“What’s for dinner?”
It’s a common question that can turn into an amusing – or annoying – game. When you have a busy schedule it can be a daunting task to figure out how to eat well–let alone eat. I’ll tell you a little secret–it’s all about habits.
Our culture has put emphasis on economy and convenience, at the cost of our connection to self nourishment, and I’m not talking about restorative yoga. Think about it. We spend less time planning and preparing meals than any other culture in the world, and we have increasing disease and health costs that are directly related to dietary habits. Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, GERD (okay, there is a virus involved sometimes here, but I assure you, if you slow down how you eat, it improves considerably) kidney stones, ulcers, gout, heart disease–you get the picture. We all know nutrition is important, what and how we eat is the basis for our energy, ability to health and overall health.
Wonderful. So how do we start improving how we nourish ourselves?
Simple-create new habits that make better nourishment and eating habits a priority.
You will be hungry today, so why let that surprise you? Why not plan for it instead? Your health and soul will thank you. Let’s play with a few ideas.
1. Create time – If your current habits don’t allow you the time to menu plan, shop, prep and cook – budget some time. Put it in your day planner or on your ‘to do’ list. If you skip meals, put the time for them in your planner as well. It usually takes me about 15 minutes to make a menu for the week and I usually take 2 hours 1x a week to prep and cook so that my kitchen time is cut down during the rest of the week. It gets simpler the more you practice it – trust me – you can create time. It is also very telling about a person’s mind/body relationship, from the eyes of a nutritionist, when a person won’t create time and make self nourishment a priority in their life. Take a look at the Nutrient Qi Cycle to help understand why breakfast is so important.
2. Shop in your cupboard – use it or lose it – Browse through your cupboard, fridge and freezer before you make a menu. If you can focus some of your menu around what you already have, you will save time and reduce waste. Have asparagus that’s looking a little floppy – how about asparagus sauté, soup or stir fry? This time of year, I am clearing out the cupboards and freezer from last autumn’s harvest so the I can make room for this year’s abundance. Last fall’s winter squash are finally being used up before this summer’s glorious abundance.
3. Make a menu – I grew up with the routine that you ate what was put before you. Whine or complain and you can cook for yourself or go to bed hungry and you owed an apology to the person who prepared the meal. Which is great, we are often ungrateful for what we have available and who prepares our nourishment. My mother always had a plan, so we rarely played the ‘what’s for dinner?’ game. Anyway. Now that you know what you have in your cupboard you can head to the store with a plan – rather than coming back with random items and nothing seems to fit together. Menus don’t have to be elaborate and you don’t have to cook everything from scratch. The menu is a guideline. The point is to work from where you are and use to simplify and evolve your cooking and eating habits. Sometimes we follow it perfectly, other times we are flexible.
4. Go to the store or market after you’ve made your menu – Save money, frustration and time by knowing what you need rather than trying to plan on the fly. Try not to shop when you are hungry–ending up with pickles, chocolate, chips and little else makes for weird meals. With the farmer’s markets and CSA happenings, I actually do some of the menu planning after shopping so I can eat what’s available. Ooooh…fresh morels…what can these little gems become? Wild rice and wild mushroom soup or morel, asparagus fettuccine alfredo made with traditional or made with nut milk? Yum!
5. Prep a salad – “Eat your greens.” They are essential – really, but that’s not what we are talking about this time. Take a few moments to clean, wash and blot dry your greens. Or buy them that way. I have a large planter of mixed greens (arugula, spinach, beets, mustard, chard, nasturtiums, endive) plugging along on the patio. The mix provides variety and it only takes a few moments to go clip the large ones for the evening meal. Then you simply dress the salad. Carrots shavings, chopped radish, little red onion, a handful of seeds or nuts and a quality dressing. Top with a little leftover meat if you have it, serve with a grain pilaf.
6. Prep a grain dish – Barley, rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth…lovely grains. Grains, grain salads or pilafs can be made up ahead of time and tossed over salads, served as sides or have a little meat added into them. How about an Herbed almond, amaranth pilaf or a quinoa tabbouleh? I often make up a large pan of just plain rice; toss it in soup, breakfast wraps, porridge or serve as a simple side. Clara rolls it with a little seaweed and sesame seeds for rice balls for lunch.
7. Double it – If you are already cooking, make a little more. It’s pretty simple to double soups, stews, and many other dishes. Use the leftovers to create breakfast. Freeze some of it down for the next time you run late or something comes up. Dips and patés are easy sources of protein, fiber and are wonderful after school snacks. If you bake potatoes, bake extra and use the leftovers in frittatas, soups, or simply reheated and served with fixings.
8. Make a soup or stew – Soups are the most forgiving food. They are easy to digest, easy to vary the flavor and change them into something else and a wonderful way to use up leftovers. Don’t have time to make your own? Stock up on organic stock, frozen vegetables, dried spice mix (no msg or chemicals, please) and BPA free cans of beans. Flavor to your tastes–voila–dinner in a hurry. P.S. – when it comes to adding items into the soup if you are unsure if the flavors will combine-here’s a trick. Smell the soup, then smell what you are planning to add. If your nose says ‘no’ don’t combine them. If it’s not a ‘no’, then you can add them and adjust your flavors.
9. Eat slowly with grace, joy and gratitude – “Sit down, be thankful for what you have and chew your food.” Ever notice that food tastes better when you are in a good mood? Meal times used to be honored times, when the focus was nourishing, not what’s on CNN. Turn off the tv, don’t answer the phone, step away from Facebook. When we take the time to be thankful for our blessings and nourish ourselves with intention it’s really quite profound. Often times this simple rule is enough for some of my clients to stop using antacids.
10. Plan for the busy days – Orchestra, volleyball, meetings, parties? We are busy, busy. When you plan out your menu, take time to look at the week schedule. I come home late on Thursdays, therefore, I don’t want to cook, so the menu is set that for either leftovers or dinner out. If you know you are going to have to rush home, then grab the kid before soccer, pack up a snack or meal when you are cleaning up dinner the night before.
11. Have staples and easy snacks on hand – Take stock of what you have and what you might need. Root vegetables, squash, frozen vegetables, whole grains, dried nuts, dried fruits, nut butters, dried (or canned BPA free) lentils and legumes and seeds, etc. Obviously, this list will vary household to household. Look to see where you are at and how you can improve your stock. A bowl of apples and pears setting out on the counter it is more likely that you will grab that for a snack than rush out for a candy bar. How about carrots and celery with nut butter or hummus or a handful of nuts?
12. Involve the family – Learning to plan and prepare meals shouldn’t fall to just one person in the family unless you’ve divided the work that way. Why? It’s a life skill, everyone should learn. Especially if there are children in the household, get them involved. Have them pick out one or two meals to have each week, have them participate in cooking and clean up.
13. Simplify – Sometimes it’s great to have a wonderful spread or feast. But this should be the exception, not the rule. Truly, our digestive systems like our meals to simpler.
14. Be flexible and keep an open mind – Don’t worry if you fall off the menu here or there, they are just a guide to keep the hassle down. Remember to be willing to try new things and explore. If your mind is open to being able to try new foods or create new habits, those around you will likely mirror it. Have fun!
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