You go to your favorite grocery store hungry, spend way more than usual, then come home to find, as you start putting things away, that you already have many of the items you just bought.
Worse, your significant other asks how you just spent $200 and didn’t manage to grab enough items to put together even one complete, healthy meal for the family.
Allyson Odachowski knows your pain. She hears similar tales in her job as a registered dietitian. And she says this is the perfect time of year to marry good shopping intentions with a more deliberate strategy.
Start at home, she urges.
“Naturally, we have that itch to spring clean in general when the seasons change,” said Odachowski, media representative in Western New York for the state Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It makes sense if you’re going to spend time cleaning out your attic, or your garage or your basement, you do the same thing for your food supply.”
Odachowski offered the following tips to help spring clean your meal planning, purchasing and prep.
1. START WITH THE BASICS
Odachowski, owner of Custom Dietetics in Williamsville, knows what it’s like to be busy. She and her husband, Eric, a physical education teacher in Cheektowaga, have two daughters, Emily, 8 and Madelyn, 6, and a chocolate Labrador retriever, Bailey.
The family established an eating plan similar to what Odachowski recommends to most of her clients: Strive to make sure half the meal plate is filled with fruits or vegetables.
“Balance is really important,” Odachowski said, and means that every meal should include a lean protein, vegetable, whole grain, fruit or dairy, and healthy fat.
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Variety counts, too. “I have lots of patients who want to have the same thing for breakfast every day,” she said. “Where it’s OK in some areas, you’re missing out on nutrients a lot of times when you don’t have variety in the diet. The white potato gets villianized and the sweet potato gets all the accolades, but what I’m telling patients all the time is neither one is good or bad. They both offer different things. The sweet potato is a good source of vitamin A. The white potato is a great source of vitamin C.”
Forget the fad diets, she advised. “The basics of good nutrition don’t ever really change.”
She also encouraged families to limit dining out and cook more for themselves.
2. TAKE STOCK
How many times have you returned from shopping and started putting away groceries to discover you now have five jars of salsa, four jars of peanut butter and enough chicken to feed a small army?
Before you head out to shop, check to see what you already have in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer, Odachowski recommended. “It’s not something that has to take a lot of time,” she said. “It’s five, 10 minutes at the most. Then sitting down and making a meal plan for the week also doesn’t have to take a lot of time.” Next comes a shopping list, which will support healthy eating choices and can include a couple of blank lines for in-store, real-time decisions. “When you get really good at this, it takes another 10 minutes and you’re ready for the week,” she said.
The approach will save time – and money – at the store, co-op or farm market. “If you can make one or two dinners from what you already have in your pantry, that’s a great start,” Odachowski said. “The statistic about food waste is staggering – 30 percent of what we buy. If you can save 30 percent, that’s a big dollar amount.”
3. GET TO WORK
Odachowski recommended serving food on medium-sized plates. “Our dinner plates sit in the cupboard and hardly ever get used,” she said. “If you always eat off such large plates, you’re probably overeating because naturally you’re going to fill one to the edge.”
Here are some examples of the meals she and her family eat regularly:
– A combination of quick oats, walnuts and blueberries that Odachowski can throw together quickly and mix with hot water. “It’s a quick and balanced breakfast with a complex carb, a healthy fat and a fresh fruit,” she said. Her children like vanilla yogurt with dried cereal or granola.
– Two eggs, avocado and goat cheese slices, and a piece of fruit.
– Quinoa and tuna with salt, pepper and lemon juice, paired with mini bell peppers for scooping.
– Cottage cheese, fruit, veggies and whole grain crackers.
– Baby potatoes, broccoli and turkey kielbasa thrown into a casserole dish, sprinkled with olive oil and baked in the oven for an hour. “All the flavors come together,” Odachowski said.
– Sweet potatoes cut into strips, a veggie and lightly breaded chicken, all baked. “You have to prep but once it’s in the oven you’ve got 35 or 40 minutes to walk away from it and do other things, like helping with homework and getting the kids ready for the next day.”
4. MAKE IT FUN
Odachowski will sometimes pull out more ingredients than she needs and ask her daughters to help figure out how to use some of them for a meal. The girls will ask everyone in the family to guess how many peas are in their snow pea pods before they open them at mealtime. They also recently enjoyed carrots cut into strips, brushed with olive oil, dusted with salt and pepper, and baked.
“Brainstorming about those sorts of things is fun,” Odachowski said. “Getting kids involved in cooking and planning will give them a sense of ownership in that meal.”
She also recommended guiding selections: “We have our protein planned. Now let’s choose a veg!”
“I’m also always gardening with the kids and that introduces them to produce,” she said. “I think it’s important they understand where their food comes from. It doesn’t come from the grocery store.”
Odachowski recommended the following two quick, healthy snack recipes.
CHIA SEED PUDDING
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
3 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup chi seeds
1 cup milk
Mix cocoa powder, sugar and milk until combined.
Stir in chia seeds and mix well. You can also blend in the blender for a smoother pudding
Let sit overnight in the refrigerator.
BLACK BEAN DIP
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
½ jar salsa
Cumin to taste
Optional: Fresh lime, plain greek yogurt, cilantro
Combine beans, salsa and cumin in food processor.
Process until smooth.
Top with fresh lime, plain greek yogurt and/or cilantro.
Serve with whole grain tortilla chips or sliced vegetables.
ONLINE NUTRITION HELP
“A lot of times people think that eating healthy is not going to taste good,” Odachowski said, “but we can talk about using herbs, salt-free seasonings or flavored olive oils as ways to flavor food.” She also recommended the following:
Supercook.com: This site, which also has an app, allows you to plug in three or four random ingredients you have at home and pulls up a list of recipes that use them. “This is a great resources for people who aren’t as comfortable cooking or have the skills to come up with something,” Odachowski said.
Dietetic help: eatrightwnyda.org, eatrightny.org, and eatright.org, the regional, state and national dietetic association websites, offer recipes, dietary guidance and help finding a registered dietitian.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
In 2010, the USDA Economic Research Service estimated 31 percent of food was lost (wasted) at the consumer level, the equivalent of 133 billion pounds worth $161 billion, and that food waste is the largest component that goes into landfills. Once there, it produces methane.
HEALTHY EATING RESOURCES FROM THE BUFFALO & ERIE COUNTY LIBRARIES
“No Excuses Detox: 100 recipes to help you eat healthy every day,” Megan Gilmore
“The Rooftop Growing Guide: How to transform your roof into a vegetable garden or farm,” Annie Novak
“The Everygirl’s Guide to Cooking: Simple, delicious, healthy ... with a few splurges!” Maria Menounas
“Supermarket Healthy: Recipes and know-how for eating well without spending a lot,” Melissa D’Arabian
“The Pollan Family Table: The best recipes and kitchen wisdom for delicious, healthy family meals,” Corky Pollan
“Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 plans that will change the way you grow your garden,” Niki Jabbour
For more information, visit buffalolib.org.