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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
“I just can’t quit you.” Have you ever felt that way when it comes to your scale? I know I sure have. To me, the scale is like the toxic boyfriend you know you shouldn’t obsess over, but you just can’t help yourself. My relationship with my scale used to be like a bad Lifetime movie. I’d hide from it, tell myself whatever it told me didn’t matter, but somehow it always worked its why back into my life, messed with my mind, and damaged my self-esteem.
Sound like a familiar story? I think most women can relate to this type of relationship with the scale at some point in their lives. So what should we do? I’m not advocating that we all toss our scales out the window or pretend they never existed. I do think weighing yourself can be valuable from time to time (and yes I do weight myself occasionally). But we need to adjust the reasons we choose to weigh ourselves.
When you are about to step on the scale, why are you weighing yourself? What are you planning to do with the information the scale provides? I have found from working with hundreds of clients (as well as my own personal journey with the scale) that we step on for two reasons: to verify our self worth or as a form of self-punishment. We let that silly number on the scale define us. If the number is low – hooray!- your day just got instantly better. Your self-esteem is boosted, you feel energized, you feel prettier, and you feel like you are more worthy. If the number is high -#?!$@!!!- you jump off, get pissed, and feel fat, ugly, and unworthy the rest of the day. Am I right?
Guess what? Before you stepped on the scale you were just as pretty or smart or thin or heavy as you were before that stupid number popped up. That number changed absolutely nothing about you. But unfortunately, our mind doesn’t always see it that way. If you know before weighing yourself that whatever the number tells you it will impact the way you view yourself, whether that be positive or negative, then your relationship with the scale isn’t exactly a healthy one. If this sounds like you, then it’s time that you break up with your scale (or at least part ways for the time being).
Breaking up with your scale can be incredibly empowering. I know before I broke up with the scale, I was terrified that if I didn’t weigh myself daily my weight would just balloon up. What happened in reality? After avoiding the scale for over a year, my weight decreased, my self-esteem increased, and I finally developed a healthy relationship with my body weight. Now I can occasionally jump on the scale to gauge where I am at (like when I want to see if I am back to my pre-baby weight), use the number as constructive feedback, and get on with my day. I can’t tell you how much better it feels to not let a dumb number rule my life or impact my day. And you can feel this way too- you just have to go through with the breakup first!
If you are ready to stop letting the scale rule your life, use these 3 simple steps to break-up effectively:
Place the scale out of sight
When I want to avoid binging on those cookies my husband brought home from work, I don’t throw them away. Instead, I just place them where I can’t actually see them. That way, I am not constantly reminded to eat them, but they are still there when I want to enjoy some. I use this same strategy with the scale. Place it somewhere where you don’t see it or have easy access to it. If you tell yourself you are not going to weigh yourself, but then the scale is right there in front of you as soon as you go into the bathroom, you will end up weighing yourself. Instead, hide the scale in the back of the closet. Its there if you need it, but you will have to go out of your way to find it.
Trust your body
This was probably what I struggled with the most when I wanted to stop weighing myself everyday. I feared that if I didn’t weigh myself and see that number in front of me, my weight would skyrocket out of control. It didn’t happen, and there’s a good reason for that. Before, when I would weigh myself, if the number was low I felt ‘skinny’ and often found myself ‘treating’ myself to whatever I wanted to eat. Then after I would do this, of course my weight would begin to creep back up. When I weighed myself and saw my weight was high, I would be almost too careful with what I ate. This led to deprivation, which ultimately led to overeating.
When I stopped caring about the scale, all of this went away. I ate because I was hungry. I stopped when I felt satisfied. I treated myself on occasion, but mostly I just wanted foods that made me feel energized and healthy. The yo-yo dieting, the deprivation and binge eating cycles, and the desire to ‘reward’ myself with food all went away. I was more in touch with my body and my needs, and my weight leveled off accordingly.
Use measurements that actually mean something
Here’s the thing. As a nutrition professional I cannot state that the number on the scale has no value. Tracking changes in growth, development, and disease status are all dependent on weight changes, so we cannot stop using the number on the scale completely. However, I have never seen any research that says a fluctuation in body weight of a few pounds up or down is an indication of a change in any sort of health status, negative or positive, in an otherwise healthy individual. So you are doing when you focus on those small changes on the scale is playing mental games with yourself (and driving yourself mad).
If you are eating well, exercising, and trying to improve your health then focus on measurements that actually mean something. The scale can go up and down for a number of reasons, like whether or not you went to the bathroom before you weighed yourself. Measurements like tracking your waist circumference aren’t so sensitive. This can help you to gauge body composition changes without messing with your mind. Tracking fitness changes such as when you can successfully bench a heavier weight or walk a mile a minute faster than you previously had are all ways to know you are improving your health.
So put the scale away, make a commitment to yourself to focus on how you feel from your efforts to eat well and be more active versus how the number makes you feel, and finally free yourself from determining your self worth based on a silly number.
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.
What’s Easter without a little sugar, right? I’m totally onboard with celebrating a holiday, but if I can tweak a recipe to keep it tasting great, but boosting the nutrition value a bit, I definitely try. I know the Easter baskets will be overflowing with chocolates and jelly beans so cutting down a bit on the amount of added sugar in our other desserts this weekend won’t hurt.
To me, an Easter dessert should be fun and colorful, just like dying an Easter egg. And that’s what this healthy sugar cookie recipe reminds me of. This healthy Easter dessert is so fun to make and so fun to eat, yet at the same time these Easter sugar cookies still squeeze in a bit of nutrition from the fresh fruit, walnuts, and Greek yogurt. It makes having that second (or who I am kidding- the that 4th or 5th) cookie a bit more justified.
This recipe is my favorite Easter cookie recipe by far, but if you need more Easter dessert recipe ideas, make sure to check out my High Protein Easter Bunny Cake Pops which are almost too adorable to eat! And if you are just in the mood for a delicious, no sugar added cookie make sure to try one of my all-time favorite recipes High Protein Banana Chocolate Chip Breakfast Cookies.
This naturally sweetened Easter dessert combines the deliciousness of a sugar cookie with the color of fresh fruit for a healthy Easter dessert the whole family will love
- 1 cup 1 cup whole wheat-white flour
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 Tbs non-fat Greek plain yogurt
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 Tbs unsalted butter room temperature
- 2 oz walnuts finely ground
- 2 Tbs chia or flax seeds save ½ of this mixture for toppings*
- 1 Egg shaped cookie cutter
- 1 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
- 3 Tbs powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 kiwi peeled and diced
- 1 mango pitted and diced
- 1 pineapple spear diced
- 2 strawberries stemmed and diced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, mix together yogurt, egg, sugar, vanilla extract, and butter. Mix until smooth. Slowly stir and combine with dry ingredients. Fold in finely ground walnut mixture. Dough should start to form.
On a clean, floured surface place dough. Roll out flat. With an Easter egg shape cookie cutter, cut out 12-14 Easter egg shapes and place on a prepared baking pan. (You can also form egg shaped dough with your hands, I did and the sizes may vary)
Bake cookies for 15-25 minutes or until cookies feel firm or start to brown. Take out of oven and let cool completely.
While cookies are cooling, make yogurt frosting. In a small bowl, combine yogurt, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth.
Once cookies are cooled, frost with yogurt frosting and top with fruit and walnut mixture by creating fun designs. Enjoy immediately and HAPPY EASTER!
Nutrition Facts (per cookie): 175 calories, 30 g CHO, 5 g FAT, 5 g PRO, 20 mg sodium, 22 g sugar, 2 g fiber