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What’s In Pickle Juice?
They key nutrients to look for in a recovery drink is carbohydrates, sodium, potassium and water. Pickle juice is lower in calories than a typical sports drink and can have anywhere from 0 to 100 calories per cup.  It’s also high in sodium and antioxidant vitamins C and E, which can help boost your immune system. While it does contain some potassium, it’s less than what you’ll find in traditional sports drinks. The exact mechanism as to how it can help relieve muscle cramps isn’t really known, but it’s most likely the vinegar offering up the benefits. One study did show that pickle juice relieved muscle cramps more effectively compared to plain water. In addition, another study suggests that it might also be good for your gut since it is fermented, helping to slow down the emptying of the stomach.

If you really want to hop on the pickle juice bandwagon, you can drink the leftover juice from your pickle jar or commercially prepared pickle juices are now marketed as sports drinks – like these pickle juice shots. If drinking pickle juice doesn’t appeal to you, you can also incorporate it into marinades and dressings.

Bottom Line
While studies on pickle juice suggest that it can aid in post-workout recovery, more research is needed. In addition, the benefits don’t seem to be superior to what you would get from drinking electrolyte-rich beverages like coconut or watermelon water or a sports drink (Gatorade is my drink of choice during my singles USTA tennis matches).  Pickle juice is also very high in sodium, so if you’re watching your sodium intake you probably would want to skip it.

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This post was sponsored by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED). All thoughts are my own.

When it comes to nutrition, it’s tough to differentiate between myths versus facts. This is especially true when it comes to omega-3s. Between the media hype and water cooler discussions with friends or family, many of the statements surrounding omega-3s are actually myths. Here are some I hear most often.

Myth #1: Plant-based omega-3s are the same as omega-3s from fish

In order to understand why this is a myth, it is important to understand the types of omega-3s and the forms they can be found in food. There are three main omega-3s – ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The best way to think of these is that ALA is found in land-based sources, whereas EPA and DHA come from the sea, or marine-based sources. Foods that contain ALA include chia and flax, whereas EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, and also in certain sea algae (which is the only purely vegetarian source of EPA and DHA omega-3s).

EPA and DHA are the primary omega-3s known for supporting heart, brain and eye health at all stages of life, and especially in the prenatal and early childhood years. Interestingly, your brain and retinas of the eyes contain the highest amounts of omega-3s compared to other parts of your body.

So what about ALA? It has health benefits, too, but not to the same extent or degree as EPA and DHA. Also, most people tend to get enough ALA omega-3s, and, while the body is technically able to convert ALA  to EPA and DHA, the rate of conversion is extremely low. Only about 1 to 5-percent of ALA is converted to EPA and DHA, so it is a very inefficient process. It’s best to get EPA and DHA directly from fish or supplements.

If you choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, your best bet it to take an omega-3 supplement made from marine algae, which contain high levels of EPA and DHA. These supplements can be found at your local grocery and health food stores.

Myth #2: Omega-3 supplements contain too much mercury

Fish living in their natural environment may be exposed to high levels of mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins and other environmental contaminants. However, it’s important to take a step back and see how the benefits of eating fish regularly or taking an omega-3 supplement outweigh the potential risks.

Some fish have lower levels of contaminants than other fish. For example, wild salmon has a lower level of contaminants compared to swordfish and tilefish. To learn more on seafood recommendations and to compare the contaminant levels of fish check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

In terms of omega-3 supplements, manufacturers purify the oil in order to reduce the level of environmental contaminants. GOED also sets quality standards for its member companies to follow, and GOED randomly tests to ensure these standards are being met. Soon you may see a “Proud GOED Member” logo on supplement bottles (more information can be found here: www.goedquality.com.

If you choose to take an omega-3 supplement, most health professionals recommend 250mg to 500mg of combined EPA and DHA per day for adults.

Myth #3:  You should stop taking omega-3s before surgery since it can cause excessive bleeding

This myth supposedly originated from the Greenlandic Inuit, a group of people who lived on whale blubber, which has a good amount of omega-3s. Scientists found that the Inuit, who consume high amounts of omega-3s  in their diet, also had significantly longer bleeding times compared to Danish people, creating the association between omega-3 intake and longer bleeding times. For some reason, this myth perpetuated for years.

However, a systematic review published in 2017 in the Danish Medical Journal found no evidence to support this statement. Data collected from 16 studies on people undergoing surgery found that fish oil did not increase bleeding time. In addition, the American Heart Association’s Science Advisory published in 2017 in the journal Circulation found that there was “little evidence of major adverse effects such as stroke or bleeding associated with omega-3 supplementation.”

In 2018 a study also published in Circulation examined the relationship between fish oil supplementation and bleeding that occurred from the time the patient goes into the hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office for surgery until the time of discharge. In this multinational, placebo-controlled study 1,516 subjects were either randomly assigned to receive EPA and DHA omega-3s before, during and after surgery or a placebo.  The results found that not only does taking EPA and DHA omega-3s not lead to increased bleeding, but also that there was a direct positive effect: people with the highest levels of EPA and DHA in their blood before surgery had the lowest risk for bleeding and less need for blood transfusions during surgery

These studies all concluded that there is no scientific basis to discontinue taking omega-3 supplements before surgery.

Myth #4: When it comes to protecting the heart, omega-3s supplements aren’t effective

A recent study looked at whether taking 2,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 and/or 1g of omega-3s (supplying 840 mg of EPA and DHA) reduces the risk of major cardiovascular events, that is: heart attack, stroke, or death related to cardiovascular disease (CVD). This study is called The VITamin D and OmegA-3 Trial (VITAL), and was conducted among 25,871 older adults (50 years and older), over the course of five years. At the end of the study, when all these cardiovascular events were looked at as a whole, researchers determined that there was no meaningful reduction to major cardiovascular events. However, when you take a closer look at the data there were numerous significant findings that did show a reduction with regards to specific cardiovascular events (you can get a detailed look at the results here).

Although there was much hype in the media – including vastly different headlines depicting the same study and its results! – it is important to look at the big picture of omega-3 research to see how VITAL fits into the more than 4,000 human clinical trials on EPA and DHA omega-3s. A closer look at VITAL actually strengthens the evidence that omega-3s help reduce the risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) and non-fatal heart attacks.   

Bottom Line:

When it comes to nutrition and omega-3s, the information can get confusing! If you have questions, you can always head to the GOED website, AlwaysOmega3s.com or their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Sleep. We all know it’s important but we don’t always prioritize getting a good night’s sleep. How much sleep should you get? Can you eat late at night? I’m so excited that my friend and fellow registered dietitian, Karmen Meyer, wrote a much needed book to help better understand what to eat in order to catch our zzz’s. Eat to Sleep: What to Eat and When to Eat It for a Good Night’s Sleep―Every Night includes recipes, a food and sleep log, and the best foods to eat for sleep. There are many myths surrounding sleep, and Karmen helped dispel three common ones surrounding sleep and explains what you should do instead.

Myth #1: It’s okay to sleep 5-6 hours a night

Depending on your age, it’s recommended that you get 7 to 10 hours of sleep at night but most adults should aim for 7 to 8 hours. Anything less than 7 hours in a 24-hour period is considered short sleep duration, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, about one-third of Americans are getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep a night. Without adequate sleep, you may experience fatigue during the day, and your physical and mental health can start to suffer from a lack of sleep over time.

Myth #2: Drinking alcohol can help you fall asleep

It’s true that alcohol is a depressant and can help the body relax, but it also can hinder your ability to reach the deeper stages of sleep where the body and brain do self-restoration: something you shouldn’t skip out on! Everyone’s a little different when it comes to how much alcohol it takes to interfere with restful sleep. While some may experience sleep troubles after one glass of wine in the evening, it may take up to 3 drinks in a day before others notice sleep interference.

Myth #3: If you eat too many carbohydrates, you’ll get sleepy

When talking about carbs, it’s first important to distinguish the two types of carbohydrates: simple or complex. In a nutshell, simple carbs come from fruit, dairy and natural sugar (like honey or molasses), while complex carbs include whole and enriched grains and starchy vegetables like regular and sweet potatoes. They both have a place in the daily diet but you want to make sure to take in at least 3 servings of complex carbohydrates, including whole grains, each day for the fiber and variety of vitamins and minerals they contain that can help promote healthy sleep cycles. Foods like whole grain bread and pasta, quinoa, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes are complex carbohydrates and will prevent blood sugar levels from spiking and dropping off quickly, which can leave people feeling tired. Complex carbohydrates will give you sustained energy during the day and the improved sleep at night.

Photo by Karman Meyer

Karman was kind enough to share a recipe with plenty of complex carbs to help with improved sleep at night.

Tropical Chickpea Walnut Quinoa Bowl

Yield: 2 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Ingredients
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
4 cups broccoli florets
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sriracha
1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Toppings:
1/4 cup Fat-Free Coconut Mango dressing (like from Sprouts)
Red bell pepper, sliced thin
Avocado, sliced
Cilantro
Lime

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the quinoa and water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 15-20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and remove from heat once cooked.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together the olive oil and sriracha in a small bowl. Add the broccoli florets to a large bowl and pour the sriracha olive oil over top and stir well to coat. Spread the broccoli onto the baking sheet and roast in oven for 10 minutes on the middle oven rack. Stir broccoli around on baking sheet and add the chickpeas and walnuts. Place back in the oven and roast for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside in a large bowl.
  4. To assemble quinoa bowls: Divide the quinoa and the broccoli, chickpeas, & walnuts between two bowls. Top each bowl with 2 tablespoons of the Coconut Mango dressing, sliced red bell pepper, avocado, cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Eat to Sleep: What to Eat and When to Eat It for a Good Night’s Sleep―Every Night by Karman Meyer will be released May 14, 2019. You can pre-order your copy on Amazon today! Also, check my Instagram for a giveaway later this week for Karman’s new book where one lucky winner will be sent a copy.

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This post is in collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner., on behalf of the Beef Checkoff, as part of my role as a member of the Beef Expert Bureau. I have been compensated for my time commitment. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comment

Recently, there has been a lot of hype surrounding sustainable diets and how we are going to nourish a growing global population without negatively impacting the environment we all depend upon. The method of doing so has become controversial amongst a variety of health professionals, especially registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN). A hotly debated report on this topic drew plenty of criticism for its diet recommendations – you may have heard about it. This report was commissioned and published by The Lancet and authored by an international group of 37 scientists.

For the Love of Food!

As with reports that provide strict nutrition guidelines, the first thing that comes to my mind is the lack of connection between food and culture, history, and enjoyment. Who is really going to eat one cheeseburger per month? Forgo a summer steak and chicken barbecue with friends? Or skip out on the fish served Christmas Eve? Food is a part of every culture, religion, and heritage. We enjoy food with friends and look forward to eating special dishes throughout the year. Many of these foods include plants, but also include animal foods like beef, chicken, lamb, fish, eggs, and dairy. Food is more than just nutrients, it is something to be enjoyed and can help people and communities bond.

My colleague and fellow member of the Beef Expert Bureau Keith Ayoob, EdD, RDN Associate Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York told me regarding the prescriptive nature of the report, “Eating style is complex and has influences of culture, tradition, family, community and other factors, not only health or sustainability.  This report takes none of these factors into account.  As a clinician for over three decades, I always want my patients and clients to be happy with the diet we talk about.  This report does not address personal satisfaction as a concern.” Ayoob questions if the authors considered the feelings of consumers as they should. “The report recommendations aim to shift societal norms and ration many nutrient-dense foods.”

Associations Do Not Equal Causality

But it even goes further than the food prescription. The type of data used in the report to make the conclusions is epidemiological research. I turned to Dr. Taylor C. Wallace, PhD, CFS, FACN Principal & CEO, Think Healthy Group, Inc. and Adjunct Professor, Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, George Mason University to explain. According to Wallace, “Nutrition epidemiology is great for identifying associations, but it cannot be used to determine causality. There is always a chance for confounding and many people mis-report what they actually consume. Nutrition epidemiology is great for looking at potential relationships between intake and long-term health outcomes (such as mortality and cardiovascular events) since clinical interventions typically don’t have that long of a duration (and the ones that do have patient compliance issues).”

Additional Concerns From A RDN’s Perspective

As a RDN, I think it’s important to keep some things in mind when we are faced with certain issues:

  1. Single Foods Cannot Cause Death

A section of the report discusses how red meat supposedly leads to many leading causes of death including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. However, a number of factors can contribute to death and disease – not a single food or food group.

Plus, studies do show that eating lean beef, as part of a balanced diet, supports healthy blood pressure and blood lipids. In addition, beef is a leading source of iron, an already under consumed nutrient in the American diet. Research also shows that partially replaced carbs in the diet with protein could be a helpful strategy in preventing hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Further, last year the Beef WISE Study was published where researchers concluded that lean beef is just as effective as other protein choices to help achieve important health goals such as weight loss while maintaining muscle mass and supporting a healthy heart, as part of a healthy lifestyle plan that included exercise.

  1. Eliminating Food Groups Can Lead to Unintended Consequences

The report says that iron may be difficult to obtain for women, and therefore a supplement is recommended. However, as a RDN I always recommend food first so why recommend a supplement when you have a rich food source of iron available? A cut of cooked fresh meat is considered “lean” when it contains less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 100 grams (3½ oz) and per RACC (Reference Amount Customarily Consumed). The RACC for beef is 85 grams (3 oz). In addition to providing about 12% of the recommended daily amount of iron, beef also provides other nutrients including protein, vitamin B12, selenium, zinc, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, choline, and riboflavin.

Ayoob reminds us “Much of the world has a diet low in animal foods, but there is malnutrition in much of that very population…The sad thing is that there are foods that could supply these missing nutrients — foods that people currently eat and would like to continue eating, but the recommendations discourage eating a more balanced, diverse, and inclusive diet.”

Iron isn’t the only supplement recommended. Vitamin B-12 which is found primarily in animal foods and calcium found in milk and dairy supplements are also recommended.  Beef is a delicious food that provides these, plus many other, essential nutrients.

  1. Animal Agriculture is an Integral Part of the Food System

When it comes to the sustainability of animal agriculture, there are many inaccuracies that have been reported. You might have heard that cattle production is responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions. However, a new study shows that beef production, including the production of animal feed, is responsible for only 3.3% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Furthermore, one study showed that even if Americans eliminated all animal protein from their diets, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by only 2.6%.

Cattle contribute to the environment in a positive way. Cattle do more than recycle – they upcycle inedible plants into high-quality protein. Cattle generate more protein for the human food supply than would exist without them thanks to their unique digestive system which allows them to convert human-inedible plants into high quality protein. Plus, according to the USDA, more than 40-percent of the land in the U.S. is pasture and rangeland that is too rocky, steep, and/or arid to support cultivated agriculture – but this land can support cattle and protein upcycling.

I have visited many cattle farms, and have seen firsthand how the farmers work diligently to make sure everything on the farm is as sustainable as possible. From using manure for energy to filtering rain water for cattle to ensuring the most well-balanced feed for every stage of the cattle’s life.

Recommendations for a Healthy, Sustainable Diet

“The Commission’s recommendations are a drastic departure from current eating, and even many health recommendations. We know that consumers don’t take well when we tell them what not to eat.” says Wallace. Folks like to know what they should eat and provide healthy options for them. Although Taylor believes that the report’s authors had good intentions, people deserve a scientific approach with inclusive, realistic recommendations.

Recommending a healthy, sustainable diet that provides choice for everyone is not easy. Ayoob says, “There are probably many ways up this mountain.” Some of Ayoob’s recommendations include reducing food waste since about 30% of our food is never eaten and is just discarded. As a RDN who specializes in culinary nutrition, there are several ways I recommend minimizing food waste in your own home including:

  1. Make a shopping list before heading to the store: This way you don’t end up buying double or triple of food that you already have.
  2. Use the bones from your meat, poultry, and fish to make stock: There are many good-for-you nutrients in bones which are leached into the water when making a stock.
  3. Use the stem of herbs to flavor cooking liquids: I add stems from mint, parsley, and dill to the cooking water of couscous or brown rice (and remove them before eating) which helps impart a delicious flavor and adds some nutrition as well.
  4. Use “use by” dates as guidelines: These dates are set by food manufacturer’s as a guideline as to when the quality (taste) of the food may start to diminish. It does not mean the food is spoiled or will get you sick.
  5. Meal prep: In my two best-selling cookbooks about meal prepping, The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook and Smart Meal Prep for Beginners I like to reuse the same food for several meals so you end up using everything you buy, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Packing and portioning meals also makes sure that you have just enough food, without having to toss leftovers.
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Work. School. Running errands. Meal prepping lunches are a great way to save money and time during the day when you are on the go or trying to save money at work. Check out these recipes from fellow registered dietitians nutritionists (RDN) for some inspiration! 

Photo by Sharon Palmer,MSFS, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian

Salads

Photo courtesy of Kathy Siegel, MS, RDN, CDN of Triad to Wellness

Photo by Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD of Nutrition à la Natalie

Sandwiches and Wraps

Photo by Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RD of livelytable.com

Bowls

Do you have a favorite meal prep lunch? Drop the link in the comments below!

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I like to start my day off as stress-free as possible, which is why I prep my breakfasts ahead of time so I can grab it and go. Here are some healthy and delicious meal prep breakfast recipes from my fellow registered dietitians nutritionists (RDNs) that will be sure to kick start your day. Please do note that RDNs LOVE their oats — enjoy!

Photo by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian

Oat Recipes

Photo by Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD of Nutrition à la Natalie

Egg Recipes

Photo by Michelle Dudash, RDN

Pancakes

Photo by Shanna Hutcheson, RD, LD of Wellness For The Win

Muffins

By Karman Meyer, RD, LDN of The Nutrition Adventure

Other Sweet Meal Prep Breakfasts

Do you have a favorite meal prep breakfast recipe you want to share? Drop it in the comments below!

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I’ve written several cookbooks on meal prepping– and have been practicing meal prepping at home for years — but there are some mistakes that I continue to see folks make regularly. Here are 5 of the most common meal prepping mistakes and what you can do to avoid them.

You Don’t Plan Ahead

Leaving everything for the last minute means that you’ll end up giving up and not cooking anything, or you’ll end up having time for only a few recipes. This can also lead to stress — who wants to be stuck going food shopping 9pm on a Sunday night only to be stressed that you spent all this money and the food may go to waste!

Instead: Don’t leave everything to the last minute. Plan ahead for the best results so that you are less stressed when preparing meals. I like to split up my meal prepping between Sundays and Wednesdays or if I am prepping everything on Sunday, I select my recipes and go food shopping Friday and Saturday.

You Don’t Take Stock of What You Already Have 

Food waste is something that happens regularly to many people. And when you waste food, you’re also spending more of your hard earned cash. How do you know you don’t already have 3 containers of ground cinnamon if you don’t take inventory? The last thing you want to do is buy three or four of foods you already have fully stocked.

Instead: Take inventory of what you have in the freezer, refrigerator, and pantry before going grocery shopping. I like to print out every recipe and sit down in my kitchen and place a check mark next to each ingredient I have. I then write down on a paper or in my “notes” section on my phone, my shopping list. This method will also help you use up older items and prevent food waste.

You Over Prep

The last thing you want to do is spend money and time on prepping meals that go to waste. I know some of the meal preppers on Instagram have 15 dishes they prep for the week, but do they REALLY eat that much?! 

Instead: Take a look ahead at your schedule and see when you will be able to eat breakfast, lunch and/or dinner from prepped items. To get into meal prepping, start slow and build your way up once you really get to know your meal prepping needs. I often recommend beginner meal preppers start with only two or three recipes to get in the swing of preparing multiple dishes at once.

You Divide Meals Later

If you think waiting until later to divide you meals is a good idea, think again. You end up just eye-balling a portion, which can leave you with a very small last portion or you can end up eating much more than you realize. In some cases, your portions can get skewed that you end up without a meal at the latter part of the week — which defeats the whole meal prepping idea.

Instead: Divide your dishes into separate containers right away. Dividing meals will prevent last-minute scrambling to divide meals and ensure your meals will last through the week.

You Don’t Have Fun With It!

Meal prepping and cooking should be fun. If you are dreading to meal prep and loathe the idea of cooking in batches, then meal prepping may not be right for you — or you may be taking on too many recipes at once.

Instead: Find the meal prepping middle group that works for you and your lifestyle– even starting with 3 or 4  recipes. Flag healthy recipes on blogs or Instagram that you want to try throughout the week. Once it’s time to create your shopping list — get your family involved and do it together. And once you get into the kitchen, turn on some music, get your kids in the kitchen, and HAVE FUN!

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This month is National Nutrition Month, and I’m all about meal prepping! Part of meal prepping is about storing your completed meals or snacks in the refrigerator, freezer, or even pantry (hello delicious trail mix!). But there are many do’s and dont’s when it comes to storing and defrosting — and following simple guidelines can help make sure to keep your food safe to eat.

Simple Storage Tips

  • First In, First Out (FIFO): When storing food in your refrigerator and freezer, a helpful tip is to label and date all of your containers. The FIFO method uses your older items first to minimize food spoilage.
  • Store food on the correct shelves: Store raw foods such as meat and eggs on the bottom of the refrigerator and ready to eat items on top of them in case there is any drippage. This will help prevent cross-contamination and minimize illness in your home.
  • Know the shelf-life of food: The refrigerator is meant for short-term storage. As such, you need to be conscious about how long foods, especially meat and poultry, are stored in your fridge. Here are some general guidelines.

Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb and Pork

  • Steaks, chops, and roasts: 3-5 days

Fresh Poultry

  • Whole chicken or turkey: 1-2 days
  • Chicken or turkey parts: 1-2 days

Fish and Shellfish

  • Lean or fatty fish: 1-2 days
  • Smoked fish: 14 days
  • Fresh shrimp or scallops: 1-2 days
  • Canned seafood: 3-4 days after opening

For more information and additional foods, check out the FDAs Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart.

Safe Ways To Defrost

I have seen many people defrost on the counter top. This is especially hazardous as the bacteria thrive at your kitchen temperature and can multiply in the billions– which is plenty to get you sick even after cooking. You can safely defrost your meal prep ingredients or frozen pre-boxed meals in the refrigerator overnight. If it is still a bit frozen, then raw meat and chicken can continue to defrost under cool, running water or even in the microwave. As for meal prepped meals, you can defrost them in the microwave or if you do place them overnight in your fridge and they aren’t 100% defrosted, then finish defrosting them in the microwave.

When it comes to food safety, the most important saying to live by is: When in doubt, toss it out! So always keep that in mind when meal prepping. It’s better to be safe, then sorry.

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Having a well-stocked pantry is essential for meal prepping in an efficient way. I like to keep these basic items in my pantry at all times and then just go to the market when I need produce, proteins, and additional canned goods. Keeping these items on hand will ensure you can whip up a meal in no time!

Vinegar

I keep a variety of vinegar such as balsamic, apple cider, and rice wine, in my vinegar repertoire. I like to use balsamic vinegar for a lemon-balsamic dressing or as a marinade for chicken breast with mozzarella and tomato. Apple cider vinegar is a great addition to homemade barbecue sauce and rice vinegar is one of my secret ingredients in homemade pad thai.

Oil

Since oils have different smoke points and flavors, I keep several in my pantry. Canola and olive oil are my go-to oils for cooking. I also keep sesame oil on hand to enhance the flavor of Asian dishes, and always have a good extra-virgin olive oil on hand to drizzle over a salad or cooked vegetables.

Grains

You may have heard to eat the rainbow when it comes to fruit and vegetables, and when it comes to grains it’s no different. Eating a variety of grains ensures that you’re getting fiber, and each whole grain has slightly different nutrients. Some of my favorites to keep on hand include quinoa, oats, farro, brown rice, and whole wheat couscous.

Spices

In order to add flavor with minimal amounts of calories, I love using a variety of spices in my dishes. A few of my favorites include dried herbs like parsley, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, and cayenne. Of course, my spice rack is filled to the brim but if I have to choose a few to start with, those are some of my most frequently used.

Broth

I opt for low-sodium broth whenever possible. You can always add more sodium after the dish is finished cooking if needed. Vegetable and chicken broths are most frequently used, but on occasion I do whip out the beef broth.

Soy Sauce

Low-sodium soy sauce goes with many stir-fry dishes, marinades, and sauces.

Salsa

Usually I make my own, and all my cookbooks have a salsa version that I rotate between. However, I also keep a jarred salsa in my pantry for those occasions where I need to make something last minute. I can use it in my slow cooker, or top it over eggs or fish, or just as a dip.

Canned Beans

You’ll always find my pantry stocks with black, cannelini, kidney, and other canned beans that are low in sodium. If you can’t find low-sodium varieties at the store, just rinse your beans and research shows that you can decrease the sodium by up to 40-percent!

Nuts

Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios– I am a nut fanatic! I like to chop nuts to top over a salad, garnish a soup, or add to a stir-fry. I also love using them in breakfast items like muffins, pancakes, oatmeal, and Greek yogurt — or just snacking on them as is. Some of my favorite recipes in my cookbooks are the spices nuts, whether sweet or savory, which don’t last very long in my house.

Canned Tuna

Sometimes I run out of protein in my refrigerator and canned tuna always saves the day! I keep a few pouches or cans on hand (I especially love the new flavored pouches in sriracha flavor) to make a sandwich, tuna melt, or top over a salad.

Canned Tomato Products

Crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and even tomato sauce come in handy when I’m in a rush. I always stock up on my lycopene-filled tomato products as they’re so versatile!

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One of the first steps in getting set up with meal prepping is buying the right single serve storage containers. I like to switch up my containers throughout the week depending on the recipe. I like purchasing single compartment containers, but you may like to purchase one with compartments (it’s totally an individual preference!). Here’s my favorite 5 meal prepping containers, and what I look for when purchasing them.

What To Look For

A few attributes that I look for is that the storage containers take up as little space in my pantry as possible. I like stackable or foldable containers and try to see if I can try them out at the store or at a friends house so they are easy to handle as well. I also look for containers without Bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical that can be found in plastics. Lastly, I need my containers to be leak proof — who needs the liquid part of their lunch to spill all over the place!

My Favorite 5 Meal Prep Containers

  1. Bell Jars

Love these glass mason jars for salads, smoothies, and yogurt parfaits. They come in all kinds of sizes, and also have a drinkable version for smoothies.

  1. Snapware Total Solution Glass Pyrex Food Storage Containers

These glass, leak-proof, BPA free containers are great for portioning out lunches and dinners like my deconstructed chicken burritos. The glass is stain-resistant and microwave-, oven-, refrigerator-, freezer-, and dishwasher-safe. As the name indicated, the top easily snaps the container shut.

  1. MonBento 

These bento boxes are great for packing lunches because they are durable, versatile, and airtight. They even have a top lid that can hide utensils like chopsticks. The Original Bento is dishwasher, freezer, and microwave-safe (as long as you don’t exceed 500 watts); it’s also BPA-free and soft to the touch.

  1. Glass Pyrex

These storage containers have been around for years and still come out on top. Pyrex glass is safe in the dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave, and oven.  The glass is made in the USA and the lids are BPA-free. Be mindful, though, that the lids don’t lock, so there is a risk of spilling. I bought my Pyrex set when I was in my 20’s and I still have them today, over 20 years later and use them for everything from cooking to storage!

  1. Easy Lunchboxes Compartmentalized Plastic Food Storage Containers

These inexpensive, BPA-free food storage containers are made from hard plastic and come with a variety of colorful covers. They are freezer and dishwasher safe. These are great if you like to separate your meal parts (like the grains, protein, and veggies). They’re also perfect for packing lunches for the kids!

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