If you are like many of us these days, you are in the kitchen a lot. Maybe more than you want to be.
Trying to find ways to keep our meals interesting yet simple can feel like a mountain of work, but it doesn’t have to be. Using some simple guidelines for meal planning can help ease your process and shorten your time in the kitchen.
I am a habitual grocery list maker. I find that when I plan my meals and then create my shopping list, I am not as wasteful with my grocery dollars, and I have the right ingredients for healthy meals. Unfortunately, at times like this when the aisles of the grocery store look like they have been pillaged, that can be a challenging task.
This current situation has thrown my grocery shopping game off a little bit. As I have had to rethink my buying experience and find balance between my desire to cook or not to cook, I’ve come up with a few strategies that help keep my meals leaning more to the better-for-you side.
Instead of planning on specific meals before I go to the store, I think in terms of food groups. Making sure that I have a variety of foods from all the food groups gives me the option to pull together a few ingredients and turn it into a meal. In this case I need to have some grain choices, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein foods.
Once you have some of all these foods, you can begin creating your meals. For example, if I bought rice, frozen vegetables and chicken, depending on how I season it, I can come up with several meals. I could try an Asian flair and make a chicken stir fry with veggies over rice. Using taco or fajita seasoning I can make a chicken burrito bowl. If I simply want a meal of baked chicken with a side of steamed rice and veggies, I can have that, too. Three meal ideas using the same three ingredients.
To keep mealtime more on the healthy side, try limiting highly processed foods and add a little more bang for your buck with fiber-rich foods. Fiber helps give you a sense of fullness. This is important when you are trying not to eat the entire refrigerator for supper. You can easily add fiber by choosing whole grain foods, nuts and seeds, vegetables, fruits and beans.
Think of ways to get some stretch out of your food. If I ever buy a whole chicken, it might be chicken dinner one night and shredded chicken on a salad the next day or chicken salad. When I make a casserole or something in the crockpot, it might have a side of roasted vegetables one day and a salad the next. Again, just think of ways to vary your meals and this will help keep the boredom at bay.
If you need to stretch your meat, think about adding mushrooms or beans. You can add diced mushrooms in ground beef or turkey to make it go a little further and they will keep your burgers moist and still have that meaty taste. Making tacos but a little short on ground beef? Try adding pinto beans or black beans to the mix to make it feel more filling.
How about convenience items? Frozen pizza anyone? Make a frozen pizza and toss a salad to go along with it. This will help limit how many slices of pizza you eat and round out your meal. Frozen ravioli can become an easy meal with jar pasta sauce, or crush tomatoes and some herbs and spices. Top it with a little shredded or grated cheese, add a salad or a vegetable and again another quick meal.
Cooking a whole chicken is pretty simple, but if you want to buy the already cooked rotisserie chicken at the store, go ahead. Pair it up with some mashed potatoes or rice and a vegetable or salad. You can also pull the meat off the bone and use it in enchiladas or burritos, on top of salads, in casseroles. If you can’t find a whole chicken or do not have the time to cook one, the canned chicken works well in many casserole recipes.
For less kitchen clean up, try sheet pan meals. Steak bites and asparagus and tortilla chicken are a few easy recipes that I like to cook. If you have an air fryer, try something besides French fries and chicken nuggets. A quick internet search will give you tons of options for sheet pan and air fryer recipes. And get the whole family involved in not only the meal planning but the meal preparation as well.
Nobody said you had to be a gourmet cook three meals a day. Until next time … live healthy!
Kimberly Alton, RD, CSSD, LD, is the director of Food and Nutrition Services at Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center in Hartsville. Email her at email@example.com.