With back-to-school season arriving, families are busier than ever. Good nutrition is imperative for brainpower, energy and adequate growth & development. But it doesn’t have to be complicated or suck up all of your time!
Pssst! I’ll let you in on a secret to healthful eating—it doesn’t require recipes for every meal you eat! With a little knowledge, a dash of creativity and some prior planning, you can create meals ahead of time or in a flash for easy + delicious eating all week long.
Understand basic food categories
When it comes to simple nutrition, follow these concepts: fill half your bowl or plate with vegetables and fruit, one-quarter with protein-rich foods and one-quarter with whole grains or a starchy vegetable. Make sure you have a good source of calcium and heart-healthy fat too.
Ginny Messina of TheVeganRD.com created a beautiful representation of this with her Plant Plate:
Buy what’s on sale; buy what you like
People tend to get overwhelmed in the grocery store, but here’s the thing: remember the basic components of a healthy plate and buy what’s on sale and what you like from those departments of the grocery store. Also, aim to portion your grocery cart like you would assemble your meal. Half of your cart should be filled with colorful produce, the other half with whole grains, starches, legumes, tofu, plant milks, nuts and seeds, etc. Toss in a treat or two if you feel like it—dark chocolate bars are on my “staples” list.
You may have heard that you should only shop the perimeter of the grocery store. This is not an entirely successful strategy. While you should mainly shop the produce department and bulk bins which are typically on the perimeter, diverging into the inner aisles for staples like whole-grain pasta, canned goods, olive oil and spices is necessary. Just make sure you’re going there with a purpose so you don’t find yourself meandering down the snack aisle on an empty stomach.
Do some meal prepping
You don’t have to spend your entire Sunday in the kitchen slaving over seven different pots, pans, slow cookers and steamers. But be smart about setting yourself up for success and minimizing the time you have to spend each morning packing lunches and making dinner when you get home from work.
For instance, buy canned beans or cook them from dried ahead of time. Store cooked beans in the fridge for a few days or the freezer for a few weeks (I’m a big fan of freezer goodies!). Cook grains like rice and quinoa ahead of time. Wash and chop sturdy greens like kale and romaine so they’re ready for salads, stir-frys and smoothies. Basically envision what a meal-ready fridge and freezer would like for you and then create that.
Here’s an example of how I might stock my fridge and briefly brainstorm the week’s meals:
- I have a green protein smoothie for breakfast pretty much every day—bananas, spinach, kale and almond milk are always on my grocery list.
- Before heading to the store, I take stock of pantry items to make single-serving oatmeal jars for my daily mid-morning snack—I head to the bulk bins for quick oats and walnuts.
- For lunches to take to work, I buy whatever fruits and veggies are on sale, along with vegan yogurt. I’ll add a sandwich on whole-grain bread or perhaps lentil soup or bean chili. Maybe I’ll whip up some homemade hummus for veggie dip if I’m feeling like it.
- I take stock of what’s in my freezer when considering what to make for dinners. Sometimes I’ll have a couple meal ideas in mind when I head to the store (and have those ingredients on my list), other times I’ll let the sales steer me. I think in terms of food categories—if I know I have grains and veggies prepped in the freezer, I just need to figure out my protein-rich foods.
- I typically don’t buy anything that isn’t on my grocery list, with one exception: fruits and veggies that are on sale that I know I’ll eat or can freeze for a later time.
What tricks do you use for throwing together easy, healthful meals?