It’s a tale as old as time — a few Christmas goodies turn into a few more, and all of a sudden, the plate of sweets is empty and nobody knows where it all went. Or maybe you’ve been crushing your meal-planning game and want to bring it to the next level.
Whether you’re looking to shed a few pounds or just want to boost an already-healthy lifestyle for the whole family in the new year, there are a lot of options out there for 2020.
For busy families
Taking time to plan out each week’s meals is a vital part of maintaining a healthy diet. Setting aside one (or two) days each week to make a game plan for what to look forward to each week can help cure those crazy-day-salt-binges that inevitably happen when time runs short.
As Lindsay Vettleson, a registered dietitian nutritionist at IMA Healthcare, told The Forum in 2017, people who don’t plan their meals in advance are more likely to eat something that’s readily available — meaning what they choose to eat is more likely to be processed, convenient and probably high in carbohydrates and calories, and it’s just not going to work.
“I usually batch cook on weekends,” Vettleson says. “I already know what I’m having multiple days ahead of time — a week in advance — but that’s how I’m successful with it.”
There are a few steps that can be followed when creating that “perfect” meal plan. First, actually plan the meals by finding two to four recipes for the week and making a list of ingredients for each meal. Once you have a plan, head to the grocery store to pick everything up. Sticking to the outside of the store will ensure you focus on the fresh stuff, like fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products. Center aisles tend to be where processed and less-than-healthy foods are shelved.
Once you have all the ingredients, the fun part begins.
Washing, cutting and cooking fruits and veggies and cooking protein is essential to making meal prepping a success. There are many healthy ways to prepare proteins, whether you grill chicken, pan-fry fish or roast chickpeas, and there are dozens of ways to add a bit of interest to every meal. After everything has been cooked and it’s ready to go, portion meals into their own containers to grab and go the next morning.
Planning and preparing meals doesn’t have to cause a headache. Even something as simple as creating a plan and getting every ingredient in advance can help stave off that last-minute rush to the drive-thru.
Looking for a quick and easy meal prep recipe? Try this out.
Peppers and Sausage
3-4 bell peppers, cleaned out and cut into strips
1 yellow onion, cut into strips
1 container white mushrooms, sliced
4 links of Italian-style sausage (chicken, pork, turkey, etc.), cut into rounds
Seasoned salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Garlic salt to taste
Drip a bit of olive oil into the bottom of a large skillet and heat on medium. Add onion strips and mushrooms to the pan and cook until just translucent. Add in pepper strips and cook for a few minutes, seasoning everything with seasoned salt, pepper and garlic salt to taste. Remove from pan and set aside.
In the same pan, toss in sausage rounds and cook through. Once cooked, add peppers, onions and mushrooms and warm it up.
Serve hot with choice of dipping sauce (low-sugar ketchup or mustard is great with this!).
Recipe courtesy of Emma Vatnsdal
For plant-based families
If you’re looking to up your plant-based game in the new year, you’re in luck because cutting back on meat has never been easier.
In addition to potentially being good for your health, eating a little less meat can also be good for the Earth.
The main thing to watch out for is protein. Chickpeas, tofu and beans can provide necessary protein in meatless meals, while alternatives like veggie burgers or the Impossible Burger are becoming more available when dining out. There’s no shortage of meatless recipes available online now.
It can be hard to go cold tofurkey, though. Instead of shocking the system — your system, or your kiddos’ systems — start out by gradually reducing meat intake by doing a Meatless Monday or a Tofu Thursday. Need some help deciding what to try? Bring back the taste of summer with this recipe.
Beer Can Cabbage Sandwiches
1 large purple cabbage, about 3 ½ pounds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt (plus more)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (plus more)
1 (12-ounce) can pale lager
2 cups homemade or store-bought barbecue sauce, divided
½ large white onion, cut into ½-inch rings
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon honey
1 medium carrot (about 6 ounces), coarsely grated using the grater on a food processor or the largest holes on a box grater
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
1 handful of kale
6 seeded kaiser rolls or sturdy hamburger buns
12 slices cheddar cheese
Prepare grill for medium-high heat. Cut a 3-by-3-inch square around the core of cabbage at the base. Carefully remove core with a knife. Using the knife and a spoon, create a 3-inch-deep cavity in the cabbage big enough to hold a beer can. Discard core but reserve leftover cabbage from hollowing out cavity.
Using a brush, coat cabbage with oil, then season generously with salt and pepper. Pour out (or drink) half of the beer. Place beer can in cavity of cabbage so cabbage sits upright. Transfer to grill.
Using a brush, generously coat cabbage with 3 tablespoons barbecue sauce. Cover grill and cook cabbage, brushing with sauce every 15 minutes, until outer leaves are crispy and dark brown and cabbage is cooked through and tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 45 to 50 minutes.
During the last 5 minutes of cooking, grill white onion rings until charred. Meanwhile, whisk mayonnaise, vinegar, honey and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Thinly slice reserved cabbage. Add to bowl with dressing along with carrot, kale and red onion; toss to combine.
Remove cabbage from grill and discard can. Let cool slightly. Cut grilled cabbage in half lengthwise, then slice each half crosswise into ¾-inch strips. Coarsely chop white onion rings and toss with cabbage in a medium bowl with remaining 1 1/4 cups barbecue sauce (you should have about 6 cups barbecued cabbage). Slice rolls and grill until toasted, about 30 seconds.
Arrange 1 cup barbecued cabbage on each bottom bun. Top each with 2 slices cheese, 1/4 cup cabbage slaw and top bun.
Recipe altered from Epicurious.com.
For the keto-mama
The seemingly miraculous ketogenic diet that took over Pinterest and Instagram the past few years is a great way to drop a few pounds relatively quickly. Even Forum reporter Tracy Briggs has given this a whirl.
“There's no shortage of strategies out there and I think I've tried many of them,” she said in a previous Forum article. “As a woman over the age of 50 and a weekly columnist whose subject frequently includes baked goods, I've found the weight creeping on. Dang! A vicious sweet tooth and slowing metabolism is a nasty combination. (Do your homework to find out what might work for you.) I'll throw something into the mix that has helped me drop weight in the last month or so: a modified ketogenic eating plan.”
But what is this diet, and how does it work?
It’s a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein meal plan. When a person consumes carbs, their body produces glucose for energy and insulin to process the glucose — turning glucose into the primary energy source and causing the body to store the unneeded fats.
With keto eating, a low intake of carbs forces the body to tap into fat stores for energy, resulting in more fat-burning. Many advocates claim this diet leads to weight loss, controlled blood sugar, more mental focus, higher energy and other positive changes, while critics argue that it’s difficult to follow and could lead to muscle loss.
And it’s not all about restriction. For the ketogenic diet to work, participants have to limit their intake of carbohydrates and increase their consumption of protein and fats. This means butter, full-fat cream and avocados are fair game, while cereals, pastas and breads are not. If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, but stick to the keto plan, try these treats.
Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes
3 tablespoons coconut flour (and more, if needed)
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 cup pumpkin puree
⅓ cup Truvia (or Swerve Sweetener)
¼ cup heavy cream, half-and-half or full coconut milk
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
For whipped topping:
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon Truvia, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 6 muffin cups with paper liners. In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk pumpkin puree, sweetener, cream, egg and vanilla until well combined. Whisk in dry ingredients. If the batter seems thin, whisk in an additional tablespoon of coconut flour.
Divide among prepared muffin cups and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until just puffed and barely set. Remove from oven and let cool in pan. (They will sink. That’s OK — all the better for plopping whipped cream on top!)
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Generously dollop whipped cream on top.
Recipe courtesy of Alldayidreamaboutfood.com