Now that we've laid out the basics of meal prep for your clients, it's time to dive into all the fun tips and tricks that can make a menu plan go from good to great! In today's edition of Get It Prepped, we've got five great tips to help your audience level up their meal prep.

Meal prepping is the concept of preparing whole meals or dishes ahead of schedule. Meal prep can mean preparing just a few meals or dinners for the entire week. Once you start getting all of the ingredients lined up you will see that this makes it easy to plan meals, save time, save money, and make healthier meals for your family.

Tip #1: Make Space Be sure that your refrigerator and freezer are cleaned out and have plenty of space to hold ingredients for multiple meals. If you're preparing a few things at once, mark the days on the calendar to block off time to meal prep.

Tip #2: Check What You Have Before hitting the grocery store, take stock of what’s already left in the fridge, freezer, and pantry to prevent overbuying. And don't miss the spice rack! Having a variety of spices on hand will make meals more interesting.

Tip #3: Set The Stage When it's time to cook, get out those cutting boards, measuring spoons, and cups. This step is all about organization. Be sure to have all equipment needed as well as the recipes and ingredients ready to roll. Remember to read the whole recipe ahead of time and ensure you have enough space to conquer each step. Substitute ingredients if needed and use up perishable produce first for weekly recipes. Don a fun apron and get busy!

Tip # 4: Portion and Pack If you plan on freezing meals for later, have reliable glass or plastic storage containers with lids that fit. Gallon-sized, freezer safe bags may also be used to portion and pack grains. Measuring cups are helpful to portion and pack equal-sized servings as well. Have a sharpie marker and some masking tape to label and date the meals being created. And remember tip #1: be sure to make room in the refrigerator or freezer for whatever is made and packed.

Tip #5: Get a Buddy Have a friend or family member join you to share the workload and keep you company while you prep. You can swap recipes, do taste tests, and share food costs. Cooking with a buddy may also make you more accountable to help keep the meal prep going.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

Handout: 5 Tips for Meal Prep

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Now that you’ve got your kitchen tools and toys in place- it’s thyme to get to the store! The advice of shopping the perimeter for the most nutritious food is as old as Jane Fonda’s leg warmers.

While the produce, meat and dairy departments are along the perimeter, so is the deli and bakery departments. I have nothing against a pound of turkey or an occasional cupcake, but if you spend your dollars only around the perimeter, you’re missing a whole lot of great food in the middle.

Health gains with whole grains
While there are plenty of processed foods in the middle aisles, all food is “processed” in some way to get it safely on the shelf. The difference is with ultra-processed grains such as bagged snacks, cookies or other treats is the high fat, sodium and sugar content. Frozen meals and treats may also be high in the same.

Whole grains, on the other hand, like rolled oats, brown rice, whole grain bread, pasta and other grains have been found to a play a role in reducing obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Studies suggest we include them daily in our diets.

When buying boxed cereal, use my 5 and 5-rule. Look for no more than 5 grams of added sugar and 5 grams or more of dietary fiber. A good example is shredded wheat or bran flakes. Try quinoa for breakfast with ginger and cinnamon for something new.

Beans, beans the magical fruit
Another middle aisle favorite are beans and lentils. This nearly fat-free source of protein and fiber is affordable and versatile. Dried, bagged beans cook up quickly if you’ve got an instant pot or could be made on the weekend if you need more time.

If you’re in a hurry, use canned beans packed without salt. Most canned liners no longer contain BPA. Beans can be added to just about anything- soup, salad, stew, wraps and more. Pair them with tomatoes, peppers, broccoli or other produce high in vitamin C to improve iron absorption.

Embrace the cold

Nothing beets fresh produce for taste and texture, but don’t diss frozen produce. Frozen berries, avocados or mangoes can be used in smoothies or yogurt while frozen vegetables are perfect for soups, stews or side dishes.
If you’re looking for easy to prep meals, try frozen chopped onions or peppers. These can be used in fajitas, pasta or other grain dishes. Look for frozen fruit packed naked without sugar and veggies packed without cream or cheese sauce.

Make mine spicy
Dried herbs and spices are must haves to make the most of your meals. Cumin and chili powder are great in Latin and Indian cuisine while turmeric and curry can be used in Asian dishes. Oregano, basil and rosemary spice up Italian and other Mediterranean meals.

Spices need not be expensive. You can find them at big box groceries or the dollar store. Buy them in small amounts as the flavor tends to fade after 6 months.

Here are some additional tips for stocking your kitchen:
• Save on dying produce. As stores stock a variety of produce that may not sell, fruits and vegetables will go on sale, be donated to food pantries or be pitched.
• Buy what’s in season when possible. Produce will be more affordable and at its peak of flavor.
• Purchase only what you’ll use. Think about what you’ll use in a meal before you buy it.
• Think twice about coupons. While coupons are tempting, they’re more likely to be on processed food. Don’t buy things for the sake of using a coupon.
• Plan some meals around plants like beans, lentils, and tofu. They are less expensive options and better for your health in the long run.
• Think of how food can be used as a “next-over”. Extra chicken could be used in soup or tacos while beans could be added to salad or soup. The possibilities are endless!

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

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Pots and pans and parchment paper- oh my! If you’re waiting to have a bridal registry to pick out fancy cookware and dishes, don’t waste your thyme! Sure, it’s nice to get all that new stuff, but no one needs to get or be married to learn how to cook great meals.

Having the right combination of basic tools can make meal planning a snap and put health in your hands. Did you know that meals eaten away from home are higher in fat, salt and sugar and lower in fiber, vitamins and minerals? While a dinner out is a nice treat, too many meals can put a strain on your waistline and your wallet.

That's why today's edition of Get It Prepped is all about key pieces of kitchen equipment.

When stocking a kitchen, you can find great deals at department stores, discount stores, thrift shops, and yard sales. Years ago, I found a mini food chopper at a drugstore for $10 that I still use today. Cooking healthfully doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg.

Below are my top 15 “equipment” picks...

  1. Cutting boards. Go for wood or plastic. These are the most durable and easy to clean. Avoid glass cutting boards. They’re primarily decorative.
  2. Three knives. It's wise to have a chef’s knife, paring knife, and serrated knife. You’ll want the chef’s knife for chopping vegetables and cutting meat and the paring knife for small items like garlic or fruit. A serrated knife is great for cutting bread or delicate foods like tomatoes.
  3. Mixing bowls. These sound basic and they are. Don’t spend a ton of money on them. Clear glass is great if you’re doing food demos, but stainless steel or plastic is fine, too.
  4. Measuring cups and spoons. You can find these at the dollar store in plastic or inexpensive metal. I prefer measuring cups for both liquids (measuring broth, water or milk) and solids for baking (sugar, flour, etc.).
  5. Take whisks! Wire whisks are great for whipping up eggs or salad dressing. I like to have a few sizes on hand for making dressings or marinades or larger jobs like pancake batter.
  6. Wooden spoons. Again, these are inexpensive but necessary for mixing batter, making pasta sauce, or other simple mixing needs.
  7. Baking sheets and pans. One-pan meal or cookies? You get to pick! I like to have a few sizes on hand. 15 x 13 is my go-to for one-pan meals. A 9 x 13-inch and 8 x 8-inch pan are perfect for casseroles or small cakes, respectively.
    8. Sauté pan or skillet. This is great for quick stir-fries or a grilled sandwich. A 9 or 10-inch non-stick pan or cast-iron skillet works well.
    9. Large stockpot. I use mine for soup, chili, popcorn, and spaghetti sauce. Stainless steel is durable and easy to clean.
    10. Small saucepan. This can be used for gravy, competes, or melting butter.
    11. Citrus squeezer. If you like fresh citrus, this is a must-have. Great for lemons, limes, and any other citrus you can "squeeze" into the compartment. Available just about anywhere.
    12. Basting brush. Add a stroke of olive oil to bread or brush BBQ sauce on poultry. A basting brush is great for those finishing touches, too like an egg white wash on homemade bread.
    13. Tongs. Another basic, but necessary tool! You’ll need these to grasp or flip food while it’s being cooked or retrieve it when it’s done.
    14. Spatulas. You’ll need these for mixing or spreading batter or flipping and turning food. The metal types work best for cooking meat while silicone spatulas are great for baking. These are worth spending a bit more money on.
    15. Parchment paper. Nope, this isn’t a pot, pan, or spoon. Parchment paper is used to line your baking sheets or pans before popping them into a hot oven. I use it every time I roast vegetables. It helps them come out evenly and reduces cleaning time.
    16. Veggie peeler - sometimes you do want to peel your potatoes or carrots
    17. Colander - these come in handy for draining noodles and for washing all kinds of fruits and veggies.

Stay tuned next week to taco ‘bout more ways to Get It Prepped!

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

Kitchen Equipment List - Printable PDF Handout

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Now that a good majority of folks are vaccinated and airlines have resumed operation, much of the world is in travel mode. Whether you’re going by plane, train, or automobile, eating healthy should still be on your radar.

Vacation is a time to relax and unwind. But don’t ruin your health while you’re gone.

Watch the extras

According to a small 2016 study done by the University of Georgia, adults on vacations of 1 to 3 weeks gain an average of one pound in that time frame. Some individuals may gain more. The study suggested that extra alcohol consumed was to blame. Trips to the local ice cream parlor and large servings of fried seafood near the shore may take a toll on your waistline over time, too. 1

In addition to weight gain, increases in blood sugar or cholesterol may occur. A previous study in Taiwan found that the summer season (when people more often vacationed) was associated with elevated triglycerides, low HDL, and metabolic syndrome. 2

Dinin’ or out?

Dining out could lead to weight gain for a number of reasons. Larger portions, increased intake of higher fat entrees, or more frequent consumption of high-calorie cocktails or desserts may all pack on the pounds.

While restaurant food could easily be blamed for vacation weight gain, dining in could also be responsible. Frequent snacking, irregular meal times, increased alcohol intake, or the vacation mindset of “whatever goes” could factor into weight gain.

Tips to not ‘tip’ the scale

• Don’t shop on an empty stomach. This will keep key lime pie and large cookies out of your cart.
• Buy only what you need. When stocking your vacation house fridge, don’t go overboard. Extra food will either be eaten or thrown out.
• Put a limit on booze. Don’t drink daily and be moderate in consumption (1 drink/day for women, 2 drinks/day for men). Ask yourself- do I need another cocktail?
• Enjoy fruit for dessert. Seasonal, tropical fruit can be a real treat.
• Move more. Take advantage of a daily walk on the beach or site seeing by bike.
• Split some meals. If you want room for ice cream, eat less at lunch and dinner.

Avoiding Montezuma’s Revenge

In addition to preventing weight gain while on vacation, you’ll also want to prevent food-borne illness. According to the CDC, 48 million people get sick each year from food-borne illnesses. Fish and shellfish top the list of culprits in addition to milk, strawberries, eggs, and lunch meat.

If you’re near a coast, fish and shellfish consumption may be increased. This is great, but be smart when choosing these foods while traveling. Make sure you buy from reputable sources and that the items are cooked fully.

Here are tips to avoid foodborne illness while traveling:

• Wash your produce (and your hands) before eating.
• Store and prepare food separately. Keep raw meat away from fruits, vegetables, and other food.
• Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible and use them within 3 days.
• Buy from a reputable restaurant. Street vendors or food trucks may not have the same sanitation standards.
• Avoid raw or undercooked fish, shellfish, and other protein sources. This is a simple way to avoid tapeworm.
• When in doubt, throw it out!

Enjoy vacation- but be mindful of your health, too.

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

References
1. Science confirms: Even a one-week vacation can make you put on weight | Health - Hindustan Times
2. Chen SH, Jen IA, Chuang SY, Lin KC, Chou P. Community-based study on summer-winter differences of component of metabolic syndrome in Kinmen, Taiwan. Prev Med. 2006 Aug;43(2):129-35.
3. Foodborne Diseases | Disease or Condition of the Week | CDC

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Make room for grilled fruit!

If you’ve never tried grilling fruit, what are you waiting for? Why should vegetables get all the attention? Orange you glad I asked?

Similar to grilled vegetables, grilled fruits will become sweeter as their sugars concentrate and caramelize. There are multiple ways to use grilled fruit. But first, "lettuce" discuss the basics.

What to grill

Typically, bigger fruit is best for grilling including apples, bananas, melon, and pineapple. Stone fruits like avocados, peaches, and nectarines also work well. The fruit should be firm and not too ripe. Smaller fruit like berries, grapes, or cherries can be placed on skewers before grilling.

Size matters

Fruit should be cut into big chunks or slices. This helps it keep its structure when the fruit meets the heat. Bigger pieces will also survive the grates and not fall through your grill. Use a grill basket if you’re concerned with losing fruit.

Some like it hot

Preheat your grill to medium-high for about 10 minutes prior to grilling. Get rid of previously grilled tidbits and lightly grease the grates before grilling your fruit. Canola, corn, or other neutral oil may be used.

Let it be

Similar to grilling meat, grilled fruit should be left alone and not jostled around when being cooked. If you move it too much, it won’t sear and you’ll miss out on those desirable grill marks. Since fruit contains sugar, some sticking to the grill may happen.

Put a lid on it

Just like thicker cuts of meat taking longer to cook, larger pieces of fruit will, too. Pineapple will need more grill time than citrus fruit or peaches. Put the lid on the grill to help larger fruits cook through and check every 3 to 5 minutes for doneness.

That’s juicy

With the exception of avocados and bananas, most fruit contains a fair amount of juice. When heated, they’ll lose water. To lock in the juice of grilled fruit, line a grill pan with aluminum foil or use a rimmed baking sheet when grilling your favorites.

Bitter, sweet

Grilled citrus is great with fish, chicken, or other protein but can also be used as a garnish for desserts and drinks. Sprinkle some granulated sugar on the sliced side of citrus fruit before adding them to your grill. This caramelizes the fleshy fruit and prevents the rinds from sticking to the grill. You can also throw half of a lemon or lime on the grill. Squeeze out the juicy fruit on chicken, fish, or veggies, right at the grill!

Now that we’ve gotten to the ‘core’ of how to grill fruit, below are tips to use it!

  • Use grilled apples, peaches, or pears in oatmeal or other breakfast cereal.
  • Add grilled grapes or cherries to chicken, tuna, or spinach salad.
  • Wrap grilled melon or peaches with chicken strips in a whole wheat tortilla.
  • Serve grilled avocado or pineapple with your favorite bean or veggie burger.
  • Top grilled pork or chicken with grilled peaches or apples.
  • Layer grilled fruit with yogurt and granola for a delicious dessert.
  • Make grilled fruit kabobs with mini marshmallows for a sweet treat.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

PDF Handout: Try Grilled Peaches and Chicken

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As the summer heat sizzles, what will be sizzling on your grill? While meat, fish and poultry are popular, don’t forget to add some beautiful, versatile veggies.

Time and time again, research supports eating a vegetable-rich diet, though 9 out of 10 Americans aren’t meeting their fruit or vegetable requirements. 1 Salads are a great way to work in vegetables, but lettuce add some vegetables to the grill!

Why more veggies?
Vegetable intake has been linked with several health benefits including a reduction in risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. In addition, a recent study published in Nutrients found an association between fruit and vegetable intake and mental health.

A meta-analysis of over 60 studies showed that a high intake of fruits and vegetables, especially berries, citrus fruit, and green leafy vegetables was associated with reduced rates of depression. In addition, they were also linked with higher rates of self-efficacy, optimism, and reduced psychological stress. 2

In addition, high fruit and vegetable intake has been linked with the reduction of markers of inflammation and improvement in gut biodiversity. A randomized control trial in overweight and obese subjects found reductions in interleukin-6 (IL-6) as well as lipopolysaccharide-binding protein (LBP) in subjects consuming 3 servings of whole grains plus fruits and vegetables daily. Changes in microbiome diversity were noted in the treatment group consuming more fruits and vegetables as well. 3

Taste & Texture
When vegetables are grilled, their flavor becomes sweeter. Vegetables lose water content when heated and sugars become more concentrated as a result. Vegetables will also take on a smoky taste when grilled.

Vegetables will soften when they cook as they lose moisture and can be paired with grilled meat, fish, veggie burgers, and more. Add them to fresh salads, too! The combination of cooked and raw vegetables together is delicious. They’re perfect for grain bowls as well.

Grilling Tips
Soak vegetables in cold water for 10 minutes before grilling. This prevents them from drying out when grilled.
Chop vegetables into equal-sized pieces so they cook evenly. Bigger, thicker pieces take more time to grill.
Grill vegetables over medium heat. Grilling time will vary depending on what you’re grilling and how it was prepped. Grilled vegetables will be easy to cut with a knife and have browned grill marks on them.
Brush vegetables with oil to keep them from sticking to your grill. Canola, corn, or olive oil work well.
Add a wee bit of salt before grilling to pull out moisture before grilling. This helps intensify their flavor.
Use a grill basket or skewers to prevent your veggies from falling into the grill. Aluminum foil also works very well. The veggies cook rapidly but they do not stick to the grill. Any of these aids are great when you want to use a variety of veggies that tend to be all different sizes.
• Experiment with different seasonings, vinegar, citrus juice, or dried herbs on vegetables prior to grilling to spice up the flavor. Lemon juice goes well on asparagus as well as broccoli and peppers. Get creative! Many spice shops make fun seasoning mixes or you can find them in the spice aisle.

Check back next week to taco ‘bout grilled fruit!

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

References:
1. Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC
2. G??bska D, Guzek D, Groele B, Gutkowska K. Fruit, and Vegetable Intake and Mental Health in Adults: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2020 Jan 1;12(1):115.
3. Kopf JC, Suhr MJ, Clarke J, Eyun SI, Riethoven JM, Ramer-Tait AE, Rose DJ. Role of whole grains versus fruits and vegetables in reducing subclinical inflammation and promoting gastrointestinal health in individuals affected by overweight and obesity: a randomized controlled trial. Nutr J. 2018 Jul 30;17(1):72.

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