I often get questions about how to eat healthy while not spending a lot of time or money to do so. The truth is, that when it comes to eating healthy, small changes really can add up. One of those small changes I encourage is including dairy products as an affordable, nutrient-rich food (psst! – it’s also the primary source of calcium in American diets).
The key to quick, inexpensive, and healthy eating is to keep it simple.
Set yourself up for success by mapping out a meal plan that focuses on nutrient-rich foods you and your family enjoy. Don’t let the term “meal planning” intimidate you. Quick meal planning can be accomplished in just three steps.
- Look ahead at your calendar to pinpoint WHEN you need to plan meals and snacks. Sometimes we have events and functions that give us a break from the kitchen.
- Pick out delicious dishes that are easy to assemble (this is the fun part). I find inspiration from dairy recipes and Pinterest all the time.
- Build your grocery list. Make sure you get everything you need while at the store.
Aim to incorporate at least three food groups at meal time to fuel up and feel your best. The USDA Dietary Guidelines note four nutrients of concern that Americans are not getting enough of—calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and fiber. We can close the gap on these nutrients by filling our plate with more fruits, vegetables, dairy, lean protein and whole grains. In fact, dairy foods contain three of these four nutrients: calcium, potassium, and vitamin D.
Here are some quick and inexpensive meals that incorporate multiple food groups:
BREAKFAST: Easy Overnight Oats
- GRAINS — 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- PROTEIN — 1 cup low-fat milk and 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- FRUIT — 1 sliced banana
Tip: Overnight oats are actually good for about three days. Each jar only cost me $1.15!
LUNCH OR DINNER: Basic Bowl Meal
- GRAINS — 1 cup quinoa
- PROTEIN — 4 ounces baked chicken & 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
- VEGGIES — 1.5 cups kale (sautéed in garlic and onions)
Cost per bowl: About $2.00
SNACKS: Simple and Satisfying Snack Pairs
- PROTEIN — single-serving cheese or oven-roasted almonds
- FRUIT — apple or dried apricots
Tip: I love fitting calcium-rich dairy in at snack times because calcium is often a nutrient most of us are falling short on. Learn more about the health benefits of dairy.
So just remember, to save time, money, and start eating healthier, it takes just three simple steps. Create a healthier plate by cooking more at home, incorporating a variety of the recommended food groups in your meals and paying attention to portions.
Lindsey Joe is a registered dietitian/nutritionist living, working and playing in Nashville, Tennessee. She has a bachelor’s degree in human ecology from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville and is a graduate of the Dietetic Internship Program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She is a weight management expert and consultant for companies in the food and beverage industry. Her passion for nutrition communications and a “do-it-yourself” food philosophy is showcased at HandmadeHealthy.com.