Healthy Living in the North

Foodie Friday: Ready, set, menu plan!

Grocery list

A little bit of meal planning – including making a grocery list – can go a long way to help support healthy eating habits and make dinner time more enjoyable for everyone.

It’s been a hectic day, and now you need to get dinner on the table. All too often, we are faced with the “What should we have for dinner tonight?” dilemma. This can make dinner time a very stressful and daunting experience, especially when you’re already tired and hungry! For me, I’ve learned firsthand that “hangry”, the term used for anger or irritability due to lack of food, is definitely a real thing!

In honour of Nutrition Month this March, my small nourishing change is to make a weekly meal plan. Why do a meal plan? Meals planned and prepared at home tend to be healthier than restaurant meals or eating on the go. Plus, a little bit of meal planning can go a long way to help support healthy eating habits and make dinner time more enjoyable for everyone. It’s a win-win!

Meal planning can be a fairly simple task, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Try these simple meal planning steps:

  1. Make a menu plan. Write down your meal ideas for the week using a piece of paper, calendar or this handy menu planner from BetterTogetherBC. Post it on the fridge and get the whole family involved.
  2. Make a grocery list. Check your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what food items you need.
  3. Go grocery shopping. Buy the foods on your grocery list.
  4. Get stocked. Keep ingredients for healthy meals and snacks on hand such as frozen or canned vegetables and fruit, plain yogurt, canned fish, peanut butter, nuts and seeds, canned beans and whole grains such oats and brown rice.

Looking for a quick, easy, and delicious dinner meal idea? This Mexican Chicken Casserole recipe is definitely one of my go-tos for those hectic weekday nights and is also great for “planned extra” leftovers.

Chicken and rice on a plate with carrots and salad.

Emilia’s Mexican Chicken Casserole is a great option for a hectic weekday night and makes great “planned extras” for lunch tomorrow!

Mexican Chicken Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice or rice of choice
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 x 15 oz can black beans or beans of choice
  • 1 x 15 oz can of finely chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup low- sodium chicken broth or water
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 2-3 large chicken breast or 6 chicken thighs
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add the dry rice, drained and rinsed black beans, corn, tomatoes, chili powder, oregano and chicken broth or water to a 8″ x 8″ casserole pan.
  2. If using chicken breast, cut into 3 pieces. Push the chicken into the liquid.
  3. Cover the casserole dish tightly with foil. Bake for 1 hour.
  4. Remove from oven and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Bake uncovered for a few minutes, until cheese has melted.

Adapted from Budget Bytes.

Enjoy served with a side salad and a glass of milk or a dollop of plain yogurt. Possible recipe modifications include substituting the chicken with heart-healthy fish or doubling the portion of beans for a fibre-packed vegetarian alternative.

Do you have a favorite go-to dinner meal? Please share in the comments below.

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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Foodie Friday: Veg out for dinner tonight

Chickpea burger with toppings

Adding a vegetarian meal (or two!) to your weekly rotation can be as simple as swapping out a few ingredients of a weekly staple. For your next burger night, try a quick and delicious chickpea burger instead of a meat burger!

What’s for dinner tonight?

Ah yes, the age-old question. Perhaps you like to make a weekly meal plan. Or maybe you come home from work and let your mood dictate what will be on the table that night. Regardless of your dinner style, do you ever build your meal around some of the meat alternatives found in Canada’s Food Guide? Think beans, lentils, eggs, nuts, tofu – all of these are great vegetarian protein sources to incorporate into your diet. If these foods haven’t been on your dinner radar, they probably should be! Adding a vegetarian meal one night a week can be a great thing to do for you and your family!

So, what makes adding vegetarian meals to your weekly rotation so great?

  • Economical: Vegetarian meals are often more budget-friendly than meals based around meat or seafood. Beans, lentils, eggs, and tofu are all easier on the wallet than chicken, steak, or salmon.
  • Variety: Adding vegetarian meals to your weekly rotation can add great variety to your diet as you experiment with different recipes or revamp your favourite to make them veggie-friendly.
  • Healthy: Choosing vegetarian protein options like beans, lentils, nuts, and tofu can be great for your health. These foods are lower in saturated fat than meats and high in fibre, which can help keep your heart healthy and decrease your risk for other chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
  • Convenient: Cooking up a vegetarian meal is easy. Lentils and eggs can be cooked up in a flash, and canned beans are a great staple to have on hand.
  • Delicious: Yes, vegetarian meals are delicious! Think hearty bean chili, comforting lentil soup, fragrant tofu Thai curry, or a fancy spinach and mushroom quiche. Yum!

If you want to start incorporating more vegetarian meals into your rotation, I suggest starting with some of your favourite foods and seeing how you might turn those into a great vegetarian meal. Family favourites like pizza, shepherd’s pie, burritos, chili, and burgers can all easily be made vegetarian. In fact, my favourite weeknight vegetarian meal is a super simple veggie burger made using chickpeas. They are reminiscent of falafel and, best of all, they are quick and delicious. Give them a go!

Chickpea burger

Vegetarian meals are economical, healthy, delicious, convenient, and add variety to your diet!

Falafelly Good Chickpea Burgers

Recipe from French Fries to Flax Seeds.

Makes 4 burgers.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (540 ml or 19 oz) no salt added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup white or red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, mash the chickpeas with a potato masher until just a little lumpy – you want some texture.
  2. Add in garlic, parsley, onion, flour, olive oil, cumin, and cayenne. Mix until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Divide the mixture into 4 equal-sized balls and form into patties. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, adding a small amount of oil if the pan is not non-stick. Fry the patties until golden brown and cooked through – about 5 minutes on each side.
  5. Serve on whole wheat burger buns with your favourite burger toppings, or dress them up like you would a falafel.

Note: Feel free to switch out the fresh herbs for whatever you have on hand – dill and basil are both great choices!

For more delicious ways of incorporating beans and lentils into your meals, check out Pulse Canada.

Marianne Bloudoff

About Marianne Bloudoff

Born and raised in BC, Marianne moved from Vancouver to Prince George in January 2014. She is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health’s population health team. Her passion for food and nutrition lured her away from her previous career in Fisheries Management. Now, instead of counting fish, she finds herself educating people on their health benefits. In her spare time, Marianne can be found experimenting in the kitchen and writing about it on her food blog, as well as exploring everything northern B.C. has to offer.

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