By Lisa Fligor
This is a daily question that can create feelings of stress and overwhelm. I make dinner for my family every day, yet most nights I can think of literally nothing to cook. I’m sure many people can relate. Busy schedules are the number one reason Americans turn to takeout or eat-in restaurants — and both can become a nutrition disaster without careful planning.
Let’s take feeding ourselves off the list of dreaded chores and put it into the category of self-care (or health-care). When we nourish our bodies with nutritious food, we have the energy to show up for the rest of our lives as our best self. This is worthy of our time and attention. What a privilege to be able to cook and provide healthy food.
To take the stress out of cooking time, here are 10 practical tips to help you start a meal planning habit and avoid the emergency unhealthy takeout night.
1. Schedule a time to plan — put it on your calendar. You are worth it; your health deserves it. Pair this with grocery shopping if you can.
2. Make a master recipe list. Write down what you make for dinner every night, add as you go. Use your list for inspiration when you plan.
3. Compile recipes. Instead of using various cookbooks, handwritten recipe cards and numerous online sources, get them all in one place. Google docs works well, but there are many options.
4. Start with your most difficult meal. For most, this is dinner. It can be overwhelming to plan all meals for the week; start with planning three or four dinners. You can build from there when you are ready to take on more.
5. Consult your schedule for the week before you write down any meals. Look at your activities and plan around this. Which nights can you cook, and what evenings need to be a quick reheat of leftovers?
6. Do theme nights. My favorite is Taco Tuesday. It doesn’t need to be the same recipe every Tuesday, but instead of trying to come up with all the meal ideas, stick to the theme. Simple and doable. Other theme ideas are Fish Fridays, Meatless Mondays, or Stir-Fry Sundays.
7. Keep a record. Find a system that works for you. Use a paper calendar, Google calendar, or a meal planning app. Save and reuse plans. Next month your plan from this week will feel new.
8. Add in the main dish first, then edit. Did you include a vegetable or two? Compare days. Are there ways to batch cook or use items in multiple meals? Roast two chickens instead of one and use the leftovers for soup or tacos.
9. Make a grocery list and double check your kitchen to see what you need. Planning will save you time and money at the grocery store.
10. Be flexible and fun. Your plan doesn’t have to be strict. Swap nights or push your plan back by a day if needed. Then turn on some music, light a candle, ask for help, or invite friends over. Remember — this is not a chore, but a chance to unwind and nourish yourself.
Being healthy and taking good care of ourselves is a skill. Just like any other skill in life, the more we practice, the better we will get. This gets easier. In this new year, leave behind unrealistic resolutions. Instead of hoping you are healthier and wishing you ate better, let’s move forward with intention and make a plan.
Join me for a meal planning workshop on Jan. 25 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Find more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 587-3769.
Tick Tok Chicken
1 cup brown rice
1 cup water
2 large chicken breasts
Fresh ground black pepper
Zest of one lemon
2 tbs avocado oil
1 package of precut broccoli crowns
Preheat oven to 400°F. Start rice in instant pot. Cook for 10 minutes on rice setting. If you do not have an instant pot, cook rice according to directions on stove top.
Place a medium cast iron skillet (or oven-friendly stainless steel pan) on the cook top and heat to medium heat. Cut two large chicken breasts in half and place on a plate. Sprinkle generously with sea salt, fresh ground pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.
Grate the zest from one lemon using a micro-plane or small box grater and sprinkle over chicken. Add 1 tablespoon of the avocado oil to a cast iron skillet and place the chicken breast in pan.
Cook to golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Then place chicken in the lower rack of the preheated oven. Cook another 10 minutes or until temperature of the chicken reaches 165°F.
While the chicken is browning, place broccoli on a large baking sheet, toss with 1 tablespoon avocado oil and sea salt to taste. Place on top rack of preheated oven. Cook until tips are golden, about 12-15 minutes. Use the chicken and broccoli to wipe the skillet clean.
~ Lisa Fligor MS, RDN is a registered dietitian at Tahoe Forest Hospital Center for Health. She holds a master’s in nutrition from Bastyr University, and is passionate about real food and maintaining a balanced lifestyle that incorporates nutritional science. Lisa provides nutritional counseling for individuals and a variety of group classes including cooking demos.