As a personal trainer and nutritionist, I routinely get asked what I eat. I hesitate to give the specifics because I do not have the picture perfect diet, nor am I trying to, and my personal tastes and goals are not the same as what others might be. I prefer to offer guidelines on how to eat — lots of veggies, fruits, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, and, of course, tons of water — small portions frequently throughout the day, and cut down on added sugar and processed foods. Do these things and you will undoubtedly improve your health and achieve/maintain a healthy weight.
But, this week I decided to show a glimpse of what it looks like in my kitchen. This is not a detailed food log, and it leaves out the M&M’s and Girl Scout cookies as well as the trip through the Taco Bell drive-thru. I am a firm believer in the 80/20 rule… 20% of what I eat doesn’t matter as long as the 80% is highly nutritious. But, that is what works for me. You may find a better strategy that works for you as diet is not one size fits all.
I learned about cooking in bulk and eating leftovers when I was a kid being raised by a single mother. She would usually cook a giant pot of chili, lentil or split pea soup, or spaghetti, or brown gravy and mashed potatoes, and we would eat that every day for a week while she was at work. If we didn’t want that, it was PB&J, ramen noodles, or if we were lucky Kraft Mac n Cheese was on sale and she stocked up! I didn’t realize it then, but her frugal way of feeding us, also made sure we had a healthy option while she was working late.
What we had in our kitchen often had no rhyme or reason, but was there because it was on sale and my mother had a coupon. So, when I was young I had to be creative and make things from what was available since I never knew what I’d find. I haven’t had much of an interest in cooking (I like the eating part better!), but I do know how to eat healthy on a budget with little pre-planning. And, the more I prepare meals in bulk the more I enjoy it. It has become “me time” with good music, or an audiobook, and a beer or vodka soda. This week I kept track of the meals I prepared at home so I could share them with you.
Here is a what a typical week looks like at my house:
Even though bagels aren’t usually the healthiest option, this is a satisfying way to have a light breakfast. One mini whole wheat bagel is only 100 calories, and by using “Tofutti” cream cheese (give it a try if you haven’t yet, it is so good) you cut down on fat and calories. In my coffee, I add a splash of unsweetened vanilla almond milk.
On a weekend morning when I have a bit more time, I’ll have a piece of toast with Smart Balance light, and a fried egg. I have a pressurized oil sprayer that allows me to use a thin coat of grapeseed oil, and a ceramic frying pan that does not require much oil to become completely non-stick. Grapeseed oil handles higher temps much better than olive oil, and it healthier than canola and many others. It has a light, pleasant taste to it that will not overpower your food.
Smoothies are a wonderful breakfast option as well as a meal to-go during the afternoon. The natural sugar in the fruit can boost energy without having to turn to caffeine or sweets. Smoothies are high in fiber and nutrients and a great way to sneak in green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach. I also add ground flax or chia and Skoop superfood and veggie protein powder.
Hummus is a staple in our house! I love it. Good store bought hummus is hard to find, and it’s so easy to make at home. You can use it as a dip for sliced bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers, and your favorite veggies. For crackers, I like Nut-Thins.
I love spice and use a drop of “satan’s blood” chili extract. I do not recommend that unless you enjoy the sensation of fire on the tongue. But, you can add a bit of cayenne or extra garlic if you want more kick. I also added a squeeze of lemon to this after I took the picture.
The recipe can be found at www.epicurious.com.
Egg salad can be put in a sandwich, placed on a bed of lettuce or a piece of toast. I only use pasture raised, humane certified, organic eggs. Organic is not always necessary, but when it comes to eggs, please do not skimp.
Factory farmed eggs, including cage free, are horrible for a long list of reasons. I personally only eat eggs when I know where they came from. Vitalfarms.com is a company that produces pasture raised eggs, and you can find a store that sells them close to you on their website. The eggs can range between $6-8 a dozen, which is expensive compared to mass produced eggs. However, that is still only about $0.50 an egg, and once you get used to the better taste and quality, you won’t go back. Trust me on this!
I use a combo of classic egg salad recipes. Some call for lemon or paprika or mustard, I use all three and dijon instead of yellow. There are endless options to customize egg salad to your personal taste.
For this stew, I Googled “tomato onion kale sausage” because I had those ingredients and the Kale Sausage Soup with Tomatoes and Chickpeas recipe came up. I had most of the ingredients, but used vegetable stock instead of chicken stock and skipped the parmesan cheese.
Salads get a bad rap, but they can be so incredibly flavorful and versatile. I don’t think I’ve ever made two salads exactly the same. I keep a drawer full of veggies in the fridge, and a variety of beans, olives, artichokes, etc in the pantry. The salads are big enough and satisfying enough to be a full meal, and we often have leftovers for a lunch serving the next day.
Sometimes I’ll add Beyond Meat or Gardein chicken strips to make it a chicken salad. On days when I’m feeling like something more hearty, I’ll bake tortilla chips, black beans, peppers and mushrooms in the toaster oven and place it on top of the salad for a healthy, delicious version of nachos and top with salsa instead of dressing.
Instead of croutons I use sliced/slivered almonds and sunflower seeds on salads. As a healthy snack, I’ll grab a small handful of raw almonds and pumpkin seeds.
When I’m out of leftovers, don’t have the time to cook, or am not in the mood to prepare a meal, I grab premade soup. Usually a box of Pacific organic low sodium black bean and kale or vegetable lentil. These options are high in fiber and protein while low in salt and sugar. The addition of some chips and hot sauce makes it extra yummy. 🙂
Sweet potatoes are a wonderful source of vitamin A and fiber. They also happen to be sweet and tasty! I bake them lightly misted with grapeseed oil at 425 degrees for about 30 mins, or until I can poke a knife in the middle of the potato. I eat one with the skin on it when they are fresh out of the oven, and then I just eat the inside of the others over the next day or two. The skin can get a bit soggy once refrigerated. But, the day after, the inside tastes like butter and brown sugar. It’s amazing! So good that I’ll grab one cold out of the fridge and eat it as a finger food.
When thinking about what to make for this meal I rummaged through what we had and then Googled, “onion carrot lentil stew” and this recipe came up in the results: www.feedyourawesomemachine.com
I happened to have most of the ingredients, except for a “courgette” which I had no idea what that was anyway so I figured it was fine to skip it!
I cooked the veggies and seasoning in a pan while the lentils and vegetable broth came to a boil. After combining all of the ingredients the stew was more liquidy than I wanted, so I added a cup of quinoa and a chopped green bell pepper for some bulk and added nutrients.
This post is not about these specific recipes, it is meant to show you that eating healthy and planning ahead does not have to be complicated. I simply have certain staple foods on hand in the pantry, freezer and refrigerator and then add in whatever might be on sale that week at the store, or whatever is in season and catches my attention. Then on an evening or weekend when I have time I will Google the main ingredients for inspiration of what might go well with it. There is no following of recipes or rules, I just throw stuff together and sometimes it’s delicious and sometimes it is less than delicious, but all of the time it is healthy, easy and filling.
Each time I try something new I learn more about what works and what doesn’t. Cooking and nutrition are more of an art than a perfect science. Do not be afraid to experiment and continue to develop your technique and taste over time. You will most likely be improving your health and confidence along with your cooking skills!
Note: as you can see I was on a bit of a stew kick last week. Other weeks it might be pasta dishes or stir-fries. If you’re interested in seeing more like this with different options please let me know and I will make it a recurring series.