginger adds a wonderful flavor and taste to our smoothies, try it.
Basil, cilantro, oregano, cayenne pepper are all have antioxidant power and help with digestion. Although they lend the best flavor and color when used fresh, dried basil and oregano are just as effective. Cilantro seeds also known as coriander seeds are one of the main ingredients in any Indian Masala. While the cilantro leaves are cooling, the coriander seeds have a warming effect. Combine coriander seeds, cumin seeds and cayenne pepper to make an aromatic and antioxidant spice rub.
Cinnamon is well known and used around the world in almost all cuisines. It has been shown to help regulate blood glucose levels. Fenugreek seeds (commonly used in Indian cooking) also have similar effect. Sprinkle some cinnamon on your cereal, fruits or coffee. Add fenugreek seeds to your spice mixture, grind together and use as rub or marinade.
Let’s not forget the most common and versatile lemons. Lemons are high in vitamin C. Their anti-bacterial property makes them a great for cleaning surfaces. Lemon slices or juice add a fresh taste and a dose of vitamin C to help prevent common colds. The astringent quality of lemons also makes it a great additive for a facial mask.
Go ahead and experiment. Make your meals flavorful and healthy! Enjoy the color, flavor and taste. Love your food.
National Nutrition Month is almost coming to an end. During this month if you made a commitment to add more fruits and vegetables to your meals, increase intake of lean heart healthy protein sources or switch at least half your grains to whole you are on the right track. Keep it up. When experimenting with new foods don’t hesitate to try some some spice combinations too.
Whether it is same old chicken or a combination of veggies or a plain white filet of fish spices can add flavor and variety to make your meals more appetizing and palatable. There are some basic spices combinations that go with particular cuisines. Give it a try.
- Italian: Fresh or dried, basil and oregano make any food become Italian. During Spring and Summer fresh basil adds incredible flavor, color and texture to your pizza, tomato salad or even spaghetti and marinara sauce. Combining basil and oregano adds the peculiar Italian flavor. Add it to sautéed zucchini and summer squash or mix with some olive oil and vinegar and drizzle over the chicken breast/fish filet as a marinade.
- Mexican: Cilantro (or Coriander), Cumin and Jalapeño are the essential flavors to turn a dish into Mexican. Add ground cumin and a sliced (seeded if you don’t want it to be too spicy) jalapeño to heated oil and sauté onions, peppers, mushrooms to make a great side dish. Adding ground cumin, lime juice and fresh chopped cilantro will make any of your salsas instantly flavorful.
- Oriental: Ginger, garlic, red chili peppers and soy sauce of course. Adding sliced garlic and dried red chili peppers to your hot oil for sautéing vegetables or chicken or tofu adds flavor as well as taste. Choose low sodium soy sauce to keep the sodium content in check. Grated fresh ginger in your dish will also brighten the flavors.
- Indian: Cumin powder, chili powder, curry powder, turmeric as well as whole spices such as cloves, cinnamon sticks and cumin and mustard seeds are the hallmark of everything Indian. Almost all Indian dishes start with popping cumin or mustard seeds in heated oil. The popping disperses their flavor through the oil. Turmeric adds the yellow coloring and many health benefits. Try using curry powder to coat your seafood before grilling or pan frying. Add whole cloves and cinnamon sticks to a little heated oil and sauté your brown rice before adding the water. It will flavor the rice aromatically. You can take the whole spices out before serving. Adding fresh cilantro as a garnish is also an Indian tradition.
Give it a try. What cuisine would you like to try tonight? Make dinner international and spice things up. There are many health benefits to using a variety of these herbs and spices too. More on that next week.
During the national nutrition month if your have committed to “Put Your Best Fork Forward” remember that it is a family affaire. Adults in the family needs to lead by example and the younger generation needs to take part in the process of good nutrition.
Make mealtimes a family affaire beginning with meal planning. Unless you know who needs to be at soccer practice, dance lessons, volunteering or a meeting and when it is impossible to plan family meals. Hold a family meeting over the weekend to discuss everyone’s calendars. Plan a weekly menu taking into consideration how much time will be needed to prepare and eat the meal, will the meal have to be portable (to eat on the way) and who will have time to prepare it.
Don’t forget that the meal preparation can also be family time! Almost anyone at any age is capable of helping. Youngest of the family (under 5) can help wash, peel, snap the vegetables, or set the table. A little bit older ones can help chop, stir, assemble a salad, serve and help put away the leftovers. Cooking together is an enjoyable, quality time.
Make a plan for this weekend to bring the family together, plan a menu and put your best fork(s) forward!