Eating healthy isn’t complicated. It isn’t hard to do and it isn’t expensive either. Simple foods and basic recipes are all you need and it’s a great start.
Even for those of us who can find our way around a kitchen, trying to search for recipes can be overwhelming. Now, if you have someone trying to find dinner recipes who isn’t familiar with cooking, it becomes impossible.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the options we have nowadays. The flavor profiles are exciting! But for those of us with not much time on our hands, a recipe with 20 ingredients is not our best option.
We’ll look at the basics: The value of simple foods, the basics of planning a meal, and a basic meal plan.
Why Simple Food
There is a trend in our country towards eating out, processed foods, and getting away from homemade meals. It’s sad. Even though you can get hundreds of millions of results searching for a chicken recipe (seriously!), many people don’t seem to be using them.
Maybe the volume is overwhelming. Maybe many are just too complicated. I don’t know and really don’t have time to check the million or so options that come up.
Working in healthcare, I’ve seen a lot of kids, teenagers, and adults in their 20’s with chronic health conditions from what they’ve eaten.
Imagine a teenager, already unhealthy enough to be in the hospital, who has never eaten a homemade meal. A lifetime of burgers, pizzas, frozen burritos, and chips. Parents with no idea how to cook. Both working long hours and not really having any time.
The truth is, these situations are heartbreaking. No one wants their kids to get sick, or to be sick themselves. What a mountain to climb! The adult parents starting to learn to cook in their 40’s. The teenager trying to learn to eat unprocessed foods.
Imagine the habits they would have to overcome. Imagine them searching for a chicken recipe? It would be so overwhelming, no wonder it is so hard for so many people. It also wasn’t just one family I’ve encountered in this situation. I’ve come across more than I can count.
Simple, homemade dinners, cooked from simple foods have a high value in modern society. We all start somewhere and simplicity at home is an incredible place to begin.
The Basics of Planning a Meal
We are going to keep this as simple as possible. Within each category there are healthy and unhealthy options. Generally speaking, if you are just starting out preparing meals, you are still better off with the less healthy options than eating out and eating processed foods all the time.
Basic Meal Plan
Breakfast: protein, starch, fruit
Lunch/Dinner: protein, starch, vegetable
Snack: fruit/protein, protein/vegetable
The dietitian in me also feels the need to say that dairy and dairy substitutes are a separate food group, and you should try to get 2-3 servings in a day. For the sake of simplicity we aren’t going to separate things out at that level.
Also, if you are new to meal planning or cooking, don’t worry about the ins and outs of whether or not gluten is the enemy (unless of course you have an allergy). Simple and doable is the goal.
So, what goes into each group? Here are some examples (none of these are comprehensive lists):
Protein: chicken, fish, turkey beef, pork, eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, milk (or milk substitute), yogurt, beans, nuts, nut butters, hummus, protein powder
Starch: Bread, rice, cereal, quinoa, tortillas, pasta, crackers, corn, potato, oats
Vegetables: zucchini, carrot, tomato, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, onion, lettuce
Fruit: banana, raisin, apple, pear, peach, berries, oranges
Then it’s mix and match time! Use seasonings, dressings, marinades, herbs, spice mixes, olive oil, and avocado to flavor your foods.
If you are not used to cooking, the key here is to relax and keep it simple. If you want to try making some fancy meals, great! But that’s not necessary. Fancy meals are great, but not necessary. A ton of ingredients aren’t needed either. Steak chicken still tastes great with just salt and pepper.
I didn’t learn to cook growing up. In college and the years after I started to get an understanding of basic cooking. Learning that basic, simple foundation first has allowed me to do, and try, a lot of different menu ideas. Also, to this day, simple foods still compose most of the meals I make.
The reality is that simple food and basic meals are great options when you work long hours and have no time to cook. They are also the meals my kids love. They prefer the simple meals many times over the fancy meals my husband and I enjoy. Simple meal and the kids enjoy it?! — even easier!
Easy Ideas to Get Started
- Chicken/rice with a little butter/broccoli
- Chicken (Caribbean Jerk seasoning), kidney beans, rice, salad
- Steak (salt/pepper), salad with olive oil/garlic salt (or dressing of your choice), bread with butter
- Spaghetti with ground beef, tomato sauce, cooked carrots
- Salmon (lemon/dill), baked potato, artichoke with mayonnaise
- Hamburger (homemade) with tomato, lettuce, onion, pickle
- Shredded chicken mixed with barbecue sauce, on a bread roll, coleslaw
- Toast with peanut butter and sliced apple
- Pita bread and cucumber with garlic hummus
- Yogurt, granola, berries
- Smoothie: Yogurt, frozen fruit, milk, raw oats, ice
- Refried beans, rice, tomato, cilantro
These are all simple, tasty meals that don’t require much cooking skill or many ingredients. They are basic, go-to meals that keep things easy. They are quick and take the excuse out of fast food.
You can go even simpler if you like, just repeat your favorite meals over and over. I’ve know quite a few people who basically ate the same dinner day after day: steak or chicken (salt/pepper), salad mix (dressing of choice), and bread/butter, or my good college friend who usually ate chicken, rice with butter, and broccoli.
Simple Foods Get You Started
The goal here is to get you started. It’s likely not the meal plan that will last you a lifetime, and I’m sure many of you that love eating healthy and enjoy cooking can pick apart the meals above and come up with a lot of different options.
But for those of you that need options other than the drive through, that need to start somewhere, this is the place to start. Also, to keep your budget (and waist line) in check, keep your portions reasonable, eat when you are truly hungry, and stop when you are satisfied.
There are hundreds of millions of healthy recipes online. Once you get the basic routine of cooking homemade meals down, try a few different options. You may be surprised at what you love.
Try only eating out or eating pre-made meals 1 (or maximum 2) meals a week over the next month. How was it? Was it simple and easy? If anything, what challenged you?