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Meal Prep Essentials for the Healthiest Week Yet

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I am excited to partner with one of my favorite Greek yogurts, Dannon® Light & Fit®, to bring you this post. I have been compensated for my time commitment. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.

If you asked me to share just one tip that has the most impact on health, I would say without a doubt it’s planning ahead. I’m sure you’ve heard the quote by Ben Franklin “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” When it comes to making sure you are eating a well balanced diet, this statement couldn’t be truer. Take the other day for instance. I woke up in the morning and couldn’t wait to start my day off with a smoothie packed full of berries, spinach, and Greek yogurt. But then I realized I had not been to the grocery store and had none of these foods in the house. Needless to say, the breakfast I did end up eating that day was not nearly as nutritious as I had hoped for.

Devoting just a bit of time each week to meal planning can prevent situations like this from happening. I have found for both my clients and myself that meal preparation is the key in achieving and maintaining your health goals. But I know what you are thinking – meal prep is time consuming, right? I used to think that too, but it’s actually the opposite. If you know how to do it, spending just a little bit of time one day a week on meal prep can save you hours the rest of the week. And who doesn’t want to save time and make nutritious eating even easier? You know I am all about easy! That’s why I am so excited to share my top three meal prep essentials for your healthiest week yet:

 

Step #1: Create a must-have list of your top 5 staple foods and have them on hand at all times

5 meal planning food essentials for time saving meal prep

5 Time Saving Meal Prep Foods that Make Healthy Menu Planning Easy

Have you ever looked in your kitchen and realized you were out of pretty much everything, but your day was so busy there was no time for long trip at the grocery store? This happens to me a lot, which is why I am a huge advocate of creating a ‘must-have’ food staple list. This is a list of your top five foods that are essential to have on hand at all times. When I am short on time, but out of everything, I can run into the store, grab these 5 items and be done shopping in under 10 minutes. As long as I have these items on hand, I know I can create healthy meal and snack options for my whole family. So what’s on my must-have list? I’m glad you asked:

 

Dannon Light & Fit Yogurt Drinks

I am a yogurt fanatic for a good reason. Many yogurts are a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans even recommend increasing your intake of nutrient-dense foods, such as fat-free or low-fat dairy products, like yogurt, which is pretty easy to do. Yogurt is so versatile it can easily be added as a snack, mixed into a recipe, or even enjoyed as a dessert. I’m currently enjoying the Dannon Light & Fit Yogurt Drinks which contain 90 calories, 9 grams of protein and zero grams of added sugar per serving (7 fluid ounces). These delicious little guys make the perfect grab-and-go option and have become my new gym bag essential as my go-to post-workout snack.

Post workout snack options that fuel fitness

My post-workout snack essentials to fuel fitness

Frozen vegetables

I love having fresh vegetables, but they can spoil pretty quickly. Keeping frozen vegetables on hand is a great way to ensure I always have a veggie backup for every meal. Since frozen produce is picked at its peak ripeness and flash frozen, the majority of nutrients are maintained, making it just as nutritious as the fresh alternative, but with a much longer shelf life.

Canned beans

Beans provide a good source of plant-based protein, fiber, and iron plus they are incredibly versatile. I can toss them onto a salad, make a batch of chili in the slow cooker, or use them for a family taco night depending on our mood. Not only are they incredibly nutritious, but they are also very budget friendly which makes the grocery bill a lot lighter.

Eggs

Eggs aren’t just for breakfast. Not only do they provide a complete source of protein, but they can be used as the main ingredient in a meal, added into a recipe, or enjoyed as a snack. If I have a carton of eggs on hand, I know that I can always whip up a quick meal that my family will love any time of day.

Whole grain tortillas

You can probably see why these are an essential based on my other food choices. With these on hand, I can create anything from taco salad bowl, to a breakfast burrito, or even a flatbread pizza.

 

5 time saving meal prep essentials for healthy weekly meal prep

5 time saving meal prep essentials

 

Step #2: Schedule one hour a week to save time all week long

Figure out which day of the week works best for your meal preparation efforts and schedule it. For me, I like to make this the same day I go grocery shopping so I have everything I need to make my prep work as easy as possible. During this hour, clean and chop your fresh veggie options for the week. Create your full week of lunches and have them packed and stored in the refrigerator so you can quickly grab them as you run out the door each day. Have your dinner ingredients ready to go. For me, this may be having a chicken breast marinating in a bag so that it can be quickly tossed on the grill one night. Or, I may slice my vegetables and meat, toss them in a bag with my favorite seasonings, and have it all ready to throw into the crock pot for a dinner that cooks itself.

Pre-wash and slice vegetables for time saving meal prep strategies for healthy meal planning

Pre-wash and slice vegetables in advance is key to healthy meal prep

 

Step #3: Keep a reverse food record

I am a huge believer in keeping a food record. Did you know that people who keep food records lose about 40% more weight than those who don’t? That’s a huge number for simply tracking what you put in your mouth. The main reason for this is increased accountability. Now, writing down what you eat after you have eaten it is the typical way you would keep a food record, but I actually recommend trying it in reverse. If you take a few minutes each night to write out what you plan to eat the next day, you can better plan your meals and problem solve instead of having to do it on the fly.

For example, if you were writing out tomorrow’s meals and realized you didn’t have the foods on hand to make the dinner you were planning, you can think through what foods you do have available and how you can create a healthy dinner from those instead. If you had waited to do that until right before you started to prep the meal, you may have had to pick up the phone and order takeout instead.

 

My One-Week Meal Prep Guide

So what does my meal prep routine look like? Here’s an example of my healthy meal planning menu from this week:

Sunday Night Meal Prep Routine: Time Frame – 1 hour

  • Batch cook One-Pot Slow Cooker Chili for weekly lunches
  • Hard boil one dozen eggs for weekly snacks
  • Bake up one dozen Veggie Egg Muffins for breakfast on-the-go
  • Clean, wash, and slice fresh peppers, carrots, and celery for snack options
  • Grill 3 lbs chicken breast, slice, and refrigerate for salad toppings and sandwiches during the week
  • Prep 3 bags of slow cooker meals including marinated meats and vegetables in plastic bags and freeze for easy dinner meal prep throughout the week
  • Prep post workout snacks with Dannon Light & Fit Yogurt Drinks and fresh fruit
  • Prep snack options throughout the week including Dannon Light & Fit Greek nonfat yogurt, nuts, seeds, and low fat string cheese.

Taking the time to prep everything in advance allows me to have quick access to nutritious meals and snacks all week long. I have found this takes the stress out of meal planning, ends the ‘what should I make for dinner’ struggle that often happens after a long day of work, and saves me both time and money on groceries.

 

What does your meal prep strategy look like? Join me over on Instagram and follow @lightandfit to show us how you #DoWhatFitsYou

Why we need to stop food-shaming each other

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A few days ago I was giving a talk at a corporate event and one of the attendees wanted to know if it was ever OK to feed his child a fruit that wasn’t organic. Apparently his mother-in-law would give him a death stare anytime he dared to offer a non-organic grape to his son. The audience laughed at this, and yes, it sounds funny, but this food shaming can lead to some very unnecessary and unhealthy habits. This isn’t the first time I have been asked this question or have seen this happen. Just a month ago I was at a party with my husband and the conversation turned to strawberries. When my husband mentioned he buys his strawberries at the grocery store (oh the horror!) another guest basically shamed him and told him that if he didn’t hand pick them from the farm he was essentially poisoning himself.

This type of thing happens all of the time. Being in the nutrition field, I think I’m more sensitive to it because I can see the negative side of these conversations. There’s nothing wrong talking about food choices. And there is nothing wrong with buying organic foods or picking your own produce at a local farm. But there is something wrong with essentially condemning anyone who gasp purchases conventionally grown produce or shops at the grocery store instead of the farm stand. In a perfect world, we would all grow our own seasonal produce, pick it at the peak of ripeness, and eat it the same day. But in the real world, that’s not going to happen for most of us. Even if you have a home garden, you most likely are not going to be able to grown everything you consume- or in our area the deer and rabbits just eat it all on you before you can get to it!

Not everyone can afford organic foods and not everyone has access to farm stands on a regular basis. This food shaming leads to many individuals opting to bypass eating fruit and vegetables all together (or avoid providing them to their kids) because they start to view the conventionally grown options as lesser quality, unhealthy, or downright dangerous. There’s a lot wrong with that. Cutting fruits and vegetables out of the diet can lead to many more health issues than eating a few non-organic options. I wanted to take a few minutes to clear up this confusion so you can stop the guilt and start feeding your family nutritious foods again without fear that you are harming them.

Organic refers to how a food is grown and processed. It does not refer to the nutritional content of the food. Have you ever checked out the nutrition information on a package of organic cookies or candy? They are still packed full of sugar with little nutritional value. Just because they were made with ‘organic sugar’ does not make them a healthier option. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, organic produce may contain lower amounts of pesticide residue. Organic produce, however, has not been found to be nutritionally superior. For instance, an organic pineapple will have just as much vitamin C as conventionally grown one. So if you are stressing over what you should buy organic and what can you buy that is conventionally grown, I suggest using the ‘Clean 15’ and ‘Dirty Dozen’ lists produced annually by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). These highlight the produce that to contain the highest amounts of pesticide residue (the Dirty Dozen which would be the produce most beneficial to purchase organic) and those with the least residue (the Clean 15, which would be your best options to buy conventionally grown).

What’s most important for nutritional value of produce is the length of time from the produce being picked to the time it is consumed. If you were to pick a strawberry today and let it sit out for a few days or a week before eating it, it will lose some of its nutritional value. Eating it directly after it has been harvested helps to make sure you are taking in the maximum nutrition from the food. That’s why the recommendation for purchasing in-season, local produce is made so often. Now, if you have a child like mine that would live on berries, you don’t have to stress that the berry season is so short. Frozen produce is picked at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen, so it retains most of its nutritional value. Eating frozen produce can actually be more nutritious than eating fresh out-of-season produce when you factor in all of the time the produce has been transported after harvesting.

So what’s the bottom line? Do what you feel is best for you and your family, but don’t stop eating fruits and vegetables just because you can’t find an organic option or buy from a local farmer. The benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables (regardless of if they are organic or not) are numerous. What do I do? I try to buy organic produce for those on the dirty dozen list most of the time. I try to select in-season local produce when buying fresh options and stick with frozen for the out-of-season varieties. A few times during the summer we take a trip to pick fruits and vegetables at the farm, but we hit the grocery store more times than not. At the end of the day, I make sure my family is eating plant-based foods regardless of where they came from. That’s the biggest goal in my mind.

 

Slimmed Down Black Forest Cake Recipe to Celebrate National Black Forest Cake Day

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It’s National Black Forest Cake Day! You read that right- there is actually a cake holiday. Aren’t you glad I didn’t let you miss this one?! Have you been telling yourself you can’t have cake? If so, why? Is it a food you feel like once you start eating you can’t stop? Or do you just feel guilty after eating a food that you don’t deem as the healthiest option? Here’s the thing- food should be fun. It should be enjoyable to eat and you shouldn’t feel guilt about eating a dessert, or anything for that matter. Sure you shouldn’t eat cake with every meal (or as an entire meal), but you also shouldn’t avoid it.

Do you know what I have found to be the BIGGEST reason that someone fails to lose weight and keep it off? It’s that they don’t eat cake. Seriously! The people who refuse to ever treat themselves, that think they must force themselves to be deprived of all of their favorite foods, those are the people that will never be successful at long term weight management. Why? Because losing weight and keeping it off requires you to make healthy lifestyle changes. If you go ‘on a diet’ you probably have the intention of going ‘off the diet’ at a certain point as well. And what happens when you ‘go off’? You probably go right back to the same old habits that caused you to gain weight in the first place. Sound familiar? What’s the point in starving yourself and depriving yourself to reach your goal weight if you can’t maintain it? Is your ultimate goal really to say ‘I was healthier for a hot minute and then I gained all the weight back’ or is it to slowly work towards your goal over time knowing that when you do achieve your health goals, whatever they may be, that you will actually maintain them? I hope it’s the latter choice. And if it is (and it should be!) depriving yourself of a food you love is not the answer.

So today put an end to the deprivation cycle and spread the word- ‘LET THEM EAT CAKE!” Before you restrict your food choices or make a change to your meal plan, ask yourself is this a change I can maintain for life? To me a choice to add a vegetable to my lunch every day is a lifestyle change that is realistic and something I can actually do for life. A choice to never have a slice of cake again- heck no! What a sad life that would be, right?! So go celebrate National Black Forest Cake Day with this spin on the original recipe that keeps all the same great flavor, but cuts down on the added sugars and unhealthy fats.

Slimmed Down Black Forest Cake Recipe
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Slimmed Down Black Forest Cake

It's National Black Forest Cake Day! Enjoy it with my Slimmed Down version of this tasty treat!

Servings: 10
Ingredients
For Cake:
  • 1 15.25-ounce box Devils Food Cake Mix
  • 1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil melted
  • 10 each dark chocolate cordial cherries
For Frosting:
  • 1 13.5-ounce can coconut cream refrigerated overnight
  • 2 tbsp powdered sugar
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

  2. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, yogurt, water and coconut oil. Blend until smooth. 

  3. In a prepared 9×13-baking pan, pour cake mix. Gently push cordial cherries about 1/2-inch from each other into cake mixture. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean. Let cake cool completely. 

  4. While the cake is cooling, make coconut whipped cream. In a mixing bowl, add refrigerated coconut cream (just the cream, not the liquid left at the bottom of the can). Using a hand mixer beat coconut cream on high for 1 minute. Add powdered sugar and beat for another 4 minutes. Refrigerate whipped cream until cake has completely cooled. Spread coconut whip evenly on top of cake. Use chocolate shavings for garnish and enjoy! 

Recipe Notes

263 calories, 20 g CHO, 16 g FAT, 2 g PRO, 13 mg sodium, 16 g sugar

Slimmed Down Black Forest Cake Recipe

 

Shamrock Spinach Pancakes

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Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! With my name being Erin there’s no way I couldn’t share with you a fun recipe to celebrate the day. So here you go- one of my favorite creations: Shamrock Spinach Pancakes

 

 

These little guys are so fun to make and only have 50 calories and 2 grams of carbohydrate per serving. The recipe and step-by-step instructions are all in my YouTube video above. I’d love your thoughts on my new ‘Erin’s Healthy Bites’ recipe series. Let me know what recipes you would like to see created and I will get working on them for you.

Shamrock Spinach Pancake Recipe

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