Healthy and Fast Meals with (almost) No Cooking Required

I’m not going to lie, I have slacked off a little (or a lot!) when it comes to cooking this year. Between school, work, trying new workout classes ;), and trying to get a decent amount of sleep, cooking just hasn’t been a priority. But don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I’m having frozen meals or fast food – it just means my meals are a little more simple and don’t take much time to make.

Whether you are a student like me, a working professional, home taking care of kiddos, or have other responsibilities, time is always the number 1 excuse for not eating healthy, so today I thought I would share my tips and tricks for fast and easy, healthy meals.

1. Cook ahead of time – I typically only turn on my oven and stove one or two times a week. I’ll make some chicken, roast some veggies, brown some ground turkey, and cook some rice or quinoa. From start to finish, it usually takes me no more than an hour. I keep everything in separate containers in the fridge so it’s ready when I get home from a long day at work.

2. Build a meal – Now that you have all the food is cooked and ready to be eaten, all you have to do is put it together. Think of it like an assembly line…add some rice, chicken, broccoli, and sauce to a bowl, pop it in the microwave and voila, dinner is served.

3. Oh, wait – there is no step three 😉 It is so easy there are only two steps! See, no excuses!!

Here is a little cheat sheet for building a healthy meal:

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  • Tricks if you are really short on time:
    Choose canned tuna, buy a pre-baked chicken, or try canned beans which don’t require cooking for your protein sources
  • Use frozen veggies that you can steam in the microwave – no baking or chopping required.

Now that you have the “recipe” to build your own healthy meal, I thought I would share some of my favorites. Some might sound strange, but I promise they are tasty! Also, lots are vegetarian since I was experimenting with being a vegetarian for a month.

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No excuses now! What are your favorite meals to build?

Chocolate Covered Banana Pops

I feel like I have posted a lot of nutrition tips recently, so I thought I would switch it up and talk about one of my new favorite healthier treats.

My idea of fun last Saturday night was spending my sweet old time walking up and down the aisles of the grocery store. It is amazing what you can find when you aren’t in a hurry to grab all your usual items! My exciting find this week was Diana’s Banana Dark Chocolate Banana Babies.

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These delicious treats are simply a frozen half of a banana covered in dark chocolate on a stick. Even better…each one is only 130 calories and they only have three ingredients: banana, chocolate, and peanut oil (no crazy chemicals or preservatives)!

They also make little banana slices covered in chocolate, but I like the ones on the stick because you don’t really have to worry about the chocolate melting on your fingers. I have also seen tons of recipes on Pinterest to make your own chocolate covered banana treats. I have tried to make the slices before and it was a bit of a mess, but the pops would be a fun, healthier treat to make with kids. They can even decorate them with toppings like nuts and sprinkles!

Enjoy!

P.S. Remember, even though they are healthier and one of my new favorites doesn’t mean they should become your new breakfast or entitle you to the whole box. They still have a saturated fat and sugar, just a lot less than some of your traditional desserts.

Breakfast Cereal

Cereal: It is the “go-to” breakfast. Whether you pour a bowl at the table in the morning or dump some in a bag as you are running out the door, it is a pretty classic breakfast. In fact, grain-based breakfasts have been found to help people lose weight better than those who eat a traditional eggs, sausage, and toast breakfast.

Unfortunately, those grain-based cereals can be more like sugar-based cereal. Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, Coco Puffs, and Lucky Charms and even cereals like Kellogg’s Smart Start, Kashi, and Raisin Bran that are all marketed as “healthy” have heaps of sugar in them… sometimes more than a chocolate chip cookie!

I know that makes finding a healthy cereal very confusing, so here are my top 4 tips for choosing a healthy cereal to start your day with.

  1. It should have less than 10g of sugar per serving
  2. At least 3g of fiber per serving
  3. At least 5g of protein per serving
  4. The first ingredient should start with the word whole (ie. Whole wheat, whole grain, etc.)

If your cereal box doesn’t meet all 4 of these, put it back on the shelf and try another one of the other 500 cereals in the aisle. The one exception is protein. If your cereals falls a little short on protein, that is fine, but I would recommend having a side of eggs or low sugar Greek yogurt on the side.

I’ll also mention that portions are a big deal with cereal. The serving size is usually ¾ to 1 cup but we often dump 2-3x that in the bowl. Try measuring out your cereal for a few days. You might be shocked by how much you are actually eating.

Here is a list of some good cereal options:

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Internship Update: Finally Time for Clinical

Last Friday marked a very exciting day…the last day of my food service rotations in my Internship. After 2 long weeks in the kitchen cutting fruit and making sandwiches, 1 week in the storeroom and purchasing, and 3 weeks working with a patient meal service manager, I am finally on to my clinical rotations!

As much as I don’t enjoy food service and could never see myself working in the field, I did have some valuable experiences. I learned just about everything there is to know about what patients can order, how patients order, where their food comes from, how it gets to them, and everything in between. As a dietitian, I can definitely see why it might be important to know what options the patients have while they are in the hospital.

Having my food service rotations first gives me good background knowledge on how the nutrition and dietary departments run, and I think I am well equipped to give patients meal recommendations based on their individual diet needs. I guess that I one perk of getting food service out of the way at the beginning (and I am glad I never have to put on another hair net again!).

Now, I have just finished day 2 of my clinical orientation. Day 1 was learning a lot about the electronic medical record and how the healthcare system works, but I am quickly getting the hang of it. My preceptor covers telemetry, general medicine, and adult cystic fibrosis floors so I have seen quite the variety of patients so far. I got to do my first note on my own today, and diagnosed a patient with moderate malnutrition. The patient’s doctor agreed with my diagnosis, which means the hospital gets reimbursed for my patient visit. I also feel very official (and old/not smart enough) wearing my white lab coat around 😉

That is pretty much all that is going on in the hospital. October is my busiest month with class work so I have been a busy beaver working on all my assignments every day after work. That unfortunately leaves me little time for any new recipes, but I have been enjoying a super simple (and of course, healthy) spaghetti squash bowl for dinner. I just mix spaghetti squash, steamed broccoli, peas, and chicken or ground turkey with some pasta sauce and wah lah… dinner is served.

Internship Status: Week 9/49

Tempeh Pizza

Usually, I can’t wait to eat the veggies on my dinner plate, but every now and then, I want food that isn’t so healthy. Last night was one of those nights. After having fish, chicken, salads, and tons of veggies throughout the week, pizza sounded good for some strange reason (I am usually not much of a cheese or pizza fan). So, instead of ordering pizza (which is super unhealthy and costs more than making my own), I went to the store to get some ingredients. You probably can guess that I got sauce and cheese, but no bread or flour were needed for my pizza crust… I used Tempeh.

Tempeh is a vegan protein made from soybeans (sometimes used as a tofu alternative). I like it much better than Tofu because it is more patty/cake like and doesn’t have that strange mushy tofu texture. It is high in protein, potassium, and unsaturated fat (the good kind of fat)…and it makes for a great pizza crust ;).

The trickiest part was cutting the tempeh into thin slices, but other than that, this recipe is very simple. I like my tempeh crispy on the edges so I put it in the oven for a while before adding the sauce and cheese, but tempeh can be eaten raw, so feel free to put it in the oven for as short as you would like.

Also, remember, it is tempeh and not any sort of bread so it does have a little different taste and texture than traditional pizza…but it is filled with a lot more nutrients!

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Put it on a Plate

Ever get home after a long day and the last thing you want to do is put together a meal? If there are no plans to eat anytime soon, I can guess that your first move is to open the fridge or the pantry and just start picking at whatever looks good. The problem? There is not limit. You have the whole bag, container, or package at your disposal.

The amount of food you eat is just as important as the type of food you are eat. We often load our plates way too high or dig our hand in the snack bag a few too many times leading to overeating and that uncomfortably full feeling.

So, my number one tip for portion control is putting everything you eat on a plate (or in a bowl). Sounds easy enough, right? But think about how many times you have eaten straight out of the package. Maybe it was the whole bag of popcorn on the couch or standing in front of the fridge, fork in hand, eating straight out of the Tupperware container (I am frequently guilty of this one).

Instead of bringing the whole bag of popcorn with you to the couch, pour a reasonable amount into a bowl. Even if your “reasonable” amount is more than the recommended serving size, I’ll bet you it is a lot less than what you would eat if you ate straight out of the bag.

The same goes for meals… When you sit down for dinner, put a scoopful of each item on your plate at the beginning. Then you can visualize all the food you will be eating. If you put each item on your plate after you have finished the previous item, you can’t tell how much you ate in total.

See, if you can visualize the total amount of food you are eating in a given sitting, you are more likely to make more realistic decisions when it comes to portion sizes. Even if you just want some nuts, fruit, and a slice of bread for a snack, putting it on a small plate allows you to pick out a serving size that you think is reasonable.

In my opinion, eating healthier portion sizes is worth the 2 extra minutes and few extra dishes.

Overnight Oats

I can’t believe it has already been two weeks since moving back to Cleveland! I am officially done with 1 week of my Dietetic Internship (48 more to go!) and have been very busy. Hopefully this weekend I’ll have some time to write a full update on how it is going, but for now, I thought I would share one of my favorite breakfasts.

While oatmeal is definitely one of my go-to breakfasts in the morning, it isn’t easy to take on the go. Now that I am waking up early to get to work at the hospital, I need something that I can take with me in the car. The solution? Overnight oats!

It took some trial and error to get the recipe just right and a few tries before I got use to the texture, but now I love ‘em! I can throw all the ingredients in a jar at night, pop it in the fridge, and wa-lah – breakfast is ready to go when I wake up.

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All the ingredients for my recipe

If you aren’t familiar, overnight oats are made by putting raw, rolled oats in a jar with yogurt or milk. While the oats soak overnight, they absorb the moisture and soften up. The first time I tried making overnight oats, I was expecting them to taste and feel like cooked oat (which they don’t). They still kind of feel raw…like I said, it takes some getting use to.

Anyways, I love that you can make so many different flavors. My favorite is banana and cinnamon (see the recipe below), but I have done strawberry peanut butter, chocolate coconut, and pumpkin spice (the options are endless). Here is the step by step of what mine look like.

 

  1. oats       2. yogurt       3. banana       4. cinnamon     5. chia seeds      6. mix!

I like my overnight oats to be pretty thick so I don’t add any liquid but you can always put in a splash of milk, almond milk, or egg whites if you like it runnier. I also add chia seeds, which absorb moisture and give it a thicker, pudding texture. Again, you can add more and less chia seeds than I do to give it the texture you like. It might take a few tries but there is no wrong way.

Let me know what your favorite overnight oat mixtures are. I am always looking for new ones to try!

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P.S. I have found that the oats stay good for 3-4 days in the fridge so you can make a bunch of jars to have for the week (no excuses for not eating breakfast!)