The Return to Reality

The return to reality after a week of vacation is no fun, but healthy meals will help everyone feel better through the transition back to the reality of  jobs and school.  Especially when our lives are busy, it’s critical to have meal planning habits to rely on to help us avoid the temptations and the OIBexpenses (both financial and health-related) of eating processed foods.  If you do not have a meal planning habit, now is the best time to start.

A day or two before I do my big grocery store run, I start planning the next week’s meals.  Never go to the store without a specific list of the meals planned for the week.  I also like to include a few lunches in the plan, though leftovers are usually the default for adult lunches.  Start the meal planning by checking your fridge, freezer, and pantry for ingredients that you already have on hand.  If you’re unsure how to use an ingredient or would like to try something new, set a timer so you don’t get carried away and search online for recipes using that ingredient.

TrafficDuring the meal planning stage, I also consult the family calendars to see which nights I’ll have less time to prep dinner.  I plan exactly which dinner will be on each night, to ensure the freshest ingredients get used up early in the week and to prevent waste.  I usually leave Fridays for leftovers (to clean out the fridge) or MYO (make your own) night where the kids will have sandwiches, breakfast for dinner, or Fork Free Fridays – something a little out of the ordinary.

Once you know the meals for the week, create the grocery list based on the ingredients that you don’t already have.  I like to create my grocery listswith the layout of the store in mind so I don’t have to read through my entire list on each aisle.  The NutritionMD recipe site will create a grocery list based on the recipes you chose- for free!

As soon as I return from the grocery store, we wash and start prepping produce.  Because I already know the recipes for the week, I know how each item needs to be prepared.  This is a hugely important point and will prevent lots of fabulous produce from passing its peak while hidden in your produce drawer.

On an ideal weekend, I’ll take the meal prep a step further and actually make a few of the meals (or meal components) for the week.  This is critical for meals with significant prep or cooking time or for weeks where I’ll be out of town or in the office later than usual.  Conversely, if I know that I won’t have time for significant meal prep on the weekend, I take that into account and plan simpler meals for the week ahead.  This coming week is such a week where we’ll eat simple meals that are easily made in less than 30 minutes.

I also make a mid to end of the week grocery run to pick up fresh greens, bananas, bread-  whatever else we need to finish out the week, making sure I’ve accounted for the weekend meals that will take place before the next week’s meal planning.

The most recent addition to my meal planning habit was to make a standard shopping list for each of the stores that I routinely visit.  By looking at the standard list before I visit that store, it jogs my memory about items that we may have run out of in the past two weeks that I didn’t note on the shopping list.

Use this week to start or improve your meal prep habit.  You’ll notice a difference in time and cost savings, which may allow you the freedom to be more creative in the kitchen- trying a new recipe each week or freeing up time to do something else for your health.


Shortcut Gazpacho

Tomato-based vegetable juice blend

Freshly prepared salsa (store bought or homemade), drained of any liquid

Cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced

Garlic, minced


Salt and pepper to taste

Italian herbs, dried

Fresh lemon juice, optional

Diced avocado, optional (use as a garnish)

Mix all ingredients tasting often until desire flavor combination is achieved.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Gazpacho is a light and refreshing meal, perfect for a hot summer day.  If serving it for dinner, you may want to serve it alongside something hearty, like baked potatoes or brown rice.  To encourage children to eat gazpacho, consider making Oven Baked Tortilla Chips so they can scoop the soup as if it were salsa, or cut the tortillas into thin strips before baking and serve atop the soup.


Mac and Trees

Box of whole wheat macaroni pasta

Cashew ricotta (you won’t need the full batch)

Broccoli florets, frozen or steamed

Begin cooking the pasta as directed and add the broccoli florets to the pasta water half-way through the cooking time.  A couple of minutes of additional cooking time will be needed as the broccoli will reduce the temperature of the boiling water.  Drain the pasta and broccoli and return to the pot.  Pour the cashew ricotta over the pasta and broccoli, stirring to mix.  Serve warm.

To increase the heartiness of this one-pot meal, add a can of drained and rinsed white beans.  Another option is to puree the white beans into the cashew ricotta, adding water as needed to thin the sauce.


Easy Pasta Salad

Box of whole wheat fusilli pasta or orzo, cooked and drained

2 to 3 cups of assorted diced and shredded vegetables [This is a great way to use up little bits of leftover raw veggies]

Your favorite oil-free dressing [Or whisk a tablespoon of hummus with juice from 2-3 lemons and minced garlic]

To make this easy pasta salad a one-pot meal, add a can of rinsed and drained beans to complement the other flavors in your salad.



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