Simple Meal Planning for the New Year
It’s that time again… January… the New Year… the holidays are over… Thank God because I couldn’t possibly eat another thing for the rest of the year! Is this how you are feeling? This is the perfect time to clean your slate! You fell off the wagon? No problem, everyone does at holiday time. We all gain some weight during the holidays because the reality is, it’s hard to say no to yummy foods. But now is the time to pick yourself up and get motivated to feel better. Here are some helpful strategies to clean your diet and set the stage for feeling great through the year.
Healthy Eating Strategies
Initially, it is much easier to be successful with ‘ongoing’ healthy meal planning if we create simple and delicious meals. To create a simple meal, let’s imagine an empty dinner plate. Here are the dinner plate percentages for an optimally healthy meal that will help us feel energetic and revitalized:
- 25% natural meat (grass-fed beef; natural and hormone-free poultry; wild fish; natural lamb or other game meat such as bison; natural eggs). The amount of protein on your plate should equate to the size of your palm or a deck of cards, about 3-4 ounces.
- 50% diverse multicolored vegetables cooked and/or raw is great (you can vary the colors throughout the day and week)
- 25% starchy root vegetables such as sweet potatoes or winter squash like acorn squash, spaghetti squash, rutabaga
- 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil; avocado, nuts and seeds. These fats are essential for a healthy brain, cardiovascular system, and so much more.
Let’s consider some examples of this type of dinner plate:
- Roasted chicken with sautéed kale and ginger with roasted peeled/chopped sweet potatoes
- Wild salmon with roasted broccoli and pureed butternut squash with cinnamon
- Grass-fed steak with steamed green beans and roasted multi-colored potatoes
Be sure to cook extra food for dinner to provide you with leftovers for lunch. You can also repurpose the leftovers for the following dinner. For example:
- You could take left over roasted chicken and make chicken soup with mixed vegetables such as carrots, celery, parsnips
- You could make chicken or turkey salad and add in the leftover roasted potatoes and some chopped celery
- If you have leftover meat or fish, you could make a salad and top it with the protein and then create a homemade salad dressing with tahini and lemon juice and some gluten free soy sauce or Bragg’s aminos
- You could take leftover grilled salmon and make a salmon salad with it by adding chopped celery and celery salt and mayonnaise
When eating an anti-inflammatory diet for greater health, it is important to avoid inflammatory foods such as gluten, processed dairy, refined sugar, and overly processed foods. The easiest anti-inflammatory diet includes many diverse and multicolored vegetables, natural protein, starchy veggies such as root vegetables like sweet potatoes, and healthy fats such as nuts and seeds and extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil. Being gluten free can be helpful, but often, avoiding a food like gluten causes us to search for replacements that can be overly processed like store bought gluten free snacks. Ideally, avoiding grain as a main focus of a meal and reserving it as an accessory to ‘some’ meals such as using gluten free whole grains like brown rice or quinoa as a side dish will help us with achieving optimal health.
Weekly Meal Planning
To start the meal planning process, it is very helpful to have a piece of blank paper in front of you and mark out the meals for the week including breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You may find that you only need to plan out the weekday meals depending on whether you tend to eat out over the weekend. Or maybe you and your family tend to eat in all week. Draw out the grid and leave an empty box to write in for each meal of each day that you are preparing for. As you become successful with this process over the course of a few months and it becomes second nature, you will depend less and less on this grid.
As you view the grid, consider how many dinners worth of proteins and veggies and starchy veggies you will need. Lunches usually don’t need to be counted because leftovers will usually count for lunches. As for breakfast, you may use some of the leftover protein for breakfast but mostly, it will also be a separate category. If you are cooking for you and your family, you may consider that you need a separate protein, vegetable and starchy vegetable for each dinner meal. For example, if you are cooking at home for 5 dinners (Monday through Friday), you will need 5 separate proteins, 5 separate groups of vegetables, and 5 groups of starchy veggies. This largely depends on what is available at the grocery store. You may choose to alternate between beef and poultry and fish for the various dinners.
For natural protein, here are some examples:
Tuesday: Wild Salmon
Wednesday: Grass-fed steak
Thursday: Turkey Tenderloin
Friday: Grass-fed stew beef
For vegetables, you will need to see what is available and fresh at the store, but here are some examples:
Tuesday: Green Beans
Wednesday: Brussel Sprouts
Friday: Zucchini and yellow squash
For starchy veggies, here are some examples:
Tuesday: Sweet potatoes
Wednesday: Mixed multicolored potatoes
Thursday: Acorn squash
For fats, you can use any of these options to integrate into your meals: Extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil or avocado oil to cook with or mix into your prepared dishes; avocadoes such as guacamole; nuts and seeds to mix into prepared dishes or cook with them such as pistachios encrusted wild salmon or sunflower seeds mixed into cooked kale or sesame seeds tossed with roasted broccoli and avocado oil and lemon juice.
As you start to feel successful with this process and it becomes easier, you can get more creative and make soups and other complete dishes. Here are some examples of creative dinner meals that include all the categories:
- Chicken soup with onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, and rutabaga
- Grass-fed beef meatballs with zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash or bean noodles (‘Explore Asian’ and ‘Tolerant’ are two fantastic companies that make delicious pasta noodles made out of lentils and other types of beans)—make marinara sauce with chopped carrots and celery and onions—you can make the sauce chunky or use a blender or ‘wand’ to create a finer sauce to ‘hide the veggies’
- Split pea soup with small bone-in grass-fed steak or natural ham hock and chopped carrots and onions and parsnips
- Beef stew with carrots, onions, celery, multicolored potatoes, green beans, and peas
- Chunky turkey and veggie and mixed bean soup
Once you have all the food bought and put away, you can complete the grid and have it as a reference on the fridge for meal preparation throughout the week.
Let’s Get Started
Initially, this process may seem awkward. But overtime, if you stick to the simplicity of meal preparation, the process will start to feel more and more innate. The key to long-term success with maintaining a healthy diet throughout the year is to be prepared. For all of us, there will be nights where we just don’t have time to cook because of a late meeting or some other type of obligation. In these instances, utilize the slow cooker. There are thousands of slow cooker recipes online. The key to a tasty slow cooker meal is some basic preparation that can be done in the morning before you leave (for example, searing the meat before you place it in the slow cooker to lock in the juices). Surfing the web is always fun during our free time to find unique and creative recipes, but remember that keeping it simple in the beginning is always easier for long-term success. The most important thing to remember is to keep your food fresh.
Dr. Ayelet Connell, PhD, PT, IMT, C is President and owner of Integrative Wellness & Physical Therapy in Bloomfield CT, a wellness center offering holistic Physical Therapy, Integrative Manual Therapy, Chiropractic, Acupuncture, and nutritional wellness. Ayelet is a Physical Therapist and Certified Integrative Manual Therapist and has taught courses all over the world in Holistic Physical Therapy. Ayelet is also a local of this community and has been living in the Greater Hartford area for many years, where she integrates a healthy lifestyle at home with her wonderful family.