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Did you resolve to incorporate more nutrient-dense, healthy meals into your diet this year? Need tips for meal planning your way to long-term dietary success – or ideas for making the most of leftovers?

In honour of these inevitable New Year’s resolutions, The Globe and Mail collected expert tips and guidance to make healthy meals less of a chore and more of something you look forward to for snacks and at mealtime.


Meal planning may seem like an extra 'to-do' in a busy week, but it will ultimately save you time in the kitchen.SolStock/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Embrace meal planning

A play-it-by-ear approach to meals can undermine your healthy eating plans, not to mention create additional stress when the clock is ticking toward mealtime. Being organized saves money and prevents food waste, too.

Meal planning may seem like an extra “to-do” in a busy week, but it will ultimately save you time in the kitchen. The more often you make a meal plan – and the more it becomes integrated into your schedule – the less it will seem like a chore.

  • To get started, establish a day and time of the week for planning your weekly menu. Then map out a simple framework based on meal categories for days of the week. For example, plant-based Mondays, chicken Tuesdays, stir-fry Wednesdays, pasta Thursdays, slow-cooker Sundays and so on. Keep space in your meal plan for the occasional takeout meal and leftovers.
  • Take advantage of time savers at the grocery store that require zero or minimal prep, such as prewashed salad greens, precut fresh vegetables and chopped fresh fruit.
  • Stock your freezer with frozen vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower and butternut squash can be roasted from frozen for dinner. Keep frozen kale or spinach on hand to add to smoothies and pastas.
  • Keep protein staples on hand for easy midweek meals. Protein, which is effective in curbing hunger, can help improve the body’s ability to burn fat, research suggests. Plus, getting enough protein helps maintain strong muscles, a powerful immune system and healthy hair and nails. Keep foods like edamame, canned sardines, cashews, tempeh, black beans on hand to make, including a protein-rich food at every meal or snack easy.
  • Sometimes dinners don’t go according to plan, so it’s important to have a backup. Keep your pantry stocked with staples you can quickly throw together for a healthy meal, such as tinned tuna, canned beans, eggs, frozen vegetables and frozen veggie burgers.

Simple meal prep for the week can include batch cooking whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice and oats.Getty Images/iStockphoto

Meal prep for the week

Once you’ve planned your meals, consider prepping some of them in advance:

  • Cook a batch of soup, pasta sauce or chili for later in the week, or freeze for another time.
  • Batch-cook whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice and oats.
  • Make a bean or lentil salad for a meatless lunch or side dish for dinner.
  • Chop vegetables for snacks and salads during the week.
  • Hard boil a bunch of eggs or make frittata muffins for a quick breakfast protein.

Make the most of your leftovers

Think about how you can cook once and make two or more meals out of it. Leftover roasted chicken, for example, can be turned into salads, wraps and tacos. And if you get in the habit of cooking an extra serving of staple dinners, you have an easy, no-prep lunch the next day.

  • Cook up different grains to use as a salad addition, or as a base for leftovers. Farro, quinoa and brown rice are all sturdy enough to last a few days and won’t get soggy at the bottom of a container.
  • Roasted vegetables can brighten up any salad. Chop up leftover salad ingredients with some fresh vegetables and meat or tuna for a chop-chop salad. Add dressing when you’re ready to eat it.
  • Add crunch to leftovers by adding nuts and seeds or crumbled roasted veggie chips.
  • Cut up an avocado at work and add it to pretty much any meal.
  • Everything tastes good in a wrap. Try roasted seaweed sheets for a gluten-free wrap substitute.

Boost the nutrition in your meals with whole grains, green vegetables and plant-based proteins.AnnaPustynnikova/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Six healthy recipe ideas to try in January

Looking for nutritious and delicious recipes to add to your weekly rotation? Consider these recipes hand-picked by The Globe and Mail.

Lentil and sweet potato soup

This colourful and tasty mixture of sweet potatoes and lentils makes a healthy and bright soup that’s low in calories – and it takes just 30 minutes to cook.

  • Why it belongs on your menu: Lentils (along with other pulses like beans and split peas) are some of the most nutrient-dense foods around. They are excellent sources of plant protein, slow-burning carbohydrates and fibre, a combination that can help increase the satiety of a meal. One cup of cooked lentils cooked delivers 24 grams of protein (the equivalent of four eggs) and 358 micrograms of folate (adults need 400 mcg daily) – more protein, folate and iron than any other bean.

Quinoa risotto

Add a splash of colour to this non-traditional risotto by using mixtures of several colours of quinoa. Using a mixture of risotto rice and quinoa makes a festive side dish.

  • Why it belongs on your menu: Whole grains, like quinoa, add a surprising amount of protein to meals. One cup of cooked quinoa adds 8 g of protein to a meal.

Winter fruit salad

Winter fruits make an excellent salad when they are marinated with a tasty dressing. Blood oranges are available from the end of January through April, and their intense ruby colour makes an attractive dressing. Mix navel oranges, cantaloupe, kiwi and red or green grapes with a simple dressing for a lighter, delicious afternoon snack.

  • Why it belongs on your menu: Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables owe their hue to phytochemicals, powerful plant compounds thought to help preserve memory as we age. Kiwifruit, for example, is a nutrient powerhouse. Two kiwifruit (84 calories) serve up 4 g of fibre, as much potassium as a banana (430 mg), more vitamin C than an orange (128 mg) along with folate, vitamin E and calcium.

Vegetarian chili

This protein-filled, low-fat, two-bean vegetarian recipe is both tasty and nutritious. It is packed with nutritious vegetables including peppers, onions and tomatoes. With simple ingredients and minimal preparation, it’s a great weeknight dinner option when you need a quick, healthy meal in about 30 minutes.

  • Why it belongs on your menu: Beans are nutrient-packed plant-based protein alternatives. They’re exceptional sources of fibre, blood-sugar-regulating magnesium and folate, a B vitamin that makes and repairs DNA in cells. One cup of black beans and pinto beans delivers 15 g of protein, along with 15 g of fibre and plenty of folate, calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Instant spicy green pea soup

This concentrate can be frozen once made and used on its own or as a base for Mason jar soups. To serve, add boiling water.

  • Why it belongs on your menu: Peas – just as nutritious frozen as fresh – are an exceptional source of lutein, a phytochemical that protects vision and brain health.

Anna Pippus’s hearty lentil-walnut spaghetti

A hearty plant-based dinner option, this vegan recipe comes together in under an hour. Leftovers can be repurposed for lunch for up to two to three days if stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

  • Why it belongs on your menu: There are a lot of mushrooms in this recipe, one cup (about 10 small or five medium) of which provides 20 per cent to 25 per cent of a day’s worth of niacin, a B vitamin that’s used to make stress hormones, improves circulation and reduce inflammation. One cup even serves up 3 g of protein.

Time snacks correctly

If your meals are longer than four hours apart, plan for a snack to prevent being overly hungry at your next meal. For instance, if you eat breakfast at 7 a.m. and lunch at noon, include a mid-morning snack at 10 a.m.

If you eat breakfast at 8 a.m. and lunch at noon, you probably don’t need a snack. Many people need to eat a snack about three hours after lunch to feel energized until dinner. If you exercise after work and eat a late dinner, you might benefit from a mid- and late-afternoon snack.

Block off meal and snack breaks in your calendar or set an alert on your phone to remind you to eat if you need to. Snacks should contain 150 to 200 calories for women and 200 to 250 calories for men.

To keep portion size under control, don’t snack from the box. Read nutrition labels to determine how many crackers or nuts count as one serving. Then measure out one serving and put it in a bowl.


Healthy, well-planned snacks – like smoothies or full-fat cheese and nuts – can help keep your energy level constant and to prevent hunger.gpointstudio/istock

Dietician-approved healthy snack ideas

Instead of an overpriced coffee shop snack, plan ahead and pack a nutritious snack for between meals. Healthy, well-planned snacks can help keep your energy level constant and to prevent hunger.

If your go-to snacks often include so-called ”diet” foods like a fat-free version, here are some tips for building more nutritious, satisfying snacks:

If you eat fat-reduced options like lower-calorie peanut butter: Eat the real thing, but practise portion control. Peanut butter provides heart-healthy fat, half of it from monounsaturated fat, the type that’s thought to help improve blood vessel function and benefit blood-sugar control. Aim for a brand of natural peanut butter that does not have added salt, oil or sugar.

If you snack on rice cakes for their low-calorie crunch: Trade rice cakes for nutrient- and fibre-rich snacks like raw vegetables dipped in a few tablespoons of hummus. Rice cakes are low in calories and lack fibre and vitamins and minerals – despite being made from brown rice.

If you favour fat-free salad dressing or cheese: Replace them with the full-fat versions (preferably with olive or canola oil), with fewer than 200 milligrams a serving of salt. Oil is necessary for dressing: It adds flavour, texture and nutrients, and helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins and beneficial antioxidants from greens and other vegetables.

Still looking for snack ideas? Here are eight dietician-approved mini-meals to add to your menu plan:

  • Fruit and a small handful of nuts.
  • Apple slices with almond butter or pumpkin seed butter.
  • Greek or Icelandic yogurt with berries.
  • A homemade fruit smoothie made with milk or soy milk.
  • A cup of black bean, lentil or chickpea soup.
  • Half of a whole wheat pita with tuna and baby arugula.
  • Whole-grain crackers and cheddar cheese.
  • Raw veggie sticks with hummus (or guacamole).

Consider adding chia and flax seeds or hemp hearts to your meals to boost nutrition. Two tablespoons of chia seeds offer five grams of fibre.Thinkstock/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Boost nutrition at mealtime (without supplements)

Here are five whole-food ingredients that can enhance the nutritional value of meals and snacks:

Blackstrap molasses: Thick, dark in colour and slightly bitter-tasting, blackstrap molasses has the highest nutrient content of all types of molasses. One tablespoon adds a decent amount of calcium (170 mg) and iron (3.5 mg) to meals, along with 500 mg of potassium, a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure (adults need 4,700 mg daily).

Chia seeds: Two tablespoons of these tiny seeds offer five grams of fibre, 90 mg of calcium and a hefty dose (2.5 mg) of alpha linolenic acid, an anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid.

Ground flaxseed: Like chia seeds, flaxseeds are loaded with the omega-3 fatty acid, ALA: Two tablespoons supply two days’ worth (3.2 g) for men. Higher intakes of ALA are thought to help guard against Type 2 diabetes.

Hemp hearts: Use shelled hemp seeds to bolster the protein, magnesium and ALA content of meals. Two tablespoons deliver 6.3 g of protein – the amount found in one large egg – along with 1.7 g of ALA and nearly half a day’s magnesium requirement for women and one-third of a day’s worth for men.

Nutritional yeast: Nutritional yeast is a source of B vitamins, especially B12. And when it’s fortified with B12, it becomes an excellent source, making it popular with vegans. Depending on the brand, fortified nutritional yeast can provide anywhere from four to 12 mcg of B12 per tablespoon. Adults need 2.4 mcg per day.

With files from Leslie Beck, Lucy Waverman and Emma Waverman