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Meal Planning 101

posted Sep 5, 2014, 7:51 AM by Rachel Griffin
Remember back to the spring, when you had wellness goals for the summer? Maybe your goal was to use your grill to create flavorful and nutritious meals. Or maybe, it was to be more active by taking a walk after dinner and dusting off your bicycle on the weekends. Whether you met those goals or not, it is important to take some time during the transition to fall to reset your wellness goals. As the hours of daylight get shorter, schools get back into session, and we begin to plan our holiday calendars, it can be easy to let our weekly meal planning fall to the wayside. This post is designed to help you have a plan, step out of your comfort zone, and to learn a few tricks of the trade from your I.L. Creation's dietitians.

Have a Plan
Without a grocery list, you're sure to be lost in the aisles when it comes time to shop. Try keeping a grocery list on your smart phone or keep a paper list hanging in a prominent location (such as on the refrigerator) so that you can update it all week long. Just cracked the last egg? Add it to the list. The fruit bowl is empty? Add it to the list. And so on.

When you go to finalize your list, it is crucial that you at least have an idea of what meals you're going to make throughout the week. If this seems like a daunting task, think of all meals in terms of main groups: protein, grain, vegetable/fruit, unsaturated fats, and dairy or dairy alternative. A balanced meal is comprised of all of these items. A balanced snack ideally contains a protein and a grain, fruit, or vegetable. Meal and snack variety and balance not only prevents boredom, but also provides our bodies with a wider array of nutrients and allows for optimum absorption.

Once your kitchen is filled with quality ingredients, take some time to do some prep work, so that your ingredients will be easy to use throughout the week. Wash produce, slice melons or pineapple, and store fruits and vegetables in plain view. This way, when hunger strikes, the first thing you will see will be colorful, nutritious foods, ready to be enjoyed. If you know your menu well, try setting up bins or baskets in your kitchen for each night of the week. Put all non-perishable items from each recipe into the corresponding meal's basket and attach a hard copy of the recipe. Now, whoever gets home first can at least get started on dinner--even if it's not you.

When you have more time to cook, make a meal that will provide you with leftovers. Try a rotisserie chicken, large batch of quinoa, and extra roasted vegetables. Pack up the leftovers and combine with a few kitchen basics to create the following dishes* throughout the week:
  • Chicken & Vegetable Quesadillas: Shred 1/4 cup chicken and chop 1/4 cup veggies into smaller pieces. Sprinkle with cumin & chili powder to taste. Heat in microwave just long enough to remove the chill. Top a small flour or corn tortilla with the chicken and vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup reduced fat Mexican blend cheese. Finish it off with another small tortilla and cook in a skillet on the stovetop until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is crisp. Serve with salsa, avocado slices, and pre-sliced melon/whole fruit. 
  • Quinoa & Roasted Vegetable Salad: Combine 1/2 cup leftover quinoa and 1 cup roasted vegetables in a medium bowl. Toss with 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Serve over baby spinach and top with 2 tablespoons raw walnuts. 
  • Chicken Salad: Shred 1/2 cup chicken. Mix with 2 tablespoons plain, non-fat Greek yogurt and chopped green onion, celery, and/or sliced red grapes (optional). Season with black pepper. Serve on whole grain bread, wrap, or pita bread with reheated roasted vegetables. 
  • Roasted Vegetable Scramble: Whisk 1 whole egg and 2 egg whites together. Chop ~1/2 cup leftover roasted vegetables into small pieces. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in skillet over medium on stove top. Add vegetables and saute for ~2 minutes. Add whisked eggs, gently folding into the vegetables. Serve over baby spinach with whole grain bread and pre-sliced melon on the side. 
  • Sweet & Spiced Quinoa: Combine 1/2 cup cooked quinoa with 1 tablespoon of skim milk or milk alternative. Sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stir to combine. Microwave until heated throughout. Top with 2 tablespoons dried fruit and 2 tablespoons raw nuts for a satisfying and filling breakfast, lunch, or snack! 
*each recipe idea serves 1, but can be easily expanded to make multiple servings


Keep the Staples on Hand
Grab a few simple frozen, dried, and canned items to build a basic pantry:
  • Frozen vegetables: choose varieties with no added sauces or spices. These are usually high in sodium. You can jazz plain vegetables up any way you'd like at home. Some of our favorites include green beans, spinach, corn, broccoli, bell peppers, and vegetable medleys. 
  • Frozen fruits: perfect for smoothies, mixing into yogurt, or baking into muffins and pancakes. Look for mixes with no added sugar or sauces. For a simple breakfast, layer frozen fruit, plain non-fat yogurt, and cinnamon in a small storage container. Let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The next morning, just stir, add a few walnuts or a sprinkle of granola and enjoy! The natural juices from the berries add color and flavor to the creamy yogurt...and provide an antioxidant boost to your day! 
  • Canned beans: choose your family's favorite without added salt or spices. Be sure to rinse your beans before preparing to remove canning juices and excess sodium. Rinsing your beans decreases the amount of sodium by 41%!
  • Canned tomatoes: possibilities are endless with canned tomatoes. A base for soup/stews/chili, a sauce for protein, or slow cooked with herbs and tomato paste to be served over pasta dishes--canned tomatoes are a must-have pantry item. 
  • Dried grains: purchased in bulk for lower 'per serving' cost or in smaller containers if you have limited dry storage space. Either way, load up on brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, bulgur, barley, oats...and the list goes on! Like the other foods mentioned, beware of added sauces/spices that may be high in sodium. Stick with the plain grains so that you can turn them into whatever you're in the mood for. For more information on grains, check out our earlier wellness blog post about whole grains.
By keeping these items around, you can create a balanced and healthy meal in no time!

For more information on balanced meal planning, be sure to visit the dietitian's table in your cafeteria! The dietitian's schedule can be found here.
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