The Beginners Guide to Meal Planning

With all the back to school buzz, I hear people saying, “We’ve got to get back on a schedule,” or “We’ve got to bet back into our routine.” Between work obligations, school hours, and extracurricular activities, putting a healthy, well-balanced meal on the table can fall by the wayside—and understandably so. I’m here to encourage you that this does not have to be the case!

Two words: meal planning. Now don’t freak out, I’m not saying you have to go all Pioneer Woman! There are so many resources out there to help make meal planning effective and simple.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew! When starting something new, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. You won’t stick with it if it stresses you out .Try start with planning/prepping for 2-4 dinners the first week.
  2. Start off in your comfort zone. Are you a chicken or pork wizard? Good, start there! Pick recipes you know you can execute well. The last thing you want is to prep and cook an obscure recipe that no one in your family enjoys.
  3. But don’t forget the freshness! Pick sides that include fresh vegetables and herbs. For me, the point of meal planning is to make better use of my time at the store and in the kitchen, and to eat well. When the bulk of your grocery list lives in the produce section, that is a good feeling.
  4. Pick a resource. There are so many great resources out there for meal planning. Take some time to Google your options. Be sure to check back here on Thursday and I’ll share my experience with one of my favorites—it even generates a grocery list that is divided into categories for easy shopping!
  5. Pick a day to shop and prep. Sunday works best for me. I go to the store with my pre-generated list and shop away. I come home, round up the hubby and we prep—organizing and chopping up ingredients. You can store your preps in Ziploc bags or Tupperware, label it for the appropriate day, and your done! Include the whole family—all hands on deck!
  6. Stay up on those dishes! Maybe I’m the only one, but most the time I throw dishes in the sink, the sink gets full, and then we do dishes. More cooking at home means more dishes. Nothing is more discouraging than having to do dishes before you can even start cooking! 

Be sure to check back Thursday when I go over one of
my favorite meal planning websites!


How to Become a Savvy Farmers Market Shopper


How to become a Savvy Farmers Market Shopper

Farmers’ Market season is off and running! There’s no quicker way to go from farm-to-table with your meals than by purchasing your ingredients at your local market. This also provides a great opportunity to communicate directly with your farmers on topics such as pesticide-use, growing conditions and whether or not the products are grown organically. Additionally, at the Illinois Products Farmers’ Market you can often find unique items such as hand-crafted soaps, gluten-free baked goods, organic meats and other hidden gems that may not be available at your local grocery store. Springfield Clinic registered dietitian, Jessica Stevens is a regular at the Farmers’ Market and offers these tips for your next trip:

  • Take your own reusable grocery bag and maybe even a wagon if you plan on buying a lot of produce and other goodies.
  • Purchase fresh herbs at the market when they are in season and also less expensive. Chop and place them in ice cube trays, add olive oil and freeze. You’ve just made your own herb oil and can use at any time by heating in a skillet or vegetable foil pack on the grill.
  • Ask the farmers how they personally use or cook vegetables that are new to you.
  • If you have questions about seasonal produce, ask! The farmers who grow them know best.
  • Best prices are found in bulk. Ask a neighbor, friend or family member to go in on shopping costs with you and share your bounty.
  • Try to have a meal plan in place so you do not feel like you waste fresh produce.
  • Get there early if you’re looking for specific things – the best produce sells out fast. If you want a good deal, you may find one if you get there late, but that’s not always a guarantee.
  • Bring small bills. Market vendors often only accept cash and don’t carry a lot of change.
  • Know your seasons and what produce grows in your local area. This can help you plan your meals around fresh and cheap produce! Visit our Springfield Clinic table each week, as we will be providing a featured recipe that includes in-season ingredients.
  • Bring a cooler. Fresh meat, cheese and eggs can be available to purchase at farmer’s markets so you’ll want to keep these items cool for those trips home. It will be 90+ degrees before we know it!

The Easiest Salmon Recipe You’ll Ever Need

If you’re like me, then the two things you want most out of your dinner meal are: fast and healthy. We are encouraged to eat fish at least once a week. Salmon, in particular, is a pot of gold when it comes to the vital nutrients we need. The omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon are great for eye health, brain health, and heart health, as well as reducing overall inflammation in the body. While the pre-cut fillets of salmon may be enticing since they are already perfectly portioned, you will often find that it is much cheaper to purchase the salmon whole and sliced by the pound.

Simple Dill Salmon
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  1. • Salmon (fresh preferred)
  2. • Mayonnaise (I prefer my homemade mayo or you can use a store-bought olive oil mayo variety)
  3. • Fresh dill, chopped
  4. • Salt to taste
  1. Pre-heat oven to 450oF. Meanwhile, gently season salmon with a sprinkle of salt. Use a spatula to spread a thin layer of mayo over top of salmon. Complete recipe by adding an even layer of fresh dill on top.
  2. Bake in oven for 12-15 minutes or until salmon flakes easily with a fork. Serve with your favorite healthy side dishes and enjoy!
Something to Chew

Caprese Avocado Salad

Some days, you just want a healthy meal that only takes seconds to prepare. That day for me was Saturday. This fresh salad was the perfect balance of healthy fats, protein and crunchy greens that my body needed that afternoon. Avocados and olive oil are some of the best fats to feed your body. Tomatoes and arugula are great sources of antioxidants, and the fresh mozzarella cheese is low in sodium and adds calcium and protein to the dish. My body requires more protein than others, so I added 2 hard-boiled eggs on the side. If you are not familiar with arugula, I highly recommend it. It has a distinct crispness that aids in the balance of textures from the soft mozzarella and avocado in the salad. The dressing is quite rich, so you only need a small amount for the flavor to go a long way!

Caprese Avocado Salad
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  1. For the Salad
  2. • Arugula
  3. • Fresh basil, about 2 leaves, cut into thin strips
  4. • Tomatoes (I used Campari tomatoes)
  5. • Fresh mozzarella (soft)
  6. • ½ small avocado, sliced
  7. For the Dressing
  8. • 1 tbsp olive oil
  9. • 1½ tsp balsamic vinegar
  10. • Pinch of sugar, salt and pepper
  1. Arrange salad ingredients to your liking. Remember there’s no textbook way to make a salad!
  2. Whisk dressing ingredients in a small bowl. The dressing is strong so I recommend dipping your fork in the dressing and sprinkling it over the salad versus pouring the dressing over the salad.
Something to Chew

Save Your Burnt Out Metabolism

Save Your Burnt Out Metabolism

Did you know that one of the most common mistakes that individuals make when trying to lose weight is not eating enough? Consuming too few of calories is a sure-fire way to burn out your metabolism—basically disarm your body’s ability to burn calories effectively throughout the day. In fact, I can usually tell within the first five minutes of a patient’s assessment if they have a properly working metabolism or not.

Characteristics of a person with a malfunctioning metabolism can include:

  • Frequent meal-skipping habits
  • Not snacking when appropriate
  • Low energy levels
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Over-exercising without adequate nutrition compensation
  • Weight gain over a very short period of time (example: gaining 5 lbs over a weekend)
  • Weight loss plateau despite good exercise and healthy eating habits

Dealing with a burnt out metabolism can be one of the most frustrating experiences. In fact, I have had several patients tell me, “I don’t understand why I can’t lose weight. I hardly eat anything at all.” Again, “hardly eat anything” is the red flag here and is quickly the focal point of our conversation. Patients are quite surprised to find that I actually recommend them to eat more in order to lose more. This can be a difficult phenomenon to grasp but I’ll try to illustrate it here.

Imagine your metabolism as a big, glowing fire. Like any fire, you must continuously feed the fire wood or fuel in order for it to keep burning. The wood represents the food and snacks you consume throughout the day and the fire represents how efficiently your body is burning calories. Now, envision you skip your lunch meal. This is symbolic to throwing a bucket of water on your fire. Once the fire goes out, your body now enters “fuel-storage” mode rather than being in a “fuel-burning” mode. Unfortunately, once the fire is burned out, it doesn’t necessarily restart right away. So, even if you choose a super nutritious dinner of grilled chicken, salad and broccoli, your body is going to store all those calories vs burn them up for fuel. This is why my number one rule is: Don’t Skip Meals!

This is why myAlso, you don’t want to go too long without eating either. A healthy metabolism needs to be fed as often as every 2-5 hours (depending on activity level). Frequent eating also helps one establish better portion control throughout the day. For example, when I have a protein-rich afternoon snack, I notice that I don’t take nearly as big of portion sizes at my dinner meal. A popular trend in weight loss today is the practice of intermittent fasting. While this practice has shown slight positive effects in small study populations, we still have no idea how well it works in diseased or severely obese populations. I also understand how tempting it is to read articles that highlight, “eating breakfast doesn’t matter” or “you can skip meals and lose weight.” Most of the time, these study designs are severely flawed and do not apply to the general population.

If you feel this article speaks to you, consider switching up your eating routine. You may just need to start with eating three meals per day, and try to consume those meals 4-6 hours apart. Focus on including good protein sources with both meals and snacks such as chicken, turkey, eggs, cheese, tuna, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts, peanut butter or protein bars. Aim for a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day with a long-term goal of consuming 7-9 servings a day. Don’t be afraid of fat. The right kinds of fats from avocados, nuts, seeds, eggs, olive oil and coconut oil can actually help your body more efficiently burn its own fat! Just like the wise Bruce Springsteen once said, “you can’t start a fire…you can’t start a fire without a spark.” I am a firm believer that that “spark” is frequently nourishing your body with meals and healthy snacks!

Tilapia & Strawberry Mango Salsa

Healthy? Check. Fast? Check. Delicious? Check.

Personally, I think tilapia and broccoli are two pretty bland menu items; however, they are excellent sources of nutrition! Tilapia is an incredibly lean protein source and broccoli provides an abundance of Vitamin A, Vitamin K and folate. All these dishes needed were a little love from some spices and herbs, and they were instantly transformed into a flavorful dinner meal.


Baked Tilapia with Strawberry Mango Salsa and Sautéed Broccoli

For the Tilapia

  • 2-4 tilapia fillets (fresh)
  • Your favorite zesty seasoning (I used my Tastefully Simple Fiesta Party Dip Mix)

For the Broccoli

  • 2-4 crowns of broccoli, chopped
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt, pepper to taste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese

For the Strawberry Mango Salsa

  • 1 pint of strawberries, diced
  • 1 mango, diced
  • 2 small avocados, diced
  • At least 2 Tbsp of lime juice (add more if desired)
  • 4-6 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425o Spray a foiled baking sheet with non-stick spray. Lay tilapia on baking sheet and generously cover with zesty seasoning. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Once heated, add chopped broccoli to oil with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and sauté for about 8-10 minutes. Be sure to move your broccoli frequently in the pan as it can burn easily. Once cooked, add brown sugar and Parmesan, reduce heat to warm and cover with lid.
  3. Mix all salsa ingredients together in a bowl. Serve over the tilapia.