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:

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 10.15.16 PM.png

  • 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.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 10.36.14 PM

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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!

tempeh pizza.png

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.

Kodiak Cakes

Since school is out and I have plenty of time in the mornings to make a big breakfast, I thought I would share one of my favorite grocery finds: Kodiak cakes.

Kodiak Cakes is a company that makes all sorts of pancake & waffle mixes, dessert mixes, oatmeals and granolas. While I haven’t tried many of the products, the two pancakes and waffle mixes I have tried are delicious!Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 11.35.10 PM

The two I have tried are the Protein Packed Flapjack Mix and the Protein Packed Peanut Butter Flapjack Mix. Why Kodiak Cakes over the other pancake mixes?

  • The protein packed kind I buy has 14g of protein per serving!
  • The mix only has whole wheat grains (including whole grain wheat flour and whole grain oat flour).
  • I can read and pronounce every single ingredient in the mix (and there are only 7 of them).
  • There is no bleached white flour or artificial additives in the mix.
  • They only have 3g of sugar per serving.

In order to have a healthy and balanced meal, we need a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat at each meal. Because pancakes are typically all carbs, they can get a bad wrap for being too much like dessert for breakfast. That is why I love this protein packed mix. It takes care of the protein that is typically missing in pancakes.

Now, since Kodiak Cakes has our carb and protein needs covered, all we need is a little healthy fat. That’s where I turn to my beloved nut butter collection. Just drizzle some nut butter on your pancakes and you are good to go with a balanced breakfast.

Still aren’t convinced these pancakes can be healthy?

Lets take oatmeal, for example. Many times, the little instant packets of oatmeal have just as many (if not more) carbs than a serving of regular pancakes mix, with no fat or protein. We often make oatmeal out to be some much healthier than pancakes when really they have almost the exact same nutrients (almost all carbs).

I will say that oatmeal typically has more fiber than regular, white flour pancakes, but neither makes for a very balanced meal because there is no fat or protein. Now, oatmeal can be made into a balanced meal by added protein (egg whites or greek yogurt) and healthy fat (nut butter, flax seeds, chia seeds, almonds, etc.) just the same way that protein and fat can be added to pancakes.

My point is that we just have to be aware of what is in our food. Oatmeal may seem healthier than pancakes, but they are really quite similar. By adding protein and fat to either oatmeal or pancakes, you will have equally healthy and balanced meals.

img_7571

My Protein Packed Kodiak Cakes with banana slices and cashew butter

I happen to love mixing up my typical morning oatmeal with a big plate of pancakes every now and then so I always turn to my Protein Packed Kodiak Cakes for a balanced breakfast.

Want more info on Kodiak Cakes? http://www.kodiakcakes.com/

Bowls

If you haven’t noticed, bowls are one of the biggest food trends right now. Buddha bowls, poke bowls, acai bowls… they are everywhere!

Last week I checked out a new restaurant in Cleveland called Rebol. Guess what they serve?? You got it—bowls! They are 100% nonGMO, organic when possible, don’t use any refined sugar, and only cook with avocado, coconut, and olive oils. You can see why I had to try it :).

Anyways, I got a chicken bowl with zucchini noodles, corn salsa, cauliflower & bok choy, apricot ginger honey mustard, cashews, and toasted sesame. It sounds like a strange combination, but it was delicious. They use lots of bold spices to make the food super flavorful. It just goes to show that healthy food doesn’t taste bad (contrary to what some people believe).

FullSizeRender 29

This week I decided to jump on the “bowl” train and make my own at home. Since I move out of my apartment in about a week I have been trying to use the ingredients I have instead of buying more food. I put my cooking skills to the test and was trying to use up some quinoa and BBQ sauce. I think my hours in the kitchen are starting to pay off because my bowl turned out super yummy…so yummy that I have made it for dinner every day this week.

Here’s how to make my BBQ Chicken Quinoa Bowl:

  • Grab a bowl
  • Add about ½ cup cooked quinoa
  • Toss in 3-4oz of shredded baked chicken breast
  • Throw in a handful of broccoli
  • Drizzle on about 1 Tbsp of BBQ sauce (try to choose one that is low in sugar!)
  • Top it off with a fried egg
  • Mix it up and enjoy!

Since I wanted this every night for dinner, I ended up making a bunch of quinoa, baking two big chicken breasts, and steaming a large head of broccoli all on Monday so each night all I had to do was assemble to bowl. No excuses for not eating healthy because it literally takes 2 minutes to put this bowl together, pop it in the microwave, and then add a fried egg.

*Note: I just baked my chicken completely plain because I knew I was going to add BBQ sauce to the bowl but feel free to add any more spices you like.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Dana

P.S. I officially took my last final exam on Wednesday so I am officially done with undergrad! T-9 days until graduation.

Fail to Prepare = Prepare to Fail

With midterms in full swing, my calendar is packed with classes, meetings, field trips (yes, I guess going to the farm is still a thing in college), and research. There is barely enough room to squeeze in my daily sweat session at the gym. Whether you are in high school, college, or in the work force, there never seems to be enough time in the day, and that is when planning becomes imperative. Yes, you have to plan how you are going to get everything done in the day, but I am talking about planning your food for the day. When time is of the essence, convenience is key. It is human nature to do (and in this case eat) what is most convenient. When I have two papers due and a test next week, I’m not spending hours in the kitchen preparing a healthy gourmet meal, nor am I driving to Whole Foods (although I would love to) to get some organic, non-gmo fruit. In order to eat healthy under the pressure of time, planning will keep you on track and save you time in the long run.

Of course meal planning for the week is important to make sure you have healthy food handy (read more here) but also preparing food ahead of time is crucial. I don’t mind eating leftovers and reheating so I like to cook a lot of my meals for the week over the weekend (especially when I know the upcoming week is busy) so every lunch and dinner is in a nice Tupperware that I can quickly eat between classes, meetings, and homework. Having everything pre-made also makes packing lunches (and sometimes dinners for long stays at the library) a breeze. In the morning, I can just grab my Tupperware and a fork and I’m ready to go…well almost ready to go; you can’t forget snacks! If I meal planned correctly for the week, I have tons of healthy snacks like protein bars, nuts and seed, and veggies with hummus that I can put in my backpack.

Having all this healthy food with me at all times makes it 1000 times easier to eat healthy. Instead of running to Einstein Bagels or Jimmy John’s, I have a whole lunch bag full of food when I get hungry. I am also a big snacker, especially when I’m at the library for hours, so having munchies with me prevents me from going for an ice cream run or hitting up the vending machine for some snacks. Not only are those not the healthiest option, but they also aren’t the best brain food to help me study.

Tomorrow I have class from 8:30am to 2:15pm with no break and then I have a meeting with a professor immediately after so here is what I’m packing in my Lululemon lunch bag:

Apple and cheese stick for mid morning
Black bean burrito bowl with guacamole for lunch
Dried Edamame or Crunchy Larabar for an early afternoon snack (I usually bring one extra snack in case I need it)
img_5489

All of this is to show you that it can be fairly simple to eat healthy even when you don’t have much time; it just takes a little planning ahead. You have to prepare for your long and busy day ahead otherwise you are setting yourself up to eat convenient and usually unhealthy food (like McDonalds or Starbucks pastries). Making the healthier option the easier option will make you much more successful in eating healthy.

Mixing and Matching Food Groups

Balance. That is pretty much they key word that people use to describe a healthy diet since there is no real consensus on what a healthy diet exactly is. But, I know that that is a little too vague and some more guidelines are helpful for creating well-balanced eating habits. It is impossible to tell you exactly what and how much to eat since that varies too much person to person, but there is a good way to keep the daily balance when it comes to snacks and meals.

This guide to balance refers to food groups. Remember that famous food pyramid? Yep, those are the food groups I am talking about. While that pyramid has now been redesigned into a plate (which I don’t really like, but that is for another blog post), the idea is still the same. The main food groups you should incorporate into your diet are grains, protein, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and fats. Fats are left off of the plate because most foods that I would consider healthy fats also fall into other categories (e.g. avocado could be classified as a fruit and nuts could fall into the protein category).

Food pyramidmy plate

Snacks
The key here is to incorporate two to three food groups into each snack. This allows the body to get nutrients from different sources and digest at different speeds. One food group will usually digest faster (giving you more immediate energy) and the other will digest more slowly (keeping you full longer).

Want some snack ideas?
-Yogurt and granola (dairy and grain)
-Apple and peanut butter (fruit and fat/protein)
-Hummus and celery or carrots (protein and vegetable)
-Cheese and crackers (dairy and grain)
-Avocado Toast (fat and grain)
-Oatmeal and berries (grain and fruit)

Meals
For meals, you want to combine three to four food groups (you could even try to do all five!). This allows for lots of variety (which means lots of different nutrients) and helps you meet your daily servings of each food group. It can also prevent over eating by helping you fill up on foods like vegetables before digging into the main, usually more calorically dense, part of your meal. Plus, it is important to get all the vitamins and minerals in vegetables that are sometimes forgotten during typically protein and grain rich meal times.

Need some meal inspiration?
Breakfast:
-Eggs and avocado toast (protein, fat, and grain)
-Yogurt with berries and granola (dairy, fruit, and grain)
Lunch:
-Sandwich with protein (egg salad, turkey, tuna salad) and veggies with hummus (grain, protein, and vegetables)
-Grilled chicken salad with quinoa and an apple (protein, vegetables, grain, and fruit)
Dinner:
-My favorite black bean burrito lettuce wraps with brown rice (protein, vegetable, and grain- also add avocado/guacamole for a healthy fat)
-Baked salmon with whole-wheat pasta and a side of edamame (or other vegetable) (protein, grain, and vegetable)