Convenience Foods for the Win

The old adage about there never being enough hours in the day has never been truer than now. Even if you like to cook, trying to fit in meal planning and making healthy meals most nights—while also working full time, raising a family, trying to squeeze in some exercise and keep up with current events—is a challenge to say the least. There is a reason processed, pre-packaged convenience food items were invented—to make getting a meal on the table quicker! (And using fewer dishes.) While many of them are high in sodium, added sugars, fat and fillers, I believe it’s possible to work them into your weekly menu here and there without totally derailing your healthy eating plan. Whether it’s a couple nights a week, or only the one in which ALL of your kids have separate activities to go to, consider taking the easy route and let a convenience food save dinner.

  1. The poor college student staple can be reimagined into a balanced meal with some simple additions and deletions. Begin with three or four ramen noodle packages. Discard seasoning packets from all but one package, boil just enough water to cook noodles. Add seasoning packet and two cups frozen Asian veggie mix. While noodles and veggies boil, cook cut-up chicken or pork in a skillet. When noodles are finished, drain excess cooking water, add meat back to pot, drizzle with a little prepared teriyaki sauce and voilà! By using fewer seasoning packets and draining the cooking water, the sodium is greatly reduced and you’ve added meat for protein and vegetables.
  2. Boxed Spanish Rice. Brown seasoned pork and prepare rice according to package directions. Hollow out four large green bell peppers, keeping the bottom and sides intact. Mix cooked rice with one can drained diced tomatoes and meat, fill peppers and bake until soft. For quicker baking, halve peppers and fill like boats instead of standing upright. For variety, change up the rice (try a garlic flavor), meat (flavored chicken sausage), veggie (frozen broccoli) and ‘container’ veggie (hollowed-out zucchini squash).
  3. Macaroni and Cheese. This is my personal favorite! Prepare macaroni according to package directions, adding frozen peas to cooking water just before noodles are finished cooking. Drain and mix with cheese powder. Add one can drained tuna or chicken and mix. Tuna mac on the double! You’ve added protein and veggies to an otherwise carb-heavy dish.
  4. While avocado toast is all the rage, slicing and storing excess avocado takes precious minutes when you’re trying to get out the door. Consider subbing pre-made guacamole and topping with a crushed hardboiled egg for protein to save time. The addition of avocado and egg add healthy fat, protein and fiber; jam simply adds sugar.
  5. Bagged salad really CAN be a whole meal if you top it right. Grab a rotisserie chicken and an assortment of ready-to-use extras, such as a bag of shredded carrots, cherry tomatoes and jarred olives—no peeling or chopping required! Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette and a little feta cheese for a Mediterranean dinner. (If you DO have some extra time, add in sliced red onion and cucumbers.)

With a seven-month-old at home and my husband away the night I write this, I’ll be whipping up the doctored-up macaroni and cheese for sure!



Food for Your Mood

Like I said in my December column, ‘January is the saddest of months around these parts.’ We’re as far away from Christmas as we’ll ever be; yet warm temps are months away. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a thing, and some are more prone to it than others. Inclement weather and the extra hours of darkness make it hard to get out for fresh air and sunshine (what little we get). Unless you can escape to your summer home in Florida, try these simple diet tweaks to help improve your mood while we wait out the long winter.

  1. Vitamin D. Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ Vitamin D is made in our bodies when we’re exposed to the sun. However, it’s common for our levels to be low during the winter. Vitamin D isn’t found in many foods, but it is found in canned salmon, cheese and egg yolks. Additionally, many milks and orange juices are fortified with Vitamin D as well. Make It Happen: Whip up a salmon frittata with eggs, canned salmon, feta and a little dill.
  2. Studies show those with depression tend to have lower levels of folate than those without depression. Folate is one of the B vitamins and can be found in dark leafy greens, edamame and avocado. Make It Happen: Try a salad with kale, edamame, avocado, red bell peppers and a lemon vinaigrette.
  3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. When people talk about ‘brain food,’ the first on the list is always omega-3s, found most commonly in cold-water fish. Studies show that those who eat more fish tend to have fewer symptoms of depression. Other sources of omega-3s include sardines, anchovies and walnuts. Make It Happen: Add sardines to spaghetti with pesto; recipe found in Run Fast Eat Slow.
  4. B vitamins. B vitamins play various roles in brain function, so making sure you’re loading up on those guys is a good idea. Whole grains are high in B vitamins, so take this opportunity to expand your repertoire. Instead of relying on traditional instant oats and brown rice, try steel-cut oats, quinoa, amaranth and millet, too. Make It Happen: Use steel-cut oats to make baked oatmeal and have breakfast ready all week long.
  5. Researchers have found that probiotics had a positive effect on depression symptoms in a majority of studies. Probiotic supplements are available, but it’s easy to add sources of probiotics to your diet. Yogurt, kefir, kimchi and miso all contain probiotics. Make It Happen: Consider a supplement if you’re not already into yogurt.
  6. Limit caffeine and added sugars. It’s always a good idea to moderate your intake of things that are known to affect mood and/or your sleep, such as caffeine and sugar. Consider quitting your afternoon cup of coffee or soda in favor of herbal tea or a sparkling water. While there is limited research to support added sugar having a dramatic effect on energy levels, we all know how we feel after downing an entire package of M&Ms: not good. Instead, take a walk when you need a pick-me-up. Make It Happen: Waterloo Grape seltzer water KNOCKS MY SOCKS OFF. I’m confident you’ll like it, too.
  7. Establish a Routine. Our bodies perform the best when we get enough sleep, good nutrition and plenty of fresh air and physical activity. Sticking to a regular schedule will help ensure you go to bed at approximately the same time each night, eat breakfast within an hour of waking and incorporate exercise into your day. Make It Happen: Set an alarm for each activity until you get used to the new routine.

I’ll be out jogging with the stroller a few times a week, and I’m looking forward to trying out some of the recipes from my new Whole30 Slow Cooker cookbook I got for Christmas. Will I see you out on a walk, too?



Have A Healthier Winter

We’re just a few short days away from Christmas, and the magic of the season is all around us. Presents are multiplying under the tree, the drinks are flowing at holiday parties and calories don’t count.

Except that they do, and all our poor food choices during the holiday season catch up to us sooner or later. It’s all fun and games until someone gets fat. January is the saddest of months around these parts; the holiday sparkle has worn off, the snow is dirty and our pants are a little bit tighter. Continue reading “Have A Healthier Winter”