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Four Smart Tips for Healthy Meals

By Jess Kolko, December 20, 2012  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Jess Kolko

This time of year we’re bombarded with ways to slim down or shape up -- and it all makes us want to tune out! If healthy habits don’t fit into real life, they’re not going to stick. Here are some tips to make meals healthier and life a little easier without following a one-size-fits-all strategy.

  1. Make a plan

“The plan” is simply a list of dinner recipes or ideas for the week ahead. Use it to create your grocery list. Having a plan for the week, or just a few days can really help get a handle on your eating habits and even your budget. Start writing your list of daily dinners when you come across a recipe you want to try, or write the list on whatever day you do your big grocery shop. After the big shop, pop proteins you’re using later in the week into the freezer, and prep and wash veggies you know will last and store them tightly in the crisper.

  1. Cook in quantity when you have the time

Don’t think of batch cooking as making a month of fully-prepared frozen meals – that’s too complex! Try making a big batch of staple items to use throughout the week. A big pot of soup or stew, several cups of whole grains, slow cooked beans, a sauce or dressing and even several bunches of hardy steamed greens make a great start. These work in different combinations at dinner and for quick take-to-work lunches. Try beans and rice topped with greens and a sauce, and the next day mix soup with grains and use that to stuff bell peppers. Tasty meals can come together from just a few staples.

  1. Stock your freezer

Yellow Split Pea and Sweet Potato SoupSoups, stews, grains, beans and sauces all freeze really well and last for months. Portion out single serving quantities. If you do this each week of your batch cooking, you’ll end the month with a variety of beans, grains and soups at the ready to rescue any hectic day.

  1. Give your favorites a makeover

Making healthier versions of your favorites will help you stick to your plan and be satisfied with the way you eat. Are you a big fan of baked goods? Try using apple sauce or other fruit purees in place of butter in some recipes. Mac and cheese your weakness? Stir in a ton of green veggies or puree cooked cauliflower into the sauce. Love Grandma’s marinara? Decrease the oil and add tons of veggies.

Eating healthy meals doesn’t have to be a total departure from taste, convenience or sanity! A few simple tweaks can help you make a healthy change that lasts the rest of the year. Tell us: what are your tips for keeping healthy meals on hand?




c. greene says ...
Great tips...
12/26/2012 8:08:33 PM CST
Gala kennedy says ...
Smile.... I really want to do better with our food budget ....smile
12/26/2012 8:54:16 PM CST
Elisabeta says ...
Dear Whole Foods: I completely agree with you and the 4 tips for healthy meals. My problem is that I do not have plastic containers to store food in the freezer. I can buy plastic containers from the store, but I have read that this type of plastic is unhealthy for food storage. Can you help with containers that are made of plastic that makes foord storage healthy? Thanks. Elisabeta
12/27/2012 7:56:02 AM CST
Andy D says ...
Great tips, Jess. As suggested in tip #2, I routinely will make a big batch of: quinoa, lentils (e.g., plain lentils, spinach-curry lentils, Ethiopian lentils), black beans, garbanzo beans, brown rice, or anything else that I can use as a building block for future meals and combine the results (and leftovers) in whatever way suits my fancy. I always have vegetables (e.g., broccoli florets, cauliflower florets, asparagus, brussels sprouts) handy for roasting or dry-sauteeing. And the same with greens for smoothies. Me, I'm the kind of person who favors a repeatable, predictable routine (oatmeal + fruits every morning, green smoothies for lunch), but some folks crave that variety, so I think they could use the building-block approach, but punch up each meal with whatever spices, vegetables, etc. floats their boat at the moment. Either way, as we all know, staring at an empty refrigerator is the surest path to the garbage that lurks at every street corner "restaurant" (or, worse, gas-station convenience store!). Regarding suggestion #4, I (now a no-added-oil vegan) will occasionally see or remember some sort of food that I've developed a hankering for, so I'll Google vegan alternatives and am often amazed at how great the "alternative" tastes. For example, I've found a couple of "veg nog" recipes that are super tasty and super healthy (or, at least, not unhealthy). Similarly, I've found a great oatmeal cookie recipe that almost tastes like banana-oatmeal-raisin cake.
12/27/2012 9:34:23 AM CST
Kathy says ...
Due to certain food restrictions in our family, I pretty well have to plan every meal but...the truth has always been that the less planning I put into my cooking, the less healthy we ate and more importantly and still true today...the less I enjoyed cooking. I have always loved to cook but only when I knew I was making something that would taste good, be relatively healthy and...of course was frugal. Planning accomplishes so many rewarding things. I rarely waste any fresh vegetables, i.e., money, and because I have planned how I can use them up in a timely fashion that helps me plan the rest of my grocery list each week. There is also a certain satisfaction in being able to put interesting meals on the table. It is not an easy thing to accomplish.
12/27/2012 10:16:28 AM CST
raquel arber says ...
I have always heard that food that is frozan looses its value. Is it better fresh?
12/27/2012 3:14:07 PM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@ELISABETA - Check with your local store to see what plastic container options they carry. The'll be happy to help you find some that will be safe to freeze.
12/27/2012 3:23:10 PM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@RAQUEL - Great question. If done properly, freezing preserves foods without causing major changes in shape, size, color, texture and flavor. However, nutrient loss or retention remains dependent on the speed with which foods are frozen and the initial freshness of the product prior to freezing. According to experimental data from USDA and Tufts University Health and Nutrition letter (1996), frozen products can sometimes contain more nutrients than fresh foods. The reason for this is because produce destined for commercial freezing is harvested when ripe and taken directly to nearby freezing plants for immediate processing which preserves the nutrient content. Fresh fruits and vegetables from the market are often gathered in an immature state and allowed to ripen “off the vine.” Scientists at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation analyzed 51 different frozen foods regularly found in grocery stores and supermarkets. Their research suggested that foods can retain their nutritional value during freezing. So in sum, air exposure rather than freezing, per se, is much more destructive to nutrient content, particularly to volatile nutrients such as vitamin C and thiamin. Hope this helps!
12/28/2012 2:12:10 PM CST
chris says ...
4 tips for healthy meals
12/31/2012 5:16:05 PM CST
Emily says ...
Hey Elizabeta, I'm with you -- NO PLASTIC. But glass works just as well. I buy White Mountain Bulgarian Yogurt in the glass quart jars. EVEN with recycling, i end up with a LOT of glass jars -- and they are perfect for freezing soup, etc. I got a wide mouth funnel -- kind used by people who CAN tomatoes, peaches and such. So using left over glass jars, and one purchased funnel, I easily store my batch soups in the freezer. One TIP: don't fill the jar to the top. When the soup is in the jar, let it cool to the touch before putting it in the freezer and then leave the lid OFF. BECAUSE the forzen soup will enlarge as it freezes. If you put a tight lid on a jar that is not yet frozen the pressure of the ice forming in the soup will crack the jar. ONCE it is frozen tighten the lid. Good luck, Emily
01/04/2013 12:56:41 AM CST
JOYCE says ...
Thank you for the great recipes to help me get through my week. Simple different ideas. Thanks
01/05/2013 6:28:17 AM CST
Blanca Amelia says ...
I like to eat very well, I am a Cook of high level, but I do not tolerate a food with excess of spices such as pepper, cumin or cinnamon. I am very allergic.
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faisa says ...
the best soups.
04/23/2013 6:31:49 PM CDT
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07/03/2013 2:19:53 PM CDT