Planning healthy meals for your week doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Incorporate some of these ideas for make-ahead meals that will help you put nutritious food on the table despite a busy schedule.
Pot of Beans
If you use a slow cooker, there are few meals simpler than a pot of beans. Soak 1 pound of black beans in water overnight. Then add the beans, 6 cups of water, 3 cloves of minced garlic, and a small diced onion to your slow cooker. Cook the beans on high for 5-6 hours or low for about 8 hours. Add seasonings such as cumin, basil, chili powder, and salt to taste.
Fully cooked beans can get mushy after being frozen so remove any you plan to freeze about 1 hour before the beans are done cooking. Beans can be served over brown rice, as a filling for tacos, or topped with an egg for breakfast. Puree the beans and add your favorite spices for a vegetable dip, or use the puree to thicken and flavor soups and pasta sauces.
Roasted and Sauteed Vegetables
Broccoli and cauliflower florets can be roasted on a baking sheet for 20 minutes in a 425 degrees Fahrenheit oven. Use them as a side dish, or serve them with quinoa for a full meal. Leftovers make a healthy pizza topping, or reheat the broccoli and cauliflower with vegetable stock and puree for a filling soup. Bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms can be sauteed to make vegetable fajitas. Use leftovers as a filling for calzones or omelets, or in a pasta salad.
Lean Ground Meats
Save money by purchasing lean ground beef, chicken, or turkey in bulk. Use a portion for a meatloaf on the weekend. At the same time, make some into patties or meatballs to freeze for easy burgers or pasta on a busy night. Cook the rest in a skillet and refrigerate for 2-3 days or freeze portions for up to 2 months to use in tacos or for chili.
Whole chickens can be roasted in the oven, grilled, or for much less hassle, use the slow cooker. Rub the skin of a 3 ½ to 4 pound whole chicken with your favorite spices. Arrange 2 quartered onions and 2-3 peeled cloves of garlic in the bottom of the slow cooker. Place the chicken (breast side up) on top, cover with the lid and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours, or until the meat begins to fall off the bone. Once the chicken has cooled, shred the meat using two forks (and clean hands). Divide the meat into portions that you can refrigerate or freeze. Shredded chicken is great to have on hand for quick chicken salad sandwiches, wraps, pot pies, fried rice, soups and stews, and Mexican dishes like nachos, tacos, or quesadillas.
When stored in a glass baking dish or disposable baking pan, casseroles can go from freezer, to oven, to table for an easy weeknight meal. The tricky part is making healthier versions without high-calorie and high-fat cream sauces, cheeses, and meats. (Our Sweet Potato Lentil Shepherd’s Pie is a great option for a healthy casserole.)
Keep in mind foods such as eggs, cooked white potatoes, lettuces, cooked pasta and rice, and milk or cream based sauces do not freeze well. When you are ready to use your casserole, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator or take it straight from freezer to oven. You will need to increase the baking time by 1/3 to 1/2 the time called for in the recipe. Test the internal temperature with a meat thermometer to ensure it reaches at least 165 degrees.
Oatmeal for Breakfast
Oatmeal is a healthy breakfast that can be made ahead for the family to enjoy all week. For 8 servings, combine 2 cups of steel cut oats with 8 cups of water in the slow cooker and cook on low for 4 hours. Divide the oats into single-serve storage containers for the refrigerator or freezer. Nuts and dried fruits can be added during the cooking process, or you can leave the oats unflavored and add fresh berries, nuts, seeds, honey, or maple syrup when you reheat them. Add about 1 tablespoon of water or milk before reheating to give the oats a smoother, just-cooked consistency. (Try our Almond Cherry Steel-cut Oatmeal.)
Maintaining a healthy body weight is important, but it should not be confused with being physically fit. Simply being thin does not protect you from health conditions related to a sedentary lifestyle.
Research supports fitness.
A person can appear thin while having excess visceral fat -- the fat around vital organs that increases disease risk -- making weight alone a poor indicator for overall health. Researchers use the term metabolically fit to describe a person who is a regular exerciser and overweight, but is without health risk factors, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Studies show that, despite being overweight, the metabolically fit have no higher death risk than those who are fit and maintain a normal weight.
This research indicates that thinness doesn’t always equal fitness, but it is also no reason to abandon your weight loss goals. Maintaining a healthy weight puts less stress on your joints and can improve your energy levels.
Measure your fitness.
Fitness should be your goal regardless of your body weight. There are three components that define your total fitness level:
Cardiorespiratory endurance – Often measured by the step test, it is the ability of the heart, lungs, and vascular system to work together to transfer oxygen and carbon dioxide within the body during activity.
Muscular endurance, power, and strength – Measured by push up tests, sit up tests, and hand grip, it’s the ability of the muscles to contract, generate force, and sustain repeated contraction.
Flexibility – Measured by the sit-and-reach test, flexibility is a measure of the range of motion around joints.
Fitness centers, worksite health fairs, and university exercise labs provide tests for these components.
Pass these health tests.
Health tests help you identify risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Remember that those considered metabolically fit do not have health risk factors despite the fact that they are overweight according to their BMI. Regularly schedule appointments with your healthcare provider to assess these health indicators. He or she may recommend more tests to determine your overall health status.
Fasting blood glucose - 70 to 100 mg/dL is normal
Triglycerides - below 150 mg/dL is desirable
HDL cholesterol - greater than 60 mg/dL is desirable
Blood pressure - less than 120 mmHg over less than 80 mmHg is normal
Exercise regardless of your weight.
Exercise is a key factor in staying metabolically fit. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week for improved health. Also incorporate two or three days of strength training and two or three days of flexibility training each week for a balanced exercise program to improve your metabolic fitness.
Socks wear thin, sports bras lose support, waistbands stretch out, and the UPF in sun-protective clothing decreases with each wash. Toss exercise clothing that is worn out and donate what you don’t wear. Tennis shoes last for about 300 to 400 miles of activity. Get fitted for a new pair, and donate those that are past their prime to a program such as Soles4Souls.
Simplify your diet.
Now is the time to take advantage of spring's fresh produce. Concentrate on lighter foods and fewer ingredients. Skip the packaged products, and reach for fruits of the season, such as strawberries, raspberries, and apricots. Incorporate nutrient-rich asparagus, pea pods, and crisp greens into your meals.
Add a meditative workout to your week.
Head out on a nature hike or stretch at a place in the park with the best views. Take in your surroundings and be grateful for the gift of exercise and health.
Invite a friend.
Expand your support network. Start a walking group and exercise together a few times a week. Host a monthly cooking club where each member shares healthy ways to make favorite meals.
Set a goal for summer.
Pick a fun 5K to walk or run, set the number of standard push ups you will accomplish in one set, or aim to climb all the stairs at the stadium without stopping for a break. Whatever the goal, make sure it spells S-U-C-C-E-S-S.
Throw out a bad habit.
Maybe you can’t resist the candy dish after a stressful morning meeting, you skip stretching after workouts, or you indulge in a few more specialty coffees each week than you should. Even with all the positive changes you have made, there is likely one bad habit that sticks around. Now is the time to kick it to the curb.
Try a new exercise time.
Extended daylight is one of the best things about the arrival of spring. If you've been squeezing in a lunchtime workout all winter, try switching things up with an early morning run or a tennis match after work.
Trade in a boring routine.
Your body needs new challenges to stay fit so it’s important to change up your workout routine every four to six weeks. Spring is a great time to introduce new exercises by taking your workout outdoors. Try boot camp at the park, join a weekend cycling club, or try trail running.
Get a check up.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults have a cholesterol check every five years. If you are overdue, spring is the perfect time to make an appointment with your doctor to assess your overall health status.
Resistance training that targets the abdominal and lower back muscles builds a strong core to reduce lower back pain. Common exercises include lower back extensions, bridges, crunches, twists, and leg raises. Performing exercises on a stability ball or with pulley machines requires the use of stabilizing muscles for balance which also contributes to a strong core and healthy back.
Yoga for Flexibility
Yoga poses increase flexibility and strengthen core muscles. Research shows that regular yoga practice can reduce back pain in some people. Consider a gentle or restorative yoga class to get started. These classes have fewer poses and focus on improving flexibility and relaxation.
Correct Computer Workstation
A poorly designed workstation can cause incorrect posture that contributes to lower back pain. The U.S. Department of Labor offers advice on how to set-up your computer workstation.
Adjust your monitor so that the top is at or just below your eye level.
Sit so that your head and neck are in line with your torso and keep your shoulders relaxed.
Your elbows should be held close to your side, bent at 90 to 120 degrees, and supported by arm rests, if possible.
Adjust your seat height so that your wrists and hands are in line with your forearms when typing.
Choose a desk chair with lumbar support or roll up a towel and place it between your lower back and the back of the chair.
Keep your feet flat on the floor and consider using a foot riser so that your knees are at hip height.
Lifting heavy objects is a major cause of lower back pain, but using proper form can help reduce your risk of injury. Follow these tips for lifting with your knees and not with your back.
Stand close to the object with feet about hip distance apart.
Bend at the knees and the waist and grasp the object. You should be in a squatting position. Avoid bending only at the waist.
Avoid twisting or turning the body when you are carrying the load. Your feet should face the direction you plan to move with the object before you lift it.
Return the object using the same process. Bend your knees and lower to the ground. Try propping the object on your knee as you slowly slide it to the floor.
Always test the weight of an object before trying to lift it. If the object is too heavy, ask for help or use a dolly or cart.
Supportive Sleep Position
Your sleeping position can reduce the risk of lower back pain. The Mayo Clinic recommends using pillows to make sleep comfortable and safe for your back.
On your side - Pull your knees up to hip level and place a pillow between your knees. The pillow supports the top leg and prevents spine rotation.
On your back - Keep the natural curve of your spine by placing a pillow under the back of your knees and a small, rolled towel under your lower back.
On your stomach - Place the pillow under your hips and also rest your head on a pillow if it does not cause neck strain.
Check with your healthcare provider when you experience lower back pain. When choosing treatment and selecting the best steps to prevent future pain, it’s important to rule out serious causes such as slipped discs.
As a parent, you play the leading role in how your children relate to food and exercise. The following 5 tips will help you steer your children towards happy, healthy lifestyles.
Make sure that you are not revealing negative comments about yourself in front of your daughter or son. Many individuals who struggle with weight issues have a less than ideal body image and often repeat negative self-talk out loud. Standing in front of the mirror and saying that you hate something about your body will teach your children how they should think and feel about their bodies. Focus on positive attributes that you're proud of, both in yourself and in your children.
Be physically active
Integrate healthy activity into your day without making it feel like a chore. Children naturally like to run and play. Make an effort to play outside together on a daily basis. Go on treasure hunts for nature items around the neighborhood, ride bikes to the park, swim, and play freeze tag. Never bring up burning calories or exercising to lose weight. Instead, mention how good it feels to move your body, and have fun.
Learn what you should and shouldn’t control
Ellyn Satter, an author and expert on child feeding, has said parents should be responsible for the type of food that is presented to the child, and when and where it is offered. Children are responsible for whether or not they choose to eat it, and how much. Offering structured, healthy meals and snacks in a peaceful environment is ideal. Forcing your child to eat them is not. The goal is to develop an internal sense of conscious eating in your child.
Avoid the "good food, bad food" trap
Offer a large variety of food. Center your family’s eating habits on healthy items, but include treats and favorite foods in moderation. You are one of your children’s most important role models. By sitting down and enjoying a satisfying and nutritious meal together, you are shaping eating preferences in a positive way.
Don’t focus on weight loss
The goal for overweight children is to reduce weight gain as he or she grows and develops. If you feel your children need to lose weight, consult your doctor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that children and teens should not be put on a weight loss regimen without the consultation and supervision of a healthcare professional.