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Cooking with a Good Measure Meals Mindset

By: Alissa Palladino, MS, RDN, LD, ACSM-CPT

Sure, cooking healthy, delicious meals is our day job, but we love cooking so much that we're also big evangelists of making space to cook for yourself at home. Cooking allows for more control over ingredients, preparation methods, and portion sizes, typically leading to healthier eating choices. Plus, it can save money!

So why don’t we do it more? Time is the most common barrier. Most of us lead busy lives -  juggling work, family, long commutes, even exercise or training - so it’s understandable that grabbing take-out is very often the easier option.

It seems that many of us also lack confidence in our kitchen skills, or feel intimated or overwhelmed by the idea of planning, preparing and cleaning up a healthy meal after a long day. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming to cook a balanced, tasty meal. In fact, by mastering a few of the key principles we use here at Good Measure Meals, there's a world of options right at your fingertips. You don’t even really need a recipe!

These basic concepts will empower you to create quick, nutritious and delicious meals - even on all those busy weeknights.

The Building Blocks of a Balanced Meal

Pick Your PROTEIN

Protein powers your muscles and keeps you satisfied. Aim to include a variety of lean animal protein in your meals, such as skinless poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, lean cuts of beef, or pork. Incorporating plant-based sources of protein, such as tofu, beans, and lentils, also benefits your heart, your wallet and the environment.

Select Your STARCH

Starchy foods provide complex carbs, the best energy source for your body and your brain. Skimp on carbs, and you’ll likely feel foggy and fatigued. Choosing fiber-rich versions means more stable blood sugar and cholesterol levels, lowering risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, while promoting healthy digestion. Think whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, farro, couscous, and whole wheat bread and pasta. Starchy veggies like potatoes, corn and peas are also great sources.

Volumize with VEGGIES

Veggies are naturally low in calories, high in fiber, and packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Not only are they an essential part of a healthy diet, they're a great way to boost the volume and nutrient density of your meal! The colorful pigments in vegetables are actually each of the different antioxidants, so the more variety, the better. Choose veggies in season for best flavor and highest nutrient content.  But don’t discount frozen versions as well, which are flash-frozen for maximum nutrient retention and can be enjoyed conveniently year round!

Add Flavor with FAT

(And herbs, spices, and aromatics!) Fat has many important roles in cooking– adding flavor and mouthfeel, enhancing absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), helping us feel fuller longer, and perhaps most importantly - making food taste good! Choose heart-healthy, unsaturated fats more often, like using olive oil for dressings and marinades, or topping side dishes with nuts, seeds and avocado. Incorporating fresh and/or dried herbs and spices (i.e. basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary, dill) and aromatics (i.e. strong-scented onions, garlic and shallots) are great ways to boost flavor without a ton of salt (too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure.)

Consider Your Cooking Method

Grilling, roasting, sautéing, and steaming are lower fat, healthier ways to prepare foods. Limit cooking methods that add copious amounts of fat, like deep frying. Choose olive oil or other plant-based unsaturated fats (i.e. avocado, walnut, safflower or canola oil) to coat ingredients before cooking. Spray-style versions of oil (or investing in a refillable spray bottle) can cut down on how much you need to use.

Once you’ve mastered these key concepts and selected your “building blocks,” the next step is getting comfortable utilizing the different tools in your kitchen to prepare them into a balanced, tasty meal. Let’s explore!

Tools for Cooking a Balanced Meal

Oven

One pan, endless possibilities
  • Place your PROTEIN (such as chicken or fish) on a baking sheet or roasting pan along with white, red or sweet POTATOES and 1-2 other VEGGIES of choice. Coat ingredients with a marinade first, or even just OLIVE OIL, salt and pepper. Add herbs, spices and onions if desired. Roast at 400 degrees F until protein reaches safe internal temperature and veggies achieve desired brownness.
  • Need some inspiration to get started? Try this dietitian-developed Balsamic Roasted Chicken served with Sweet Potato Wedges & Brussels Sprouts

GRILL

Take it outdoors – or indoors with a stove top or portable grill
  • Grill your PROTEIN – try skinless chicken breast or burger patties made with lean ground turkey or beef
  • Grill your VEGGIES – slice and coat with OLIVE OIL; try asparagus, bell peppers, onions, squash, zucchini or portobello mushrooms
  • Serve protein on a WHOLE GRAIN BUN, pile with extra veggies, fresh tomato, and/or lettuce to taste!
  • Another fun idea is to make skewers with cubed veggies and chicken or shrimp; coat with olive oil before grilling and serve with a whole grain roll, or grilled corn. If you’re feeling fancy, enjoy with a grain or bean salad

STOVE-TOP

One pot and one pan is all you need to create a delicious, balanced meal on your stove

  • Start simply by heating OIL in a pan. Then add your PROTEIN - chicken, shrimp, fish, ground turkey/beef, or tofu are all great options. Cook the protein before adding VEGGIES, as the protein takes longer. Get creative with flavors- try adding taco seasoning to ground meat, or soy sauce, garlic and ginger to salmon or tofu.
  • Next, add in fresh (or frozen) VEGGIES to the pan. Try a combo of peppers and onions for a Mexican-style meal, or water chestnuts, snow peas, broccoli and carrots for an Asian-style dish. Experiment with different pre-cut veggie mixes to save on prep time, available in both the freezer and refrigerated section of most grocery stores.
  • In a separate pot, cook a whole GRAIN (such as brown rice, quinoa, or pasta) with water or stock according to package directions.
  • Serve protein and veggies over the grain, adding additional sauce if desired (i.e. marinara, teriyaki)

CROCK-POT

The perfect tool for creating moist, flavorful, one-pot dishes, a crock-pot is a kitchen staple worth investing in if you don’t own one already
  • Simply place your PROTEIN, prepared VEGGIES and STARCH (potatoes work great here) along with desired SEASONINGS and/or SAUCE inside the main bowl and set the timer. A few hours later, you’ll have a hearty, complete meal, and only one pot to clean!
  • Try this plant-based, crock-pot take on traditional Sloppy Joes

Cooking healthy and delicious meals is our wheelhouse at Good Measure Meals, and these concepts and principles are exactly what our chefs and dietitians use to build the balanced meals on our fresh, seasonal menus. For those weeks where you really don’t have the time or energy to shop, cook and clean up - let us do it for you! The best part is, as the social enterprise of Open Hand Atlanta, Good Measure Meals donates 100% of net proceeds to provide nutritious meals and nutrition education for Atlanta neighbors in need. Every 2 Good Measure Meals supports 1 meal to an Open Hand client battling chronic/critical illness and food insecurity.

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