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Meal Planning for Heart Health

posted Mar 2, 2020, 6:07 AM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT   [ updated Mar 3, 2020, 6:22 AM ]

By Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT


Do you eat on the run? Or always struggling to cook something healthy for yourself or loved ones? The kind of meals you typically eat will translate to how healthy your heart is.  But chances are if you are eating on the fly, “meal planning” hasn’t been your priority.

It sometimes takes you going to a health checkup and being prescribed medication for high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes before you start making meal planning a priority.   High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are all risk factors for heart disease.   Meal planning can put you on a path to healthy eating so you can reduce the need for medication and, most importantly, get you feeling and looking your best. 

Why plan your meals?  Planning your meals allows you to avoid eating unhealthy meals on the run.  It also lets you eat healthy foods and promote the reversal and prevention of heart disease.

Where to start?  Use the MyPlate as a guide to planning healthy meals.  MyPlate  will give you a visual on the types of food to include each day.

Items you will need to create a meal plan:

1.       Meal Planner Worksheet (Click here for a sample meal planner)

2.       Favorite recipe sources (websites or cookbooks)

3.       MyPlate graphic art  

Let’s get started on creating a heart-healthy weekly meal plan. 

1.  First, know the key nutrients (healthy ingredients) needed for a healthy heart.   Stock your refrigerator and pantry with foods that contain these essential nutrients to ensure you have the ingredients on hand to plan healthy meals.  The following are some of the best features of these foods: 

v  More Potassium:  Potassium-rich foods lower blood pressure naturally and healthy blood pressure promotes a healthy heart.  Potatoes, bananas, and avocados are rich in potassium; also, almond butter.

v  Less Sodium:  Too much sodium in your foods can increase your blood pressure and cause unhealthy arteries.   Aim to plan meals that contain fresh foods versus canned. If using canned, then buy sodium-free or low-sodium varieties.   Fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats are better than packaged deli meats.    

v  Include healthy fats:  Swap out the saturated fats for protective fats such as olive oil, avocados, walnuts, and salmon, which contain omega 3’s.   Consuming foods that are high in unhealthy fats can cause weight gain and clogged arteries.  Olive oil and avocados contain omega3’s, which reduce inflammation in the body and can lower your cholesterol.  Consider using plant-based spreads instead of butter, reduced-fat cheese for casseroles and reduced-fat Greek yogurts.

v  Lean proteins (plant-based).  Animal protein foods tend to be higher in saturated fats.  Choose leaner varieties such as skinless chicken or turkey.  Red meats tend to be more inflammatory, so stick with eating poultry and fish more often.  Plant-based proteins such as beans and nut butters are healthy staples to have as well, to create veggie burgers, stews and for use in sandwiches.   Aim to eat 2 servings of fish each week (total of 6 to 8 ounces) and have beans 2 or 3 times a week.

v  High in fiber:  Foods high in soluble fiber help lower the bad cholesterol.   Adding oatmeal or beans to your meal plan are just a few examples of high fiber foods.  

2.   Heart-healthy ingredient swaps: Review the ingredients in your favorite recipes and swap out the unhealthy ingredients for healthy ingredients in these recipes.   Check out websites that may offer healthier versions of your favorite recipes.  Here are few suggested favorite recipe sites:   (1)ILC ; (2) American Heart Association;  and (3) USDA Choose MyPlate

3.   Write down the daily recipe names on the Meal Planner worksheet.  Aim to plan at least 5 days’ worth of meals from the recipes.  This will be a typical work week where we are prone to eat on the fly.   

Here are a few meal planning ideas to get you started:




Power oatmeal: Oatmeal topped with ½ cup banana, blueberries and walnuts, then add soy or 1% milk.

Heart-healthy omelet.  Use one egg and two egg whites, add mushrooms, spinach, onions, asparagus, or kale with reduced-fat 2% shredded cheese.

Greek yogurt parfait. Plain Fage 0% Greek yogurt, then layer blueberries and walnuts.

Reduce the amount of meat in your sandwich or wraps.  Add more vegetables (cucumbers, sliced bell peppers, tomatoes, leafy greens). Use collard greens or butter lettuce as wraps instead of bread.

Vegetable Mediterranean bowl (avocado, ¾ cup cauliflower rice, 1/3 cup of brown rice, olives, cherry tomatoes, 1 tbs of feta cheese), then drizzle with olive oil and vinegar.

Aim to have plant-based meals.

Black bean salad with avocado. Click here for recipe.

Vegetable Curry. Click here for recipe.


All meals have a side salad topped with strawberries and drizzled with olive oil and vinegar. Steamed vegetable of your choice.


4.  Generate a weekly grocery list:  Using the ingredients needed for the recipes, audit your refrigerator and pantry and write down what you need to make the recipes for the week.   

5.  Meal prep.  Plan an hour before the work week starts to prep the ingredients you need for the meals you planned.  Chop vegetables in advance so you can grab and make fresh meals.  Or plan ahead meals that you can refrigerate or freeze.

v  Turkey meatballs can be stored in freezer bags, so you can thaw for dinner during a busy work week.   

v  Brown rice can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days to be used in recipes. 

v  Bake extra chicken to make chicken salad for wraps or salad toppers.

v  Make muffins rather than purchase protein bars.

For more tips on meal planning and prepping, attend ILC’s Healthy Living meeting at the Washington DC USDA South Building, Cafeteria Conference Room, on Wednesday, March 11th at 11:30 am to 12:30pm or follow us on Facebook and check out our website each month at

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