Browsing Category: how to make this work

All my best food tips (so far) for easy healthy meals!

tips for easy healthy meals

So New Year, new you? Thinking of quitting sugar, quitting processed food, eating more real food, trying gluten-free, grain-free, or going Paleo? I’ve done all of those, and while I’ve landed on a real foods, mostly-veggies-and-meat formula, I’ve collected quite a few tips that work for a wide variety of healthy diets.

Making the switch from convenience food — whether from restaurants or frozen meals — to a whole-foods/real food/homecooked lifestyle does have a learning curve, but once you learn a few tricks and practice them until they become habits, it’ll be a breeze!

Set yourself up for success by trying a few kitchen stocking and ingredient tricks. Here are all my best “tips for eating healthier” and “meal plan” posts:

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Stocking your freezer for easy meals (without committing to specific recipes)

freezer meal prep; meals

They say if you have healthy food on hand, you’ll eat it. But that’s not necessarily true. Faced with nothing but “ingredients,” it’s often tempting to just order pizza or go out.

meal prep; ingredients

And let’s be real: we’ve all chosen that road more than once! But if you keep those ingredients in an easy-to-use form, it increases your odds of actually cooking at home!  I’ve written before about 30 things I always keep on hand for easy healthy meals, but this post is going to focus on what I keep in the freezer, with some tips and how-to’s.

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When should I buy organic?

strawberries

I don’t always buy organic fruits and veggies. It depends on the prices, and how much of the food I’m going to eat, and how easy the surface is to wash. And also taste! Organic strawberries and carrots taste so much better than conventional!

But another factor is which foods tend to be most pesticide-laden. Every year, the Environmental Working Group puts together a handy two-part report card called the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen.”

Here’s the list for 2015. (It usually doesn’t change much from year to year. But you can always google “clean fifteen” for the given year.)

What to buy organic - Dirty Dozen, Clean Fifteen - 2015

 

‪#‎foodismedicine #buyorganic – when you can.

Six handy organizers in the kitchen

battery-file-500
Note: This post was originally from 2012 (when I still made bread) but I’m bumping it up to today because there are some good tips here. I’m no neat-freak, but I do find that being organized in the areas I use on a daily basis helps make cooking less stressful — even if the rest of the kitchen is in varying levels of chaos!

In our house, we’re mostly sporadic organizers. Or sporadic messies, depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kinda person.

But in the places where I need to find stuff day-in and day-out, I like to keep things pretty neat, because searching for stuff makes me nuts!

Here are a few cheap, easy things I’ve found that help keep my stuff findable. Most of the containers are items you’d find at an office store, Target, or the like.

 

Batteries in a magazine file
In a house full of computer nerds, we go through batteries like crazy, so I buy the huge multi-packs at Sam’s.   For the longest time, I just stashed them willy-nilly in my office shelves, but one day as I was deciding whether to throw out this magazine bin, it hit me that this is the perfect size for those big battery blister packs.

Spices* in a CD box
*or anything else that comes in flat bags or envelopes
We buy most of our spices from a local specialty store (yay, The Spice Merchant!), where the spices are packed in these flat plastic bags that are 4 or 5 inches wide. I’ve found a CD bin works perfect for this, and is just the right depth to stash in an upper cabinet. This would also work for instant soup packs and small boxed mixes such as Rice-a-Roni or Zataran’s.

Nuts* and clothespins
*and other things that come in paper bags
Nuts are both healthy and versatile, so I always keep a good stash of several different kinds on hand. The ones we eat most (walnuts and pecans) go in big canisters, but the ones that we buy in smaller quantities, I keep in the original bag (shout-out to another local: Nifty Nut House!), in another metal-mesh bin in the pantry. Writing the name on a clothespin helps me see what’s behind the front row at a glance.

Bread- (or breakfast-)making kit
I keep everything needed for homemade bread — including the recipe — all in a bin in the pantry. (Well, everything that doesn’t need refrigeration.) So when I want to bake a loaf, all I have to do is grab this, and I’m good to go.
Update: now I do this in my fridge with things I’m likely to use at the same time. I have four bins:
  • Breakfast – my pre-chopped onion, roasted sweet potato, and greens that I make into hash almost every morning.
  • Fruit and yogurt
  • Snacks; cut-up veggies and dips
  • Nuts and coconut
Medicine chest
When my kids were small, it dawned on me one day that I almost always gave them their meds in the kitchen. So why was I keeping everything down the hall? I corralled all the cold, allergy and asthma meds in one small plastic crate, all the tummy and fever stuff in another. Instead of digging through a shelf full of bottles, I can just pull the pertinent bin. (Make sure you keep this stashed on a high shelf to keep out of little hands. Or behind a lock, if you have a climber.)

Shopping bags in a folder holder
An office organizer, usually used to hold folders, is the perfect place to stash shopping bags of various sizes. When I have too many to fit in the holder, I know it’s time to start throwing them in the recycling or passing them on to thrift stores.

But don’t hate me because I’m organized…

Keepin’ it real
Lest anyone think every corner of my kitchen is always in perfect order, here’s a dose of reality for you. There are still parts of my pantry that look like this:
 And on most days, my kitchen table looks something like the pic below. It’s only gotten worse since my kids are at college, ’cause now I only have to clear off two places for dinner instead of four!

Keeping a kitchen organized is a bit like putting an octopus to bed. You get one part tucked away neatly, and another tentacle pops out somewhere else! But you gotta keep trying. Can’t let the octopus take over!

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15 tips to make eating healthy easier

15 tips to make eating paleo & Whole30 easier

I recently read a “30 Tips” post on Rubies and Radishes that had some great suggestions to make eating Paleo easier.Most of them will apply to any real-food diet.

But… compulsive editor that I am, I edited it down to what I thought were the best 15 tips for eating Paleo/real food, and add a few helpful items and notes of my own. Here you go!

1. When you’re just starting, plan out meals and snacks several days in advance. This keeps you from caving in on busy days. Once you get the hang of cooking and eating this new way, it will be easier to throw together meals from your well-stocked kitchen. (You might want to read about how I stock my kitchen for easy meals.)

2. If planning all your meals seems overwhelming, try it in phases. Most people don’t need a lot of variety in breakfast, so find one or two healthy breakfasts that work for you and get those nailed down. Figure out how to prep your breakfast so it’s a no-brainer in the morning. (Here are some no-brainer breakfast options.) Then find a few lunches that work for you. (If you eat out for lunch, check out my Eating Paleo/Whole30 When Eating Out post.) Then move on to planning dinners.

3. For encouragement and inspiration, join Paleo Facebook pages. Here are a few:

Also, if you’re on Instagram, follow me at @janalovesrealfood: I often post easy lunches and dinners there, as well as Paleo-friendly restaurant dishes.

For example, here’s a tip from my Instagram pages: a breadless BLT kit using romaine leaves as a wrap makes an easy summer lunch!

Paleo made easier - breadless BLT

4. Cook meat in bulk, but don’t freeze it in a huge chub: portion it out into easy-to-thaw portions before putting it in the freezer. Hamburger, pulled pork, chicken, and your favorite kinds of sausage are all handy to have ready to deploy. You can also cook bacon in big batches and keep it in the fridge or freezer. Have you tried cooking it in the oven? So easy!

5. Dedicate time to prep ingredients every week. Or, if it works better for you, every evening after dinner, prep what you’ll need for tomorrow’s meal(s). Thaw anything that’s frozen. Chop up ingredients. Pre-mix seasonings or sauces. I’ve collected a few tips on ingredient prep, too.

6. Paleo eating and meal planning takes time to adjust to. Give yourself time and grace. Keep at it — it will get easier! It’s only hard until it’s routine.

7. Read labels. Learn to recognize sugar in all its disguises. Yeah, it’s overwhelming and kind of depressing at first, but it’s a necessary education.

cool-whip-lies-480

8. Don’t spend too much time trying to figure out how to substitute or recreate the unhealthy food you once ate. Instead of mourning the loss of food that makes you feel yucky, celebrate new food discoveries that make you feel great! As you stick with this, your taste buds will change and junk food will become less and less appealing.

9. Explore Paleo blogs and books. The more Paleo knowledge you have, the easier it is to stick with your new lifestyle! (Check out my books page.)

10. When you make dinner, make extra. Enjoy it for breakfast (yes, you can!) or lunch the next day, or pack it in the freezer for an easy future meal.

11. One of the hardest things about eating Paleo (or your personal version of it) is the social pressure to eat junk. Always have a plan before going to social gatherings. And focus on how that food is going to make you feel tomorrow! Tell yourself, “When I eat crap, I feel like crap.”

Can you eat that? I can, but I feel better if I don't.

12. Eat a satisfying meal before you go to parties so you won’t be tempted by unhealthy choices. Drink plenty of water while you’re there. Focus on enjoying the people, not the food.

13. If it’s a pot luck, bring your own Paleo dish (or two), because that might be your only healthy choice!

14. Likewise, have a plan for how you’ll eat when meeting friends at restaurants. Study up on tips for Eating Paleo/Whole30 When Eating Out.

15. Remember to get the sleep you need every night, and drink plenty of water. And several times a week, if not every day, try to get a little sunshine and gentle exercise.

BONUS TIP: Expect ups and downs! Give yourself grace if you slip up. As Melissa Hartwig says in Food Freedom Forever, “Insulting yourself over your food choices is perhaps the most damaging behavior of all.”

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Want to cook more healthy at home, but daunted by the meal planning?

Check out my “Meal Plan for People Who Hate to Meal Plan

It’s FREE when you sign up for my monthly newsletter!

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* (Read the original Rubies and Radishes post here, if you have a few minutes.)

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Tips to make eating Paleo easier