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Simple tips can turn mealtime from ho-hum to yum

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As I reflect on my childhood years, Monday always seemed to be meatloaf night. That was fine by me since I really enjoyed my mom’s meatloaf. As an adult and chief menu planner/shopper/chef of my household, I realize that by cooking the same meal once a week, it makes life a bit simpler. Now we often hear about Taco Tuesday. And isn’t Wednesday Prince Spaghetti Day? It used to be, according to the award-winning commercial that ran for 13 years starting in 1969.

So, what happens the rest of the week? What do we eat when nothing sounds good, there are no leftovers hiding out in the fridge, and we’re exhausted, uninspired, and starving? There’s always carry-out, toast with jam or a frozen pizza. Or we can plan for these times and, hopefully, come through the mealtime ordeal feeling more fulfilled and happier.

Planning

When preparing a meal, be it for one or four, make enough to have leftovers. Even if you don't like to eat the same thing the next day, freezing is an option that would give you a meal on another night. If cooking isn’t your thing and you prefer to eat out, most restaurant portions are large enough to provide another meal or at least a snack. Take home a box.

Keep a few frozen meals on hand, even if they’re not prepared by you. There are numerous options besides TV dinners I remember eating when my parents had a night out. (We even had metal TV trays for such occasions.) Depending on your situation, a meal delivery service or nonprofit nutritional outreach organization that specializes in health-conscious meals may be a good fit a few days each week.

Stock staple items in your pantry, freezer and fridge that can be tossed together quickly and easily so that you don’t have to resort to eating toast. There are times when you may not hit an “A” on the nutritional chart, yet what you prepare from your kitchen staples is usually healthier, quicker and less expensive than what you’d get at a drive-thru establishment.

Quick and easy ideas

Veggie scramble: Sauté a few veggies (onions, peppers, spinach, mushrooms, etc.) and scramble in eggs once the veggies are slightly soft.

Salmon salad: Combine mixed greens, a can of wild salmon and cherry tomatoes. Toss with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. If you’re not a salmon fan, keep extra cooked chicken breasts on hand to add.

Cheesy black bean nachos: Combine a can of black beans, rinsed and drained, with a can of diced tomatoes, drained. Add a few jalapeno peppers (to your heat preference), seeded and sliced. Or, add some heat in the form of chili powder or red pepper flakes. Arrange tortilla chips in an even layer on a pan. Top with the bean/tomato mixture and your choice of cheese. Bake in a 350° oven until cheese melts, about 10 minutes.

Bone broth and noodles: This is a favorite on a cold day or if I’m feeling a bit under the weather. Heat a cup or so of chicken or beef bone broth to boiling. Add a half to 1 cake of Millet & Brown Rice Ramen Noodles and cook until soft. You could toss in some green onion, spinach leaves or shredded carrots, if desired.

Spice things up

If you're like most of us and eat the same things week after week, shaking up the menu feels as though it takes too much energy and time. But there are some ways to make meals more interesting without making it a big deal.

Check out new recipes for a frequent favorite. You may discover some spices or learn that switching an ingredient or two really jazzes up the flavor. You can look online for new ideas, ask a friend to share a recipe, dust off a cookbook from your shelf or check one out from the library. Grab a food magazine as you check out of the grocery, or better yet, grab it at the beginning so you can take the necessary ingredients home to make the chosen dish. Tuning in to one of the many cooking shows is another way to find inspiration.

Ask a friend or co-worker what’s for dinner. If you do that once a week, you may find that you have some delicious options to rotate into your life and discover that you eat less toast.

Carol Slager is a licensed pharmacist, author, blogger and health coach in Northwest Indiana. Follow her monthly in Get Healthy and at inkwellcoaching.com. Opinions expressed are the writer's.

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