Healthy Meals in MinutesMichelle Waithe, BASc, RHN, PTS September 1, 2017
Tips and recipes for quick and delicious dishes during this busy back-to-school-and-work season
As the lazy days of summer wind down and we get back into our hectic work and school schedules, maintaining a healthy diet is often a challenge. As a holistic nutritionist, the number one question I get from clients is how to make healthy meals that are quick, easy, and above all else, delicious.
Commercial advertising has taught us that in order to be convenient and tasty, food needs to be served from a drive-through window, or ready in seconds in a compact microwavable package. As a result, we have come to see the art of meal preparation and the use of fresh ingredients as effortful, expensive, and time consuming.
When faced with the seduction of food advertising, it is easy to give in to the notion that spending time or money on food preparation will leave little resources for other ‘real life’ activities. It is my passion to bring joy and love back into the kitchen, exploring fresh flavourful ingredients while creating optimal health.
Prep for Success
Here are a few simple tips that will help make healthy eating an enticing adventure as well as a convenient part of your routine. Preparation is the key to daily success and sticking to your healthy eating goals! Even if you have already embraced a fresh, whole foods diet, you will find these simple ideas and recipes extremely helpful to streamline your routine.
1. Stock your pantry:
- Make sure to have healthy ingredients in your pantry at all times so that meal preparation is a smooth process.
- Organic, BPA-free canned beans or legumes, organic vegetable stock either in powdered or Tetra Pak containers, wholegrain crackers and pasta, and natural nut butters are great convenience items to have on hand.
- I also suggest stocking your pantry with dried herbs and spices, dried legumes, whole grains and wholegrain flours, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp hearts, goji berries and other dried fruit, raw nuts and seeds (keep these refrigerated if buying in larger quantities), fair trade cacao nibs and cacao powder, natural sweeteners such as coconut sugar, maple syrup, or raw honey, coconut oil and other cold-pressed oils, and natural Himalayan or sea salt.
- Toss any pantry items that contain artificial ingredients, refined sugars, and preservatives – out of sight, out of mind; if it is not there, you will not use it!
2. Find your favourite healthy cooking references:
- Keep one or two natural cookbooks in your kitchen to use as a reference for quick and easy meals.
- Oh She Glows Every Day by Angela Liddon, The UnDiet Cookbook by Meghan Telpner, My New Roots by Sarah Britton, and Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo are a few of my favourites. And bookmark quick and healthy recipes online that you have tried and loved so that you can find them easily in the future.
3. Plan your meals for the week:
- Once you have found a few recipes that you really enjoy, plan how to use them throughout the week and create a shopping list accordingly.
- Make larger batches of recipes like soups, stews, and dips that can be portioned and either refrigerated or frozen for quick meals and snacks.
4. Make a weekly shopping list:
- Decide which day of the week will be your shopping day. Planning to shop during less busy times can make the experience much more pleasurable.
- Check in your pantry the day before you shop and make a list of staple ingredients that are running low, as well as any new ingredients or fresh produce needed for your recipes.
- You may need to shop twice weekly for produce to ensure optimal freshness. Think of it as something to look forward to by exploring new ingredients you may have never tried before.
- Get familiar with your local health food store. Many have regular sales and new specialty items to make your menus affordable and interesting.
5. Have a set meal preparation day each week:
- This can either be on your shopping day or the day after.
- Take time to wash and chop fruit, vegetables, and greens and store in glass containers in the fridge. This will make it easy to choose healthy snack and meal options.
- Prepare larger batches of soups, stews, dips, and homemade energy bars for multiple meals and snacks during the week, or to freeze for the weeks to come.
- Cook grains and legumes and store in sealed containers in the fridge. These can easily be turned into a wide variety of healthy meals in minutes with a few additional ingredients.
6. Tackle your storage:
- Make sure to have a wide variety of containers available for storing ingredients and prepared foods.
- Mason jars are great for storing dry goods such as legumes, grains, flours, and spices.
- Have freezer-safe containers on hand for storing larger batches of recipes.
- If using freezer bags or plastic containers, use BPA-free varieties.
- Clearly label your batch storage recipes with the recipe title and the date made.
These are two of my favourite recipes that can be made in larger batches and frozen for up to three months. Try one on your next food preparation day. Doubling a recipe usually takes the same amount of time as making one batch, and you will have enough for weeks of healthy meals.
Pumpkin Coconut Soup
(Makes 8-10 servings)
- 1 small to medium sized fresh pumpkin (substitute butternut squash if pumpkin is unavailable)
- 1 small piece of ginger (approx. 1 x 1 inch)
- 4 cups of vegetable stock
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 can full fat coconut milk
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp Tamari or soy sauce
- Black pepper, to taste
- Parsley, chives, or chopped green onion for garnish
- Scrape out inside of pumpkin. Peel and chop pumpkin flesh into small cubes (smaller pieces will cook faster); makes approximately 4 cups.
- Peel ginger, leaving whole.
- Bring vegetable stock to a boil. Add peeled and chopped pumpkin and ginger to the stock, bring to a boil again, then reduce to medium heat. Cook until pumpkin is fork tender, about 10 minutes.
- Turn down heat to low and add coconut milk, Tamari, garlic powder, sea salt, and black pepper. Mix to combine and simmer for another 5 minutes to warm through.
- Transfer pumpkin and cooking liquid to a blender, or use an immersion blender in the pot and blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt or black pepper to your liking. Garnish with parsley, chives or green onions.
Easy Quinoa Patties
(Makes 7 patties)
- 1 Tbsp of coconut oil
- 1/2 cup diced onions
- 1/4 cup grated carrot
- 1/4 cup diced red pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- One 15 oz can of black beans
- 1-1/2 cups cooked quinoa
- 1-1/2 cups water
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp of ground chia plus 3 Tbsp of warm water
- Preheat oven to 350°F. In a deep sauté pan, heat coconut oil over medium heat and sauté onions, carrots, and red pepper until tender (about 3 to 5 minutes).
- Add garlic, cumin, half of the black beans, 3/4 cup of quinoa, and the water to the pan. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer until most of the water has been absorbed (about 10-12 minutes).
- Combine chia with warm water and let sit for 10-15 minutes.
- Transfer the ingredients from the pan to a bowl and add remaining black beans, quinoa, and chia mixture. Stir to combine. Add salt, taste, and add more if necessary.
- Using a measuring cup, divide mixture into 1/3 cup portions and form into patties. Bake patties on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 20 minutes. Flip patties over and bake for another 10 minutes. If patties still seem a little too soft, bake for a few more minutes until firm.
- Once cooled, freeze patties individually on a small baking sheet and then transfer to a freezer container. Will last up to 3 months in the freezer.
Eating on the Go
Snacking is another word that conjures up idealistic images, appealing to our deepest food desires and cravings. Simply put, a snack is just a smaller portion of food. A snack does not have to come in a portion-controlled package in order to be healthy, or satisfy thoughts of devious indulgence to be seen as a treat. I challenge you to literally think ‘outside the box’ and come up with some creative snack ideas that will keep you energized throughout the day. Mother Nature’s package is the best there is!
Snacking is a great way to keep blood sugar balanced and the metabolic fire burning. Here are some of my favourite simple and nutritious snacks:
- fresh or dried fruit;
- raw vegetables with hummus or bean dip;
- half an avocado drizzled with raw honey or homemade salsa;
- celery with different nut butters (almond, cashew);
- raw nuts and seeds, homemade trail mix;
- hard-boiled eggs;
- homemade energy bars;
- a smaller portion of any meal.
If food preparation at home is completely new to you, start off with committing to a few days per week and seek out other ways to maintain healthy eating with a busy schedule. When you are pressed for time, heading to a health food store or grocery that stocks prepared healthy foods to pick up ready-made meals and snacks that adhere to the principles of whole food eating is a convenient choice. If you find yourself unprepared or just craving something quick, healthy, and delicious, there are many alternatives if you know where to look.
Another great option would be to find healthy meal delivery services in your area. Most people think of this as an expense that they simply cannot afford, but in reality it usually ends up being cheaper than buying individual ingredients, and is a great choice if health is your passion but cooking is not. I often recommend meal delivery to those who are new to healthy eating, looking for convenience, or concerned that good food cannot be delicious.
The use of fresh, natural ingredients free of artificial chemicals is paramount for any pre-prepared meals added to your routine, so make sure to look for meal preparation services that offer this as part of their philosophy.
No matter what your lifestyle, there are many ways to incorporate healthy food even with the most hectic of schedules. Implementing these simple strategies will ensure that healthy eating is a part of your everyday lifestyle and a joyful addition to your routine. At the end of the day, the better you nourish your body, the more productive you will be. You will be equipped to keep up with the demands of daily life and create abundant health effortlessly.
Homemade energy bars and grain-free blueberry muffins make a quick, convenient breakfast or afternoon snack. These recipes are a delicious way to make sure the treats in your snacking arsenal will keep you healthy and energized.
Grain-Free Blueberry Cinnamon Muffins
(Makes 6 regular or 12 mini-muffins)
- 1 cup almond meal
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1 egg*
- 1/8 tsp baking soda (aluminum free)
- 1/2 cup full fat canned coconut milk
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
- 2 Tbsp maple syrup 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (or other berry of choice)
- Preheat oven to 350°F and line muffin tray with paper muffin cups.
- In a bowl, mix together almond flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk together coconut milk, egg, coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract.
- Using a spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined, making sure not to over-mix the batter.
- Fold the blueberries into the mixed batter. Divide batter equally into muffin tins.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle of a muffin.
- Cool muffins before removing from the muffin tray.
- Once cooled, freeze muffins individually on a small baking sheet and then transfer to a freezer container. Will last up to 3 months in the freezer.
(*To make this recipe vegan, replace the egg with a chia or flax egg: Mix 1 Tbsp of whole or ground chia seeds or 1 Tbsp of ground flax with 3 Tbsp water and let sit for 10 minutes. This mixture replaces one egg in a recipe.)
Homemade Energy Bars
(Makes approximately 30 bars when cut into 4-inch squares)
- 2-1/2 cups of almond meal or almond flour
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 cup hemp hearts
- 1/3 cup unsweetened hemp protein powder (or any other type of protein powder)
- 1/3 cup whole chia seed
- 1/2 cup dried fruit of choice (raisins, goji berries, etc.)
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 cup melted coconut oil
- 1/3 cup raw honey or maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- Mix the first 7 ingredients (all dry ingredients) together in a bowl.
- In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients (raw honey or maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla).
- Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix well.
- Press mixture into a glass 13 x 9 inch pan until 3/4 inch thick and level. Place in freezer to become solid. Let set 1 hour. Take out and cut into squares.
- Place squares into a container and store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition is Canada’s largest school of holistic nutrition. For more information, visit: http://www.csnn.ca, or call (416) 482-3772. You can also visit CSNN at Whole Life Expo on November 3,4,5 where they will be available all weekend at booth 64 to answer questions.
Michelle holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Food and Nutrition from Ryerson University, is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, a graduate of The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition (CSNN), and is currently working towards a Master’s Degree in Science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine at the University of Western States. Michelle has been in the health and wellness industry for more than 20 years working in private practice, as an instructor at CSNN, as a consultant to supplement and natural product companies, and as a consultant to corporate clients. Michelle currently works as Director of Education for Lori Kennedy Inc., does freelance consulting for nutrition program development, and is the co-founder of the Metabolic Reset Diet and Metabolic Syndrome Certification. To contact Michelle, email firstname.lastname@example.org