Wouldn’t you feel great if you had healthy and delicious meals throughout the day, every day of the week? Of course you would, but for most of us preparing healthy meals seems too difficult, time consuming, and intimidating. Well, I’m here to tell you that the secret to having healthy meals on hand anytime and every time is planning and having healthy food staples. Let’s be honest, most of us spend more time planning a night out than we do our planning our meals for the week and are more concerned about the staples in our wardrobe than the staples in our pantry. So, it’s time to shift your priorities and efforts if you are serious about making healthy lifestyle changes in your diet and in your life.
Healthy Meal Planning: Groceries
Purchasing healthy foods takes not more time or effort that buying pre-package, processed, unhealthy foods, and while some healthy foods may require cooking and/or preparation time, aren’t you and your family worth it? When you shop at the supermarket, or receive your grocery delivery you want to see a rainbow of colors in your produce, a variety of whole grains, and lean, healthy proteins. If you find that because of your schedule fresh fruits and vegetables go bad purchase frozen or canned. I personally love frozen greens like collards and kale and I always have canned beans and pumpkin, and marinated artichoke hearts on hand. If you and/or your family are used to having frozen processed foods, sugary, calorie laden sweets and unhealthy snacks you want to gradually replace and remove these items from your diet. For example, switch from regular chips to baked chips, regular popcorn for low-fat popcorn, regular soda for flavored seltzer, full fat ice cream for lite or reduced fat. For a quick, healthy breakfast have whole grain cereals, breads and waffles on hand. Lunches can alternate between healthy, home-made brown bag and healthier take-out options that are offered with whole grains and whole grain breads, as well as with sushi and salads (go easy on the dressing, cheeses, crispy chicken, bacon, etc.). For healthy snacks be sure to stock up on nuts, dried and fresh fruit, and yogurt. And as always, be aware of portion sizes. Eating healthier is not a green light to over eat.
Healthy Meal Planning: Staples
In order to able to toss together a quick healthy meal anytime, you must have essential staples on hand. First are the fresh groceries that you have already stocked your refrigerator with, second are the staples that you should have in your pantry and/or cabinets. Some essential pantry staples are:
Canned fish and vegetables- Canned fishes like salmon and tuna provide omega-3 fatty acids and add a protein punch to sandwiches, salads, and pasta. Canned and marinated vegetables like canned tomatoes, pumpkin and marinated mushrooms and artichokes help transform an ordinary grain, soup, or sauce into a more flavorful, exciting meal, plus they’re chock-full of nutrients.
Whole Grains- Experiment with different grains like barley, bulgur wheat, quinoa, millet, and brown rice, which is also available in long and short grain, and basmati. Whole wheat and quinoa pastas are great for a quick, healthy and filling dinner. Mix things up and use assorted shapes and sizes of pasta with a varied combination of vegetables and lean proteins.
Broths, bouillon cubes and powders, which are also available in healthier versions like fat-free, low sodium, all natural and vegetarian add guilt free depth of flavor to meats, grains, soups, casseroles, and sauces.
Nuts- Pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, and walnuts contribute heart-healthy fats, as well as adding texture, flavor, and substance to salads, grains, and hot vegetables dishes.
Oils, Vinegars, and Spices- Explore the spice aisles and ethic food sections of your market. You will find an endless variety of oils like olive, canola, safflower, truffle, and coconut-vinegars like fig, rice, apple cider, red vine and balsamic-spices like cardamom, turmeric, cumin, paprika, and cinnamon along with spice blends like lemon-pepper, Italian and steak seasoning, sazón, adobo, and curries add tons of flavor without adding sodium and fat.
Healthy Meal Planning: Cooking
You can enjoy healthy meals every day without having to cook every day, really, once again planning is key. One day a week, whichever day your schedule allows, cook enough grains/carbohydrates, proteins and vegetables for 4-6 days, this is what I call your healthy meals base. For example, as my base, I like to bake two sheet trays of tofu, cook about 4 cups of quinoa and steam or bake a massive amount of vegetables for the week. Throughout the week, you can then vary and modify your healthy meals base with your healthy staples and groceries. Add sautéed, colorful peppers and savory onion and garlic to your protein to make a fajita or stir fry, add dried fruits and nuts to your grain to make a delicious pilaf and dress your vegetables with one of your many flavorful spices, oils and vinegars.
Once healthy meal planning is established as part of your healthy lifestyle routine, you’ll find that it becomes second nature and effortless. Gradually, you’ll build up a delicious, varied range of home-made meals that you can prepare quickly and easily, and which are much better for your health than ready-made, pre-packaged meals and fast food. As you can see, with really no more time, effort, and stress than you are currently excreting now over what is healthy to buy, eat, and cook you can plan week’s worth of nutritious, well balanced meals that will improve your health and overall wellness.