4 Quick & Easy Steps to Create a Healthy Meal—without meal planning

My Rooted and Rustic approach
to nourish YOURSELF and power life

 

In very broad terms, research suggests that by moving from a Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) to one rich in plant foods and low in processed foods reduces the risk of chronic disease, improves health and promotes longevity.

This shift in eating, what I call a Rooted and Rustic approach, is focused on increasing your plant foods and whole foods… more whole grains, veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, olives, herbs and spices... yet allows the personal freedom to add some meat, fish, poultry, dairy or eggs, without having to give up the foods you love. This approach provides a framework from which you can personalize, adapt and sustain a healthy diet over a lifetime.


This approach changes the focus
from "cutting" foods to
"adding" foods for health. 


In immediate terms, shifting your diet (and your mindset) translates to feeling better, looking better and having more energy throughout the day. Now that´s powerful!!

Check out this step-by-step graphic showing exactly how I add nutritious foods to my family at home.

The Rooted and Rustic approach to healthy eating is about adding more, rather than taking away. The degree of shift in your diet to more plants and more whole foods is determined by where you are starting from today and where you want to be tomorrow.  

 

The number one question I get from clients is: “how do I create a healthy meal without having to rely upon a recipe or having specific ingredients on hand?” That´s a legitimate question for women who want to feel better, eat healthy, enjoy delicious meals and balance work and home life! So, for anyone looking to eat wholesome and save time and energy in the kitchen I start with keeping it simple!

For weeknight dinners, I like to keep it short and sweet with my meals, and I have a few tricks up my sleeve on how to keep them healthy and stress-free.

 

When "to recipe"?

Before we get started, let´s talk about when to recipe (verb form intended). As an avid meal-planner myself, I love to hunt and gather recipes from the web and hoard them into my Yummly, Pinterest or Evernote accounts. I´m a recipe collector, and I enjoy experimenting with new recipes often.

 

Recipes provide us with a written history of our delicious and memorable meals, allowing us to peek into the culinary traditions of the past and share them with generations of the future.

 

I do believe that there is a time and place to recipe... time being the key word. My first attempt at a new recipe is never masterful or attractive, and always takes twice as long as the prep time suggested—is that just me? Despite this, I love dabbling with recipes and enjoy experimenting with new flavors, techniques and combinations. When I recipe, I prefer to save my new, elaborate or lengthy ones for the weekend when I have time to play in the kitchen.

In addition to being time-consuming, recipes can be a bit bossy about what ingredients to add and how much to use. Measure this... chop that... simmer this... stir that. I don't have the time for by-the-book structure during my quick weeknight dinners. Instead, I rely on my “greatest-hits” collection of recipes, which I can improvise and whip up on autopilot, or my easy 4-Step Rooted & Rustic Method.

The 4-Step Rooted & Rustic Method

Step 1. START with a Veggie and a Leafy Green

START your meal planning with vegetables! When you plan out your meals, whether that be a weekly meal plan or a last minute meal, think veggies first. Why? Mostly because veggies are dependent on the season, whereas beans, grains, nuts, meat, and fish are not. By thinking of the veggies first, you maximize the seasonal freshness and nutrients of the foods, while increasing the likelihood of eating more vegetables.

As it stands today, we are consuming only 5% of our calories per day from vegetables. So there is room for improvement. I suggest starting with a veggie and a leafy green since varying the colors provides nutrients, phytochemicals, textures, and flavors. Choose any colors of the rainbow and be creative!

Fill up to half of your plate with vegetables and include leafy greens as much as possible! Veggies take up the largest portion of your plate, as shown in the graphic. I placed a permeable dotted line to illustrate the importance of adding both leafy greens and other vegetables. Pick a seasonal vegetable (asparagus, mushrooms) and a leafy green (spinach, kale, swiss chard) as your start.

Not sure what fruits and vegetables are in season? Most likely, it´s those well-priced ones at your grocery store or plentiful at the farmers´ market. Here is a gorgeous chart on Seasonal Produce Picks for inspiration by Edward Blonz, PhD from Berkeley Wellness

Olive Oil, Herbs, and Spices

If you look beside the veggie portion of the plate, a very Mediterranean-style olive oil bottle is prominently displayed. This is because olive oil offers tremendous benefits for health, as researchers discovered from the big PREDIMED cohort studies, here in Spain, regarding the Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular disease prevention. Mediterraneans drizzle olive oil atop cooked or raw vegetables or add it to prepared dishes as the primary heart-healthy fat and flavor. Canola oil can also be used as a healthy cooking fat.

When I use olive oil atop salads, vegetables or grains, I use a higher quality, more expensive, extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil. The authentic olive oils are the only ones that offer health benefits since the polyphenols from the olive must be preserved throughout the process. Before purchasing olive oil, I recommend reading this highly informative article, Beware of Food Fraud by Andy Bellatti, MS, RD, Strategic Director of Dietitians for Professional Integrity.

When seasoning your veggies, I recommend using fresh or dried herbs and spices, such as basil, thyme, rosemary, dill, crushed chili flakes, etc. This increases the flavors of the food while reducing the need for salt. Be creative and improvise by using what you have on hand.

 

Step 2. MAKE a Whole Grain

Step 2 of the process is to select a grain—preferably a whole grain. Despite their bad-boy image, grains are healthy. I´m talking about the unrefined, minimally processed whole grains associated with lowered cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin levels, and reduced risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Add one-quarter of the plate or a fist-sized portion of grains. There is no magical combination of grains to pair; simply add a whole grain from your well-stocked pantry and don't overthink it.  Add whatever you like and vary it often. If you typically cook white rice or pasta, try another type of grain this week.

For step-by-step instructions on how to buy, cook and pair these grains, download my free Grain-Master Guide.  

 

Step 3. PRIORITIZE A PLANT ProteinS

What on earth is a plant protein? Basically, the foods represented in the protein category are those foods which keep us feeling satisfied after a meal. Each portion size should be about the size of the palm of your hand. Generally speaking, Americans eat lots of animal protein, so our aim is to add the plant proteins first or instead of animal proteins for the meal. By doing so, you slightly shift to eating more plant foods without having to overthink it!  

I recommend dividing proteins into two tiers and illustrated that with a dotted line which can be shifted according to your preference:

  1. Prioritize plant proteins more often: beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh.

  2. Add optional animal proteins less often: fish, poultry, yogurt, cheese, eggs and meat.

Keep in mind, the foods listed here are not the only healthy protein plant foods. Protein is also found in oats, quinoa, spinach, buckwheat, and avocado. Yet, these foods are represented in the grains and vegetables portions of the plate.

 

Step 4. FINISH with Fruit

Our fruit rack in Barcelona!

Our fruit rack in Barcelona!

This is so Mediterranean and we do this at home with our children here in Barcelona. Instead of offering a sweet treat or omitting dessert entirely, the children choose their own piece of fruit after dinner each night from the predominately displayed fruit rack in our kitchen. Easy-peasy, as my 5-year old says!

Seasonal Fruit for Dessert Options

  • Winter: dates, kiwi, mandarin, oranges.
  • Spring: apricots, honeydew melon, strawberries.
  • Summer: blackberries, cherries, figs, watermelon.
  • Fall: pears, grapes, pomegranate seeds.

For just about everything you need to know about fruits and veggies, check out Fruit and Veggies More Matters®.

 

Just for practice, I added one sample plate:

1. START with a Veggie and a Leafy Green

Asparagus and Mustard Greens. Grill the asparagus and drizzle with olive oil.

2. MAKE a Whole Grain

Freekeh. Cook the freekeh using 3 parts liquid to 1 part freekeh, and cook for 20 - 40 minutes. Add the washed mustard greens to the cooked grains to steam slightly. Add lemon juice and mint for flavor.

3. PRIORITIZE a Healthy Protein

Lentils from tier 1 or a palm-sized portion of crumbled goat cheese from tier 2. You could also add walnuts or hazelnuts for crunch and healthy fats.

4. FINISH with a Fruit

Two seasonal apricots

(with pits removed for children)

 

Final Plate

Grilled Asparagus

Freekeh with lentils, wilted mustard greens and mint, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice

Fresh Apricots

 

To download your printable version of the Rooted & Rustic Plate from Healthy Out of Habit click the button below!!

Let me know how you prepare your meals on the fly or plan them for the week. What are your tips and tricks for getting a wholesome meal to the table?

Leave a comment below!