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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Meal Prep Made Simple…and Delicious!

GettyImages-95618113When I say “meal prep,” do you picture hours upon hours in the kitchen, a stockpile of containers, and food that you are sick of by week’s end? PAUSE right there! I am here to tell you that meal prep does not have to be that way. It does not have to be too time-consuming or hard, and you don’t have to eat the exact same meal over and over.

What Is Meal Prep?

For those new to meal prep, it is essentially precooking and preparing foods in advance so that you have less to do during your week, but still have your meals ready to go. The weeks get busy and tiring, especially when work picks up or the kids’ extracurriculars start. The last thing anyone wants to do after work is cook. So, if food is not prepped or the fridge is empty, we find ourselves ordering takeout for the third day in a row. Who can relate? My hand is up! Regardless of our busy lives, we still need to find a way to maintain a healthy nutrition regimen because doing so carries over into the rest of our lives. Meal prep is the key to helping you stay nourished even when life gets busy.

Meal prep is not rocket science, but it does require effort and is not the easiest thing in the world. After years of prepping for myself, husband, and even my family when I was younger, along with guiding my clients and patients, I can say there are ways to make meal prep simple and easy while still making enjoyable meals.

Meal Prep Cooking Tips

Here are my tips for you!

Make a Plan

It’s always a good idea to start with a plan. Benjamin Franklin said it best, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Take a few moments to plan and write out the menu for the week.

  • Consider the number of servings per meal you need, the budget, and food preferences.
  • How many meals and snacks will you be serving?
  • Look at your schedule to consider the obligations you have. It would be a waste to prepare food for an evening that you will not be home.
  • What are your health goals? Are there specific suggestions by your primary care provider or Registered Dietitian that you need to consider when planning your meals?

Think “Single Ingredients”

Prepare single ingredients, such as vegetables, proteins, and starches that can be used in a variety of ways. This can keep you from getting bored with the same meal over and over. For example, prepare a bulk batch of chicken. That one batch can be used for BBQ sandwiches alongside some steamed veggies, as a main entrée tossed in marinade with a veggie and starch of choice on the side, or thrown into a soup like chicken noodle or chicken chili. The same can be done with a starch, such as brown rice. Prepare the rice and use it for a stir-fry with veggies and protein of choice (tofu, chicken, or turkey are good options); a Tex-Mex bowl with rice, beans, lean protein, veggies, and guacamole; or alongside grilled teriyaki chicken. You get the picture.

Prepare Two Proteins, Four Vegetables, and Two Starches

This is a pretty good rule of thumb because all of these single ingredients can be combined in a multitude of ways to make different meals. Pick two proteins that you can use throughout the week, such as chicken, lean turkey or beef, tofu, beans, cod, or salmon. Cook them based on the meals you’ve planned. Maybe that means half of the chicken is boiled and shredded for BBQ sandwiches and your lunch salads, while the other half is tossed in marinade to be grilled, or cooked in the air-fryer or oven in the next day or two. Then, pick out four veggies that go with your proteins and that can be easily accessible for snacks, including salad mixes, roasted veggies, and cut raw vegetables. To balance out the meals, prepare two starches in bulk. Consider mashed or roasted potatoes, rice, or whole grains of some sort.

Add in Spices, Seasonings, Sauces, and Marinades

Now that you have prepped single ingredients, be sure to have spices, seasonings, sauces, and marinades on hand to pack the meal with flavor. On the stir-fry night, be sure to portion out your meal serving of rice, turkey, and veggies that you cooked in bulk. Then top with the stir-fry sauce. For the shredded chicken you prepared, be sure to mix a meal’s worth with a low-sugar BBQ sauce when the sandwich night rolls around. When you go to eat the veggies, use an Italian seasoning combo on spaghetti night but a garlic and pepper combination on the tofu and rice night.

When picking your sauces and marinades, be sure to watch for high sodium (if you have high blood pressure) and added sugar content. Sometimes those sauces will be packed with added sugars, fats, and sodium. Pick low-fat, lite, sugar-free, and low- or reduced-sodium options when available.

Try One-pan Meals, Air Fryers, Pressure Cookers, or Slow Cookers

The methods listed above are easy and still produce a delicious meal. Some of my favorite one-pan meals include chicken with peppers for fajitas, steak strips and sweet potatoes with broccoli, and garlic tofu with veggies. Toss the prepped raw veggies lightly in oil and place on a baking sheet alongside a protein, and then roast it all together. You can make these vegetarian friendly as well!

The air fryers, pressure cookers (such as Instant Pot), and slow cookers (such as Crock-Pot) are all appliances worth considering. My household loves marinating chicken and tossing it in the air fryer, along with sweet potato fries. While that is cooking, we throw a steamable bag of veggies in the microwave. Crispy chicken, fries, and veggies that are so nutritious; very little work; balanced and customized portions to meet our nutrition goals—easy peezy.

The Instant Pot and Crock-Pot come in handy when you want to throw things into an appliance and let it do all the work for you. We use the Crock-Pot for shredded chicken, chili, soups, slow-cooker lasagna, and so much more. Also, did you know there are Facebook groups, such as an Instant Pot Recipe group, that consist of people sharing recipes utilizing these appliances? That is where my sister found the protein bagel recipe that I adapted. 

Consider Pre-prepared, Precut Ingredients, and Steamables to Save Time

There is absolutely no shame in needing convenience. Grocery stores these days have raw and chopped vegetables, fruit trays, fresh salsa, premade guacamole, and more in the produce section. In the freezer section, you can find chopped onions, peppers, and celery for some of your recipes as well (because who has time to chop all those veggies…not I). You can also find steamable bags of rice, quinoa, and vegetables if you need a quick side to toss in the microwave or do not want to make these things in advance.

It’s Easy—But NIFS Can Help If You Need It!

Meal prep can be simple and not always keep you bound to eating the same meal over and over throughout the week. Once you get past that initial push to do it, the process becomes a habit and part of your weekly routine. Then, once you do it enough, the process will be faster and easier. It is worth the time and effort. I promise. If you still feel that you could use more help with meal prep, reach out to the NIFS Registered Dietitian for one-on-one nutrition counseling or join the NIFS Nutrition and Lifestyle Facebook group.

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating kids cooking time management meal planning meal prep

Staying on Track with Your Healthy Routine During Quarantine

GettyImages-1215666910Take these next few weeks or so and use them to your advantage. We know this is an extremely challenging time, and we want to make sure you feel like you are taken care of. Circumstances are tricky right now, so even if you adopt one new technique, consider that a win! Don’t expect yourself to “eat the rainbow” every day, feel like you fall asleep easily at night from a relaxing day working at home in your pajamas, or get in a 10-mile run each morning. While you shelter at home and stay healthy, keep these tips in mind.

Create balanced meals with shelf-stable products.

Use fresh produce first, and if you feel like you won’t finish your fresh produce before it spoils, freeze it. Try to make half of your plate produce such as spinach, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, or cauliflower. Add some protein like beans (canned or dried) or tofu, and quality carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, potatoes, or quinoa. Remember, beans and grains will get you all of the essential amino acids you need, so don’t shy away from trying shelf-stable beans in place of your usual fresh meat. (Here are some meatless meal staples to look for.)

Have a plan for your meals.

Think “first-in, first-out” and make sure to use your fresh produce and proteins first in order to prevent spoilage. Create a meal plan list for the week and utilize one meal’s leftovers to create the next night’s meal to avoid wasting food. For example, if you had plain white rice to add to a veggie-stir-fry on Monday, consider keeping some white rice on the side to make rice and bean burritos for dinner the next night!

Keep food fun!

Get the family together and have fun experimenting during the week to see who can come up with the most creative meals. It’s like an episode of “Chopped” in your kitchen! You never know what some instant mashed potato flakes mixed with some flour and spices could turn into—potato pancakes perhaps. And make sure to not only keep healthy snacks in the house like nuts, carrot sticks, or apples for nourishment, but some of your favorite comfort foods will go a long way in lifting everyone’s spirits. We have had a lot of fun making popcorn in a pan and homemade bread this week.

Line up activities to do.

Plan a play date for the kids via FaceTime or Zoom. Schedule a remote “girls’ night out” and chat in the basement while watching the same TV show. Don’t go more than a few days without checking in on your friends.

Try meditation and stress-reducing activities.

There are several apps on the market that aim to help you meditate and fall asleep at night. It’s worth a try just to download one and listen while you are in bed at night. Coloring, doing puzzles, going for walks, and virtual therapy sessions with a counselor are other ways to put your mind at ease.

Stay healthy, stay calm—we’ve got this!

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition stress attitude wellness meditation illness prevention meal planning quarantine covid-19

Planning Your 4 Week Meal Plan

GettyImages-980276548(1)The Coronavirus can’t stop Spring from coming, but it can be detrimental to our health and prevent us from enjoying the beauty Spring has to offer. It is important to stay on-top of your health and take care of your immune system.

WEEK 1: Planning Your 4 Week Meal Plan

It is important to have a 4-6 week plan for you and your family, in the event of being quarantined and practicing social distancing. Creating a nutritious, yet minimally perishable menu can be a daunting task. It is important to meet nutrient needs but ensure the foods are either shelf-stable, can be frozen, and/or last longer periods in the fridge.

Step 1: Determine the caloric needs of the people in your household. To determine caloric needs, see the Dietary Guidelines. That will be important when you start planning the meals, because this will drive the portion sizes and ensure you are buying enough to meet the needs of all members.

Step 2: Consider budget. Knowing your budget will guide your decisions.

Step 3: Consider your storage space. Storage space is important to consider, because one with a lack of freezer space wouldn’t want to plan a ton of meals with frozen goods and opt for more low-sodium canned vegetables and canned fruits in water. On the contrary, one with a deep freezer can capitalize on some of the convenience, healthy frozen meals along with the frozen fruit and vegetable options.

Step 4: Start by planning breakfasts for 4-6 weeks. Consider having 2-3 breakfast options and rotate those options daily throughout the 4-6 weeks. Ideas include protein pancakes made from shelf-stable mixes or NIFS recipe below, oats topped with nut butter and frozen or canned fruit, or omelet with frozen or canned veggies (eggs can keep in the fridge for 4-6 weeks).

Step 5: Do the same thing for lunch and dinner. This is a good time to check out canned meats or freeze fresh meats and seafood (depending on storage space). Bread and cheeses can also be frozen and used for later times. Shelf stable foods include brown rice, chickpea pasta (has extra protein), sauces, whole grain pizza crusts, beans, legumes, canned vegetables (get low-sodium and rinse prior to use), canned fruits in water, tuna, canned chicken, jelly and nut butters.

Step 6: Plan 4-6 snack options, and buy enough for family members to have 1-2 snacks daily for the 4-6 weeks. Check out protein bars, granola bars, nuts, and fruits (canned, frozen, and dried)

Step 7: Reflect. Do all your days include each food group? Are there enough whole grains, vegetables, fruits, protein, and dairy or dairy-alternatives planned into each day? If not, go back and find a place to add the lacking nutrients. Having all food groups helps to reach vitamin, mineral, and fiber needs.

Step 8: Reach out to your Registered Dietitian if you need help!

RECIPE FOR THE WEEK: Protein Pancakes

Enjoy these protein-packed pancakes. They are easy to prepare, made with no refined grains and use ingredients that have a long shelf- and fridge-life.

GettyImages-1179137591Ingredients

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 banana (ripened)
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup egg whites
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • 1 scoop protein powder
  • 2 tbsp flax meal

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients until no clumps exist
  2. Heat skillet or griddle on medium-high heat.
  3. Pour ¼ cup mix on skillet per pancake. Once the edges start to look dry and bubble, flip the pancake to cook for another minute.
  4. Serve warm with toppings of choice.

Pro tips: *Instead of syrup, try pan-searing frozen berries over medium-high heat and pour them over the pancakes!

*Once your bananas ripen, freeze them to use them for future recipes.

If you want more convenience, check out Kodiak pancake mix, Krusteaz pancake mix, or Kroger brand protein pancake mix. All have whole grains and packed with protein!

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If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to contact our Registered Dietitian, Sabrina Goshen by e-mail at SGoshen@nifs.org.

Topics: nutrition healthy habits calories meals meal planning

Nutrition Tips During COVID-19

GettyImages-11629356151. Stock up on nutritious foods from all food groups.
Think shelf-stable or frozen foods. Shelf-stable, nutrient-packed options include whole grain rice, chickpea- or lentil-made pastas, tuna, beans, nuts, legumes, protein pancake mixes, oats, nut butter, protein bars, low-sodium canned vegetables, and canned fruit in water. Frozen foods include pre-frozen bags of fruits, vegetables, and Greek-yogurt bars. Fresh options that can be frozen include sliced bananas, chicken, turkey, beef, seafood, bread, and tortillas. Eggs are also a great fresh option that keep well in the fridge for 3 weeks.

2. Fuel your body by eating regular, nutritious meals and snacks.
This will help to meet your caloric, vitamin, and mineral needs.

3. Stay hydrated
Drinking at least half your weight in ounces. If you have a fever, you will want to drink much more.

4. Have a menu plan
In case you do become quarantined or are socially distancing yourself, the plan should include enough daily meals and snacks to meet each family member’s caloric needs for 4-6 weeks. When planning those meals, try to incorporate all food groups into each day (vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein) and plan each portion size. Here is an example for 1 person:

  • Breakfast: ½ cup oats with ½ cup berries (use frozen), 2 tbsp peanut
    butter, and 1 tbsp chia seed
  • Snack: 1 granola bar with 1 hard-boiled egg
  • Lunch: Stir fry (use low-sodium canned vegetables or frozen vegetables,
    brown rice, and canned or frozen meat of choice)
  • Snack: 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich (freeze bread, then unfreeze
    a loaf for each week) with 1 serving baked chips.
  • Dinner: ¾ cup chickpea pasta served with ¼ cup tomato sauce, 1 cup
    steamed vegetables (use frozen vegetables or fresh vegetables with a
    longer fridge life), and ¼ cup cheese (freeze shredded cheese then
    unfreeze as needed)
  • Dessert: 1 frozen yogurt bar

5. Seek community resources as needed. Many communities are coming together to help people obtain food. For Indy and surrounding communities, visit https://www.indy.gov/activity/covid-19-food-support , for food support initiatives.

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If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to contact our Registered Dietitian, Sabrina Goshen by e-mail at SGoshen@nifs.org.

Topics: nutrition meal planning viruses

Getting Started with Meatless Monday: Vegan/Vegetarian Meal Staples

GettyImages-1136561497Mondays can be hard enough, getting back into the swing of things after a much-too-short weekend. The last thought on your mind is what to cook for dinner, right? You might go out to eat instead, pick up carryout, or eat a frozen pizza for the most painless dinner prep possible. However, what if you opt for something that is not only easy for you, but also healthy for you and the planet?

Meatless Monday is a global movement with this message: one day a week, cut the meat. The goal is to reduce meat consumption by 15% for personal health and the health of the planet. Did you know that over 40 countries participate in Meatless Monday? Check out these easy tips on how to get your Meatless Monday started!

Breakfast

Breakfast, known as the most important meal of the day, is one of the easiest times to make a meatless meal. I understand it can be hard to get out the door on time in the morning, especially if you are also trying to get kids and pets taken care of. Opt for a carbohydrate and a protein at breakfast to create a breakfast that satisfies you throughout the morning.

Meal Ideas

  • Oatmeal + nuts/nut butter + fruit
  • Whole-grain toast + peanut butter + banana slices
  • Yogurt (try Silk soy yogurt) + granola + nuts
  • Smoothies

Staples

Rolled oats, variety of fruit (apple, banana, frozen berries), nuts/nut butters, plant milk, yogurt variety (try a plant milk option!), whole-grain bread.

Lunch and Dinner

I’ve combined these two meals because, honestly, what’s easier than eating dinner leftovers for lunch? Just make sure to cook an extra batch the night before. If you’re not a fan of day-old food, I have a few fresh ideas as well!

Meal Ideas

  • Veggie wraps (hummus + spinach + bell peppers + tomato + avocado)
  • Tofu stir-fry (baked ½-inch cubes of extra-firm tofu + brown rice + assorted veggies)
  • Fajitas (peppers + onion + black beans + salsa)
  • PBJ (fresh fruit slices + peanut butter + side of carrot sticks and hummus)
  • Veggie chili (beans + assorted spices + cornbread)

Staples

Canned beans (black/garbanzo/kidney/pinto beans, etc.), hummus, whole-grain bread, variety of veggies (peppers, onion, tomato, carrots), fruit (apples, berries), extra-firm tofu.

Take Care of the Planet and Yourself

It’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking about switching up your usual routine, but I promise it will be so worth it! You might even find that you actually love chili without the meat or hardly notice it missing when you begin to experiment with the vast array of spices that plant-based cooking uses. Make your grocery list and stock your kitchen with these staples and you’ll be good to go! The year 2020 is all about addressing the needs of the planet as well as ourselves. A plant-based diet has never been easier to try!

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: lunch breakfast vegetarian vegan meals meal planning Meatless Monday dinner

Get an A+ in Back-to-School Nutrition

GettyImages-1026132188Whether you are starting your first year in college, sending your kids off to school, or are teaching classes this school year, make sure that your nutrition stays at the top of your priority list. It can be easy to get bogged down in your day-to-day routine and quickly lose sight of your goals. Follow these steps to help you stay on track this year.

1. Eat Breakfast

It’s okay to be a creature of habit and eat the exact same meal every morning, as long as it is nutrient dense and keeps you satisfied throughout the morning. Pair a little protein (about 15–20 grams) with a carbohydrate. This gives your brain the boost it needs, but also helps keep you full so that you don’t arrive at lunch with a growling belly.

A few ideas to try:

  • Oatmeal with berries and a spoonful of peanut butter (try making overnight oats for easy grab and go).
  • Scrambled egg with sautéed veggies and whole-grain toast.
  • Banana or apple slices with a thin layer of almond butter on whole-grain toast.

2. Take Snacks

Your body needs a little fuel throughout the day to keep energy levels high and keep you focused. Just like breakfast keeps you full throughout the morning, you want to make sure you aren’t arriving to your next meal famished—otherwise, people have a tendency to eat too much, too quickly. Keep the pantry and fridge stocked with healthy and easy snacks so you can grab one and go in the morning.

A few ideas to try:

  • The original fast-foods: bananas, apples, oranges.
  • A variety of nuts such as pistachios, almonds, and pecans.
  • Granola bars such as Larabar or KIND snacks.
  • Hummus and veggies.
  • Whole-grain crackers and guacamole.

3. Practice Smart Hydration

Skip high-calorie beverages and aim to increase your intake of water. Opt for alternatives like flavored sparkling water, unsweet tea, or fruit-infused water to mix up your choices. (Here are some more tips for proper hydration.)

4. Make a Meal Plan

Just like you plan a time to do homework, work out, or go to sports practice, don’t put your nutrition on the back burner to everything else. Sit down as a family or roommates and write out your plan for the week. Start with breakfast—this is often the easiest. Next, plan dinners—dinner often will help you fill in your lunch plans with leftovers. From here, make your grocery list. This not only helps keeping you out of the closest fast-food joint, but it also helps with budgets—a win for everyone!

Meals do not need to be complicated. Keep the Plate Method in mind. Simply try to make half of your plate fruits and veggies, keep protein portions to one quarter of your plate, and make the other quarter of your plate whole grains.

5. Allow for Splurges

After a long day of exams, helping with book reports, or grading papers, everyone deserves a little treat, right? Try to avoid rewarding yourself with food at the end of every day, but also know that if you plan for some of your favorites you will be less likely to over-eat these items when you “cave” at 3 AM on a Tuesday! Take the kids for Friday night ice cream every week, hang with your friends and enjoy a slice or two of your favorite pizza, and then plan to get right back on track with healthy eating after that. One meal or snack will not throw you off track.

Sweet alternatives:

  • Chocolate hummus with fruit
  • Dried and pitted dates filled with almonds or dark chocolate
  • “Nice cream” (frozen banana blended with peanut butter)

***

We at NIFS hope your school year gets off to a great start. Best of luck in the 2019–2020 school year!

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition snacks lunch breakfast hydration school meals meal planning