Healthy meals: 3 easy steps to success

Healthy meals don’t just happen — you need to make them happen. Here are three easy steps to get you on your way.

Step 1: Make a plan

The first step is to plan your menu for the week. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, just jot down what you and your family would like to eat.

Then think about ways to make your choices healthier. Substitute chicken breast for steak and add more vegetables, for example. Can you streamline your cooking? Consider cooking a large batch of grains on the weekend and using them in more than one meal.

Step 2: Shop smart

You’ve already planned your menu. Once you make your shopping list, you’re on your way to choosing healthy foods. Sticking to your list will also save you time and money.

When you arrive at the supermarket, start shopping the perimeter of the store, which is where you’ll find fruits and vegetables, low-fat or non-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt, whole-grain breads, and fish, poultry, and lean cuts of meat. Use your shopping list to selectively navigate the rest of the aisles.

In addition to the items you need for your weekly menu, stocking your kitchen with the following key items will ensure that you have everything on hand to whip up fresh, nutritious, flavorful, and healthy meals.

For your fridge: fruits, vegetables, dark leafy greens, low-fat cheese, fresh salsa, plain yogurt, eggs, chicken, low-fat milk, pesto, light mayonnaise, hummus, lemons.

For your freezer: a variety of frozen vegetables (without sauce), poultry, fish, berries, whole-grain frozen waffles.

For your cupboard: brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, whole-grain cereal, whole-grain tortillas, whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain bread, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, onions, sweet potatoes, garlic, canned beans (low sodium), sardines, tuna, salmon, low-sodium soup, canned tomatoes, low-sodium chicken and vegetable broth, tomato paste, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, herbs and spices.

Step 3: Put your plan into action

Now that you have a plan and the food you purchased readily available, it’s time to make it happen.

Breakfast

Eating breakfast can improve energy, mood, and performance at school or work. To create a well-balanced breakfast, include whole-grain carbohydrates, lean protein, and fruit. If you’re not a “breakfast person,” try starting with something small.

  • Oatmeal with a small handful of nuts, cinnamon, and berries
  • 100% whole-wheat bread, peanut butter, and a banana
  • Breakfast sandwich: 100% whole-wheat English muffin, scrambled egg and low-fat cheese, with an orange
  • Whole-grain crackers, low-fat cheese, and an apple.

Lunch

Lunch can be the hardest meal. It’s the busiest time of the day and it can be tempting to grab something fast and not-so-healthy. Packing a balanced lunch is not only important for health, but will also help you stay full and focused longer. A balanced lunch contains equal parts of lean protein, healthy carbohydrates, and vegetables.

  • Homemade soup, such as minestrone, chicken vegetable, or lentil soup, with whole-wheat crackers
  • Chili made with lots of vegetables and ground turkey
  • Whole-wheat pasta salad with vegetables and chicken or tuna fish
  • Whole-wheat English muffin pizza with vegetables and a small amount of low-fat cheese
  • Vegetable quesadilla with whole-wheat tortilla, part skim mozzarella cheese, and vegetables
  • Chicken or tuna sandwich on whole-grain bread with a side salad.

Dinner

Time can limit what gets to the dinner table. You might think it is faster to call for takeout or go to a nearby restaurant. The reality is that if you’ve planned and shopped wisely, it could be faster, healthier, and less expensive to prepare dinner at home. These dinner ideas can be ready in less than 20 minutes.

  • Defrost shrimp, stir-fry with some vegetables, and serve over whole-wheat pasta.
  • Grill fish or chicken breast, microwave a sweet potato, and add a salad.
  • Pan-fry chicken in olive oil, then add a few vegetables such as onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Make a quick batch of a whole grain (quinoa, farro), or reheat grains that you made on the weekend.
  • Put vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, onions, and cauliflower in a crockpot with chicken or beans, and chunks of winter squash or sweet potato. Set the timer before you leave for work.
  • Sauté fresh or frozen vegetables with tofu or another healthy protein, flavor with your favorite low-sodium sauce, and serve with Instant brown rice.

Meal planning can be a challenge. But with a plan, a well-stocked kitchen, and a little time, healthy meals can be the norm rather than the exception.

Comments:

  1. azure

    Assumptions made by author: everyone has easy access (i.e., a personal motor vehicle) to a well stocked supermarket/grocery and time to get to/from there (doesn’t work two jobs). Has a functioning oven, refrigerator with freezer, maybe even a functioning dishwasher (particularly useful for people w/a few young children). Has a crockpot or can find one secondhand (small ones are pretty inexpensive new, larger programmable crockpots are much more expensive). I use a non-programmable crockpot and you can’t actually stick legumes, etc, into the crock pot at 6:30am (or whenever people have to leave for work/kids leave for school) and leave it cooking until 6:30/7pm or whenever you get home from work or if you do, even on low the legumes might be pretty overcooked—generally it’s not recommended that any kind of meat be cooked on low. If the writer has ever reviewed some crockpot cookbooks she might’ve noticed that many recipes (that have meat as an ingredient) require some cooking (up to 10-15 minutes, to cut up veg & meat, brown meat, saute the veg for short time) prior to putting them into the crockpot.

    When I was in college & had limited appliance access (I had a hot plate) I ate sandwiches & stir fry on rice–you can make soup in a wok, grill fish (w/a rack, etc), if you can find an inexpensive bamboo steamers, steam veg. But I was cooking only for myself, & was fine about eating the same food every evening. Children (and some adults) are alot harder to cook for. I also had a small refrigerator & eventually a table top height upright freezer. Those living in hotel rooms may not have a hot plate & freezer, but only a microwave.

    People working two jobs to pay rent may not have 20 minutes for cooking. Plus at least another 10-15 for cleanup afterwards, another 15 or more for breakfast & lunch prep.

    The real solution would be to pay everyone a living wage so they can have just one job that pays for rent, utilities, etc and provide alot more assistance (low cost good quality day care/summer programs for children, safe playgrounds, no need to pay to play sports, easy access to good produce, far better rapid mass transit, etc) to people raising children and older people, particularly single older people . Or anyone who doesn’t have/can’t afford to own/can’t drive a personal motor vehicle and assuming being a block away from some kind of bus service, doesn’t have 3-4 hours to spend on a bus getting from home to supermarket, particularly if he/she can only manage to carry/transport maybe 1 or 2 moderate sized bags of groceries at one time.

Post a Comment:

This blog aims to provide reliable information as well as healthy dialog about the topics covered. We do not provide responses to personal medical concerns nor do we endorse any recommendations offered in the comments. We reserve the right to delete comments for any reason, particularly those that do not relate directly to the contents of this post, are commercial in nature, contain objectionable or inappropriate material, or otherwise violate our Privacy Policy. Promotional URLs will be removed from comments. Comments on this blog do not represent the views of our editors or Harvard University, and have not been checked for accuracy. All comments submitted to this site become the non-exclusive property of Harvard University.