Meal Plan Monday:
In order to start planning healthy meals for the week, you first have to take inventory of your kitchen and stock up on all the essential items, as well as get rid of the daunting items that are not good for you. For the first “Meal Plan Monday” I feel I have to provide a guideline list of items that you should have in your kitchen and pantry to help you get started on whipping up healthy meals. The following is only a guide. There are MANY other wonderful items you can add to your list. Taking your time and talking to venders at your local farmer’s market or produce shop as well as visiting a local health food store and slowly going through the grocery store and looking at the items you usually pass right by will help you start to understand what you should and shouldn’t be buying. Here is a good start.
Dried is better and not as much work as you would think. I soak a big bag overnight, cook them in the morning and then separate them into 2 cup servings and put them in the freezer. Grab and defrost one any time you need it for a recipe. But, don’t be discouraged, you can stock up on some canned beans too just try to get the ones that are organic or don’t add salt, sugar, or other sauce/products. I usually have in my kitchen at all times Black beans, Red or Kidney beans, Chick peas, and Great Northern beans. I also will get other beans as I plan my recipes like Pinto beans, Black-eyed peas, and Lima beans to name a few. The more the better when switching to a vegetarian/vegan diet so don’t be afraid to get too many beans, there are a lot of recipes that you can find that use them. I even make brownies out of black beans!
Always think whole grain and whole wheat, staying away from anything white. Brown rice, wheat pasta, wheat couscous and quinoa (any variety) are a great start. Trust me on this one, once you start eating the brown/wheat variety for a while you won’t even miss the white stuff. Even my kids are on board with this and they are a hard sell on most other things. With bread, you can choose whole grain or wheat but the best is sprouted bread. There is a brand that I use called Food for Life and you can get it in the freezer section at your grocery store. They also have english muffins, pocket bread, wraps and more. They are low glycemic and diabetic friendly, high in fiber and they also have gluten-free and yeast free breads.
I love nuts! I can’t even tell you how much I go through each week in my house. They provide essential fatty acids in my diet as well as antioxidants. They have a low glycemic index for diabetics and people who eat a lot of them are less likely to suffer from coronary heart disease. Besides, they taste great and the more you eat the less likely you are to eat chips, cookies or other unhealthy snacks. I always have a good supply of raw almonds, walnuts and sunflower seeds in the house. I not only grab them to munch on throughout the day but I sprinkle them on my salads and in my soups for an added crunch and use them in a lot of recipes. I also will have some other nuts on hand like; raw cashews, pine nuts, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds and hazelnuts. Again, there are so many to choose from and most health food stores will sell raw organic nuts in bulk.
Chia seeds and Flax seeds are also a staple in my house. My grocery store actually sells them both in bulk. You can usually find them in your local store and if not, at a health food store.
Spices and such
Get rid of all those high sugar, high sodium, highly processed and full of chemicals dressings and sauces that are in your refrigerator and pantry. Starting out with just a few items you can make many different delicious sauces, marinades, and dressings that are tasty and good for you. While I like fresh garlic and usually have some handy, I always have a large jar of minced garlic also. I go through a lot! Make sure you have both lemon and lime juice. Again, nothing beats fresh from the fruit but jarred is better than nothing. Cumin and black pepper are two of the most used spices on my shelf and I grow basil, parsley and cilantro. It is always good to have a jalapeno pepper handy too. This will be a good start and then you can add a new spice each time you shop. There are so many yummy spices and most have great health benefits.
Nutritional yeast is something I also keep in my pantry. I get it in bulk at the health food store. It is a deactivated yeast which comes in flakes and is a great source of protein and vitamins, especially B vitamins which are great for vegetarians. It has a nutty, creamy, cheesy flavor and I use it in recipes and to replace cheese.
Raw 100% cacao powder (cocoa powder) is something that I keep around so that I can make chocolate treats like my raw truffles when I am craving sweets.
The only oils that I use are olive oil and coconut oil. I buy the organic, raw cold-pressed varieties and use them all the time. Olive oil tends to turn rancid if you heat it (like all other oils except coconut) so I generally use it for salad dressings, marinades and to lightly saute vegetables. I use coconut oil for baking or other cooking. Do yourself a favor and get rid of all your other oils. That’s right, vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and any other hydrogenated oils. I will do a Blog on the MANY uses and benefits of coconut oil because there is just too much to go into here.
Tahini, or sesame paste, is great to have around if you like to make humus. I love all different varieties of humus and tahini is what makes it smooth and creamy. I use tahini in other recipes as well like my nacho cheeze dip and other dips/sauces.
Agave is a syrup that is low-glycemic and is used to sweeten foods. I have to say however that I use it sparingly. It is still high in fructose and generally highly processed so I try not to use it often. However, if you are just starting out on a healthy, no sugar, diet it can come in handy.
Bragg’s liquid aminos is another item that I use sparingly (because it has unfermented soy) but again when starting out it will help spice up your food with the taste of soy sauce but only naturally occurring sodium, no added table salt.
Almond milk is delicious and good for you. I know people cringe and don’t want to give up their dairy, but you are not a baby cow and should not be drinking cow’s milk 🙂 If you need help starting out, try a vanilla variety and then ease yourself into plain unsweetened almond milk. It has less than half of the fat and 50% more calcium than low-fat dairy milk and I think it tastes great. There are also other nut milks out there if you want to give them a try, you can even make your own….that will be another Blog.
Almond butter….one word….Yum! Almond butter is rich in vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, iron, fiber, calcium and phosphorus. Almond butter provide healthy fat not typically found in foods high in saturated fats. The typical difference in almond butter versus peanut butter is the sugar and salt that is added to your peanut butter. Also the processing of peanut butter generally strips it of its nutrients. I eat raw all-natural almond butter and make sure there are no added ingredients. For my kids I occasionally will buy the variety with maple syrup or cocoa powder added, it’s better than a dessert (or the very fattening nutella).
I love fruits! They are so sweet that I don’t miss sugary desserts anymore. I make my own sweet snacks out of fruit or just enjoy them in a smoothie or on their own. I generally keep the following fruits available in my house; apples, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, mangos, peaches, plums, pineapple, kiwis, oranges, avocados and grapefruits. I live right across the street from a large and wonderful produce market so I am typically there several times a week as we go through a lot of fruit and veggies in my house. If you have a big bowl of fruit on the counter you will be more apt to grab a piece and eat it rather than grabbing a candy bar or chips. Don’t be afraid to also pick up some new fruits and give them a try. Pomegranates, dragon fruit, papaya, and star fruit are also sold here locally and are fun to try.
Ahhhh, the main staple of my diet. I eat more vegetables before noon than most people eat in a week. Here is a list of the vegetables I use, most on a daily basis. Spinach, kale, swiss chard, red pepper, red onion, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, sprouts and celery. I also eat a lot of asparagus, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, romaine and green leaf lettuce, corn and peas (usually snow or snap peas). I’m not a big mushroom fan but they are great for you so if you like them make sure you get them. Some of the more exotic, so to speak, items that I occasionally get are dandelion greens, arugula, cabbage, and collard greens. The number of different veggies out there is almost endless so give them a try, play around with recipes and add what you like. The motto with veggies is, “the more the better”, so keep buying them (try to get organic if you can) and eat them all day. I have veggies with EVERY meal and almost every one of my snacks. The old “eat 5 a day” rule is sooooo yesterday. Try for at least 9 servings of veggies and 3 servings of fruit a day and remember that you are what you eat, so do you want to be fresh, light and heathy or processed, unhealthy and fat?
I will try to give you tips each Monday on meal planning and ideas to make delicious and nutritious meals all week-long but first you have to clean out that kitchen and get rid of all the processed, unhealthy foods that are sitting in it. Trust me, you won’t starve and your body will thank you.
Choosing healthy living over dying 🙂