Welcome back to our series on Life’s Essential Ingredients. We have covered Workouts and Worship, Homeschooling, and Writing 500 Words Daily. Today, we are looking at how to plan and prepare healthy meals.5. Plan and Prepare Healthy Meals. Two years ago, I watched the documentary “Forks Over Knives,” and it has forever changed the way I view food. Immediately, I gave up meat, dairy and sugar. It was a hard week, but I was determined never to go back to the way I ate before. I went on to watch other documentaries, like “Food, Inc.,” and I checked out all the books I could get my hands on by doctors and other authorities who advocate a primarily plant-based diet.
After a month, I started losing my hair (nothing drastic, but it was noticeable to me), so I researched more to find out why this was happening. I feared that I had a protein deficiency (it may have just been a seasonal thing, though), so I began to eat meat again, but only organic chicken and ground beef. Summer came, and so did the invitations to graduation parties and weddings and cook-outs. Without having total control over our food intake, I lost my way, and have teetered back and forth on the fence of healthy eating ever since.
My biggest nemesis is sugar, hands down. However, what amazed me that first month when I gave everything up was that it only took three or four days to completely detox from sugar. It was tough, but I woke up that fourth morning, and my body didn’t crave sugar one bit. Only, when my time of the month came, the hormonal indoctrination to ingest great quantities of chocolate knocked me right off the wagon. Since then, I have detoxed a few times but have since returned to my sinful ways;)
What has stuck is the desire to include more greens and vegetables into my daily meals. My favorite author on this subject is Dr. Joel Fuhrman (“Eat to Live”), who advises that we post a sign on our refrigerator stating: “The salad is the main dish.” I can say that I have successfully trained my family to eat salad (without complaining) nearly every night before dinner. It took a year, but they eat it, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
With that background in place, let’s take a look at how intentional meal planning can help us meet our nutritional goals. For me, this means adhering to a primarily plant-based diet, although I am by no means vegan or even vegetarian. We do limit our animal protein intake to about two or three days per week, and we are careful to purchase organically and responsibly raised animals.
1. One thing that has helped me immensely is joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Between the months of June and November, I am guaranteed a box of locally, organically grown produce to base my meals from. This will be our third year participating, and I am so excited for my first box to arrive! Remembering back to the first year, though, I found the whole enterprise to be a bit of an adventure.
In my box, I would find strange-looking vegetables. Luckily, the farmers sent a weekly email listing the contents of our boxes. I learned how to cook with produce I barely glanced at in the store: swiss chard, pea shoots, rutabaga, various squashes. We were blessed with an abundance of lettuces, kale, and spinach to feed our new salad habit, though. The whole experience helped us to become more plant-oriented in our eating. As Joel Fuhrman teaches, the important thing is the nutrient value of our food, not calories or even fat, necessarily. I will definitely be writing more about his nutritarian approach to eating in future posts!2. Another way to plan for meals is to have a basic weekly plan. I admit, I balked at this when my husband suggested it. He is the primary grocery shopper in our home (more on that in another post, too), and he requested a list of our top ten, budget and health-conscious meals. From there, we broke the week into generally themed days which fluctuate based on my husband’s shopping schedule.
Sunday: Chicken Dinner-I make two, whole, organic chickens from Costco. We eat the legs, thighs, wings and a bit of breast meat, saving the rest of the meat for my husband’s daily lunch wraps. The chicken is served with baked potatoes or rice, another vegetable, and salad (of course). Every other week, I make chicken legs instead.
Monday: Vegetable Stir Fry and Rice- Not my kids favorite, but a must have on my husband’s list.
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday- Usually, it is straightforward tacos, but sometimes, I will make quesadillas, black bean and rice burritos, or some other Mexican variation.
Wednesday: Soup- The soup base is the broth I make from Sunday’s chicken carcasses. Usually, it is a vegetable based soup, but sometimes, I have enough extra chicken to make chicken noodle soup. Served with homemade bread and, you guessed it, salad:)
Thursday: Pasta night- This is your basic spaghetti recipe, or chili, lasagna, or other pasta-based dish. Served with a vegetable and salad.
Friday: Family Fun Night- That’s what it’s called, but at this point in the week, I am usually scrambling a bit.
Saturday: Miscellaneous- Leftovers, whole wheat pancakes, another soup. Whatever gets us to Sunday.
Having a meal schedule keeps me from reinventing the wheel every week, which was my tendency, causing our grocery bill to skyrocket and my husband’s patience to wear thin. Now, we are on the same page, and I can focus my attention elsewhere, knowing meals are taken care of.
3. One final way to plan for healthy meals is to say no to junk. If you come to our home, you will VERY rarely find a bag of chips or soda or crackers or any other processed snack food. They are costly and offer little nutritional sustenance. Our kids eat fruit, veggies and dip, almonds, dried fruits, homemade popcorn, and occasionally pretzels or cheese for snacks. We only drink water, reserving milk for breakfast cereal, oatmeal, and baking/cooking.
I do find snacks to be the hardest part of the day since I don’t have convenience food on hand, but it is worth the extra time to provide a whole, healthy food to my kids. I encourage you, just try not to bring the junk home; it will force you to find a healthy alternative. One way to do this is to shop the perimeter of the store, avoiding the aisles where processed foods abound.
By no means are we perfectly healthy or plant-based in our diet, but we have taken small, consistent steps in the right direction and allowed for fun splurges along the way, so as not to deprive, then sabotage ourselves. What small step can you make today to introduce a healthy alternative into your family’s meal plan?
(photo credit for featured image: www.theaustralian.com)