We are so excited for National Nutrition Month. The theme for 2018 is “Go Further with Food,” which is not only important as it relates to choosing foods wisely for optimal health and energy, but also for sharing tips and tricks to preparing healthy and flavorful recipes that work with our hectic lives.
With today’s pace, time is of the essence. Through the month of March, our team of clinical registered dietitian-nutritionists at Parkview Health will be sharing pointers for fueling up your meals, meal prepping, and an intro to the kitchen gadgets that can make preparing healthy foods easier than ever before.
Brittany Swygart, RDN, CD, starts things off with an introduction to meal planning, prepping and batch cooking.
Why meal planning is key.
One of the most common barriers to eating healthier and reaching your nutrition and wellness goals is lack of planning ahead. I get it. You’re busy, and it can be difficult to have time to do everything between work, taking care of the kids, commuting, appointments, commitments, keeping up with the housework, laundry, etc. Unfortunately, this can often lead to picking up fast food or reaching for the closest snack in the vending machine at work. Setting aside just a couple hours at the start of each week can be immensely helpful in reducing stress, saving time and money in the long run and routinely consuming balanced, nutritious meals.
I happen to enjoy cooking, but the last thing I want to do or have time for at the end of a long day is spending a lot of time and energy cooking a meal! This is where meal prep and batch cooking save the day. These concepts can look different for different people, but the idea is to prepare meals or components of meals ahead of time so they’re available during the week.
The benefits of meal prep and batch cooking.
There are several reasons why meal prep and batch cooking is beneficial, including:
- Saves cooking time
- Allows you to keep track of health goals and eat healthier
- Takes the guesswork out of meals
- Diversifies meal and food choices
Meal prep and planning tactics.
Sure, that all sounds great, but how does one go about this? Here are some tips and practical steps I’ve found helpful:
- Write a grocery list each week. This will ensure sticking to a budget as well as prevent multiple trips to the grocery store.
- Go grocery shopping! I recommend going weekly to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Set aside a couple hours each week to meal prep/batch cook. Sunday afternoon usually works best for me, but do what is most practical for your schedule.
Some meal-prep friendly breakfast ideas include:
- Smoothie freezer packs (place all smoothie ingredients except liquid in plastic bags)
- Baked oatmeal (recipe below)
- Egg cups baked in muffin tin, frittata or breakfast casserole
- Homemade granola (can serve with fruit and Greek yogurt)
- Cottage cheese with fresh fruit
Batch cooking basics + recipes.
For convenient lunches, consider batch cooking multiple components so you have them on hand to mix and match for salads, grain bowls or sandwiches throughout the week. For example, chicken could be used for a salad one day, in a taco bowl with rice and beans another day, or used for a chicken salad sandwich. The vegetables can be used in salads, on top of sandwiches, etc. Ideas include:
- Proteins: hard boiled eggs, chicken, salmon, chicken salad, tuna salad, egg salad, tofu or tempeh, beans
- Grains/carbohydrates: brown rice, quinoa, roasted sweet potatoes, farro
- Condiments: homemade salad dressings (vinaigrettes), hummus, salsa, nut butter, chia fruit jam
- Fresh (or roasted) veggies: chop carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, celery, cucumber, red onion, radishes (buy salad greens prewashed/prepped for ease)
- Toppings/healthy fats: feta, nuts, fruit (fresh or dried), avocado
Batch cooking dinner ideas include:
- Crock Pot/Instant Pot recipes
- Prep healthy casseroles ahead so all you have to do is bake them
- Chop veggies for roasting
- Make two batches of a recipe and then freeze half for later
Batch cooking snack ideas include:
- Homemade energy bites/balls
- Homemade granola bars
- Cut up veggies with dip (hummus)
- Stock up on fruit
- Homemade trail mix (dried fruit and nuts) or nuts
If you’ve never tried baked oatmeal before, you’re in for a surprise! Baked oatmeal has a completely different texture than traditional oatmeal, and there are many different flavor combinations to try. Get creative and try your own combinations!
Easy Baked Oatmeal (Base)
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats ⠀
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder⠀
1 large egg⠀
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey⠀
1 cup milk (any kind)
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
¼ cup sliced almonds
Zucchini chocolate chip
1 cup shredded zucchini, moisture squeezed out
¼ cup chocolate chips
½ cup applesauce
½ cup carrot, finely shredded
¼ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
¼ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup raisins or dried cranberries
¼ cup chia seed
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons ground flax
¼ cup sliced almonds
½ cup chopped apple
½ cup fresh or frozen cranberries (can substitute ¼ cup dried cranberries)
½ cup natural peanut butter
6 teaspoons jam for spooning on top
Double chocolate pumpkin
½ cup pumpkin puree
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup mini chocolate chips
- Heat oven to 350°F.
- Line a muffin tray with silicone or parchment liners, or spray generously with spray oil.
- In a large bowl (preferably with a spout), mix together all ingredients. Spoon into the prepared muffin liners. Try to get oat mixture and liquid evenly divided between all liners.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden and no longer jiggling.
- Cool completely before storing.
Store in a sealed container at room temperature for up to 4 days. Store in the freezer in a heavy freezer bag (remove excess air with a straw), for up to 3 months.
Adapted from a recipes featured on the blog Sweetpeas and Saffron