As a busy dietitian with a full-time job and a few side gigs (like this blogpost!), it’s not always easy to maintain a whole foods diet. If I don’t plan ahead, I’m tempted to fall back on potentially less healthful and always more expensive meal options like coffee shop pastries or convenience foods. While I’m an enthusiastic proponent of giving in to indulgences occasionally, I find that planning ahead helps enormously to keep me on track. Here are some of my methods for guaranteeing that I’ll have something delicious and nourishing to eat throughout the week.
Plan & Prep on the Weekend. I take some time on the weekends to think ahead and decide what I’m going to need for the week. As you’ll see in the following tips, I also do a lot of prep for my breakfasts, lunches and snacks to save myself time in the morning when I’m getting ready for work.
Make it Last. I always make one or two dishes a week that will give me leftovers. I find that the best dish for this purpose is often a soup or stew, but making extra of almost any dish will work. If you don’t like leftovers (a common complaint from my clients), make something that tastes even better the next day like a spaghetti sauce or casserole. Or change the food completely so it doesn’t seem like leftovers, like serving leftover roast chicken shredded on top of a salad.
Make Breakfast Ahead. Breakfast is probably the hardest meal to focus on with a busy day ahead, so I make mine on the weekend. Oatmeal can be cooked in large batches, then reheated with a little milk or water. Try some of these topping options to keep it exciting from day to day. Hard-boiled eggs can also be cooked ahead (steaming is my new favorite method) and served with a piece of fruit and a whole grain muffin. Homemade breakfast bars can be made with whole foods (try some of these recipes), or keep some Zing bars on hand. Lastly, don’t rule out nontraditional breakfast foods. Have dinner leftovers for breakfast!
Salads are Easy and Versatile. On the weekend, I chop up a few heads of romaine lettuce and keep them stored in the fridge in a plastic bag with a paper towel, which keeps the lettuce crisp. To build my salad, I add more fresh or cooked vegetables and a protein, such as cooked beans, leftover chicken, canned tuna, chopped hard-boiled egg, or nuts/seeds. With my homemade balsamic vinaigrette on the side (recipe below), it’s a portable and well-rounded meal.
Think Outside the Box. Keep your mind open to odd food combinations. My lunch the other day was a hard-boiled egg, some peanut-butter filled pretzels, and a salad made with leftover steamed snap peas, steamed beet and cucumber chopped up and dressed with balsamic dressing. Try for a ratio of 25% protein, 50% vegetables (can include some fruit), and 25% whole grains, and include a source of healthy fat.
Whole Foods Smoothies. My favorite smoothie is made with ¾ cup plain whole milk kefir, a small banana, ¼ avocado, ¾ cup frozen fruit and a tablespoon of chia seeds. The variations for whole foods smoothies are endless. You can also add greens, nuts or nut butters, or yogurt. Always add a source of protein and fat to avoid blood sugar highs and lows.
Keep Frozen Fruits and Vegetables Handy. Research has shown that frozen fruits and vegetables are often higher in nutrients than fresh produce (unless it comes from your own garden). And they’re mighty convenient since they don’t go bad and you can use only what you need.
Do you have a meal-planning strategy that keeps you on track during your hectic workweek? We’d love to hear from you!
Carol’s Balsamic Vinaigrette
The recipe below makes about 3 cups of dressing. It sounds like a lot of salt, but since a serving size is only 1-2 tablespoons of dressing, the end result is perfectly seasoned.
1 cup balsamic vinegar
A splash of red wine vinegar (optional)
1-2 tablespoons salt (may need up to 3 tablespoons if using kosher salt)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cups extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil
Combine the vinegars in a small bowl. Add enough salt to the vinegar so it tastes too salty (make sure the salt has completely dissolved before tasting). Add minced garlic to the mixture and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes.
Pour vinegar mixture into a blender. Add the mustard. Set the blender on high and drizzle in the olive oil slowly. After adding about ¼ cup of olive oil, add olive oil more quickly. Continue to add olive oil until dressing has thickened to desired consistency. Dressing can also be whisked by hand in a large bowl.
Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.