Tips for healthy meals

“What’s for dinner mom?”

If that question stressed you out, you are not alone!  I actually love to cook and create new dishes.  However, when I’m tired and am not feeling inspired to create a new meal I am so tempted to call for delivery.  The hardest part about making dinner, is deciding WHAT to make for dinner. 

I believe food is medicine and brings nourishment to our bodies. There’s an additional benefit when we eat together with loved ones it brings nourishment to our soul.

We live in a fast paced society and providing healthy, delicious meals each night can be a time consuming affair.  Especially if you have little kids running around, dinner prep can be hectic!  Over the next 5 weeks, I’ll share my personal tips and tricks to make it a simple, stress-free part of your day. 

TIP #1: Meal Plan

Planning in advance is the number one way to keep your healthy eating goals on track. 

If you wait to decide what to eat when you’re hungry, tired or emotional, you will likely choose something that won’t nourish you.  Plan, plan, plan.  Write it down or create a calendar of your meals.  At the top of the page write your main goal for the month.  For my family, it is sticking to our food intolerances and allergies and consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.  For you it might be weight loss, lowering your sugar intake or following a specific diet like Whole30, Keto, etc.

Then fill in a meal every day for a month.  Don’t worry if you can’t follow it strictly!  If your family decides to eat at a restaurant, that is ok.  You can switch meals around as you go.  The point is not to have a rule book to follow, but a calendar full of healthy, balanced meal ideas to pull from so that you don’t resort to last minute emotional eating decisions. 

I find the biggest battle for meal prep is first deciding what to make!  If I sit down one Sunday afternoon a month and do that prep work of meal planning, the rest of the month goes smoothly.  I also find it beneficial that the calendar acts as a visual aid to see whether my family is eating a balance of all the nutrients.  Are we getting enough protein and a variety of vegetables in our diet? 

As a bonus you can plan your exercise for the month as well!

TIP #2: Efficient Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping is so much easier when I have a plan.  If I’ve done the meal plan then I can show up to the grocery store with a written list of only what I need (always write it down on paper or your phone).  Too many times I have been guilty of going to the store with no plan and thinking I will be inspired by the food I see and make something from it!  Usually on those nights we had tortilla chips and guacamole!

Secondly, if you have a list you will be less tempted to buy unhealthy items. This saves you time and keeps you on track. You can avoid even walking down the snack aisle.  It’s not on the list, so you don’t need to go there.

If we are talking about time saving tips and making life easier, I have to mention that there are stores that do grocery deliveries!  I personally LOVE grocery shopping so I have not used those services unless we are sick and can’t get to the store.  However, I have friends who have many children and grocery shopping is a stressful event every time.  They LOVE online shopping and delivery.  Do a quick Google search for delivery options in your area.  In Vancouver, BC we have Save-On-Foods, Spuds and even online giants like Walmart and Amazon delivers groceries. 

Thirdly, when you make a list you don’t waste food (or money).  You only buy what you actually need for the meals you planned in your calendar.

The key to sticking to healthy habits is to make it easy, enjoyable and accessible… so do what you need to do to bring healthy food into your house, ready to create your delicious healthy meals.

TIP #3: Food Batch Prep

Again, I have to say having a meal plan makes things so much easier!  When you know ahead of time what you are making, you can buy the right ingredients and also prep food in advance to save time. 

I usually buy large bags of frozen organic meat from Costco.  However, (if I don’t have a meal plan) I FORGET to take it out to thaw.  I then rush over to our local butcher and buy fresh meat, while my (cheaper) frozen meat is still in the freezer.  That is not efficient or cost-effective.  (However, I must say that the instant pot has saved me a few times in this department).

Make a plan and review your plan weekly so you can take the right amount of items out of the freezer on the right day. 

It is also time efficient to batch-prep.  What I mean by that is, if you know you will use cilantro in your recipes three days in a row, it is more time efficient to cut enough for all three at once.  If you save them in airtight containers in the fridge for 1-3 days they will be fresh enough to use. You can use the weekend to enlist some help from your family members to prep food for the week ahead. You mince all your garlic for the week, chop all your onions, pull out your food processor just once to grate carrots and cabbage, and then pack your prepped veggies up and store in the fridge.

Most moms can relate to the popular meme giff of the lady exclaiming, “aint nobody got time for that!”  We don’t have time to chop veggies every night… so do it once every 3 days and save yourself some valuable time.

TIP #4: Cook Time-Efficient Meals

There are meals, like a roast chicken, that you cook on Sunday but you continue to use it in other meals throughout the week.  For instance you eat the roast on Sunday, make chicken tacos from the leftover meat on Monday, chicken salad with the additional leftovers on Tuesday and bone broth soup with the carcass on Wednesday. 

Find meals that can be spread over several days.  If you make a pot of chili, make a double and either eat it for a few days.  Or you can freeze the second batch and pull it out for a quick meal another time.

To save money, space and time, try to use one cooking instrument.  If you heat up your oven, cook everything in there (instead of part of it boiling, another frying, etc). Sheet pan meals are great!  Bake your protein (salmon, chicken, etc) along with some roasting vegetables and potatoes or yams or squash and you’ve got a fantastic meal.

Lastly, when needed utilize “prepped for you” ingredients to throw a meal together quick.  It might cost a bit more, but will still be healthier and more cost-effective than most take-out options.  Most grocery stores now sell washed, cut and ready to cook stir fry mix of vegetables.  I also often buy their spiralized zucchini or butternut squash for a quick sauteed veggie pasta.  Another quick and healthy meal is to grab a pre-washed bagged salad and a cooked hot and ready to go rotisserie chicken and create a lovely chicken salad at home.  Just watch out for those dressings they include… you can make a better one quickly at home.

TIP #5: Timing Matters

If you’ve followed our tips for stress-free healthy meals (1. Planning, 2. Efficient Shopping, 3. Food Batch Prepping and 4. Cook time-efficient meals), then you are already set up for success.  However, the last tip might make all the difference when it comes to “stress-free”.  Sometimes the timing of your cooking has the greatest impact.  I don’t know if every family is like this, but my kids tend to get the crankiest right around 4pm when I’m prepping dinner.  I too drop in energy and find I get more stressed at that point.

We need to strategize the best timing for our meal prep.  I find prepping meals in the late morning when the kids are happily playing and my energy is still fresh, or at night after they’ve gone to bed works really well.  If those are not options, then I try to find a time when my husband is available to watch the kids and I turn a podcast on and create an environment where I enjoy cooking. 

If you choose to do it the night before, what can you make?  I love making simple, but savoury breakfast meals overnight in my crockpot.  My go to recipe is Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal (it smells so good to wake up to).  Simply add your steel cut oats, chopped apple, flax seeds, a dash of cinnamon, a pinch of salt, some almond milk and enough water to your crockpot.  Set a timer for 8 hours and you will wake up with a warm, hearty, delicious breakfast ready to eat.  If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can cook it in a stove pot the night before and re-heat it the next morning.

Most soups and stews actually taste BETTER the next day because the flavours deepen and meld together… so preparing it the night before has an advantage. 

What time of day to you like to cook best?

Creating healthy meals shouldn’t be expensive, time-consuming, or stressful.  Which tips will you implement this week?  Do you have additional tips to share with our community?