"What Do I Cook?"

This past week many of my patients began voicing their ultimate problem with trying to lose weight – “what do I cook?”  Some of them wanted me to simply write down a sample meal plan for them to get started.  I always counter it and tell them I don’t know exactly what they like to eat nor if they’d be willing to prepare the food, as it does take some form of planning – from going to the grocery store and buying the food to actually cooking the food.  (There are many apps now to deliver food to your doorstep – it all depends on what you’re willing to spend.  There are even meal delivery type subscriptions that will deliver the ingredients and you cook or they’ll deliver actual pre-made food).   That’s where I always hit a little resistance from the patients.  Their number one complaint?  I don’t have time or I’m just too tired.  I’d be the first to tell you no one wants to cook after a long day at work.  I get it.  But everyone has to eat, right?  And the more you don’t have a plan the more likely you are to stop for something on the way home…something that isn’t always the healthiest option.  Believe me, that’s normal and we’ve all been there.   So back to the original question, “what do I cook?”  I always encourage my patients to do a little meal prep.  Depending on how much time you have on the weekends you can get a few of the items prepped and ready to go.  I always make my grains ahead of time – be it pasta, quinoa, or rice – the grains heat up easily  and this way I don’t need to be waiting for those to cook each night (not that they take too long, but it’s one less step to have to take).  This is where you do need the plan for what you’ll be eating for the week.  It’ll help guide what else needs to be prepped ahead of time and what will need to be done the night of dinner.  Maybe a weekly meal plan will help and take the thought process out of it.  That’s what I do.  Meatless Monday is the theme for Monday, Taco Tuesday is next (and it even turns up on Thursday – or I’ll do breakfast for dinner), One pan dinner on Wednesday, and Pasta of some sort on Friday (as I’ll do my long runs on Saturday).  That’s the way I simplify my meal planning.  Find what works for you, but planning is key.  Here are a few ideas to get you going for a few easy weeknight meals.

Meatless Monday is the theme for Monday, Taco Tuesday is next (and it even turns up on Thursday – or I’ll do breakfast for dinner), One pan dinner on Wednesday, and Pasta of some sort on Friday (as I’ll do my long runs on Saturday).

Meatless Monday – I am by no means pushing you to be vegetarian.  I do believe as a dietitian in the health benefits of eating a few meatless meals occasionally.  Not to mention the benefit for the planet! I was one of those kids labeled “picky”.  I wasn’t picky per se, I just didn’t like the texture of meat.  So who knows, maybe your kids would love a meal like this?!

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Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp Noodle Bowls - I know what you’re thinking, this isn’t meatless.  I simply use mainstream recipes and either substitute tofu, beans, or nuts.  Weird sounding maybe to you, but not to me.  I have been a vegetarian (technically pescatarian as I will eat fish occasionally) since 2005 and I never keep a recipe from being one I can try just because it has meat involved.  I’ll find a way to alter it to my liking!

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Veggie Sushi Bowls - easy peasy, lemon squeezy as the saying goes.  Sushi deconstructed!  Everyone gets to have all the things they love thrown into a bowl (and no rolling involved!)  The spicy mayo, delish!

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Taco Tuesday – Tacos are great because you can have all the toppings available and kids get to choose what they want to add on to their tacos.  Pico de gallo, guacamole, shredded cheese…the sky is the limit!  Now that summer is fast approaching, keep an open mind and try out all different kinds of salsas!

Fish Tacos with Cabbage Slaw - how much more simpler could these be??  And I love the crunch of the cabbage.  Feel free to use whatever white, flaky fish you choose.

Pico de Gallo - Because if you're making tacos, you need a good pico recipe in your arsenal!  As summer approaches, explore different salsa flavors - peach salsa, mango salsa - all the different flavor combinations will help rotate and create variety.

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Portobello Tacos with Vegan Jalapeno Sauce – I love the versatility of the cashew!  Make the jalapeño cashew sauce up for the week and you can use it throughout for other toppings – salads, dip for raw veggies.  And keep in mind I’m showing you a vegan taco recipe, you can always add in the protein of your choice.

One-Pan Dinners – behold the easy clean-up…one pan dinners.  These are the best.  Less mess, less fuss.  I can make dishes, believe me.  So if I only have to clean one dish?  Even better!

Skillet Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Carrots - This is for all of you that think you’ve eaten chicken too many times.  Find a few different sauces.  Each recipe WILL taste different.  While I don’t eat chicken, remember I’m using nuts, beans, and tofu for my protein.  And for those that haven't eaten tofu, there is no flavor unless there’s a sauce.  That helps to create a variety in flavors and keeps me from getting bored too easily!

Halibut with Coconut Creamed Kale and Quinoa in a Papillote  This is where I told you to have the quinoa already made up.  Remember that?  Parchment paper and fish make for an easy dinner.  If you’re kale is already cut-up as well (more meal prep) all you’re doing is massaging the coconut milk into the kale.  Layer the quinoa, kale, and then fish on top.  Seal the parchment paper closed so the fish is steaming inside.  15 minutes later (depending on the size of your fish) and dinner is served.  Voilá.  These are go to recipes when having friends over (see, I don’t push being a vegetarian on anyone J)

Breakfast for Dinner – Who said breakfast can’t be served for dinner?  I don’t always have eggs in the morning and if I do have eggs I’ll have them on the weekend.  Eggs are so simple to make and again are a great way to have a quick-cooking dinner. 

Ham and Cheese Mini Frittatas – The individual frittatas sometimes appeals to the kids and you can individualize these if need be.  Pair the frittatas with English muffins or toast and a fruit salad.

Spring Vegetable Frittata – Sauté up a few of your favorite spring-time vegetables (already pre-cut from your meal prep) and then simply pour the egg batter over the vegetables to cook in the oven for 10-12 minutes.  Again, sides are up to you.  Keep it balanced and provide a nice whole grain toast with a side of fruit.

One-Pot Pasta – Even pasta can be cooked all in one pot!  If you want that is.   Pasta is quite simple to have on hand.  I’ll use whatever vegetables I have left over from the week and throw them all in.  Top with the cheese I have on hand – feta, goat, or blue – and then sprinkle with toasted nuts of your choice. (again, you can always include your favorite protein).  Here are a few to get you started thinking:

One-Pot Pasta with Spinach and Tomatoes - Simple and easy.  Add your choice of protein.

Farfalle with Marinated Feta, Arugla and Toasted Pine Nuts – Marinate the feta ahead of time and toast the nuts ahead of time.  Simple steps to make dinner less of a hassle – can you even call 30 minutes a hassle??  It takes that long to get dinner out at a restaurant, not to mention the cost you’ll be saving!!  I substituted walnuts for pine nuts (I ran out and wasn't going back to the store for the bazillioneth time!)

What Do I Cook - One-Pot Pasta Toasted Walnuts & Marinated Feta (1).jpg

So there you have it.  A few simple tips to possibly get your meal planning in gear.  I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I will tell you this, eating healthy takes a little bit of planning.  Incorporate other family members to help with part of the meal prep (if it doesn’t end up happening on the weekend).  It’s easy to make excuses and it’s easy to pick take-up on the way home from work.  The key is having a little more control where your food is concerned.  It’ll help.  Promise.

Last year kale had its moment.  This year I’d say cauliflower is having its go.  Cauliflower rice, cauliflower crust, cauliflower steak. 

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I love how a vegetable becomes popular all of a sudden.  I think that radishes are starting to make a swing for popularity.  Okay, maybe I’m wrong, but I do peruse through quite a few social media sites and recently I’ve seen them pickled and roasted.  So I challenge my patients when it comes to vegetables, what new way can you try a vegetable you’ve never tried out?  Many will say they just don’t like vegetables and I don’t buy that.  I do believe vegetables are not the favorite food of everyone, but I do believe we can learn to embrace them and find some we like.  As long as vegetables are  prepared in a way that provides flavor.  Roasting will do that.  So, I set out to roast some radish and see what the fuss was all about.  I first must confess that radish were not my favorite vegetable.  I had tried them raw many a times and knew I needed to set out to find a way to embrace them.  Practicing what I teach.  Roasting the radish definitely made it have a different taste.  And while they weren’t bitter, they just weren’t my thing.  In the radish defense I only used olive oil and pepper.  Some websites use other flavorings – lemon pepper, garlic powder, etc.  I will give them another chance.  It’s possible the lemon pepper flavoring will enhance them in a better way. 

Roasting Radish - here's a recipe to help you out.  Try it out.  You might like it.

Instead of roasting the radish I went an alternate way and tried pickling the radish.  And bingo!!  This is the way I ended up loving them!!  I have tacos quite a bit.  I do love pico de gallo and guacamole for toppings, but was looking for something with a bit more crunch on top.  Pickling veggies was a good way to step up the flavor game.  I loved their crisp, tart flavor.  It added a lot of bang to the taco and for such a simple vegetable too!  I combined 5 radish, 1 shallot – all sliced thin, ¼ cup lime juice, 1 teaspoon sugar, and a pinch of salt.  I admit.  I ate these all by myself and didn’t share one bit.  Make them up as you need them.  The radish turn a vibrant crazy shade of pink.  I found myself liking them fresh and not after sitting for too many days.  Try them out.  Tell me how you like radish – roasted, pickled, or both??

The last comment/complaint from patients is in regards to breakfast.  Many times I’ll have a patient in and they’re skipping breakfast.  I truly believe that starting your day with breakfast simply sets the tone for the day.  Not to mention I do love using the simple example/metaphor of our bodies being like cars.  We need gas/fuel to go, thus we need to eat first thing in the morning.  You’ve gone all night without eating and when you skip a meal it has to go to its alternative fuel sources for you to move.  Why not give it the best fuel possible and start the morning out?  Here come all the excuses again – no time, I’d rather sleep, I’m not hungry.  We could tackle all of these issues one at a time, but for now let’s just have a couple easy recipes handy to have on hand instead of skipping one of the most important meals of the day (solely my opinion). 

Overnight oats – It’s a new way of eating an old favorite.  Here are two recipes you might give a go and see if you like.  Simple prep the night ahead allows for breakfast to be ready in seconds!

Real Simple’s overnight oats withstrawberries and toasted almonds - I use half the amount of fruit as this recipe calls for and I always add more nuts and hemp and/or chia seeds.  It's easy to have too many carbs at breakfast.  The key is balancing your meals with the right mix of carbs, protein, and fats. 

Peanut Butter Overnight Oats – Just a few notes about maple syrup – it's being termed in many websites these days as "naturally sweetened" – maple syrup is sugar, plain and simple.  We have to be careful of our total consumption and a tablespoon in this recipe is just too much.  Start at a ½ tablespoon and maybe even use none – add fruit in the morning, REAL natural sweetness – it’s what I do with those berries that are too ripe.  No food waste in my house..at least I’m trying! 

 Just a few ideas for you the next time you're thinking, "What do I cook??"  Make sure to have a plan.  Sit down with your family and strategize what foods you all like and include everyone in the meal prep.  Truth be told, we start eating the same things over and over.  It's good to have your "go to" meals, but make sure to throw a new meal in every now and then.  Hopefully this will get you thinking!