I’m hearing that many of you are plagued with the age-old question of “What’s for dinner?” The answer can be so easy and so simple; don’t let your mind try to complicate what a meal should be. You don’t have to follow any fancy recipes, just put together a few things in your kitchen. All you have to do is get back to basics and “real” food.
By “real food” I am talking about real food! Let me try to explain that better. To me, real food is food that is basically left in its natural, minimally processed, whole state. Real foods are things like an apple or a head of lettuce. Or brown rice or an ear of corn. Lentils, garbanzo beans, fish, mushrooms, potatoes, chicken, almonds, figs, eggs, etc. You get the idea. What is not real food? Most of the things you find in packages, boxes and cans with long ingredients consisting of words you don’t understand.
I usually like to think of myself as a pretty nice person. But as soon as I enter a grocery store I turn into a major food snob. I feel like getting on the intercom and waking everyone up to the fact that 90% of what is available and sold as food is not good food. “Step away from the Go-Gurts and the Lunchables please!! “ ” Put down that can of spaghetti and that box of instant soup!” Many things are so bad that I consider them off-limits or rarely to be eaten. The produce section is the obvious exception. This is the place to fill your cart, not place in 2-3 items and move on. You’ll find most of your real food here. Once you pass produce, you enter the dangerous territory of prepared foods like pizzas and pastas tempting you to take them home to reheat, the aisles of instant rice mixes, cookies, chips, soda, candy, pastas, boxed cereals, canned soups, crackers….the list goes on and on. Things that the average person doesn’t think twice about dropping in their cart and eating regularly. Foods I used to buy, eat, enjoy and not have a second thought about what impact they may have on my health. If you’re into healthy eating, you can relate. Once you gain that insight and realization, there is no going back and looking at food the way you used to.
Learn to ignore all those “convenience/highly processed foods” and choose a wholesome diet– because you WANT to– not because you think you have to. This is key. It’s all about the mindset and reframing your attitude. No wonder America is in a serious health crisis. The average person is simply not thinking about what they put in their cart, which ultimately ends up in their body.
This post has come about because lately I have observed that many of you are struggling with putting together a quick and healthy dinner. I’m hearing that because you don’t know what to make, you are resorting far too often to take-out foods or other convenience-type foods high in refined carbs, sugars, sodium and oils. I’m here to let you know that preparing a basic meal does not have to take long or be complicated.
My goal here today is SIMPLICITY as well as health.
4 Easy Steps to your Simple, “Real Food” Meal:
1. Pick a starch.
Keep a few of your favorites in your house. These may change with the seasons or your taste preferences. Right now I happen to be loving sweet potatoes, corn on the cob and quinoa. Those are my go-tos but I also sometimes do others like teff or sprouted grain bread. Some families eat brown rice every night, others may do baked potatoes. It doesn’t matter but make sure it’s not white rice, white bread, white pasta or french fries! Keep it extra simple by buying a large bag of whole grains or a bag of potatoes, rather than the instant packaged mixes.
2. Steam, Roast or Grill Vegetables!
ANY veggie is a good veggie. You will not and cannot go wrong here. Choose what you like. Get yourself one of these amazing unfolding steamer baskets that fits into a large pan. Put some water in the pan, place your steamer and veggies inside, turn on the heat, cover and cook until tender. Piece of cake.
Roasting is another option, especially with the cooler fall weather coming. Simply chop up your veggies, toss with olive oil (or not), plus any seasonings and bake in your oven.
Grilling is fun and healthy too! Or make yourself a salad.
Strive for making most of the food on your plate veggies!
If you eat meat, this would be your chicken, beef, pork, fish etc. For non-meat options try beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh or nuts/seeds. Canned beans are fine (any of them…black, garbanzo, white, kidney, navy, etc) and can be heated and seasoned, mixed into a stir fry, or sprinkled on a salad. Watch out for canned baked beans as they are often loaded with sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Nuts or seeds can be added to salads and mixed veggies or grains but can also be made into delicious sauces. Your source of protein is a personal choice. If you eat animal products, consider how the animal was raised and know the quality of the meat/dairy you choose. For example, was the fish farmed or wild? Is the dairy from pasture-raised cows or factory farms? Was your pork raised humanely or from a farm that uses cruel gestation crates? Don’t turn a blind eye to these serious issues. Animals don’t have a voice for their rights. We vote with our food dollars. Where you spend your money says a lot about who you are and your beliefs, so if you are not okay with animal cruelty, get educated and rethink what you buy.
4. Drizzle or Sprinkle on Some Flavor
And finally, because you may not feel like eating plain quinoa, steamed veggies and blah black beans… stock up on spices, seasoning blends and sauces! You can always make your own but since the point of this post is quick and easy meals, have some sauces in your fridge door to add flavor. You don’t need much– try to avoid high-calorie oil-based dressings as well as excessive salt, sugar and unfamiliar additives. Some of my favorite go-tos are salsa, bbq sauce, sesame teriyai, sriracha, balsamic vineagar, tamari, onion powder, garlic salt, asian spice blends, sauerkraut, mustards and various dry spices to sprinkle over my food. As always, check ingredient lists!
All you have to remember is: a starch, vegetables, a protein and some flavor! Portion them separately on your plate or mix them all together as a medley or a one-pot meal. Make plenty so that you can pack up a healthy lunch for the next day. Plan ahead so you have enough for at least a partial meal the next night. Get creative and don’t obsess over what goes with what but keep it balanced rather than make a meal of all veggies or all starch.
Does it make sense? Isn’t it totally do-able? What’s stopping you? You can do it!! The options are endless. Here are a few to give you the idea.
Sweet potato, tofu and various veggies in sesame teriyaki sauce:
Red lentils with salsa verde and grilled zucchini. Corn on the cob on the side (not pictured)
Mushrooms, broccoli and quinoa topped with homemade peanut sauce:
As for portion sizes, there is no one-size-fits-all. How much you need depends on your height, weight, activity level and personal metabolism. A very general rule is to make half your plate veggies, one-quarter of your plate starch and the last quarter protein. Things like beans and quinoa can count towards starch and protein so there is no black and white rule here. Eat until 80% full and then stop. Leaving this leeway allows for the time it takes for your brain to receive the message that your stomach is full and doesn’t need any more. Remember this quote from Thomas Jefferson: “We never repent of having eaten too little.”
You don’t need to eat like this every night. (Trust me, I don’t) And if you already eat like this most of the time, good for you! This is for those of you who don’t know where to begin. Start with 1-2 nights if you need to and strive to increase that once you realize how easy it is. The main idea behind this post is to drive home the fact that if you WANT to make a simple, fast and healthy meal…it IS easy. If you aren’t doing it, try asking yourself if it is what you really want. Could you be making excuses to avoid cooking so you can order out pizza?
No one eats perfectly 100% of the time and that is okay. When you opt for enjoying something like pizza, ice cream, a cookie, etc– make it a Conscious Choice. There is nothing wrong with having something because you want it. Just be sure you feel good about it and know that the bulk of your diet is based on healthy, wholesome choices. Stay well!