5 Tips for Successful Meal Planning

weekly-meal-planningMeal planning can be pretty tough. Sometimes it seems impossible to find the time to plan, prep, and execute. The truth is, it isn’t impossible at all. In fact, it is very possible! Here are a couple of tips that can help you avoid falling into common pitfalls of that come with the territory of meal planning:

1. Make food you will want to eat. This one seems pretty obvious, but it is really important to be realistic about the kinds of food you will want for the entire week. It can get pretty tiring having oatmeal every morning and salad for lunch every day. As long as you spruce it up and keep it interesting, you will be more inclined to stick to your plan!
Things to consider: Do you have a special recipe you wanted to try? Are you craving something? Most importantly, is your week extra busy? If so, you might want to think of recipes that are fast and easy, especially for the weekdays. Note: having a list of ~20 recipes is extremely helpful.

index

2. A well-balanced diet starts at the grocery store, so when creating your grocery list make sure there are components from all food groups. You don’t have to have a recipe for every item you buy, but have an idea of when you will eat the food you purchase. Example: is the fruit you buy for a snack and/or a topping for oatmeal? Also, consider what is on sale, in s

eason, and if you have coupons for an item to be more budget-friendly.

3. Don’t plan a meal to cook for every day of the week. If you can recycle leftovers or ingredients, you can save both time, money, and room in your fridge. Example: think of meals that have ingredients in common; if you made grilled chicken on Monday, make enough so that you can chop up leftovers for a chicken salad for lunch on Tuesday or shred the meat for tacos a later night in the week.

4. FREEZE! Make extra servings of a dish on a day you have more time to cook. For example, if you made a huge pot of soup, you can freeze it in individual freezer bags or heavy-weight/ air-tight containers. For portion control or an easy packed lunch, you can even freeze them into individual servings. This helps prevent waste and is a useful tool for saving food that you might not have eaten before it goes bad.

5. Give yourself some wiggle room. If you planned to cook one night and were just too exhausted and bought take-out or just reheated leftovers – it’s no big deal! Just switch up the days in your meal plan so that you can cook what you planned later. Try to keep your plan flexible and don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t stick to what you planned.

Meal planning, like most things, gets better with practice. The more you try to do it, the better you get at it! I’m sure you will even develop your own little tricks and methods that work for you. If you do have some other tips, please mention them in the comments to share with other readers!

Three Exotic Must-Try Tropical Fruits

Going on vacation is exciting, and so is the experience of trying new foods! Despite the globalization of many fruits and vegetables, there are still a plethora of fruits that are hard to find outside of the climate they are grown in.

Check out these must-try fruits found in tropical regions of the world. Keep an eye out for them next time you are abroad, or even if they have it at your local Asian grocery market.

 Mangosteen

Mangosteen – From Southeast Asia and grown in some parts of Columbia, India, and Puerto Rico, this fruit has a hard exterior, this fruit looks like something similar to a giant plum. Upon opening, there is a soft, edible inside that is segmented like a peeled orange. It has a luscious flavor and a soft, chewy texture with the perfect combination of sweet and tangy.

 Mountain apple

Mountain apples – Available throughout Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, the Pacific, as well as Central and South America, this fruit is present in most humid climates. It resembles a small, shiny radish that grows in bunches on a tree. They can also be described as seedless, leafless strawberries. Mountain apples have a pleasant crunchy texture that fills your mouth with a sweet, juicy flavor after one bite.

Rambutan

Rambutan – Often confused with lychee, this fruit is different in that an outer layer of soft spines protects it. Interestingly, rambutan does not produce its own ripening agent – meaning it has to be picked ripe, preferably still attached to a branch. It is found in the same areas as mountain apples. It has a mildly sweet flavor, soft flesh, and will make you want to eat an entire bag all by yourself.

What is So Great About Gardening?

KohlrabiOne of the biggest concerns that I have as a dietetic student is connecting the foods that we eat to what they actually look like.  I read a recipe once and it asked for kohlrabi.  I had no idea what it looked liked, or let alone how to cook it.  In case you have no idea what it is, kohlrabi looks similar to a beet, but the bulb or the swollen stem is above ground.  The plant belongs to the cabbage family.  The leaves and the stem are edible and it can be eaten either raw or cooked.  The more young or tender the stem-bulb, the sweeter the flavor.  In my food service class, taught by a professor who was a Cordon Bleu chef, a class member suggested if we could bring fruits and vegetables that we have never eaten or prepared before and if we could learn how to cook these items during lab.  He agreed and the next lab, sure enough, everyone brought something that they were unfamiliar with.  During that lab, we prepped and cooked a variety of vegetables, mostly root vegetables and tried fruits we rarely would have tried on our own.  Although some students needed a little persuasion.  The variety of root vegetables people brought included kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes and a few others I could not pronounce.  Someone brought a beautiful, but funny looking broccoli called Romanesco, also known as a Romanesque cauliflower.  After looking at all the varieties of vegetables I thought to myself, “What would be the best preparation method for this fruit or vegetable?”  I was excited.  This was going to be a fun challenge.

Romanesco

In addition to trying to find new and different fruits and vegetables in both regular and ethnic grocery stores, I started visiting farmer markets more often.  If you have ever purchased fruits and vegetables at a farmers market you know the taste and texture of locally grown vegetables and fruits are unlike any other.  Apples just taste sweeter.  Carrots have that extra crunch and if you have ever tasted blackberries grown on the vine or tomatoes, you know the flavor profile is nothing short of amazing, for lack of a better word.  So I started to ask the question if I were to grow my own fruits and vegetables would they taste like this?  Well, I am no gardener, but I love food.  I agree with Alice Waters on that note.

So while I was at my local library I saw a sign for a seed library.  I thought okay, this is worth looking into?  So I researched the history of a seed library.  It turns out like the “Slow Food” movement it was also started in the bay area in California of all places.  No wonder California is the great hub for agriculture.  It turns out that if you buy certain fruits and vegetables in the store and plant them in the ground they may not grow, or they may grow, but you do not get the same or lasting results.  Why?  That is a different topic for another time, but to make a long story short some fruits and vegetable will not produce viable seeds that you can plant.  I tried planting a cucumber from seed and only a few plants grew, but I tried planting the same seeds from the cucumbers that did grow again the next summer and the results were disappointing.   So I was curious as to why my cucumbers did not grow the second time around.  Like I said, I am a dietetic student, and gardening is an entirely new concept to me.  I went to the meeting for the seed exchange at my local library and met Tom, our local master gardener.  He explained to me what an heirloom seed variety was.  The seeds that I had may have not been good seeds to start with.  Heirloom varieties are open pollinated seeds that are crafted by nature to grow in the local environment.  They adapt to their growing conditions.  Heirlooms include all seed plants and just as families past on valuables from one generation to another, also called heirlooms, seeds were saved and handed down to the next generation to ensure the health and well being of the families that cultivated them.  We have moved far from this agricultural practice, but people are starting to appreciate the value of saving these seeds not just to preserve tradition but to continue with genetic variety.  Tomatoes and carrots come in very many different colors.  The seed library is actually a collection of heirloom varieties preserved and shared with members of the community.  In the long run collecting and saving seeds helps to preserve biodiversity.  There are quite a few seed libraries, some in your local community and some are even online.   The best part, it is FREE.

If you are interested in learning more I highly encourage you to go to your local library to see what programs are available to you.  My library not only gives you the seeds, but it also teaches patrons how to plant, grow, harvest and save them.  All of these things are of course at no charge.  In return for taking the seeds, the library asks that patrons bring a few back to replenish and continue the work of the seed library.  The seeds that my library has include such plants as: eggplant, tomato, bell peppers and squashes.  There are a lot of questions I have about starting a garden, but I find that many people from all walks of life like to share seeds, recipes and words of encourage to help you get started.  If you live near Pomona and the Diamond Bar area the Growing Home is a wonderful resource.  You can check their website for class dates, schedule a time to see what is growing, take classes or learn more about the best practices to cultivate and maintain your garden.   Learning by doing it is a great place to start.  The information is out there, we just have to learn how to ask the right questions.

TGH logo

Someone asked me why would you ever want to grow your own garden and how much can you really produce?  Well, I have lots of personal reasons for why I would like to grow my own garden, but my biggest reason was cost.  Do you know how expensive herbs cost at the grocery store.  I think  learning to grow herbs is actually a nice simple way to start.  The second reason and main reason I wanted to learn more about gardening is taste.  I can remember biting into an heirloom tomato and thinking, “Wow, this does not taste like the same tomato I get at the store.”   The added benefit of growing your own produce is that you build a connection with the land, people and your community.  There was a reason why cities had community gardens.  People could rally to meet and support each other, sort of what a Starbucks is for our generation.  In addition to meeting in the garden, you get to work in the garden, which means fresh air, sunshine and exercise.  Just think of all the Vitamin D you could be making if you were outside.

GardeningMy family came from an agrarian society before they came to the United States.  Sadly, my mother did not keep up with her families’ farming traditions and she will not be able to past down this knowledge to her children or to her grandchildren.  However, if we make the time to learn it now, between the both of us at least we can past down some basic information for future generations. Plus, it gives us more time to spend together besides shopping.  People tend to eat what they grow. So if you grow vegetables, you eat more vegetables.  As dietetic students we always stress variety in our diets.  Eating different fruits and vegetables also trains our pallets so that we are more experienced about what and how certain foods should taste.  The way I look at it, gardening is the precursor to cooking and we all know what comes after cooking.  Eating is a great opportunity to bond with strangers, so that relationships may blossom into friendships and friendships may turn into extended families.  This is the biggest take home message I have learned from dealings in the garden.

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

February is the month of LOVE .  Treat your loved ones or yourself with this simple yet nutrient-dense Valentine’s Day dessert that will satisfy your chocolate cravings without indulging into too much sweets.  Boost the  nutrient content and add flair to your chocolate dipped strawberries by topping them with almonds, shredded coconut, or crushed cinnamon graham crackers.  Start dipping now…

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 lb. fresh strawberries (15 strawberries), washed and pat dry

Toppings:

1/4 cup cinnamon graham crackers, crushed

1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1/4 cup sliced almonds

What you need:

heatproof (oven-safe) medium bowl (ceramic, glass, stainless steel) – big enough to sit on top of the sauce pot

saucepot

spatula

waxed or parchment paper

Directions:

1.  Melt chocolate until smooth. Two methods:

  • Double-Boiler (Bain-Marie) Method – Fill a sauce pot half way with water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add chocolate chips in heatproof bowl and place on top of the sauce pot with the hot water that was just boiled.  Gently stir chocolate as it beginnings to melt.  The steam coming from the hot water heats the bowl and gently melts the chocolate without burning it.
  • MicrowaveAdd chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl.  Heat at 50% power for 1-1/2 minutes.  Stir chocolate until bowl is cool to touch.  Continue heating chocolate in 30 seconds increments until chocolate is completely melted and smooth.  *Stir chocolate between each heating.

2. Carefully dip each strawberry using a side-to-side motion to achieve a nice even coating.  Remove excess chocolate by carefully  lifting the strawberry upside down or gently twirling the strawberry to allow the excess chocolate to drip off.

IMG_4501

3. Dip the chocolate covered strawberries into desired toppings or sprinkle directly on top.

4. Place strawberries on waxed or parchment paper and set-aside until chocolate is firm.  ENJOY!

Tips:

  • To reduce the sugar content, you can substitute dark chocolate for semi-sweet chocolate and use unsweetened shredded coconut.
  • To quickly set the chocolate, you can place the chocolate covered strawberries in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.  Do not leave the chocolate covered strawberries in the refrigerator for  too long or it will begin to leave white streaks on the chocolate.