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Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Now that the holidays are behind us, several people have asked if I've made any New Year's health resolutions. The answer – of course – is of course I have. I'm no different from anyone else; I, the dietitian, put on a few pounds in the past month. Unfortunately, knowledge by itself is not enough to prevent weight gain during the holidays or any time of year, for that matter.
Behavioral strategies are the key. Since resolving in 2005 to get healthy once and for all, portion control has been invaluable to helping me lose weight and keep it off (for the most part, anyway). When I was in the active weight loss phase, I had a frozen meal most nights of the week. Even now, it's not uncommon for me to zap a quick meal in the microwave.
Indeed, research confirms that meal replacements are a tried and true strategy to help dieters lose weight and even keep it off. Breakfast bars, bottled protein shakes, and frozen dinners have two major factors in common. First, they're portioned out. Second, they're easy and convenient.
On the down side, they can be a bit costly, high in sodium, and low on fiber. But what if I told you that you could have pre-portioned meals at home with better nutrition at a fraction of the cost?
Well you can, if you make them yourself. Right now, I have over 2 weeks' worth of frozen, perfectly portioned meals: spinach lasagna with green beans, baked chicken with roasted potatoes, orange chicken with broccoli and brown rice, and chicken & green bean casserole.
But when in the world did I have time to fill my freezer? It's easier than it sounds, I promise.
Time is one of my biggest hurdles. A typical week is filled with teaching programs, testing new recipes and preparing them on live TV, answering consumer questions, and more. Call me crazy, but when you talk about food and health for a living, sometimes the last thing you want to do is come home and cook a gourmet meal.
So when people tell me they don't have time to eat healthy, I get it. It takes a lot of effort and energy that sometimes you just don't have. The question is – are you willing to do it anyway?
75% of the time I answer yes. For the other 25%, my resolution for this year is to make the decision beforehand, by doing the work ahead of time.
So if you, too, have a resolution to eat better, take some time on the weekend to whip up a few batches of comforting foods that freeze well. Portion and freeze, then microwave and eat when you don't feel like cooking during the week (which, like me, might be almost every night). Healthy eating made easy.
Orange Chicken and Broccoli Freezer Meals
Makes about 16 meals
4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
1 cup barbecue sauce
¼ cup lite soy sauce
1 cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Crushed red pepper flakes
16 cups frozen broccoli
8 cups cooked brown rice
To make orange chicken:
Lay chicken breasts in bottom of large slow cooker. In a small bowl, whisk together barbecue sauce, soy sauce, and marmalade. Pour over chicken. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or until chicken is easily shredded. Add sesame oil and crushed red pepper flakes (if desired) and shred chicken.
To assemble as freezer meals:
In each microwave-safe/freezer-safe container, portion out ½ cup of orange chicken mixture, ½ cup cooked brown rice, and 1 cup frozen broccoli florets. Cook in microwave on high power for about 5 minutes, rotating and stirring halfway through cooking time. For food safety purposes, heat to 165 degrees F. Use frozen meals within 3 months for best quality.
Nutrition information (1 freezer meal): Calories 350, Total Fat 7g (Saturated Fat 1g), Cholesterol 55mg, Sodium 700 mg, Total Carbohydrate 46g, Dietary Fiber 3g, Protein 24g, Vitamin A 0%, Vitamin C 60%, Calcium 2%, Iron 7%