Do any of these goals sound familiar?
- "I want to cook more."
- "I will do more meal planning."
- "I will pull out my cookbook and try a new recipe…”
How many of you have followed through on that promise to yourself, or your spouse or family? If you’re still feeling intimidated by the thought of home-cooking, National Nutrition Month — celebrated this March with the theme, "Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle" —is a perfect time to start. Here are a few basic keys to prepping and cooking a simple, convenient and healthy meal at home.
1. Planning Is Essential
When was the last time you hungrily peered into your refrigerator at 6 p.m. and found little more than a jar of pickles, some ketchup and two eggs?
Avoid that scenario starting…now.
Start by picking a day for your weekly meal planning. Spend a little time on that day to search for healthy, simple recipes; many can be found right here on Stone Soup, developed by my creative dietitian colleagues! Other places to look include Pinterest, Cooking Light or Eating Well – these are just three suggestions; you likely have your favorites. If convenience is key, search online for meals that contain six ingredients or fewer.
Next, pull out your phone app or your notepad and make a list of meals you intend to have Sunday through Saturday. No need to make seven entrees; three or four will suffice, as you can make enough so that you have leftovers from each meal for later in the week.
Experiment! Include a crockpot recipe or two. Plan to make a big vat of soup – like the Creamy Broccoli Soup recipes below – that will last three days. Bake several chicken breasts at once to use in various recipes throughout your week.
2. Make a Healthy Shopping List
Arm yourself with a healthy shopping list before striding into the grocery store. How you can be sure the list is balanced? Separate your list into various food groups and categories, i.e. vegetables, fruit, meats, fish, whole grains, dairy, pantry, herbs and spices. How many items are in the vegetables column? You want the veggie section to be significant. Then, create a balance of fruits, protein, and some pantry items like rice and beans.
One way to save time in the store is to organize your list by store section, i.e. produce, seafood counter, dry bulk goods section. As an added bonus, this strategy will allow you to bypass unnecessary aisles — like the candy aisle — altogether.
Having a detailed shopping list has the added benefits of avoiding impulse buys, saving time, reducing waste, and creating a balance of vitamins and minerals in our diets. Lists prevent us from returning from the store and unpacking our ketchup and pickles at home and wondering, “What on earth am I going to eat?”
Save money by trying to buy your lean protein sources on sale. Economical sources of protein also include: eggs, canned fish, nut butters, and canned and packaged beans. Rise those canned products to reduce sodium by approximately 40 percent!
Convenience can cost money. Buying whole, unpeeled carrots, for example, will cost a touch less than buying the baby carrots that are already peeled and ready to eat. Taking time to debone and de-skin your chicken will also prove to be cheaper than buying boneless-skinless varieties.
Last, try timing yourself: Are you spending most of your grocery store run in the produce section? That’s one sign of a successful shopping trip!
4. Hold a Chopping Session
You're back from the store with your selections of healthy produce, protein and whole grains. Before you put everything out of sight and out of mind, hold a chopping session. Cut your veggies and portion them out for the week. (You’re more likely to grab red pepper slices on-the-go than you are to grab a whole red pepper and bite into it, right?)
Pick a day of the week to get your meals in order. Putting in just a couple of hours one day of the week can yield healthy, good-for-you meals for several evenings. When preparing staples, make extra servings and store them in the refrigerator or freezer. Such items include brown rice, beans, chicken breasts and whole-wheat pasta. If you find that prepping 3-4 meals is overwhelming, narrow it down to two. Then, prep another two dishes a few days later. Experiment with what works for you.
Imagine how great it will feel to pull something that you have concocted out of the fridge, pop it in the oven, and be able to sit down to a piping hot meal shortly thereafter. Or, if you’ve opted for the crock pot, all you have to do is lift the lid and dish it up!
Creamy Broccoli Soup Recipe
Developed by Chef Allison Stevens, MS, RD, LD
1 head broccoli
1 yellow onion
1 teaspoon canola oil
2 whole garlic cloves
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup cashews
Salt and pepper to taste
- Roughly chop broccoli and yellow onion. (Note that these will eventually be pureed.)
- Heat 1 teaspoon oil in large pot over medium-high heat.
- Add chopped onion, broccoli and 2 peeled garlic cloves. Sauté for 2-3 minutes.
- Add 4 cups vegetable broth (or water) to just cover veggies. Bring to a low simmer, cook for 30 minutes then set aside to cool.
- In a separate small pot bring 1 cup water to boil. Remove from heat and add cashews. Allow to soak, set aside.
- Add soaked cashews and water to broccoli and onion soup. Using an immersion blender or a standing blender, working in batches, blend on high until smooth. Add water if needed for consistency. Season with salt and pepper.