Simple Meal Prep Ideas

Simple Meal Prep Ideas

When it comes to staying on track with your nutrition meal prepping ahead of time is the way to go.  And if you’re a busy mom like me I don’t have to tell you how important it is to plan ahead in between kids activities, your job, appointments, etc. I have to pay extra attention to my nutrition.  As a fitness instructor and trainer I’m always putting my body to the test.  Packing my meals ensures I’m eating well no matter what.

And because life is life there will always be something going on.  As the saying goes, “if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail”.

So let’s dive into some great ideas on how you can meal prep, what you’ll need and some bonus recipes to set you up like a boss for the week!

What you’ll need for storage:

  • Plastic or glass containers
  • Zip-lock bags
  • Dry-erase markers
  • Lunch box
  • Lunch bag

What you’ll need for planning:

  • A calendar
  • Recipes
  • Your grocery list
  • A little creativity!

Here are your action steps

  • Look over the recipes and write out your grocery shopping list
  • Wash all produce and let dry on a kitchen table
  • Chop what needs to be chopped
  • Roast your veggies
  • Grill your meats
  • Hard-boil your eggs
  • Cook your quinoa
  • Blend your salads without dressing and place in containers topped with a paper towel to absorb moisture.  Use a combination of romaine, green leaf, spinach, baby kale.
  • Let your cooked food cool before storing

You can either portion off your meals now or store in large containers and prep your lunch box the night before which is what I do because I have a little more time.

What should you pack for optimal nourishment?

I like to focus on always packing a mix of fiber, complex carbs, protein and some fat.  As you can see in the image below it’s not so difficult.  For example you can focus on packing a salad with mixed greens, grilled chicken, pork or steak, half of an avocado or some roasted root vegetables, quinoa salad and a couple hard-boiled eggs.  If you use this formula you’ll always have something healthy to eat.  You can load your salads with garbanzo beans, shredded carrots, perhaps dried cranberries, nuts and a little goat cheese.  Always pack your dressing on the side.  See below for some super simple and delicious ideas.  Toss those bottles of old dressing away!

My go-to lunch box is from BentGoFresh.  When you have a bento style lunch box it takes the guessing work out of portion sizing.  Make sure your lunch box is designed to keep your food fresh for a several hours, is leak proof and dishwasher safe.  You can learn more about BentGoFresh and their awesome line of lunch boxes including some really cool ones for the kids by going here.

Recipes that are perfect to-go!

Roasted sweet potatoes and beets

  • 1 large sweet potato cut peeled and cut into large cubes
  • 2 small beets peeled and cut into cubes
  • Zest of an orange
  • Vegetable oil and a little salt

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss ingredients together.  Spread evenly on baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes tossing half-way through.  Tip: I like to use my toaster oven rather than the big oven when I’m not roasting large quantities!

Quinoa salad

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa: bring 1 and 3/4 cups of water to a boil. Add quinoa with a pinch of salt.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed.  Let cool.  Tip:  If I’m in a hurry I’ll spend the quinoa over a cookie sheet to cool faster.
  • 1 can drained garbanzo beans
  • 1 can drained kidney beans
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 small can of drained corn
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together and boom.  Yes, that’s it!  This is a favorite.  You can top this quinoa salad with avocado, serve it as a main meal or side.  You can also add halved cherry tomatoes and shredded carrots. Get creative.

Perfect marinade for chicken

I love using chicken tenders for meal prepping because they cook super fast and if you make sure not to overcook them they will be nice and tender.  Tip:  I slightly undercook my chicken tenders and then place in a plate and cover with tin foil.  The residual heat will continue to cook the chicken without drying it out.

  • 1 package of chicken tenders: about 6 pieces
  • 3 crushed or thinly chopped garlic cloves
  • Juice of one small lime or half of a lemon
  • Zest of said lime or lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Toss all ingredients together.  Let the chicken sit in the fridge for 30 minutes or you can cook right away.  Use medium to high heat on a non-stick pan.  Cook for 4 minutes on each side, careful not to over cook or burn.  Transfer to plate and cover with foil until cool.

Simple salad dressings.

You can whip these up in no time.  If you want to plan ahead do it on Sunday.  Adjust the flavor as your wish.

Sweet balsamic

  • 1 part balsamic
  • 2 parts olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of Mrs. Dash garlic and herb

Orange dijon

  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons orange juice
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

Honey apple

  • 1 part apple cider vinegar
  • 2 parts olive oil
  • Drizzle of honey
  • Pinch of salt

Lemon and herb

  • Juice of one lemon
  • Zest of said lemon
  • Double the amount of olive oil
  • Mrs. Dash garlic and herb
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For more delicious and healthy recipes download the 2 Week Detox plan.

Busting 5 Cholesterol Myths and What to Eat Instead

Busting 5 Cholesterol Myths and What to Eat Instead

You knew there was a bit of an over-emphasis (borderlining obsession) about cholesterol, right?

Before we jump into some myths let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to what exactly cholesterol is.

Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol

While cholesterol is an actual molecule what it is bound to while it’s floating through your blood is what’s more important than just how much of it there is overall.  In fact depending on what it’s combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart.  Yes, opposite!

So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood.  These compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”. 

They’re grouped into two main categories:

  • HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
  • LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).

And yes, it’s even more complicated than this.  Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.

So “cholesterol” isn’t simply cholesterol because it has very different effects on your body depending on which other molecules it’s bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.

Myth #2: Cholesterol is bad

Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile to help you absorb dietary fats.  Not to mention that it’s incorporated into the membranes of your cells.

Talk about an important molecule!

The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn’t nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.

While way too much LDL cholesterol as compared with HDL (the LDL:HDL ratio) may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease it is absolutely not the only thing to consider for heart health.

Myth #3: Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol

Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver.  It’s actually not from the cholesterol you eat.  Why do you think cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact)?  ‘Cause that’s where it’s made!

What you eat still can affect how much cholesterol your liver produces.  After a cholesterol-rich meal your liver doesn’t need to make as much.

Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible

As with almost everything in health and wellness there’s a balance that needs to be maintained.  There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.

People with too-low levels of cholesterol have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers, as well as suicide.

Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance

Don’t start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.

And while drugs can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol they don’t seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well.

Guess what does?

Nutrition and exercise, baby!

One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies.  I mean lots, say up to 10 servings a day.  Every day.  And if you’re like me you’ll opt for over 26 different fruits, vegetables and berries in a convenient capsule form!

But don’t worry because the recipe below should help you add at least another salad to your day.

You can (should?) also exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats.  That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil.  Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats.  My favorite way of ensuring consumption of healthy omegas is with this vegan omega blend.

Summary:

The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we’re learning more every day.  You may not need to be as afraid of it as you are.  And there is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve your cholesterol level.

Recipe (Dressing to go with your salad): Orange Hemp Seed Dressing

Makes about ¾ cup

  • ½ cup hemp seeds
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • dash salt and/or pepper
  • Blend all ingredients together until creamy.
  • Serve on top of your favorite salad and Enjoy!
  • Tip: Store extra in airtight container in the fridge.  Will keep for about a week.

References:

Does Waist Circumference Matter?

Does Waist Circumference Matter?

You totally want to ditch your scale, don’t you?  You may have this weird kind of relationship with your “weight”. I mean, it doesn’t define you (obviously).

What you weigh can matter but only to a certain extent.  Let’s look at your waist circumference (well…you look at yours and I’ll look at mine).

Waist Circumference (AKA “Belly Fat”):

Do you remember the fruity body shape descriptions being like an “apple” or a “pear”?  The apple is kinda round around the middle (you know – belly fat-ish, kinda beer belly-ish) and the pear is rounder around the hips/thighs.

THAT is what we’re talking about here.

Do you know which shape is associated with a higher risk of sleep apnea, blood sugar issues (e.g. insulin resistance and diabetes) and heart issues (high blood pressure, blood fat, and arterial diseases).

Yup – that apple!

And it’s not because of the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that you may refer to as a “muffin top”.  The health risk is actually due to the fat inside the abdomen covering the liver, intestines and other organs there.

This internal fat is called “visceral fat” and that’s where a lot of the problem actually is.  It’s this “un-pinchable” fat. 

The reason the visceral fat can be a health issue is because it releases fatty acids, inflammatory compounds, and hormones that can negatively affect your blood fats, blood sugars, and blood pressure.

And the apple-shaped people tend to have a lot more of this hidden visceral fat than the pear-shaped people do.

So as you can see where your fat is stored is more important that how much you weigh.

Am I an apple or a pear?

It’s pretty simple to find out if you’re in the higher risk category or not. The easiest way is to just measure your waist circumference with a measuring tape.  You can do it right now.

Women, if your waist is 35” or more you could be considered to have “abdominal obesity” and be in the higher risk category.  Pregnant ladies are exempt, of course.

For men the number is 40”. Of course this isn’t a diagnostic tool.  There are lots of risk factors for chronic diseases.  Waist circumference is just one of them.  If you have concerns definitely see your doctor.

Tips for helping reduce some belly fat:

  • Eat more fiber.  Fiber can help reduce belly fat in a few ways.  First of all it helps you feel full and also helps to reduce the amount of calories you absorb from your food.  Some examples of high-fiber foods are brussel sprouts, flax and chia seeds, avocado, and blackberries.
  • Add more protein to your day.  Protein reduces your appetite and makes you feel fuller longer.  It also has a high TEF (thermic effect of food) compared with fats and carbs and ensures you have enough of the amino acid building blocks for your muscles.
  • Nix added sugars.  This means ditch the processed sweetened foods especially those sweet drinks (even 100% pure juice).
  • Move more.  Get some aerobic exercise.  Lift some weights.  Walk and take the stairs.  Dance.  It all adds up.
  • Stress less.  Seriously!  Elevated levels in the stress hormone cortisol have been shown to increase appetite and drive abdominal fat.
  • Get more sleep.  Try making this a priority and seeing how much better you feel (and look).

Recipe (High fiber side dish): Garlic Lemon Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Serves 4

  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts (washed, ends removed, halved)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • dash salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. 

In a bowl toss sprouts with garlic, oil, and lemon juice.  Spread on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 15 minutes.  Toss.

Bake for another 10 minutes.

Serve and Enjoy!

Tip:  Brussel sprouts contain the fat-soluble bone-loving vitamin K.  You may want to eat them more often.

References:

Why is My Metabolism Slow?

Why is My Metabolism Slow?

You may feel tired, cold or that you’ve gained weight.  Maybe your digestion seems a bit more “sluggish”.

You may be convinced that your metabolism is slow.  Why does this happen?  Why do metabolic rates slow down?  What can slow my metabolism?

Metabolism includes all of the biochemical reactions in your body that use nutrients and oxygen to create energy.  And there are lots of factors that affect how quickly (or slowly) it works, i.e. your “metabolic rate” (which is measured in calories).

But don’t worry – we know that metabolic rate is much more complicated than the old adage “calories in calories out”!  In fact it’s so complicated I’m only going to list a few of the common things that can slow it down.

Examples of common reasons why metabolic rates can slow down:

  • low thyroid hormone
  • your history of dieting
  • your size and body composition
  • your activity level
  • lack of sleep

We’ll briefly touch on each one below and I promise to give you better advice than just to “eat less and exercise more”.

Low thyroid hormones

Your thyroid is the master controller of your metabolism.  When it produces fewer hormones your metabolism slows down.  The thyroid hormones (T3 & T4) tell the cells in your body when to use more energy and become more metabolically active.   Ideally it should work to keep your metabolism just right.  But there are several things that can affect it and throw it off course.  Things like autoimmune diseases and mineral deficiencies (e.g. iodine or selenium) for example.

Tip: Talk with your doctor about having your thyroid hormones tested.

Your history of dieting

When people lose weight their metabolic rate often slows down.  This is because the body senses that food may be scarce and adapts by trying to continue with all the necessary life functions and do it all with less food. 

While dieting can lead to a reduction in amount of fat it unfortunately can also lead to a reduction in the amount of muscle you have.  As you know more muscle means faster resting metabolic rate.

Tip: Make sure you’re eating enough food to fuel your body without overdoing it.  Adding concentrated fruits and vegetables helps as well as a high quality protein source.

Your size and body composition

In general, larger people have faster metabolic rates.  This is because it takes more energy to fuel a larger body than a smaller one. 

However, you already know that gaining weight is rarely the best strategy for increasing your metabolism.

Muscles that actively move and do work need energy.  Even muscles at rest burn more calories than fat.  This means that the amount of energy your body uses depends partly on the amount of lean muscle mass you have. 

Tip: Do some weight training to help increase your muscle mass.

Which leads us to…

Your activity level

Aerobic exercise temporarily increases your metabolic rate.  Your muscles are burning fuel to move and do “work” and you can tell because you’re also getting hotter.

Even little things can add up.  Walking a bit farther than you usually do, using a standing desk instead of sitting all day, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can all contribute to more activity in your day.

Tip:  Incorporate movement into your day.  Also, exercise regularly.

Lack of sleep

There is plenty of research that shows the influence that sleep has on your metabolic rate.  The general consensus is to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.

Recipe (Selenium-rich): Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

Serves 4

  • ½ cup Brazil nuts
  • 2 cups water
  • nut bag or several layers of cheesecloth (optional)
  • ½ cup chia seeds
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cacao powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

Blend Brazil nuts in water in a high-speed blender until you get smooth, creamy milk.  If desired, strain it with a nut bag or several layers of cheesecloth.  If you wish to bypass this step use a high quality almond milk or rice milk.

Add Brazil nut milk and other ingredients into a bowl and whisk until combined.  Let sit several minutes (or overnight) until desired thickness is reached.

Serve & Enjoy!

Tip:  Makes a simple delicious breakfast or dessert topped with berries.

References:

Easy Spinach Salad

Easy Spinach Salad

Here’s a simple salad that is bursting with flavor and nutrients. Try the simple homemade salad dressing – it’s much healthier than store bought dressings, doesn’t contain refined sugar, and still lends lots of flavor. Servings: 4

Here’s what you need…

  • 6 cups organic baby spinach
  • 4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1/2 avocado, diced
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Juice from one lime
  • dash of pepper
  1. Combine the spinach, eggs, avocado and tomatoes in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl whisk the olive oil, lime juice and pepper.
  3. Pour the dressing over the salad, mix and serve.

Nutritional Analysis: One serving equals:  170 calories, 10g fat, 337mg sodium, 5g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, and 13g protein

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It’s all about the dressing

It’s all about the dressing

What makes a salad spectacular can be summed up by one very important question:  Are you eating for pleasure?  Are you like me who wants to delight in not only the way a dish is presented but also by it’s flavor, aroma and overall purpose of each ingredient on the plate?  I ask this because many people have an unhealthy relationship with food. Some eat to feel good.  Some eat because they have to without regard to whether the food tastes great or not.  And unfortunately many people have unhealthy eating habits.  I will save that for another post.  This post is about why you would eat a salad.  Because I want you to eat a  salad and thoroughly enjoy it and in order to do so you must start with the right salad dressing.  If you already have a favorite that you just can’t wait to drizzle over your greens, awesome!  If you would like to try a few different home-made options that will keep fresh for a few days in the fridge then read on.

To me a salad has to serve a purpose.  It should provide enough nutrients, have a nice variety of topings and the dressing must be off the chain.  Because let’s face it, we are not bunny rabits and my taste buds need to be happy.

So where do you start with the right dressing?  You need an acid and a fat.  Your acid can be lemon, lime or orange juice as well as vinegars in all their glorious varieties.  Your fat can be anything from olive oil, vegetable oil, melted coconut oil, avocado oil, etc.  You can also use an emulsifier or thickener such as dijon mustard, avocado, a little mayo, and even egg yolks as in Ceasar dressing.  Once you have these basics the rest is just playing around with the ingredients.

My basic dressings will have equal amounts of fat and acid. Sometimes I’ll use two different acids such as vinegar and lemon juice, for example.  It all depends on what I want to achive and what I’m pairing my salad with.  You’ll also see me adding a bit of honey to balance the acidity.

The Fun Stuff

Once you have the basics down the sky is the limit.  Cilantro, basil and even fruit are great additions to any salad dressing.  A little salt and pepper to taste or perhaps some dry herbs will really make your salad want to dance.  If I feel like adding canned beans as one of my toppings or corn I might go with a vinegar or lime-based dressing.  If I’m going the fruity route by topping with berries I will use lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar or orange juice.  Shaved cheese, meat toppings, dried fruit and nuts are all amazing additions to your salad.  Below you will find a few basic recipes and also a photo of my lunch which was a big salad topped with leftover steak, farro and quinoa and a side of avocado.  The base is romaine lettuce and cherry tomatoes tossed with cilantro dressing.

Recipes

Cilantro dressing
1/4 cilantro leaves
Juice of two limes
4-6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon of honey
Salt and pepper to taste
Blend all ingredients and enjoy

Avocado dressing
1/3 ripe avocado
Juice of 1 lime
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Blend all and add more oil if needed

Creamy lemon dressing
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon dry thyme
1 teaspoon honey
6 tablespoons olive oil
Blend together

Sweet coconut dressing
4 tablepoons coconut white balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons avocado oil (or something not overpowering)
Pinch of salt
Whisk together

Balsamic vinaigrette
Equal parts aged balsamic vinegar and olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
A pinch of dried Italian seasoning
Whisk together

Steak salad with cilantro dressing

Steak salad with cilantro dressing