Today I want to share one of the most frequently used recipes in our home…
If you’re a mom, I don’t need to ask you if you’re busy. The two go hand in hand whether you have one kid or 20.
We try to balance work, family, laundry, dishes, cooking, and every other household chore possibly while also breastfeeding and on a very limited sleep schedule.
Healthy meals and snacks often take a back burner and out comes the macaroni and cheese, and cheez-it crackers.
I may or may not be speaking from personal experience and I only have one kid.
Because we’re busy we need stuff we can throw together pretty quickly and have on hand in the fridge to grab and go. My favorite solution?
Super easy, healthy and delicious Energy Balls.
Kid friendly, and approved by my husband and hordes of hungry frisbee players. I get asked to make these for events and they never last long.
I kept them on hand almost constantly towards the end of my pregnancy and would grab a few on the way to bed to satisfy my munchies.
They’re also fantastic for nursing mamas. Breastfeeding leaves you constantly parched and hungry, especially in the beginning, and these are a great healthy, easy snack to keep you feeling satisfied in-between meals.
I often make a double batch of energy balls and split them between my husband and I in labeled containers. Mostly so he won’t plow through them all before I get any, he likes them that much. And I should add, he’s not a hugely healthy eater…
Full of fiber, healthy fats, Omega 3’s, and protein, (and also a bit of chocolate), these are a perfect option for the busy mama to prep ahead of time.
If your gut is telling you something, listen to it.
Your gut is smarter than you think.
Did you know that over 70% of your body’s serotonin is produced by the gut? So if the gut ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
More and more research is coming out about the links between gut health and your physical and mental health. Of course we know we need it to process our food and eliminate waste, but we hitherto didn’t really realize how simple things like excess mucus or inflammation in your gut’s lining can dramatically impact your well-being.
The massive population of different microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc…) that live in your gut are the often-temperamental governors of your intestines, and they make up your microbiome.
The microbiome comprises up to five pounds of your bodyweight and it plays and equally large role in your day-to-day functioning. From synthesizing vitamins and amino acids to destroying harmful microbes that enter the body, the microbiome is indispensable to your health and wellness.
Our modern diet and lifestyles can be very damaging to the microbiome, which can in turn sabotage your health goals.
So let’s dive right in to how to care for this vital population in order to optimize your health and nutrition.
Prebiotics are non-digestible parts of food that feed your gut bacteria. Like so many microscopic pets, the microbiome needs to be fed a healthy diet in order to thrive. Foods that pass through the small intestine undigested become fermented by the time they reach the large intestine, and your microbiome loves fermented foods.
So step 1 in the process of caring for your little bacteria friends is to feed it prebiotic rich foods. Some examples of prebiotic-rich foods include:
Certain types of edible seaweed
You know you need them. You hear all about them in health magazines and journals. But is there any rhyme or reason to which probiotics you should be consuming.
Yes there is.
Lactobacillus acidophilus:this is the most common probiotic you’ll find in supplement form and in fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir. This probiotic can be helpful if you have lactose intolerance since Lactobacillus produces enzymes that break down lactose (milk sugars). This bacteria also produces lactic acid, which if you’re into muscle building and bulking you probably know is a great fuel source for your muscles.
Saccharomyces boulardii:this probiotic has a growing amount of research the suggests this species of yeast has positive benefits for acute and chronic digestive issues like IBS, Crohn’s disease, recurrent colitis as a result of C. Diff and traveler’s diarrhea. Saccharomyces boulardii helps balance the gut when there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria.
Bifidobacterium: there are many strains of this bacteria but all seem to help stimulate the immune system and can also prevent constipation.
As always, consult your physician before starting any new supplements. But if you have no restrictions, choose the probiotic that best suits your needs and provides a dose of at least 1 billion CFUs (colony forming units). Most health advice you’ll find says to take 1-2 billion CFUs per day, although some studies indicate that much higher doses are required to achieve results for some strains of bacteria.
So should you be taking more than one or two capsules?
My advice is that if you are using both supplements and a healthy, probiotic-rich diet there is usually no need to spend money on higher doses of supplements.
Ok, so what foods should I be consuming to get probiotics into my diet?
Here are some lovely suggestions:
Yogurt (of course!). Look for Greek yogurt (unsweetened/unflavored) or “live cultured” probiotic yogurt.
Kefir. I’m not a huge fan of this one, but it becomes more palatable if you’re using it as a smoothie base.
Apple cider vinegar (use it for pickling or making salad dressings!)
Raw milk and cheeses. If you’re not pregnant or immune-compromised, raw milk and cheeses (which have not been pasteurized) are an excellent source of probiotics. Again, check with your doctor to make sure unpasteurized dairy is ok for you.
Pickled veggies. You can pickle just about anything.
Wash out a mason jar, pack it tightly with pickles, sliced onions, or chopped cabbage for example, cover the veggies with a brine of vinegar (white or apple cider vinegar are fine) and water in a 1:1 ratio. Add 1-2 teaspoons of salt, peppercorns, and a tiny bit of sugar to the brine, close the jar tightly and set the jars on the counter for a few days to ferment. You can test-taste them after a couple days to see how you like them. Once they are fermented to your taste, refrigerate and enjoy. So easy! You can also add an oak leaf, grape leaves or a little black tea to the brine to get natural tannin and increase your pickle’s crunchiness.
Stress reduces blood flow to the gut in order to make sure your brain, heart and kidneys get first dibs on all blood supply.
And girlfriend, we are stressed all the freaking time!
We literally cannot escape stress some days.
This reduced blood flow limits immune responses to the gut and allows unfriendly bacteria to thrive.
So if stress-reduction is not a part of your daily routine, I recommend starting now.
Practice mindfulness, listen to a meditation (hello YouTube and free meditation apps!), breathe deeply, try yoga, exercise in a way that you love.
Sleep more without feeling guilty. Sleep better, which maybe means earlier bedtime, no electronics in bed, keep your room dark and quiet, no pets in bed, take some melatonin…
Reducing stress and deactivating the fight-or-flight mode that our modern life constantly puts us in is going to benefit you gut and so many other bodily systems!
Cut Out the Junk Food
You know it needs to be done.
Besides the fact that cutting out junk food leaves more room in your diet for whole foods full of pre- and probiotics in their natural state, we know from research that junk food can be very destructive to your microbiome.
Bleached, white flour. Refined sugars. Artificial flavors and colors. Pesticides. GMOs.
All of these things are harmful to your body.
All of them need to go.
If you can’t recognize what food you are eating just by reading the ingredients label, then skip it.
Or heck, at last try to limit it.
Start by giving yourself one junk food item per day, per week, per month…whatever it takes to reduce your intake of processed garbage, just do it!
Some research suggests that modern adaptations made to our food supply (GMOs) are damaging to the lining of our gut as well, which creates inflammation in the gut and can also allow unfriendly microbes to penetrate your gut wall. Modern wheat is under a lot of scrutiny as a possible culprit for leaky gut and other inflammatory bowel problems (for more on this, I recommend reading Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis).
That’s four things.
Four big, huge things that might seem daunting and maybe not even that pressing since you can’t see what’s going on in your gut.
But girlfriend, I promise you that you are what you eat, and your little bacteria friends in your gut doing their very best to take care of you.
So take care of them in turn.
Gut health is linked to the health of literally everything else in your body.
If you are not caring for your microbiome, then you are not optimizing the nutrition that you work so hard to buy, prepare and consume in a healthy way.
And without nutrition, where is your health?
“Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” -Hippocrates
How many of you have done something like this before:
You alarm goes off and you groggily shut it off and drag yourself out of bed to get ready for work. You start drinking your morning coffee and realize you didn’t pack your lunch the night before like you promised your more energetic and organized self that you would. You open the fridge and are vastly underwhelmed by the choices you see. Looks like your options are four-day old spaghetti, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or whipping something up from scratch in the span of fifteen minutes before you have to leave for work.
Your stomach says buy Subway, but your budget whispers that you’re broke because it’s the week of payday and you should just starve.
Trust me, I’ve been there plenty of times before. You want to eat healthy and nutritious food that will keep your stomach satisfied and keep your mind refreshed for work. I’ve had plenty of days where PB&J is the staff of life, or days when I was overachieving and made a smoothie bowl that morning because I didn’t have access to a blender while riding the ambulance, only to find come lunch time that pre-made smoothie bowls don’t keep well and brown in a very unappealing fashion after so many hours of sitting in a lunchbox under the dashboard.
I would love to share all of my favorite lunch recipes that can be prepped the night before, but for right now in this post I just want to share some general tips I’ve learned from experience that will keep your fridge stocked and ready to go with easy lunches for you and your family.
For starters, when thinking about a healthy lunch it is going to be different for everyone based off their dietary needs and preferences, but a good rule of thumb is to prep a grain, a protein and a fruit or vegetable with every meal. So let’s look at each of these three pieces and how to prep for them.
I’ve tried keto before, I’ve eaten paleo and low-carb and they all bring great weight-loss results and have nutritional merits, but I cannot lie…
I love carbs, and grains just make me happy. I was easily able to maintain my weight at 130 lb (pre-pregnancy anyways) with grains as a daily part of my diet.
If you tend to shy away from grains, I totally understand. All the hype around low-carb and gluten-free has us feeling skittish about our daily oats. Some of our modern grains have been genetically engineered so much that our bodies are struggling to process them and the results can sometimes lead to autoimmune problems or inflammation in the body. Grains do raise your blood sugar, but if you’re consuming the right grains it can be a healthy level of blood sugar increase that your body processes easily and uses for energy without storing as fat.
So what grains should you be prepping?
Brown rice is a winner. We know from studying communities around the world that are living long and active lifestyles even among their elderly members that rice has many nutritional benefits and can contribute to longevity. Okinawa residents consume rice daily and this tiny island boasts some of the healthiest and most active centenarians in the world. Rice is delish and can be used in so many ways.
I cook about two cups of brown rice in 4 cups of water and it cooks up in maybe an hour to and hour and half.
I have almost double the amount of rice once it’s cooked and it’s ready to be tossed with stir-fried veggies, paired with Hawaiian chicken and pineapple, topped with pan-fried cinnamon apples and chia seeds, or paired with grilled meats and veggies.
Quinoa is not technically a grain but can be cooked just like rice. It is high in protein, B-vitamins, iron, and fiber. It has a slightly bitter taste from the saponin coating, so make sure you thoroughly rinse these babies in a mesh strainer before cooking. Quinoa tastes fantastic in stir-fry dishes or when mixed with a little curry and mayo/greek yogurt. Because of the protein content, it will likely keep you full and energized longer than rice will. Boil a few cups of it and store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Buckwheat, despite its name, is not related to wheat and is great for blood sugar control since it digests so slowly. It is rich in minerals like phosphorus and manganese and has a slightly nutty flavor to it. For a long time I only wanted to eat breakfast foods for lunch at work. Maybe it was a nostalgic thing, sitting there in the breakroom with a bowl of buckwheat porridge pretending I was really on my couch at home on a Saturday morning. I cooked up a big batch of buckwheat once a week and topped it at work with fresh berries, banana slices, pan-fried cinnamon apples, peanut butter and dark cocoa powder, or shredded coconut.
Oatmeal is my all time favorite! I eat oatmeal multiple times a week for breakfasts and lunches. You don’t even have to prep this one before hand it’s so quick to grab in the morning or buy pre-measured packets (unsweetened!). But if you’re into meal prepping then you can easily measure out ziploc bags or containers with ½ cup of dry oats (quick oats or whole rolled oats, whichever your preference), toss in some chia seeds, goji berries, flax meal, or whatever the heck you like to add into your morning oats for a protein and fiber boost.
Overnight oats are also bomb diggity. You can prep ready to go, cutesy half pint mason jars with half a cup of oats, add-ins, a few tablespoons of Greek yogurt and cup of milk of your choice (I vote almond milk), pop a lid on those suckers and let the oats soak in the moisture overnight. Now you have a cold cup of oatmeal that tastes delish with fresh fruit, chopped nuts, sweetener of your choice and whatever toppings your heart desires without ever having to use the stove or microwave.
Grains for gains my friend!
You know you need it, and you probably know how much protein you need too depending on what your health goals are
Protein can be totally plant-based and you can still be healthy and gain muscle.
If anyone out there is telling you that you need meat to get those gains, just smile and nod.
It’s an argument no one ever really wins.
I like meat in moderation, so my hubby and I prep a couple different animal proteins for the week (it’s really mostly him because he loves meat and loves to barbecue).
Grilled or oven baked chicken breasts (season with salt, pepper, garlic and maybe some lemon juice to keep it plain and adaptable). I get so bored with just plain chicken and rice–the standard “meal prep” idea that you see everywhere else. I like to toss mine into a bacon, chicken, avocado wrap or make it into a cobb salad. Eating it with pineapple skewers or making a cold chicken curry on couscous is delish too!
Smoked pork butts make great shredded pork for barbecue pork and veggies, carnita bowls, and pork fried rice.
Slice and pan sear some steak for easy fajitas or taco bowls on rice.
But I also am a firm believer in plant-based protein. I love that my hubby and I can get grass-fed beef from his parents, but having butchered chickens as part of a 4-H project when I was a teen, I don’t eat chicken as much as I used to.
I have seen things that cannot be unseen (that’s a completely different conversation though, so I’m stopping it here).
I totally understand feeling like you can’t afford grass-fed, free-range, pasture-finished, organic meats (hint-grass fed or free-range don’t always means it was that way for the animal’s entire life span). It adds up quickly when you start buying organic, but trust me, it’s totally worth it cutting back on or completely avoiding meats that have hormones in you don’t need, or meat that has been raised on a diet of just corn (or worse). I would recommend that if you can afford even one type of organic meat per week, do it and supplement with plant-based proteins the rest of the week. Or heck, just go completely plant-based.
Here are some of my favorite, easy to pack plant-based protein ideas for ready to go lunches:
Black beans for taco bowls.
Roasted chickpeas or homemade falafels for Greek power bowls or pita pockets.
Pinto beans for beans and rice (topped with cheese of course, lol).
Nut butters or chopped nuts to top porridges with or add into smoothies.
Seeds! Pumpkin, flax, hemp and sunflower seeds are all protein packed and ready to be added into smoothies, sprinkled on porridges, tossed into salads or stir-fry dishes.
Grains–all the grains discussed above are also high in protein, so all the more reason to be adding them into your diet.
Tofu or tempeh–if you’re into that. I’ve tried both and just couldn’t quite learn to love the texture. But if you love it, go for it! There’s a lot of conflicting information about tofu, whether or not it’s healthy. Most of the information currently out there is that fermented soy foods are the way to go, since unfermented soy products (soy milk included) contain phytoestrogens–plant-based estrogen-like hormones that may contribute to breast cancer. At this point, use your best judgement and any doctor’s advice you may have about consuming soy products, or at least search for fermented soy products like pickled tofu, tempeh, miso or natto.
Green veggies are easy and quick to prepare or can be eaten raw, and many of them contain protein. Spinach, broccoli, kale, avocado and edamame are excellent choices.
Fruits and Veggies
If you’re into raw whole foods, then meal prep just got a whole lot quicker. Find your favorite produce, slice it, dice it and pack it into pre-portioned containers for the week.
Make sure you’re packing any dips or add-ons too, like hummus, ranch, or peanut butter yogurt for spreading on your delicious fruits and veggies, but keep those reasonably portioned so you don’t lose track and accidentally eat a whole bottle of ranch on your celery and carrots.
If you like to cook your produce, some easy ideas include:
Steam a couple heads of broccoli and cauliflower.
Line a baking sheet with foil, toss some carrots, broccoli, brussel sprouts and/or asparagus in a little oil of your choice and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
Wash, chop and toss together some salad mix and portion it out for the week.
Pan-fry some onions and bell peppers for fajitas or tacos.
Slice some red onion and red cabbage (eat the rainbow!), add in some salt, pepper and diced garlic, toss in a little olive oil, lemon juice and sweet chili sauce for a yummy coleslaw with a kick (or skip with chili sauce and just do mayo for your standard coleslaw).
Stir-fry green onions, water chestnuts, bok choy, and mung beans (and whatever else tickles your fancy!) with a little oil and soy sauce and make a big batch of stir-fried veggies for the week.
Chop red onions and pineapple into chunks, slide them onto a skewer and grill them for a delightful Hawaiian themed meal.
Make a big fruit salad! (make sure to toss the fruit in a little lemon juice to help keep the produce from browning too quickly)
I really hope this post has helped get your creative juices flowing and given you some solid ideas on how to prepare and pack ahead for your work day meals. Comment below with some of your favorite meals-on-the-go ideas!
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