Showing posts with label healthy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label healthy. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fast Dinners for the Busy and Frazzled

Recently, I’ve written about fast and easy meals for breakfast and lunch, and dinner can just as simple! At the end of a busy workday, the drive-through is tempting. And grabbing takeout is so much easier than making a meal at home. But don’t give up: with a little forethought, you can enjoy yummy dinners with little prep and even less guilt.

If you are not a fabulous cook, don’t worry: there are simple meals you can make, even if you don’t know the difference between a tablespoon and a serving spoon. So let’s dig in and get to the good stuff!

The three part approach. Dinner doesn’t have to be complex. So use a simple formula: protein, vegetable w/fat, and starch. You might choose to throw chicken thighs on the grill (protein), make small side salads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (vegetable w/fat), and add a couple of corn cobs to the grill (starch). If you aren’t someone who loves to grill, how about baked pork chops, microwaved frozen vegetables with butter, and a side of basmati rice? These meals will take very little time, and you’ll enjoy the payoff.

One-skillet meals. And no, these don’t have to be a boxed meal! Toss some cubed chicken in a hot skillet with some coconut oil. When the chicken is cooked through, add a bag of frozen (or fresh) vegetables of your choice. Stir until the vegetables are cooked, then add some leftover white or brown rice, and cook until all is hot. Add some soy sauce, and you’ve got a stir-fry. And there are so many one-skillet options (check some out here, here, and here).

Manage your time. I’ve been caught off-guard several times, when work demands outwitted my time management. By taking an hour or two on your day off, you can prepare a meal that you can pop in the freezer for later that week. You might consider meal-planning services, which can make eating healthier a little easier.

Keep a list of emergency go-to’s. Sometimes when we give up and get fast food, it derails our healthy plan for the rest of the week. But it doesn’t have to! Healthy options are out there, even on the go! Look for restaurants like Chipotle, Muscle Maker Grill, even Subway. Ethnic restaurants often provide vegetable-laden dishes that you can swing by and pick up. While making food at home may be ideal, some moments in life don’t allow us the time. So rather than get frustrated and eat junk food, grab something healthy and enjoy!

Don’t forget to check out my post about crockpots for more easy dinner ideas, and you can always swap breakfast or lunch ideas for dinner! 

Schedules get busy, and the challenge of eating healthy can seem impossible. But with some planning, you can embrace eating healthy while still living your life. So don’t give up! And let us know in the comments what works best for you and your family.

Contributing Writer

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

(Healthy) Grocery Shopping with Ease

It began with good intentions: your focus to eat right and move more for the new year/month/week. You had a goal, a plan to get there, and perhaps, the journey even started out promising. But then life/work/family obligations struck, and suddenly, going to the grocery store becomes a rushed task, and all attempts you made at better choices dwindles down to what is most time efficient not only to make, but to grab at the supermarket.

Man grocery shopping

The key to any healthier eating plan is consistency and planning, but what happens when the best laid plans fizzle in the face of life’s complications? It’s not as hopeless as it may seem. With some tweaking, you can design a healthy lifestyle, even under the toughest time crunches and demands.

Start with a simple (pre-assembled) grocery list. There are several smartphone apps that meet the criteria, if you love technology. You can create “favorite” lists, with your usual items listed each time you load it. From there, you can add in the items as you think of them. (Check out apps like AnyList and Grocery IQ.) If you prefer paper and pen, make a basic list with items you purchase each time, along with plenty of blanks to fill in, and make several copies. Hang them in a place where you and your family can jot down items for the list each week. If you have some recipes in mind, give them a quick glance and note the items you will need on your list.

Go grocery shopping with focus...and a time limit. When we start shopping with our health in mind, often new food choices can distract us. If you have time to browse, enjoy it! But when you are in a rush, the choices can be overwhelming. Instead, set aside the amount of time you have available and stick to your list. Avoid the temptation to wander down aisles with foods not on your list and stay on the perimeter of the store.

Keep things easy. When you have the time to make complicated recipes, take advantage of it. But when time is short and demands are intense, stick with tried and true recipes and easy combos. Try a slab of fresh fish and a green veggie, served over rice with lemon and butter. Grab some chicken thighs, wrap them with bacon, and bake, along with a baked sweet potato and a side salad. Frozen vegetables are fast, tasty side dish and retain most of their nutrients.

Don’t let best be the enemy of better. Every little change we make to eat and live healthier is a step in the right direction. Perhaps this week, you didn’t get to the store at all and ate out more than you wanted to. Or desire got the best of you and you finished the pan of brownies. Whatever it may be, keep moving forward and let the mistakes be what they are: momentary lapses. Embrace an 80/20 approach: 80% of what you buy is good food that your grandparents would recognize. And let 20% of your menu and life be the fun stuff that while not ideal, won’t hurt an overall healthy diet.

Changes in our lifestyle have to be sustainable for them to last! So rather than letting bumps along the path derail us, let’s embrace what we are changing, and let go of the rest. One step at a time, we will reclaim our health.

What are your top tips for grocery shopping when you don’t have much time? What are your favorite meals that are simple and quick to make?

Contributing Writer

Friday, March 21, 2014

Kitchen Gadgets for Your Health

It’s tax refund time! Many of us have filed our taxes, or will be filing soon, and plans are already being made for ways to spend our refund. If you are someone seeking to eat healthier in 2014, how about getting some new, useful gadgets for the kitchen? They will pay you back in dividends – not only in better health, but also with more money in your budget as you enjoy eating at home more often!

If you aren’t sure where to begin, use the following as suggestions to determine what might best suit your cooking style. You may be able to find devices that can do double-duty (ie. blenders that also food process). While buying new healthy gadgets can be fun, don’t hesitate to hit up garage sales, thrift stores, or gadget-laden relatives!

Slow cooker. We talked about slow cookers a few weeks ago. They are a must have for the healthy kitchen! In addition to cooking dinners and side dishes, they can be utilized for making broths and other long-cooking sauces and soups. The slow cooker is truly the “fix it and forget it” for the busy family and allows you to create incredible cuisine with little effort.

Food Processor. This can be a heavy hitter in the budget, but worth spending a few extra dollars on if you can afford it. With a food processor, you can do more than just slice and dice raw vegetables. You can make cookie and cake recipes, whip up pancakes in a jiffy, and puree soups and vegetables. When purchasing a food processor, review sizes to get the right one for you, as well as additional features. They can be quite large, so keep that in mind for storage.

Mixer. This is where you may be able to cut some corners if you don’t make heavy dough (like bread dough). A small hand mixer – of sturdy quality, but not necessarily the most expensive – will work well for the average kitchen. However, if you love to bake, you may find your money well spent on a stand mixer. Arm fatigue often plagues batter-makers. Not to mention, higher end stand mixers often have multiple attachments available, like dough hooks, ice cream makers, and meat grinders.

Iron Skillet. The minute you pick up an iron skillet, you’ll know why it’s a must have. It’s a nearly indestructible cooking device that knows how to handle protein and offers a non-stick surface without any chemical concerns. And it will last you for many, many years. Most new skillets come pre-seasoned, but this is where getting a used skillet can pay off. While the pre-seasoning is a nice selling feature, you’ll still have to do a fair amount of seasoning before skillet is truly non-stick, but that is where the fun comes in! From eggs to pancakes to pizza, you can make almost any cooked food on a skillet. It can go from your stovetop to your oven with ease. And the more you cook with it, the more non-stick the surface becomes. Make sure to use plenty of healthy fats when cooking, and you’ll have the perfectly seasoned pan for cooking.

Quality knives. Last but certainly not least, evaluate a good set of knives. If you can afford to get a quality set of knives, they will last you for many years. If not, a chef’s knife and a paring knife are a must for any kitchen. Look for knives that easy to clean, resist rust, and feel balanced in your hand. They should be easy to sharpen and come with a reliable guarantee. Read online reviews to find the right set for you.

With the right tools, cooking healthy food in your kitchen is a breeze. And you don’t need a ton of gadgets – just the right ones for your needs.

What are your kitchen must-have’s? What else would you add to this list?

Contributing Writer

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Crockpots for Beginners

We’re locked into cold weather for a bit longer, which makes it the perfect time to take advantage of your crockpot! If you use one regularly, you know the fantastic advantages they have: efficient, simple, and easy to clean. But if you’ve never cooked with one before, they can be a bit intimidating. However, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be an expert!

Crockpots – often referred to as slow cookers – are a great way to eat healthy without spending a lot of time preparing food. Cheaper cuts of meat cook up tender in a crockpot, and with some vegetables thrown in, you’ve got a delicious, healthy feast. So where do you start when you are new to the experience?

If you don’t own a crockpot, this is a great time to visit your local thrift store! They often have all shapes and sizes for very reasonable prices. If you prefer to buy new, department stores offer many choices. Key features to look for include variable heating options (“high” and “low” are typical settings, but newer models may have additional temperature settings), an “off” option when plugged in, and a nonstick interior surface. You can find digital displays with timers on more expensive units, but while convenient, they are not necessary. 

Decide what size you (and your family) will need. For two people, a 4-quart crockpot is a great size. But if you are feeding 3 or more people, opt for a 5 to 6-quart unit. If you like to make things like traditional roasts, you will need enough room for the meat, water (or broth), and chunky vegetables.

Where to start? The good news: the hardest part is obtaining your crockpot! From here on out, it’s easy! Recipes for the crockpot consist of a protein (beef, pork, or poultry), a liquid (water, broth, etc.), and vegetables. For example:

For a basic roast: add 2-3 pounds of chuck roast, 2 cups of water, 1 yellow onion, chopped, and salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 8 hours. After six hours, add in vegetables – like red-skin potatoes, cabbage, carrots, or other veggies of your choice. When it’s done, it’s ready to serve!

A famous central Pennsylvania recipe is pork and sauerkraut: 2-3 pounds of pork roast, 2 cans of sauerkraut, any other seasonings you prefer, and cook on low for 8 hours. Pair with mashed potatoes for a filling dinner.

Easy chicken stock: Take a whole chicken roaster, small enough to fit inside your crockpot, and 2-4 cups of water. Put both in the crockpot. Add 1-2 stalks of celery, 1 onion, chopped, 1 tablespoon crushed garlic (substitute 1-2 teaspoons garlic powder, if you don’t have fresh garlic), and salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low for 24-48 hours, until chicken bones are soft. Strain well and use or freeze.

There are countless easy recipes for your crockpot! If you enjoy using the internet for your recipe hunt, check out this site. If you prefer cookbooks, stop by your local library and check out a few crockpot specific cook books, like Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook or Slow Cooker Revolution.

Now you are an expert on using your crockpot! What new recipes have you tried and would recommend? Check back here and leave us a comment on your experience using your crockpot!

Contributing Writer