Carol Slager, RPh Culinary Fitness Trainer Photo by Tony V. Martin

Sometime around mid-November, the tempo of life picks up. Family visits increase, decorations are hauled out of storage, dust bunnies are brought to heel.

All these activities are packed into days already full of  work, school, and meetings.

What typically suffers in all this holiday fun is our health. When daily stress increases, it makes sense to maintain the most nutritionally sound diet possible. But we usually fall into a pattern of poor eating because we “don’t have time to make healthy meals.” 

Making and enjoying simple, tasty, and nutritious meals is easier than it may seem. Here are some ideas to get you started. If there are foods you and your family don’t care for, switch them out for your favorites. Repeating meals because they are easy and you like them is healthier than eating out.

Try breakfast for dinner. Making a batch of scrambled eggs with your favorite vegetables is ideal. Sauté onions, sweet peppers, and mushrooms, until tender. Add your eggs and scramble away. Toss in fresh spinach leaves at the end so they are just barely wilted. Grate your favorite cheese on top as a garnish. If you have a kitchen helper, you could make pancakes as a side dish. Fresh fruit is perfect for dessert anytime. Leftover eggs or pancakes make a quick breakfast for another morning, with a brief warming in the microwave.

Prepare meat loaf, stew, soup, or casseroles on the weekend when you may find cooking to be more relaxed. Make a double batch so you have another option for dinner or lunch. If family members are not leftover fans or they enjoy more variety, freeze the extra and bring it out the following week. It’ll seem like a new meal.

Shop so you’re prepared for several under-30-minute meals. Fresh fish is my favorite, as many varieties cook in 10 minutes or less. If you like fish yet find it intimidating to prepare, ask the person behind the counter for guidance. They can usually steer you to less fishy varieties and give you the appropriate cooking method. I often ask what came in that day, so it’s as fresh as possible.

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Hamburgers, turkey burgers, meatless plant burgers, and pork burgers are easy and no recipe is required. Grocery store rotisserie chickens are delicious and can make several meals, depending on family size. Buy two or three if need be, and make chicken wraps as a lunch or on-the-go snack.

Side dishes to go with any of these quick meals are: tossed salad; fresh or frozen vegetables (whatever varieties you like) sautéed or roasted; brown, white or wild rice; baked potatoes; raw veggies with hummus; sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and olives tossed with olive oil and lemon juice.

I typically make a big batch of brown rice early in the week and have it for several meals. That works with pasta, too. Try whole wheat varieties if you can get away with it, and practice filling dinner plates so that they’re heavy on the vegetables and fresh salads. Bake extra potatoes with your meat loaf and have another meal of stuffed potatoes, topped with broccoli, plain Greek yogurt, green onions, and leftover crumbled hamburger or rotisserie chicken. Make your own version of egg fried rice by sautéing leftover rice with fresh vegetables until tender, then adding beaten eggs, scrambling it all together. Season to taste.

To enhance the cooking experience and help you de-stress, try listening to an audio book (you can download them from the library) or your favorite tunes while you chop and stir. You may attract helpers who will wash the dishes. When you can’t handle anything, order your favorite pizza; add a tossed side salad for extra credit.

Meals don’t have to be perfect to be a healthier option when you’re pressed for time and low on energy. When my boys were young, dinner sometimes consisted of canned tomato soup and elbow macaroni. Guess what? It worked, and we created some fun memories.

Do the best you can, and enjoy the seasonal ride, dust bunnies and all.

Carol Slager is a licensed pharmacist, author, blogger and health coach in Northwest Indiana. Follow her monthly in Get Healthy and at inkwellcoaching.com.