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What the Heck is Meal Planning?

Posted: August 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Balanced Lunch, Meal Planning | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

How many times a week do you enter the grocery store, with nothing in mind, and have to come up with dinner on the fly? How many times a week do you end up spending double what you think you will at the grocery store?

Enter Meal Planning, Your New Best Friend.

You’ve heard of it. It’s something that obsessively organized people do. Right? No! Meal planning is something that everyone should do. Whether you are running a busy household and need to plan school lunches and meals for your kids, or are accommodating a family member with a health concern such as diabetes or a gluten allergy, or even if you just want to feel a little calmer before you step into the kitchen, a meal plan is an ideal solution for making your life easier!

Planning your meals can be as simple as writing down a few ideas before you head to the supermarket, or as complex as making dedicated lists of each item that you want to eat, attaching recipes, and coming up with a detailed shopping list. The good thing is that either way will help you achieve these goals:

1. You save money: when you shop once a week with a list of meals in mind, you save money on groceries. If you need further proof of this, go ahead and shop at your normal rate and tally up your  receipts at the end of the week. The next week, plan out five meals, and shop once. Or even twice. It will be cheaper, and sometimes by a huge chunk of change.

2. You save time: when you have a few meals planned out for the week, you will save time grocery shopping, and likely, you will save time cooking as well.

3. There are added health benefits: when you plan your meals ahead of time, you minimize food cravings and overeating, by having something to look forward to. You also are planning for a specific portion size, which will reduce the chances that you cook double what you need just because you are starving.

Your homework: sit down sometime this week and jot down five possible meals for the rest of the week. This doesn’t have to be complex, it can be as simple as: “pasta, meatloaf, chili, salmon, pancakes for dinner”. Or, if you’d like something a little bit different, you might consider choosing a theme for the week or for each night: “Mexican, Italian, French, Moroccan, Country-style”.

This is the first post in a series about Meal Planning. We’ll be getting into the nitty gritty in the future, with ideas for kitchen novices and meal planning pros alike!!

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Around The Lunch Table

Posted: October 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Balanced Lunch, Lunches for Kids, School Lunch | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

(Photo by Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

It’s National School Lunch Week, and many articles I’ve read in the news deserve a nod in my newly instated link-round up “Around the Lunch Table“. I’ll be posting links to stories across the web which deal with all aspects of healthy lunches – politics, how-to tips, recipes and more.

While packing a healthy lunch is an important part of keeping a balanced diet, saving money, and eating well, the national school lunch program is a vital government effort that needs an overhaul. As a nation, we are experiencing a failing education system, rising childhood obesity, and the food that our kids are being fed is pitiful, to say the least. It’s no coincidence that these are all integrally linked.

Let’s hope that making this a national issue will lead to active changes in  schools across the country.

Healthy Lunch Links:

Berkeley’s New School Food Study: A Victory for Alice Waters :: Author Sarah Henry lives in Berkeley, California, where she volunteers weekly at Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard, and writes about school food, urban eats, kids and food. Check out her blog Lettuce Eat Kale (The Atlantic).

Schools Struggle to Feed Kids Healthy Food :: (Article and Short Video) Dana Waldow is a mom and advocate for healthier school lunches, not just for nutrition, but to save the school money and help the cafeteria turn a profit. (CNN).

School lunchboxes: How to make them eco-friendly :: Several eco-friendly options for your children’s lunchboxes, including PlanetBox, Laptop Lunches, and Lunchbots Duo. (LA Times)

Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project :: Mrs. Q is an educator who writes the ever enlightening blog Fed Up With Lunch, where she documents the school lunch she eats every day with the students in her school.

Rethinking School Lunch (PDF)
:: The Center for Eco-Literacy has provided an updated version of their step by step guide to improving school lunch. A useful planning framework for helping your child’s school make real changes.


What lunch topics are on your mind this week?

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Warm Salad for a Rainy Day

Posted: February 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Balanced Lunch, Lunch Recipes | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

I wish I could say that I’ve been more productive today, but the rain and gray skies have kept me in the house this morning. I truly don’t mind the rain, but Fridays I like to take a long walk and get in any errands, and unfortunately this weather makes that a little difficult. I got up this morning and drank a cup of coffee, swaddled myself on the couch, and started getting some work done.

The best part of the morning was calling my oldest friend Sara to wish her a happy birthday! We’ve been friends since the age of five and love being silly with each other. She’s spent the week celebrating her birthday in Chi-caaaa-go. She’s already been to the recording of this weeks “Wait Wait….Don’t tell me!” on NPR, and is planning on going to a delightfully odd performance at Redmoon Theater and a dinner at the vegetarian Chicago Diner. I wish I were there with her!

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After finishing my coffee (which took several hours, and, admittedly, a midway point microwave to rewarm it) I started fretting about lunch when I realized not only was I starving, but I hadn’t actually eaten breakfast yet. Sometimes it happens…

I have a lot of salad greens in my fridge, but it seemed too cold for a salad, so I did what I do when I either a) have leftover salad greens threatening to go bad, or b) just want something warm and green, and started on putting together a warm salad.

Yes, that’s right, warm salad. Trust me on this one.

I first put the greens in a colander inside a pyrex to soak. I had some fresh farm romaine lettuce, and a whole lot of cilantro that needed to be used.

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I then put a pan on the stovetop, added a splash of olive oil, and started warming a shallot and some garlic that I roughly chopped as the base of my flavor. It’s always a good idea to start things with garlic and shallot (or onions), as they really bring a lot of flavor to a dish.

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I had a little less than a cup of chickpeas left, so I added those in as well. I let those go for a few minutes to heat through and get a little bit browned.

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Then I …. wait for it … dumped all of the lettuce into the pan over everything. That’s right, I cooked my lettuce, just like you would any sort of leafy green.

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I cooked them just until they wilted down, and then tossed in a little bit of balsamic vinaigrette, and worked it all around.

I dumped it all onto a plate, and then topped it with about an ounce of crumbled Humboldt Fog Cheese – a really delicious goat milk cheese made in Northern California by Cypress Grove Chevre. If you can ever get your hands on this stuff, it’s pretty delicious with a great tang…

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The result was warm, green, and satisfying. Success!!

Success #2: The SUN is PEEPING OUT!!!! Well, on one side of the apartment at least, the other side looks ominous!!

Do you have any experiences with warm salads? Other than the poached egg, lardon, and frisee, I think there are all too few of these! I’m always looking for new ideas!

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Japanese Ochazuke – A Quick Soup Lunch

Posted: February 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Balanced Lunch, Healthy Snacks, Pantry staples | Tags: , | No Comments »

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I’ve been working hard at my studies this afternoon, and somehow 2:30 rolled around and I hadn’t eaten anything yet.

As part of my nutrition practice (and really because I do it all the time anyway), I’ve been reading up on different cultural food and health connections. When a culture has been promoting the same food remedies for hundreds or even thousands of years, usually they work! Unfortunately, here in the west we are a culture of pill-popping and chemical science, and often overlook some of the most basic home remedies for our ailments. When they recently scientifically proved that chicken soup (a.k.a. Jewish Penicillin) reduces inflammation and clears stuffy airways, it wasn’t anything that I didn’t already know, but I cheered anyway! Hopefully more research will be done in this area!

Over the past few days I’ve been reading from “Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen “, a new cookbook I was kindly sent to review for my blog. This book makes eastern traditions of healing foods really easily accessible to a western audience. In addition to the 150 recipes in the book, there is a great list of 100 traditional Asian ingredients – including photos, and descriptions of the ingredients, their properties, how they are used, and where they can be found. For anyone interested in Asian cooking, this list is a great way to demystify some of the most commonly used Asian ingredients, and help to widen the palate and make shopping easier!

One of the recipes that caught my eye was the “Always-on-Call Ochazuke (p. 201)”, which seemed like the perfect lunch for this afternoon. Japanese Ochazuke is a really versatile dish based on cooked rice and green tea, with a variety of optional toppings. Traditional Japanese toppings include pickled umeboshi plum, nori, wasabi, salmon, bonito, or egg – but the possibilities are endless.

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I made this for lunch today, because it is the perfect dish to use up leftovers, and to ward off any impending sickness (I’ve been plagued over the past few weeks with allergies, and don’t want them to develop into anything else).

My Ochazuke:

3/4 cup leftover cooked brown rice (traditionally you would use white)

1/4 cup cooked chickpeas

1/2 small avocado, sliced

1 poached egg

a small handful shredded lettuce

a sprinkle of black sesame seeds

and 1/2 of a nori sheet, snipped into small slices

I assembled the ingredients in the bowl, and topped with: 2/3 cup freshly brewed green tea*, and some low sodium soy sauce to taste (it was about a tablespoon). *Note: I used Genmai-cha, a whole leaf green tea with toasted brown rice in it.

* * *If you have a bit of an open mind, according to traditional medicine “this is especially good for anyone with edema, urinary problems, small nodules (such as fibroids), or the feeling of having a lump in the throat; and that it helps regulate qi, resolve phlegm, and drain Dampness”. And I’ll vouch for the fact that the soup warmed me up and made me feel good!!

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Tartine, Dolores Park Cafe, and a Chickpea Curry

Posted: February 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Balanced Lunch | Tags: | No Comments »

On Wednesdays I get to work with Karen on the cookbook project, which allows me time closer to some of my favorite food locations on 18th street: Bi-rite Creamery, Bi-rite, Delfina, and Tartine to name a few! This can become treacherous – spending the entire day testing recipes, and then eating your way through the 18th street strip can a hazard for the waistline. So, just incase, I took the 25 minute walk up and down the hills of Dolores street instead of taking the Muni this morning.

Today’s breakfast wasn’t very healthy.

A Rocher with Cacao Nibs from Tartine. They were out of morning buns, so at least the caloric indulgence was to a minimum. A rocher is a type of meringue made of egg whites and sugar, whipped until stiff and baked. The result when fresh (always fresh at Tartine!) is this delicious crispy, crumbly, airy, yet still chewy cookie.

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I also had a little bit of caffeine:

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We got to work, and soon enough, the first recipe of the day yielded some extra: fresh carrot juice! Just enough for a shot of goodness for both of us.

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We cooked, and cooked, and cooked.

And played with the baby, and cooked some more.

In no time it was lunch – this time a vegetable sandwich from Dolores Park Cafe. It had hummus, kalamata olive spread, avocados, tomato, carrot, cucumbers, and sprouts. I thought that it needed a little something more… maybe a more tangy spread? But it was pretty tasty, and I was enjoying my veg!

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I also ate the little bag of kettle chips that came with it! I could have had a salad, but the chips were crunchy and tasty – and it’s been ages since I’ve eaten any chips, so I deemed them acceptable. I’m a sucker for Kettle Chips, and if I were to have this stuff around the house, I’d probably end up finishing the entire huge bag in a sitting. They have these salt and pepper chips that are some of my favorite.

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After getting as much work as we were going to get done, I took off to spend the rest of the afternoon in my own kitchen. I took a long amble through Dolores Park, to take advantage of the sunshine!! I thought it was going to rain today, so this was a pleasant surprise.

This dog was looking at me intently as I was taking my camera out, so I decided to snap his picture.

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When I got home, I got to cleaning the house – it was needing it! And started making my dinner: chickpea curry with fresh dill – another recipe from Ruta Kahate’s 5 Spices, 50 dishes that I’m testing out. Growing up we didn’t have too much dill in the house, because it is one of the rare things my father dislikes. Nowadays I often forget how much I LOVE dill, and I was intrigued that this dish used dill in the traditional Indian way more like a vegetable than a herb.

I stuck to the recipe, but made two tiny changes – I used fresh chickpeas from Rancho Gordo that I had soaked last night and boiled this afternoon instead of canned, and I used some fresh turmeric root rather than dried – although I’m not sure that this made too much of a difference in taste. (I’ll double check soon, I have a feeling this is going to become a staple in my kitchen.)

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In a few minutes, I’m off to meet some of my fellow San Francisco based students in my nutrition program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. This is the first time that I’m meeting most of them, and I’m looking forward to spending time with a like-minded group of people who love food as much as I do, and believe that good food is the key to good health.

This week’s classes were all about healthy cooking!

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