By Michael Russell, recent Arizona State University Nutrition Communications Student
These days, it seems we find more and more to put on our plate, no pun intended, and we find less time to eat right. I know in my day I typically wake up with very little time to make a healthy breakfast and usually get home too exhausted to make anything that resembles a decent dinner. So what to do?
I know that it is very easy to pull off to one of the many fast food places and pick up something but after a while that will only do more harm than good. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any fast healthy food chains popping up across the United States so it is time to meet this problem head on and fix it within our own kitchens.
I’ve been doing some research on quick and nutritious meals and I wanted to share what I’ve learned.
Breakfast, Famous for Being the Most Important Meal of the Day
We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it is what will get our bodies’ engines running. If we continue with that analogy and look at our body as a car, we wouldn’t want to put cheap gas in our gas tank because it will destroy the engine from within, as we shouldn’t want to put doughnuts and muffins in our body first thing in the morning. It is crucial to the rest of the day what we eat in the morning so now would be a great time to introduce some fruit and vegetable to acquire those essential vitamins and minerals to jump start your body. Here are some breakfast foods that will be easy to prepare and be full of nutrients to start your day right:
- Oatmeal: One of the heart-healthiest breakfast meals, oatmeal is a great way to start your day but plain old oatmeal is boring and not very much fun to eat so try adding fruit and nuts to add some flavor. Bananas will add fiber and potassium while walnuts will contribute some healthy fats.
- Eggs: These little, white nutrient packed guys are an “egg”cellent (sorry I couldn’t help myself) source of fatty omega-3s and protein. One could do several egg preparations in the morning but one of the easiest is an omelet. Omelets are a great way to add some vegetables and healthier cheeses to your morning meal. My favorite is a spinach, tomato, mushroom 2 egg omelet with feta cheese and a sprinkle of fresh basil.
- Greek Yogurt: All yogurts are a greats source of calcium, potassium, protein, zinc, and vitamins B6 and B12 but what sets Greek yogurt apart is it’s lower in lactose and has twice the protein of regular yogurt. It is also creamier and thicker which makes Greek yogurt a great base for smoothies and smoothies are a quick and delicious start to your day. Also, they are a great way to add fruit and vegetable to get more out of the meal. My go to smoothie is plain Greek yogurt to which I add pineapple, strawberry, spinach, and pomegranate juice.
Lunch, Your Mid-Day Renewal
Lunch seems to be the meal that I skip quite often and I always kick myself for doing that because by the end of the day I have no energy and only want to sleep when I get home. The toughest part of lunch for me is preparing it in the morning or night before the coming day. But with some quick and easy meals in my arsenal I can brown bag it with pride. Let us look at some traditional lunch time meals and see how we can make them a little healthier while cutting down on time spent preparing:
- Sandwiches: This is quite possibly the most popular lunchtime staple and with a little tweaking we can make the lunch time sandwich a great mid-day energy source. First, start with whole grain bread, most of the time tastier than its white bread counterpart. Besides, cold cuts don’t forget leftover cuts of meat. If you have leftover roasted chicken, a can of tuna, or even veggies from the night before use them. Finally, dress your sandwich with olive oil or mayo cut with Greek yogurt.
- Wraps: Riding closely on the heels of the lunch time sandwich is the wrap. Look to impart more of the same principles of a sandwich building as you would in making your wrap. Whole wheat wraps, low-fat condiments, quality meat or vegetable choices make a quick and healthy meal that will power you through the second half of the day.
- Salads: Often labeled “rabbit food” salads have gotten a bad rap. There are many ways to make a salad bright, full flavored, and delicious while being quick to prepare. Start with a dark leafy green base such as romaine and spinach or kale. You can really pack on the vitamins and minerals by adding any kind of fruit to a salad. Pears and apples pair nicely with feta or goat cheese. Oranges and pineapples bring a bright flavor to an otherwise bland salad. Dressing your salad with olive oil and vinegar or cutting your creamier dressings with Greek yogurt is a healthier way to go.
You’re at the end of your work day and the last thing you want to do is make a huge dinner that will take hours to cook. Well, several ways exist to make a quick dinner and also have it be delicious and nutritious.
- Soups: I was very against making soup as a main meal because I always thought it was a starter to a dinner as opposed to just dinner but I’ve learned just the opposite is true. Soups combine proteins and minerals with meats and vegetables. Often only needing about a half hour to make, soup is a great way to save time and eat right. I typically sauté garlic and shallots in olive oil and then add mushrooms and carrots with leftover roasted chicken, pour in a mixture of vegetable and chicken stock and add kale with about 5 to 10 minutes left to cook.
- Pasta: Being Italian I am genetically inclined to love pasta, but it doesn’t love me back so I tweak my recipes. I use whole grain pasta and light sauces. I use turkey meat for meat sauces. I slice vegetables and dress my pasta with olive oil for a bright meal option.
- Meats: Beef has more than 29 lean cuts and Arizona is known for producing some of the healthiest beef around. Fish is also the way to go when wanting to eat more protein. Salmon, halibut, and tilapia are all great fish choices full of fatty omega-3s. Instead of breading the fish and frying it try broiling or grilling the fish for a healthier prep option. A honey-soy glaze or citrus-soy glaze adds pop to any fish dish. Paired with steamed vegetables or a side salad you’re looking for a 20-minute meal that is a great way to end the day.
Remember to go to Fill Your Plate for some quick recipes too. But just a few basics as mentioned above means you might not even need to follow a recipe!
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