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?

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).

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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.

Back & Better Than Ever

I guess senior year got the best of me and The Lemon Wedge took the back seat. But no worries, I am back to blogging. I thought I would use this post to update you on what I have been up to this last semester and what I have planned for the future.

As I have talked about before, in order to make my dreams of being a Registered Dietitian (RD) come true, I have to complete a Dietetic Internship (read more here). Soooo last summer and fall took the GRE, narrowed down the list of programs I would apply to and began working on my applications. The process to apply is similar to a residency after medical school where you apply to many programs but are only “matched”/accepted to one program (or you don’t match at all and have to reapply the next year). Deadline for applications was February 15th so I kept busy over winter break and the first few weeks of my semester writing, revising, and re-revising my personal IMG_7271statements over and over and over again until I could practically recite them to you by heart. Finally, on February 14th, with trembling hands, I clicked the infamous “submit” button. From there, it was a big waiting game until “Match Day” when you find out the results.

I ended up applying to 6 different Dietetic Internships, all which were combined with a Master’s degree program: University Hospitals (Cleveland), Veteran’s Affairs Hospital (Cleveland), Cleveland Clinic (Cleveland), Ohio State (Columbus), Rush Medical Center (Chicago), and Tufts Medical Center (Boston).

Finally, Match Day (April 2) rolled around and at 7pm on the nose I logged into my online application to find out that I had matched with my first choice- University Hospitals (Cleveland) and I would stay at Case Western Reserve University to get my Master’s in Nutrition! It was quite an exciting day and I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders…I was officially and “RD2Be”!

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Celebrating with Tacos and Sangria

In other exciting news from this semester:
-I had my first research paper published in the Current Nutrition Reports journal. It was a paper that I co-authored as part of my independent study class last semester about dietary supplement use in older adults.

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President Snyder and I 🙂

-I also was selected to be one of the students who decided which professor at the university receives the Excellence in Mentoring award. Being on this committee got me an invitation to Barbara Snyder’s house for a fancy reception…exciting!! (She is the president of the university and basically a celebrity around here!)

That brings us to today. I am currently writing this blog post, as it seemed like a great way to procrastinate studying for my last final exam as an undergraduate (#senoritis). I have one last exam in Pathophysiology next Wednesday before I am done. Then there is a week and a half of lots of food and fun activities with my fellow graduating seniors before commencement.

Now that you are up to speed on the past 5 months, and this post is getting long, I am going to call it quits here. I should get back to studying, but in the next few days I will be writing another post about my summer plans and my future plans for The Lemon Wedge.

Glad to be back!

Dana

Back To School: Senior Year

Happy hump day! It has been a while since my last post, so here is a little life update. Monday marked the first day of classes for this semester…well for most people. I, somehow, got lucky enough to only have classes on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s this semester! It might should like I have quite the relaxed semester, but don’t worry. I will be keeping busy with my senior capstone project, an independent study literature review research paper, applying to grad school/Dietetic Internships, and my new student research position at the Cleveland Clinic. My research job doesn’t start until next week, but I am super excited to explore the research side of nutrition. I will be working with patients who have Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension, teaching them how to comply to a Mediterranean diet, and doing some data collection.

Yesterday was my first official day of class so I got to meet all my professors and read several pages of daunting syllabi with all my assignments and exams to look forward to…NOT. My classes this semester are Community Nutrition, Child Nutrition, and Guided Study in Nutrition Practice. While the first day isn’t a great indicator, my favorite class so far is Guided Study. I am going to learn how to talk to patients, ask relevant questions, and figure out how to come up with a proper nutrition diagnoses and action plans based on the patients needs. This class is bringing my Registered Dietitian goals to life; it showed me that the information and skills I am learning will actually be relevant to my job in the future (who knew? J).

On another note, back to school means back to meal planning and packing lunches. I made my meal plan and prepped my meals over the weekend before I got busy with classes, but I am going to have to get back into the groove. I have to remember to be thorough in my planning because popping over to the grocery store is not as easy on campus as it is living at home (learned that the hard way after I forgot eggs this weekend). This week my typical oatmeal is on tap for breakfast, quinoa with ground turkey and sweet potato for lunch, and veggies burgers (recipe coming soon) with guac for dinner.

Since I haven’t been at school since last December because of my study abroad trip, I forgot about all of the free food around campus that can be so tempting! Free donuts if I join the Chess Club, a mini cupcake if I sign up for the Math Club, and even free candy for walking past the Student Dietetic Association table (this one has never made sense to me, haha). I will definitely be arming myself with lots of healthy snacks tomorrow (including apples, string cheese, trail mix, and Skinny Pop) to keep me satiated and to have a healthy alternative when walking past the sugary bribes on the way to class.

I hope to try out some new recipes this weekend and learn some fun nutrition facts in my classes to share next week!

What is Healthy?

It has officially been a week since arriving in Copenhagen and I only went the wrong way on the train once! Last week was filled with orientation seminars and tours of the city, and I successfully survived my first day of classes on Thursday. So far, I am enjoying all of my classes with Danish definitely being the most difficult. Thanks to my host family, I’ve got built in tutors for that!

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My core class in the Public Health program is Health Delivery and Prioritization in Northern Europe. Our class discussion on Thursday and our homework for the weekend revolved around the definition of health. Think about it… health can be a hard word to define. After reading this excerpt from Stephen Holland’s book Public Health Ethics, I was reminded of a new meaning of health that is often overlooked.

“…raised blood pressure is a risk factor for all kinds of disease. Reducing alcohol intake can be expected to lower the patient’s blood pressure and therefore reduce the risk of disease. So, the doctor ought to persuade the patient to drink less. But, on a conception of health as well-being, things look different. Given the patient’s circumstances, it might well be that going to the pub or bar to drink beer is vital to maintaining the levels of well-being. Stopping drinking – even compromising the pleasure of drinking by harping on about its detrimental effects – might well be disastrous for the patient’s well-being. So, on this account of health it would be dubious of the doctor to persuade the patient to drink less.”

The World Health Organization defines health as “a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Coming from a nutrition perspective, I am always focused on physical health and preventing disease and often forget about the mental and social well-being part of health.

So what is the point?
What I am trying to say is that it is important that we enjoy what we are eating and have a positive relationship with food. Eating lots of fiber, vegetables, and lean meats is great for our physical health but sometimes it can be overwhelming and interfere with out mental and social well-being.

For example, if you are at a dinner party or a restaurant trying to eat only “healthy” foods, the “unhealthy” foods around you can be very tempting. This can cause anxiety and an unpleasant, stressful night for you. You might be proud of yourself at the end of the night for not having a single French fry, but was it worth all of the anxiety? Would it have been better for your mental and social well-being to have a few fries or a bit of ice cream?

Not only is your diet about balance, but so is your overall health. Every person is different so I am not going to tell you when and where you should be eating what, but keep in mind that your overall health is determined by a lot more factors that just the food that goes into your mouth. Making “healthy” choices doesn’t just mean eating salad for every meal. “Healthy” choices can also include having a piece of cake in honor of a celebration or having chips and salsa at the dinner party so you don’t feel isolated and hungry.

Copenhagen, here I come! + blood sugar

Three weeks into school and I am knee-deep in homework, reading, and tests, but today was a surprising break from the daily grind. As I sat in my human nutrition class learning how various types of fiber influence blood glucose levels, an email notification popped up on the side of my computer screen. I usually ignore my emails during class, but this one couldn’t wait. The subject read “DIS Spring 2016 Registration Information”, and I nearly jumped out of my seat.

I was accepted to study abroad at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen next semester!

It has been a stressful two weeks since they received my application, waiting to hear their decision. Every time my phone vibrated this week, I anxiously hoped that it would be the email with my admission decision. Finally the anticipation is over and the countdown until I leave begins (Only 126 days, but who is counting?).

With all of the excitement, I could barely comprehend what the professor lectured on, but I did catch a few things about fiber. In many of my recipe posts, I discuss how high fiber foods are good at keeping you satisfied for long periods of time, but fiber also has other benefits. The one we focused on in class today was fibers impact on blood sugar.

I’ll try to keep this simple, but here is how it works:

  1. Food is consumed and the sugars are absorbed from the digestive system into the blood (blood sugar goes up)
  2. Insulin binds to the sugar in the blood and brings it into the cells (blood sugar goes down)

Having consistently high blood sugar (from eating lots of sugary foods) causes lots of insulin production. Too much insulin all of the time can cause the cells to become desensitized to insulin. This is a form of diabetes because the insulin is not able to reduce blood sugar levels.

How do you prevent this from happening?

One option is fiber (especially soluble fiber)!! When consuming a high fiber diet, nutrient absorption is slowed down, which means there are lower amounts of sugar in the blood after eating a meal. This also means less insulin is needed to absorb the sugar.

So make sure you get your daily dose of 28-35 grams of fiber per day (the average American eats less than half of that). Keeping blood sugar low is the key to managing the insulin response and reducing your risk for diabetes!

Here are some good sources of soluble fiber:
Broccoli
Carrots
Beans
Peas
Sweet Potato
Apples
Plums
Berries

*Note that intake of fiber does not cure diabetes, nor does it allow you to eat unlimited sugar, it just allows your body to have a healthier response to high sugar foods.

P.S. Look out for posts about my study abroad adventure as we get closer to my departure!

Mini Fridges, Microwaves, and Maid Service

My obligatory first day of school photo.

My obligatory first day of school photo.

Day 1 of junior year… check! After a long 8-hour day on campus, I am finally back to my hotel. No, that is not a typo; I am living in a hotel. My on-campus apartment building is brand new and isn’t ready for me to move in yet, so in the mean time I’m living in a hotel. It is a strange feeling walking into a hotel all sweaty from the mile walk back and having the bellhop ask you if you need help carrying your backpack to your room (I must have looked like I was struggling!).

I’m enjoying the 24-hour fitness center along with the clean towels and lotion samples that are left in the bathroom everyday. But, with all the nice hotel amenities come the not so good parts. Can you guess my biggest complaint? The food situation! Three weeks in a hotel means three weeks without the kitchen that I should have in my apartment. I feel like I’m back in my freshman dorm with just a mini fridge and a microwave minus the dining hall.

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The hotel mini kitchen.

Of course there are tons of restaurants to choose from, but I’m not a fan of eating at a restaurant for 63 meals in a row. Thankfully, I have friends with kitchens and spent yesterday afternoon cooking a bunch of meals to stock my mini fridge for the week. Aside from that, here are some healthy snacks I have discovered you have with just a fridge and a microwave:

Fresh Fruits Vegetables
Apples, bell pepper, carrots, celery, and oranges all last about a week so they are great to have on hand for a quick snack or to grab when you are on your way to class. Adding peanut butter or hummus to your fruits or veggies can make an even more nutritious snack.

Cooked Vegetables
Zucchini, broccoli, and edamame can all be kept in the fridge and cooked in the microwave. Click the names below to find out how to cook them.
Steamed zucchini
Steamed broccoli
Edamame 

Other Options
If you have access to a kitchen or can get them from the dining hall, hard-boiled eggs are a great snack with lots of protein.
Popcorn is also a good microwavable snack if you choose one with light butter and salt.
Yogurt and Oatmeal are not only good for breakfast, but also as an afternoon snack with some berries or granola. Check out my post about my obsession with oatmeal here.

Stay tuned for more of my hotel adventures and healthy microwave meals!