The Meal Planner

Anything I’ve read on this subject says not to be restrictive telling yourself you “can’t have this”, and you “can’t eat that”. It’s more about a happy balance: eating foods you love, but incorporating healthy strategies into your meal plans. So what kinds of things can we do to get healthier meals on the table for our families?

Eat Less Pre-Packaged Food
I know the lure of hot dogs, French fries from the freezer and canned soups can feel so tempting because they are quick and easy and you don’t have to force feed them to your kids, but try to limit these items. Cook with fresh ingredients and make things from scratch. For quick and easy meal ideas that don’t involve a package or box, check out some of our family’s favorite fast recipes:

Prosciutto Wrapped Salmon over Lemon Herb Lentils
Grilled Asian Beef Kabobs with Fried Rice
Beef Stroganoff with Red Wine, Dijon & Dill
Cream of Leek & Celery Soup
Beef & Broccoli
Firecracker Shrimp Bowties

If you still think that you can’t pull one over your family’s eyes and deviate from their pre-packaged favorites, try making the pre-packaged things from scratch. By making it yourself, you cut out a ton of preservatives, salt, and fat. Do a quick search on allrecipes, recipezaar or google and you will find homemade taco seasoning, homemade “cream of soups”, fish sticks, chicken fingers, homemade shake n’ bake, macaroni and cheese, and lots more.

Cut Out the Cream
Don’t get sidetracked by all those rich and creamy pastas, casseroles and baked chicken recipes (I’m bad for this). Instead of a cream-based (or cheese-based or “cream of” soup based or sour cream-based…ohhh I could go on and on) recipe, find ones that have more vegetable based sauces like tomato sauce and pesto, or based with veggie or chicken stock or even olive oil. This will cut some of the richness and you can still find really yummy recipes. Two of our favorite non-cream based pasta dishes are:

Firecracker Shrimp Bowties
Spicy Sausage Linguine

Eat More Fish
By now everyone knows that salmon, tilapia and other forms of fish have really healthy omega-3 fats that our bodies need. So make a commitment to include a fish dish on your meal plan once a week (or if that’s too much for you, try every second week). Here are some recipes our family loves:

Roasted Salmon with Sweet ‘n’ Hot Mustard Glaze
Pecan Crusted Tilapia with Honey Glaze
Phyllo Wrapped Salmon with Honey Garlic Sauce

Include More Fruits & Veggies
I’m really bad for this. I concentrate on the meat dish and the side dish which is usually carb-based like pasta, rice or potatoes. But what if we put a little more effort into our veggie dishes? What if instead of a small portion of veggies on the side of the plate that was an after-thought, it becomes the fancy side dish? Or what if the veggies become the stars of the show, and there is just a small amount of meat included in the main dish?

A great website I have found for exciting veggie dishes is Veggie Venture by Alanna (also blogger of Kitchen Parade). The next time you are planning a side dish for a meal, check out her site and see if you get a little more inspired to include those fruits and veggies into your meal plan.

Don’t Limit Yourself
Don’t just stick to the same ol’ pasta, rice and potatoes, or the same ol’ chicken and ground beef or the same ol’ frozen peas and corn on your meal plan. Spice it up a bit. Eating a wider variety of foods will help you to meet the nutritional needs of your family better.

Each week on your meal plan, include a chicken, red meat and fish recipe to round out the week. Instead of the same white pasta or rice, try whole wheat. Or experiment with another grain altogether like bulgar, quinoa, millet or even lentils. Instead of regular white potatoes, substitute sweet potatoes. And get creative with those veggies! Steam or grill some asparagus, sauté some bok choy with sesame seeds, drizzle a little lemon juice over steamed spinach or whatever other recipes you can come up with. Just shake things up with a little more variety.

Step up the Salads
To pack more of a veggie punch into your meal plan, and get away from fat-laden foods, try having more salads as main dishes. You can squeeze a wide variety of veggies and fruit into a salad, round out with some lean protein and nuts and drizzle with a bit oil/vinegar based dressing. And kids seem to love salad too. The only thing about salads is that they can be deceiving. Be careful with the dressings you add, how the meat is prepared and how much egg, cheese, etc is going into it. A main dish salad can quickly turn into something as calorie and fat-rich as a McDonald’s Big Mac. Here are some main dish salads our family loves:

Pecan Chicken over Salad with Maple BBQ Dressing
Steak & Lemon Salad

You can also stretch protein this way too. 1 or 2 cooked chicken breasts chopped up and mixed into a salad will go a long way to filling up a family of 4 or 5.

If you feel like a lot of the recipes you have now in your current meal plan rotation could use a little revamping, and you need to find some new healthy recipes to try and include this year, here are some great websites for finding those delicious, healthier recipes:

Ellie Krieger - She has a show on Food Network called "Healthy Appetite" and has lots of great healthy recipes to browse.
Eat, Shrink & Be Merry - Sisters Janet & Greta Podleski take our favorite high fat foods like hot wings, enchiladas, pizza, etc and make them lower in fat, calories and healthier for us.
Dani Spies - a great blog with tons of healthy, delicious recipes.
Use the "Filter by Category" function at Recipezaar to find recipe low in fat, low in calories, low in sodium, etc.
Kitchen Parade - Alanna organizes her recipes by "Weight Watchers Points".
5 Dollar Dinners - Even though Erin is trying make meals for less than $5, she has really healthy ideas. Check out her list of recipes.

Hopefully we can all get healthier meals on our family dinner table in 2009. I know I'll be striving for it.

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3 Responses
  1. I love grilling because it is healthy and those recipes sound good. If you want more recipes or if you want to take a look at the collection of tips I have for grilling you can visit

  2. Grilling is a great idea for cutting down on fat and calories. It's too bad here in Canada our grilling season is so short. I'll be sure to check out your recipes.

  3. Vanessa Says:

    Looks awesome! You always have such wonderful links. Thanks for sharing them with us.