I have been an emotional eater.
Eating to fill loneliness as a friendless teen, eating to calm my nerves as a frazzled stay-at-home-mom, eating to balm my heart when my dad was dying. Yep: I’ve been there.
Today’s basic task: Plan your meals and snacks for the first week.
And if you haven’t already, you might want to start eating protein with every meal. Just a suggestion.
Some people love to meal plan; some hate it. If you’re in the second camp, hang with me! I’ve tried having a detailed meal plan in the past, but I love my last-minute flexibility too much to conform to it all the time, so I’ve come up with a method that relieves me of some of the forethought, but leaves day-to-day options open.
NOT like this:
Nor can I handle meal prep like this…
I admire people who can, but that just ain’t me! I need something more flexible.
The way I plan my meals provides a balance between me having to figure out what to cook every single day, and providing some flexibility for day-before or day-of adjustments. My weeknight dinner plans look something like this:
Monday: Cook’s choice. I make whatever sounds good or easy that day, or something to use up any weekend leftovers. If I were going to make this more specific on a week-to-week basis, I would say — soup in the winter, salad in the summer
Tuesday: Chicken or pork. This is usually something that just gets stuck in the oven to roast — often with veggies on the same pan. If I were a crockpot kinda girl, I’d use the crockpot, too.
Wednesday: Salmon for me, steak for my husband. He’s happy to grill himself a steak once a week, and I have several easy salmon recipes that I prefer, so this is easier than it sounds! Video and serving options > How to pan-sear salmon, perfectly!
Thursday: Burgers – usually with sauteed onions and/or mushrooms on top. But sometimes with bacon and guac. Or marinara and Parmesan. Minimal dish clean-up! (Because Thursday is the day I get tired of doing dishes.)
Friday: Stir-fry – get it? Stir-Fry-Day? Sometimes this is Asian, sometimes more like fajitas without the tortillas. Might be chicken, steak, pork, or shrimp. If I were working full time, I would probably grab my veggies pre-sliced from the store.
This way, my “what’s for dinner” dilemma is narrowed down, eliminating dozens of options to sift through, but it still leaves me room for adapting to what I have on hand, what’s on sale, or whether I feel more like American, Mexican, or Asian that day.
Of course, you can adapt this to your style. Does your family do meatless Mondays or fish on Fridays? Move salmon to that day of the week. Is Wednesday night extra crazy for you? Make that your soup or burger night, prepping everything the night before.
You can swap out other dish types or themes that suit you: Taco Tuesday, hot dog bar, noodle (or zoodle) night, etc.
I’ve found this approach very easy to live with. Meal planning can be a huge help to sticking with your new way of eating, but it doesn’t have to be restrictive or labor intensive, so I hope you’ll try this out and find it helpful, too!
Brat and cabbage soup – great to make the day or night before!
Salsa verde chicken* – seriously: dump a few things in a pan and put it in the oven!
*Contains cheese and/or beans: forbidden for those on Whole30, but okay if you’re just focusing on eating real food, and/or eliminating sugar and refined carbs.
>>>HEY! WANT MORE DETAIL? I’ve expanded and modified this post, turning it into a six-night plan with links to over 30 easy real-food recipes. I’ve also included tips for adapting meals for people on different diets. Get it for free when you sign up for my mailing list!
Featured image source: Anne Taintor
I work from home and my kids are grown, so lunch is usually just me. Before I got serious about taking good care of myself, lunch was likely to be mac ‘n cheese or leftover pizza. Healthy lunches – not! (And I wondered why I was hungry again two hours later!)
Since starting to eat low carb several years ago then experimenting with the Paleo diet and Whole30 this year, I’ve taken to heart the idea that eating healthy is a form of self respect. But let’s get real: I still don’t want to do anything too complicated when I’m just cooking for one. Here are some of my go-to strategies for eating a healthy lunch with minimal prep but maximum taste! (There are actually 12 now, with some bonus links at the end.)
I’ve done a whole post on this one already. Basically, it’s a mayo-free tuna salad with a core set of ingredients, and the flexibility to switch out whatever veggies you have on hand or that sound good to you on any given day. If you do a little veggie prep every few days — just chop up some onions, peppers, cucumbers, etc. — this becomes super easy to throw together. Another meal prep tip: keep some chopped parsley in a baggie in the freezer. It’s key to the flavor of this salad, but once you realize what a fresh flavor it adds to anything and how easy it is to keep it stocked in the freezer, you’ll want to keep it on hand all the time. I do!
Click over to the detailed post; there are lots of photos and ingredient suggestions.
I cook salmon for dinner once a week (for example, salmon with avocado salsa, herb-crusted salmon, or ancho-crusted salmon), and whether I plan for it or it just works out that way, there’s often a little left over. A little is all you need for salmon cakes! But if you don’t have leftovers, canned salmon works fine, too.
I’ve never measured — that’s part of what makes this kind of cooking quicker! — but I’m guessing I usually start with around 1/3 to 1/2 a cup of already cooked salmon. (A little more would be fine, too.) I mash it together with one raw egg yolk, some diced onion — already prepped, from the fridge. If I have it and feel like it, I might add some diced celery and/or bell pepper, too. Stir in some cracker crumbs if you’re not gluten-averse, mashed cooked sweet potato if you are, and let that sit for a minute or two. Heat and grease a small frypan over medium heat, then form your mix into one or two patties and fry briefly on both sides, till golden-brown and delicious! Sometimes it turns out more loose and eggy, like a frittata — no worries; it’s still good!
The recipe for the “zoodles” shown above is here.
Think outside the box of just reheating leftovers…
A stir fry is a great way to combine and use up leftovers! For example, last night’s pork chop gets chopped up and tossed with the leftover green bean and mushroom side dish to become a stir fry:
Turning a main dish into a salad is another approach. Leftover taco meat becomes a taco salad:
That “dressing” is just yogurt, salsa, and a little homemade taco seasoning I keep on hand. You can find the recipe here, but again, there’s no need to measure; just eyeball it, taste, and adjust if necessary.
A desperate, “what’s in the fridge” day was the birth of my antipasto salad:
Lettuce wraps are another great template for lunch. Leftover hamburger or crumbled sausage can make an impromptu gyro wrap, if you have some cukes and tomatoes on hand:
Some day I’m going to do a whole post (and maybe a cooking class) on my soup method, but here are just a few examples of the kind of easy-to-throw-together soups I make almost every day, once the weather turns cool. If you have some broth, some prepped veggies in the fridge, and little leftover meat, it’s not hard to turn them into a wide variety of healthy lunches, like…
Simple chicken soup:
Sausage, spinach, broth, and marinara make for a minestrone-inspired soup. (Forgive the filter; I was an instagram newb!)
Leftover french onion soup from one day’s restaurant lunch + half a large burger patty from the next day’s restaurant lunch + a little diced squash + chopped spinach = one quick, easy, hearty soup.
And one day, I was lucky enough to have a little leftover steak; threw it in at the last moment so as not to overcook it. The green blob is from a Wholly Guacamole mini — another thing I keep on hand for easy lunches. (This photo makes me hungry again!)
Some cooked, crumbled sausage, chicken bone broth, and assorted veggies; I don’t know what you call this soup, but it’s delicious!
I know not everyone likes sauerkraut, but if you do, keeping a jar on hand in the fridge along with some healthy sausages or hot dogs can be a great, super-quick lunch option! Sauerkraut has tons of Vitamin C, and may be beneficial to gut health.
Just slice the meat, fry it till slightly browned, add the sauerkraut and cook till heated through. Additions are optional.
In the pic on the left, I used gourmet, uncured, sugar-free hot dogs. I added some diced apple with the sliced meat, so that the apples cooked till slightly tender. Another day, I was using chicken and apple sausage, and added some chopped avocado right at the end. Both days I added a sprinkling of celery seeds and black pepper, but there’s plenty of flavor without them!
I hope I’ve inspired you to think beyond reheated as-is leftovers and the usual boxed or canned options, to create some healthy lunches of your own!
Follow me on Instagram for more quick, easy healthy food ideas.
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Changing your diet comes down to some really practical things. And if you can break it down and look at it as a series of small changes, it becomes much less daunting.
I love these seven strategies that Dr. Mark Hyman suggests for revolutionizing your eating habits. And I think the number one item is especially smart:
1. Change your mind about cooking. When you view cooking as an act of love that you share with your family, you strengthen bonds, teach important life-extending skills to your children, and enrich and nourish your bodies and your souls.
This has certainly been the case for me! I used to view cooking dinner as drudgery; now I see it as a creative outlet, and a way to thank my husband for working hard all day! And to bless any friends or family who might be joining us.
(Yes, I work too, but I have more freedom in my schedule than he does, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. Creating a healthy, enjoyable meal is one of the ways I show that gratitude. When he retires, there will be more sharing of the load!)
2. Keep staples nearby. …3. Choose frozen. While fresh foods in the produce aisles are ideal, frozen berries, vegetables, and other foods make longer-lasting alternatives. You can stock up and have [them] on hand in your kitchen for healthy, easy meals when you can’t get to the market or these items are out of season.
Some items I try to always have stocked in my kitchen: a bag of onions, fresh spinach and/or romaine, carrots, celery, cooked/diced sweet potato, tuna, one or more kinds of already-cooked meat, eggs, avocado (or Wholly Guacamole singles), and coconut milk. In the freezer: more meat (cooked or not), mahi mahi, shrimp, frozen berries and/or cherries, green beans and other veggies. More detail in my how I stock my kitchen post.
4. Reclaim your kitchen. Establish your kitchen as the ground-zero family meeting place and establish it exclusively for cooking and socializing.
This one challenges me! I think we (me and the hubs) need to kick the laptops out of our kitchen. The clutter we accumulate nearby quickly takes over. (True confession: I tidied up a bit before taking the above picture of my end of the kitchen table!)
5. Re-evaluate your time. Time is the biggest excuse why many of my patients don’t cook. Keep a journal for one week to monitor your time. You might be surprised at how you spend your time.
I highly recommend this! I think most of us would find ourselves much happier and healthier if we gave up a few rounds of Candy Crush or a couple hours of TV or internet or “retail therapy” on the weekend to spend a little more time planning and prepping meals for the week.
6. Make mistakes. If you’re new to cooking or your skills have gotten rusty, don’t aim for perfection with your first recipe—aim for experimenting and practicing. Start with… basic recipes with few ingredients and work your way up to something more complex.
Yes, yes, yes! Just try stuff! Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t come out great. Learn and move ahead!
7. Get everyone involved. Enlist help from family members—drag your kids away from their video games and ask them to measure ingredients, pull food from the fridge, or even chop veggies if they’re ready to take on this task. Decide on meals together to get everyone excited about what’s in store.
Again — Amen! If you don’t have kids, make it time with your spouse, friend, or sister. Or, if you’re an introvert, choose your favorite music, crank it up, and relish the alone time!
If you do have kids, and if having all the kids in the kitchen at once is a sure recipe for chaos and bickering, take one kid at a time and make it a special one-on-one time for the two of you. Let them choose the music. Infect them with a love for preparing good, healthy food! (Spoken from one who wishes she’d done it this way early on. Oh well, maybe with grandkids.)
Start kids (or yourself) off with something fun and easy, like cookies (they could be Paleo! like these coconut cookies), and work your way up to healthier, more complex stuff. My daughter’s love for cooking began early — mostly in her grandma’s kitchen!
By the time she was twelve, she was able to make chicken noodle soup from scratch, all by herself. Ten (fast!) years later, she’s now married and easily handles the day-to-day cooking. (I’m so proud of you, Sweetie!)
So don’t make changing your diet overly complicated. Start with learning a little more about prepping and cooking food, with simple dishes, and with changing your mind about creating meals!
(One way to learn? Follow me on Instagram. I often shoot a quick pic of my easiest meals and post them there with brief notes about what went into them. @janalovesrealfood )
“Changing your mind” typography by dudebeawsome on Instagram
I’ve been eating low carb for a long time, but have just recently begun to explore the semi-madness that is the Whole30 scene! Here are some of my recipes that are already Paleo/Whole30 compliant, or can be made so with minor tweaks.
Herb-crusted salmon – so easy, and restaurant quality!
Taco seasoning – no sugar, no MSG, no gluten, no milk, no hydrogenated nothin’, no cornstarch or cornmeal here! (Check the ingredients list on the ready-made mix above; you’ll be surprised!)
Salmon with fresh tomato avocado salsa – one of my summer favorites! Leave out the corn if you’re going wholly grain-free
Asian lettuce wraps – replace the soy sauce with Tamari (still has soy) or coconut aminos, and leave out the Splenda.
Brat and cabbage soup – just leave out the beans, if you’re living legume-free.
Sloppy Jo’tatoes – requires a sugar-free BBQ sauce to be wholly compliant.
Check out my e-b00k: Real Food for Real Life
This salad is so addictive! Inspired by a salad I had at a Kansas City “wine dive,” as well as a spinach and orzo salad I used to make, I created this healthy and delicious cold quinoa salad, and it’s always a big hit at parties and potlucks. I love the contrast of all the different ingredients, as well as the sharp taste of the feta balanced by the sweet-and-sour of the vinaigrette, and the subtle spinach and nutty quinoa.
Quinoa is a healthier alternative to pasta like orzo, because it’s a complete protein in and of itself, plus it’s fairly low-glycemic for a grain. And, for those who care, it’s gluten-free.
It’s best made a few hours ahead, I think. I don’t know if it keeps longer than 24 hours, because if there are any leftovers in the fridge that night, I’m likely to I always polish them off as a midnight snack!
If I were making this just for myself, I would use the full amount of feta, but when I’m serving a crowd, I usually put in half the feta, and serve some alongside for those who would like to add more. If you’re serving a nut-sensitive crowd, you could also leave out the nuts and provide them as a garnish.
2 c. thoroughly rinsed quinoa (a 12-oz. package of pre-rinsed)
2 T. butter
3 c. chicken stock
1/2 of a medium red onion, finely diced
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
2 T. rice vinegar, or a mix
1 – 2 T. maple syrup
1/2 c. olive oil
5 – 6 oz. baby spinach, chopped
2 – 4 T. crumbled feta cheese, to taste
1-1/3 c. craisins, chopped apple, or a combination
2 – 3 T. fresh basil (optional)
pecan and/or walnut pieces, to taste – maybe 1/2 cup
Make sure your quinoa is thoroughly rinsed, until the water runs clean. If not, it will be bitter. More info here.
Melt butter in a large skillet, and saute the quinoa till it just starts turning golden brown. (This step is optional. If you’re pressed for time, feel free to skip it.)
Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer, cover and let cook for 15 minutes. Then remove from heat and let it sit — still covered — for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, dice the red onion and put it in the bottom of a large mixing/serving bowl. Combine the vinegar, sweetener and olive oil in a small jar and shake to combine. Set aside.
Once the quinoa is done, and if there’s any excess liquid, drain that off. Pour the quinoa over the onions and place that mixture in the fridge to cool off. The reason: subjecting the onions to the heat of the cooked quinoa will mellow them a bit, and start them releasing their flavors into the mixture.
Once the quinoa is cooled, pour the vinegar mixture over the salad. Stir gently till well combined. If you have more than 2 hours to serving time, cover and place back in the fridge.
An hour or two before serving, add the spinach, feta, and craisins or apple. Taste and adjust ingredients if needed. More feta for a sharper taste; more Splenda and/or fruit for a sweeter taste.
Add the fresh basil and nuts just before serving.
Nutrition data from myfitnesspal.com:
|Amount Per Serving|
|% Daily Value *|
|Total Fat 25 g||38 %|
|Saturated Fat 5 g||24 %|
|Monounsaturated Fat 9 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat 9 g|
|Trans Fat 0 g|
|Cholesterol 12 g||4 %|
|Sodium 188 mg||8 %|
|Potassium 428 mg||12 %|
|Total Carbohydrate 39 g||13 %|
|Dietary Fiber 4 g||16 %|
|Sugars 13 g|
|Protein 9 g||18 %|
|Vitamin A||1 %|
|Vitamin C||12 %|
|* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.|
The Harvard School of Public Health recently conducted a study pitting the Mediterranean diet against a low fat diet. The results?
Dr. Walter Willet, Chair of the Dept. of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health says:
“The real issue is not losing weight—people can cut back on calories and lose weight on almost any diet—but keeping weight off over the long run. Thus it is more important to find a way of eating that you can stay with for the rest of your life. For this reason, any eating plan you choose should be satisfying and allow variety, and should also be nutritionally sound.”
Quote source: Harvard School of Public Health website
Additional study: A small new study shows that following a Mediterranean Diet helped men at high risk for heart disease reduce their bad cholesterol, regardless of whether they lost weight.
Image source: The Boston Globe, “Mediterranean diet vs. low-fat Ornish plan,” April 15, 2013