Meal Planning for ONE

meal planning for oneA common challenge I hear from those who cook for themselves is meal planning & how to prep the right amount so you don’t have to eat tacos 5 nights in a row (though I wouldn’t be opposed to that) or see food go bad. Rather than re-invent the wheel I turned to some fellow dietitian bloggers who have already written on these topics to provide plenty of ideas & tips.

Food Prep by The Lean Green Bean
I’ve been following Lindsay for years and she is the queen of meal prep. If you don’t have time to check out all of the articles below then this is your one-stop shop. The link to this particular post is a round-up of posts she’s done on the following topics:

  • How To Food Prep – 5 Tips For Beginners
  • Top 10 Foods For Sunday Food Prep
  • 10 Foods That Freeze Well
  • How to Prep Food on the Weekend
  • Weekend Prep for Easy Weekday Meals
  • How to Eat Healthy in College
  • How to Eat Healthy During the Week
  • Healthy Snack Ideas
  • 12 Ways To Use Leftovers

Need some meal ideas for your toddlers? She’s got you covered:

  • A Month of Toddler Meal Ideas
  • 40 Healthy Toddler Meals
  • 50+ Toddler Meal Ideas (free PDF)

Soup Swap by Smart Nutrition

3 Strategies for Making Quick, Healthy Meals by Whole Green Wellness
This article has a plant-based emphasis FYI.

How to Simplify Meal Planning by Food, Pleasure, and Health

Free E-Book on the first steps of meal planning by Nourish Nutrition Co

Weekly Dinner Meal Plans (Pinterest Board) by The Spicy RD

5 Ways to Eat Less Processed Food by Katie Cavuto
Plus a meal prep cheat sheet

If you’d like additional help with implementing healthy meal prep and planning tips please fill out this form and I’ll help you get started.

What method is helpful to you when cooking for one?

What we ate: January 2015

what we ateI started a new tradition at Budget for Health by sharing recipes I made and loved. This is my 3rd month of sharing (See what we ate in December) and it’s been a fun post to write. It’s also a form of accountability because I want to lead by example when it comes to meal planning that is easy, budget friendly, and healthy.

Baked oatmeal
I made this twice in January. Both times I let it soak overnight to make prep easier in the morning. I also cut down on the maple syrup a LOT (1 Tbsp versus 1/3 cup). It’s plenty sweet if you’re adding fruit.

Chicken noodle soup
Mom saves the day again. This was a rough month for us in terms of health. All 3 of us got a bad cold to ring in the new year. My mom’s homemade chicken noodle soup is the bomb.

Baked potato bar
I’m glad I was taking pictures of Nora & enjoying her first birthday party but I wound up forgetting to take a snapshot of our baked potato bar! It was a cheap & delicious option since we were feeding 20+ guests. The toppings were homemade chili, cheese, green onion, sour cream, and (real) bacon bits. We had a veggie & hummus tray, artichoke dip, and birthday cake to go with the potato bar.

salmon burger

Salmon burgers
The salmon burgers from Costco are lifesavers on nights we need a quick dinner. I sautéed some fresh spinach, sliced up an orange, and added a few beets since I roasted a lot for salad toppings.

Spaghetti squash curry with ground beef & veggies
No special recipe here- just some baked spaghetti squash with my homemade curry powder, ground beef, and sautéed stir fry veggies from Costco.

Roasted turkey & sweet potato hash
#DOMESTIC. I bought a turkey when prices were rock bottom over Thanksgiving and stuck it in my deep freezer to roast another day. was pretty darn proud of how my first roasted turkey came out. I even tried a technique I had never heard of before: spatchcocking. This step-by-step spatchcocking resource was very helpful and it turned out to be super moist from the dry brine process I used. The total time commitment of this was a full week: 3 days to thaw, 3 days to dry brine, and I cooked it on the 7th day. If you have the space in your fridge then try it!

Turkey curry stew
Sad story; I think Dave has a temporary aversion to this dish because the night I made it we both came down with the stomach flu. It reminded him of being sick when we warmed it up the next day. It’s pretty darn good though so I’m sure he’ll be over it by next month when I make it again. I used turkey instead of chicken since I had a bunch leftover.

Butternut squash chili
We made this for friends and had plenty leftover even after going back for seconds. I never make the exact recipe because the type of beans or ingredients I have on hand vary each time. I love being able to make dishes the night before so all I have to do is heat it up before guests arrive.

What’s on your menu this month?

Buy in season, do some freezin’

If you haven’t read yesterday’s post on how to find what fruit & vegetables are in season, be sure to check it out in addition to today’s post.

Strawberries were on sale last week for $1 a pound, so I bought 6 pounds, cut them up and froze all but one pound. We kept one pound fresh and packed whole strawberries in our lunch this week. I usually scoop out a few frozen ones and put them in my yogurt. They thaw out overnight since I pack my lunch after dinner. Strawberries aren’t always that cheap, so when I see the sale, I stock up! If a pound of strawberries usually costs $2.50 per pound out of season and I find the $1 per pound sale, I’ve saved $9 on the 6 pounds I bought! If you have a deep freezer, you could save some mad money by grabbing seasonal produce when it’s cheap. We only have a standard bottom fridge/ top freezer in our apartment, so I can’t go too crazy with these sales. Someday…

If you want some awesome tips on freezing produce and all sorts of food, check out this helpful post from Andrea at Simple Organized Living. You’ll find great ideas on how to freeze foods like baked goods, dairy, baking supplies, and whole meals. She’s developed a freezing system that works for her and uses various sizes of Ziploc bags, Tupperware, and even shoe boxes to make sorting and stacking foods easier. There’s even a Freezer Cooking FAQ from all the questions Andrea got after the first post. Her site is definitely in my top favorite sites I follow, so check her out. Just don’t forget about Budget for Health as you browse in awe through her savvy organizing/decorating/kitchen skills 😉 Another useful article I found from Eating well shows how to prep 16 fruits & vegetables.

Even if you don’t have a freezer, there are other ways to preserve foods like canning or making jams. I made 6 jars of jam when blackberries were on sale for 50 cents a pint. Believe it or not, I actually got my recipe to make jam from Andrea. Other foods I buy in bulk and freeze are bread, berries, chicken (our local store has Michigan-farmed chicken breasts for $1.79 per pound on Saturdays), broth (I buy the 32oz carton since it’s often cheaper and just freeze the rest in little Tupperware bowls), and vegetables (I buy bulk red & orange peppers when on sale, chop, and freeze for soups, tacos, stir fry, omelettes, etc). It’s important to keep an eye on your grocery budget when buying in bulk so you don’t go over, but you can typically save a good chunk of change from this practice!

Do you stock up on produce in season? What else do you freeze in bulk?

New Job & New Recipes

Exciting news: I got a new job! I’m keeping my current job at the hospital but am now also employed as a Registered Dietitian at the health department! With both jobs being part-time and flexible, I can combine the two and get close to full-time hours!

Other exciting news: I love Pinterest! This isn’t new news, but nevertheless I experience an odd amount of excitement when I find good recipes from Pinterest. I thought I’d share what I made this past week since they all turned out to be winners. I enjoy finding recipes that contain ingredients I already have in my cupboards so we can stick to our grocery budget. The link for each recipe will take you to the blog I got it from since they had other good dishes you might like to try!

Mushroom Barley Soup and Homemade Multigrain bread
The soup would have been bland without the flavorful addition of sherry wine and soy sauce. I added carrots because I wanted to give my brown soup more color. I have never made bread before and was skeptical because I don’t have a stand mixer or a bread maker. I only had one loaf pan to use, but I managed to bake two loaves and just let the 2nd loaf rise a little more while the first one baked. I could not believe how great it turned out! The bread recipe is from Cooks Illustrated, a sweet magazine that tests a recipe a million times and changes different factors until they get the recipe that they believe makes the best final product. I froze half of the soup and one of the loaves for an easy go-to dinner when we need one.

Blueberry Banana Baked Oatmeal
Dave & I slept in and went to 2nd service on Sunday, so we had time to make this delicious breakfast and cook up a couple fresh eggs on the side. It’s a very easy and nutritious recipe to start your morning & we had plenty of leftovers for Monday morning.

Have you found any great recipes from Pinterest?

Hide your Veggies

Raise of hands—how many of you eat the recommended number of vegetable servings every day? The recommended servings of vegetables are 3-4 or 4-5 depending on your caloric needs (one serving = ½ cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup raw).

If I asked a room of 100 people this question, recent stats from the Center for Disease Control & Prevention say that only 27 of you would be able to honestly raise their hand.

How to fix this dilemma? Try hiding your veggies. Researchers at Penn State did a small 41-person study on hiding vegetables in food and it produced some interesting results.

How it worked:
The university offered these participants breakfast, lunch, and dinner once a week for 3 weeks. The catch was that pureed vegetables replaced some ingredients in one of the items at each meal- carrot bread for breakfast, macaroni & cheese at lunch, and chicken-and-rice casserole at dinner.

When enough pureed vegetables were added to triple the amount of vegetables in the dish, the calorie content decreased by 15%. When enough were added to increase the veggies by 4.5 times, the calories decreased by 25%.

The results
Participants consumed the same weight of food regardless of the amount of pureed vegetables the dish contained. This means that on days the veggies were tripled, they ate 200 less calories. On days the veggies were multiplied by 4.5, they ate 360 fewer calories.

Try your own study
Play around with some pureed veggies & see if it works for you. If you’re looking for places to hide, here are a few suggestions:

Spaghetti sauce– sauté and then puree peppers, mushrooms, onions or even broccoli & add to your sauce for
Casseroles: Dice carrots, celery, corn, turnips, cabbage, leeks, green beans…what can’t you add to a casserole?
Soups: Puree some cooked carrots & broccoli to add to the broth and then add even more by throwing in some bite size pieces
Smoothies: Add some green leafy vegetables to your fruity smoothie
Pasta: This might be a new idea to you, but you can make your own vegetable noodles and use less real pasta. Use a peeler long ways on a zucchini or carrot and eat raw or boil them for a little bit with your noodles (not too long though or you lose some vitamins). Spaghetti squash is a good alternative too since they’re already noodle-shaped for you!

As for un-pureed vegetables, you can always throw more in a salad, sandwich, wrap, on an omelet or breakfast burrito, or just dip them in some hummus or a light dressing. If you have a salad with your meal, eat it before your entrée and you might not need to finish the entrée. Leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

Do you hide your veggies? What methods do you use to eat more vegetables?

Fresh, Canned, or Frozen?

What’s cheaper? What’s healthier? Can they be used interchangeably? Let’s compare and contrast our options.

Fresh
Fresh produce is my favorite to pack with lunch. I love enjoying a crisp apple for a snack or crunchy carrots & radishes with some hummus. However, the time it takes to harvest produce, distribute it, and finally appear on the shelves can be weeks, consequently diminishing the nutrient content. Shopping at a local grocery store, farmer’s market, or buying frozen may significantly close that time gap from harvest to purchase.

Canned
Canned vegetables are great to have stocked in the pantry for back-up help. It saves so much time on prep and can easily be incorporated into many soups, casseroles, or just served as a side dish. When choosing canned vegetables, look for the phrase “no salt added.” You’ll see a huge difference when you compare sodium content. For example, Hunt’s tomato sauce contains 820 mg per half cup, while the same brand with “no salt added” contains only 40mg/ half cup. WOW! Many cans that are BPA free have a red lining on the inside. The coconut milk, organic stewed tomatoes, and corn I get at Costco have this lining.

Choose canned fruit that’s packed in 100% juice. You’ll see options of heavy syrup, light syrup, or some kind of juice (often pear). The fruit itself already contains fructose, a natural occurring sugar, so there’s no need to have the unnatural stuff in there.

Frozen
Like canned produce, frozen is a convenient option to stock in the freezer and add to soups, casseroles, or stir fry. A bonus about frozen produce is that it is packaged and frozen soon after picking. Much of the nutritional value is retained, making them convenient and sometimes even superior than fresh. I buy frozen vegetables plain and add my own flavors rather than buy the kind that comes with a sauce. It can add loads of preservatives and processed oils. I like tossing broccoli in a glass dish with the lid on and microwaving it for a few minutes while I finish up the main dish.

Since fresh produce spoils if not used in a short time frame, prep and freeze fresh produce for a later use. If you enjoy smoothies or making your own parfaits, buying frozen fruit can save some money. Compare price per ounce to see for yourself.

There are a lot of options to choose from, but once you know what to look for, shopping healthy for a good bargain becomes an easy task!

How do you incorporate fresh, frozen or canned produce into your diet?