4 Secrets to Simple Home-Cooked Meals
Making dinner at home is a great way to stay fit and trim. When you’re the cook, you have control over what goes in your food, which means you can make sure that what you’re eating is healthy.
Make it easier on yourself by breaking meal prep down into these simple steps.
1. Plan Ahead
Plan the week's menus by consulting favorite recipes, cookbooks, grocery store sales, and coupons, and looking to see what ingredients you have on hand.
Try to include at least one new recipe and plan to use your leftovers. For example, serve a roasted chicken from the supermarket one night, then use the leftovers in a chicken noodle soup, quesadilla, taco, wrap, pita sandwich, or entree salad the next night.
Before heading out in the morning, think about the dinner plan in case it requires defrosting or tossing ingredients into a slow cooker for a meal that's ready when you walk through the door.
2. Think Big
When you’re making a favorite meal, double the recipe so you cook once and eat twice. Another time saver: Cook double the protein and use it the following night in another recipe.
Use big-batch recipes for hearty soups made with whatever veggies you have on hand. Freeze some of it for another time.
3. Keep It Simple
Use MyPlate as a guide. Fill three-quarters of the plate with fruits, veggies, and whole grains and the fourth quarter with lean protein. You can include low-fat dairy in the meal (think cheese, skim milk, or yogurt).
At least once a week, make a vegetarian meal centered on beans, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Try this breakfast-for-dinner idea: Make a vegetable cheese omelet, fruit salad, and whole wheat toast -- or hide the whole wheat bread as French toast and top it with fresh fruit.
4. Stock Up
A well-stocked kitchen saves time, money, and provides the basics for quick, easy meals. Here are some examples of what to always keep handy
In the refrigerator:
- Dairy: skim milk, fat-free and low-fat Greek yogurt, fat-free half-and-half (alternative in cooking), assorted cheeses, light sour cream, and light mayonnaise
- Fruits: lemons, limes, apples, oranges, and grapefruits. Also, seasonal fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, peaches, mangoes, and melons
- Veggies: assorted mixed greens, avocados, baby carrots, mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes, along with fresh picks such as asparagus, green beans, broccoli, and sugar snap peas
- Juices: orange, grapefruit, light cranberry, and low-sodium tomato
- Eggs, butter, and trans-fat-free soft margarine
In the freezer:
- Meats: boneless skinless chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, salmon, shrimp, ground turkey breast, and lean beef
- Assorted frozen vegetables: spinach, corn, green beans, and mixed vegetables
- Shelled edamame
- Assorted frozen fruits: blueberries, mango, peach, strawberries
- Breads: whole-grain rolls, whole wheat pizza crusts or pita bread
- Low-fat frozen desserts: frozen yogurt, fruit bars
- Healthy frozen dinners
In the pantry:
- Onions, garlic, sweet potatoes
- Pickles, olives, light salad dressings, bottled marinades
- Fruit preserves
- Extra virgin olive oil and canola oils
- Assorted mustards and vinegars
- Low-sodium beans -- black, kidney, garbanzo
- Assorted fruits in their own juices
- Low-sodium chicken and beef stock
- Low-sodium soups
- Tomato sauce, whole tomatoes
- Water-packed tuna
- Canned artichoke hearts
- Canned olives
- Whole grains: pasta, couscous, brown rice, crackers, cereals, and oatmeal
- Treats: simple cookies, high-protein granola bars
- Nuts and natural-style nut butters