I often get requests to help people plan meals, which is something most people dread. The difficult part for most is making a list of recipes and finding the time to get to the grocery store. For me, the tricky part is finding or developing recipes that most people would enjoy eating. We all come from various socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. What tastes good to me, may be repulsive to you! Ideally, you should look forward to eating, not dread it. Here are a few basics with meal planning.
1. Eat food you like. If you need more potassium in your diet, but hate bananas, don’t eat them! There are enough other choices to include that you will enjoy eating. Most dark orange fruit (peaches, melon, citrus fruit) and dark green/leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach) provide ample potassium.
2. Think about your lifestyle and cooking habits. Are you an adventurous chef or do you just need some quick meals to get you through the week. Don’t put more pressure on yourself to be gourmet if you aren’t.
3. Keep some basics on hand like eggs, beans, olive or canola oil, brown rice, quinoa, chicken breasts, whole wheat tortillas, multi-grain pasta, lentils, frozen fish, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables, onions, potatoes, shredded cheese and whole grain bread. You’d be surprised what you can make with a few staple ingredients.
4. Explore new ways to season food using ginger paste, minced garlic, cumin, oregano, turmeric, lemon grass, pesto, chili garlic paste, low sodium soy sauce, cinnamon and other spices. Simple spices can completely change the taste of boring vegetables.
5. Use your leftovers. I like to bake a whole chicken on Sunday, then use the leftovers in tacos, pasta or quinoa with veggies, chicken salad or other dishes. This reduces food waste, but keeps the recipes interesting.
In honor of Mother’s Day (and Women’s Health Week), take some time to put yourself first. Many of us wear multiple hats- wife, mom, co-worker, manager, sister, friend, daughter. We’re pulled in way too many directions and it can take its toll on our health. Below are a few reminders to s l o w down and just BE:
1. Make time for a real meal. Admit it- many of your “meals” are in the car, at your desk or off your kids’ plate. Take a minute to think about where your food came from. Chew it. Taste it. Enjoy it!
2. Go to bed! As women, we’re always tempted to do “just one more thing” before hitting the hay. Lack of sleep (<7 hours) not only wrecks your skin, but can also raise cortisol (a stress hormone that's linked with diabetes, obesity and heart disease). Poor sleep can also impact fertility.
3. Drink more water. You hear it all the time, but still wake up dehydrated or feel fatigued in the afternoon. Buy yourself a water bottle or “sippy cup” with a straw. This may make it easier to consume more water. Aim for 8 cups (2 liters) per day.
4. Limit caffeine. While I love a good cup (or two) of Joe in the morning, sipping on coffee, energy drinks or diet soda all day may lead to dehydration and insomnia. Switch to decaf after 2:00 and try seltzer water if you like carbonated beverages.
5. Make peace with your body. Quit comparing yourself to friends and neighbors. We’ve all got beautiful traits to celebrate- strong arms, supple skin, expressive eyes, baby-baring hips! Stop the negative self-talk and say something positive about yourself EVERY DAY. You may be surprised at how good it makes you feel.
In an effort to celebrate heart health month and Valentine’s Day, while juggling the necessity of a few vegetarian meals for lent (Fridays only, we’re not overly strict here), I came up with this simple recipe that I dub “pizza soup”. It’s a combo platter of spinach, white beans, tomatoes and spices. What could be easier and more nutritious?
This recipe is not only high in fiber (11 grams, thank you very much), it’s also a great source of protein, vitamin C, potassium and cancer-fighting phytochemicals. You can use any canned white beans you have on hand (Navy, Great Northern, Cannellini), fresh or frozen spinach and canned tomatoes. I use low sodium chicken broth, but vegetable broth would work great, too. Top with shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese and served with a rustic, crusty bread, you can’t beat it!
1 can diced tomatoes (15 oz can, keep liquid)
2 cans white beans (drained and rinsed)
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 box chopped frozen spinach
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 Tbsp. basil
1 tbsp. rosemary
Place tomatoes, onions and garlic in a large pot and simmer on low heat until vegetables are soft. Add broth, spinach, beans and spices and continue to simmer on low heat until soup thickens (~one hour). Serve with shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese and your favorite crusty bread.
Makes 8 servings. Nutrition Facts per serving: 194 calories, .8 grams fat, 13.7 grams protein, 34.5 grams carbohydrate, 11.3 grams fiber, 107 mg sodium
I keep waiting for the low carb diet fad to go away and truly wish it would. While there’s lots of “anti-carb” people out there, they may not realize that many whole grains contain more antioxidants and phytochemicals than fruits and vegetables. Yeah- that’s right. The germ, endosperm and bran of a plant contain nutrients like vitamin E, selenium, zinc and other chemicals scientists are still studying. Our bodies crave carbs to fuel muscles as well as secreting serotonin- the key to a peaceful, happy brain. I understand limiting white bread, enriched white rice and cookies, but there’s no reason to shun quinoa, whole wheat pasta, wild rice or bulgur. These are all loaded with appetite-killing fiber, which also promotes healthy bacteria production in the gut. Remember- your gut is key to keeping your immune system robust and healthy. Limit portion sizes if you’re trying to “manage your waist”. Come on people, use your noodles.