Category Archives: Eating on a Budget

Nutritional Vigilance Starts With These Simple Nutrition Steps

Eating healthy isn’t rocket science, but it can get you on a life trajectory of feeling and looking better.  There are simple nutrition steps you can follow to get you in orbit.  I often hear my clients say the steps need to be easy because they are either uncomfortable with meal preparation, don’t want to take the time or absolutely hate the concept of cooking.  With these kinds of conversations I emphasize that there are quick and easy meals and routines that can make this process easy.  The key is to keep a few essential ingredients always in stock and to shop with a list which includes these items.

Simple Nutrition Steps

A healthy meal should always combine lean protein, fiber and healthy fat.  With the right amount of each component, this magic combination will keep you feeling fuller longer, prevents your blood glucose from spiraling and keeps your energy levels high until the next meal.  There are simple nutrition steps that start with the shopping list below:

Grocery Shopping List

First, some important facts about food.  Most foods are a combination of the macro-nutrients protein, carbohydrates and fats.  Most are more of one macro-nutrient than the other.  For example salmon is high in heart healthy fats and is also a great source of protein.  Nuts are high in heart healthy fat but are also a good source of protein and fiber.  Cheese is a good source of protein, but it is very high in fat, especially the heart damaging saturated fat, which is why you want to focus on low-fat or moderate portions.  Beans are high in carbohydrates but also very high in fiber and have a reasonable amount of protein.   The fiber and protein prevents a spike in blood glucose unlike the “white” foods like rice, white bread and  boxed potatoes. Additionally, cutting back on foods high in fat, like cheese, oils and nuts, and eating more fiber especially from vegetables, will help you lose weight.

Other ingredients I always keep in stock and have on my shopping list are:

  • 2 quarts organic chicken broth
  • mustard (essentially no calories and a great addition to many recipes)
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • garlic/onion powder

Putting The Puzzle Together In These Simple Nutrition Steps

The meal below is a great example of protein, fiber and healthy fat.  The protein is coming mainly from the sautéed scallops.  Fiber is coming from the half plate of veggies, the brown rice and the sliced peaches for dessert.  The healthy fat is coming from the canola oil the scallops were sautéed in and the olive oil the veggies were tossed in.

healthy plate

Simple and Quick Meals You Can Make From My Shopping List

Using my shopping list, here are some simple meals you can put together.

  1. Chicken Quesadilla                                                                                                                         Saute the chicken in canola oil (can handle a higher heat than olive oil).  Let cool and shred into pieces.  Place in whole grain wrap (like LaTortilla) along with shredded green cabbage, 2 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup black beans and pour salsa and wrap up.
  2. Baked Salmon with broccoli and small sweet potato                                                                  Preheat oven to Bake 400.  Cut sweet potato into 3/4 ” pieces and broccoli in small branches.  Place in baking dish and toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and small amount of salt and put in oven.  Place salmon (4-5 ounces per person) in greased pan.  Top with mustard, then sprinkle Panco or bread crumbs on top and put next to the veggies.  Bake for 15 minutes until salmon and veggies are done.
  3. Baked Haddock with cheese, spinach and brown rice.                                                                When I make rice, I usually make 3 times the amount and freeze the rest for another time or use it in another meal a couple of days later.  A serving of rice is 3/4 to 1 cup cooked per person.  Brown rice takes about 50 minutes to prepare.  Quinoa is a great alternative and only takes 20 minutes to make and is also higher in fiber and protein than rice.  In a greased square pan place 2 cups fresh pre-washed spinach per person.  Then place 5 oz of Haddock per person on top of the spinach.  Place one slice of light Swiss cheese per person, spread a thin amount of reduced fat mayo and sprinkle with Panco.  Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes.
  4. Chicken/Rice/Veggie Soup                                                                                                                    If you’ve prepared extra chicken and rice from the previous meals you can use them here. If not then put the uncooked chicken breasts and the brown rice in a large pot filled with about 6 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the pot and let cool.  Add 1 bag each of chopped broccoli, spinach and carrots and 1 can kidney beans and simmer for 15 minutes.  Shred the chicken and return to the pot.  Then add 1 can diced tomatoes and 1 quart chicken broth.  Then add a tbsp onion and garlic powder along with 1 tsp of salt and pepper.  Simmer for 15 minutes and serve with a slice of whole grain toast.
  5. Frittata                                                                                                                                                      I like to make this dish in a 12″ cast iron skillet.  Preheat oven to 400.  Take one dozen eggs and mix with one cup fat-free Greek yogurt ( to boost the protein) until well-blended.  In skillet saute one large diced onion in 1 tbsp canola oil .   Then add two bags frozen chopped broccoli and saute until broccoli is cooked.   Pour egg mixture in pan and stir in 1 cup grated low-fat cheddar cheese, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes.   Serve with whole grain toast.  I take the leftovers and place in a wrap with fresh spinach, some grated cheese and salsa to have for lunch or dinner for other meals.

Being Nutritionally Vigilant Starts With Planning And An Open Mind

Eating healthy starts with planning and a willingness to do things differently.  These simple nutrition steps of combining protein, fiber and healthy fats along with using my shopping list regularly will simplify your life, make you healthier, have more energy and lose weight.  Your freezer can become your best friend and allow you to eat healthy when you don’t feel like cooking.  Investing in portion sized freezer containers and freezing extra portions will save you from impulse buys on the way home from a long day.  You will find, after a few weeks that keeping these foods in your house will allow you to throw something healthy together in a manner of minutes.  And what’s not to like about a bowl of hot homemade soup and crunchy toast on a cold winter day, right?  That’s the way to launch into a healthy lifestyle!

Eating My Ten Must Foods Daily

I shared in my last blog the ten foods I eat on a daily basis to keep me healthy, my energy level high, and are simple to prepare.  You may wonder how many different ways can you eat cottage cheese or cabbage before your mouth rebels.  But, honestly, you can eat these ten must foods daily and in a variety of ways and keep your taste buds happy.

My Ten Must Foods Daily, and Gaily!

kale smoothiePlain Greek Low-fat Yogurt, flax seed, and milk.  On weekdays I make a smoothie with Greek yogurt, kale, frozen berries, flax seed and low-fat milk.  On Saturday I make whole grain pancakes also using Greek yogurt, flax seed and milk.  I also use Greek yogurt to make veggie dips mixing half Greek yogurt and half light mayo with a spice mixture, like the ones from Westminster Whimsy in Chelsea Maine.  They make a variety of seasoning packets that go wonderfully with fresh veggies or whole grain pretzels or Wasa crackers.  You can also substitute Greek yogurt in a variety of recipes:

  • 1 cup sour cream with 1 cup low-fat or fat-free  plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup of butter with 1/3 cup mayo and 2/3 cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup oil with 1/3 cup oil and 2/3 cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup heavy cream with 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup milk or cream with  3/4 milk or cream and 1/4 low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup buttermilk with 1/3 cup milk and 2/3 cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 8 oz cream cheese or mascarpone with 4 oz cream cheese or mascarpone and 1/2 cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese with 1/2 cup ricotta and 1/2 cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt

Cottage Cheese.  Instead of using Greek yogurt in dips, I sometimes use whipped cottage cheese.  If you whip cottage cheese for a few minutes it does become smooth and creamy.  It has much more protein than cream cheese.  Add chives and you have a perfect spread for a bagel.  A favorite summer lunch for me is cottage cheese with some freshly picked tomatoes from my garden.

Cabbage.  Roasted cabbageI love cabbage.  I love everything about it – the colors, whether green or red, the cheap cost, and even how long it will stay fresh in my frig.  I shred it to put in wraps along with chicken, black beans, cheese and salsa for a complete summer meal.  It’s in my Asian slaw recipe that my sister turned me on to and also includes one of my other ten must foods, peanut butter.  I put cabbage in my soups, in my salad concoctions and even in my delicious bean salad that makes enough for a large party, or to have over several meals during the week.  I’ve enjoyed roasting Napa cabbage with a bit of olive oil and salt and will try this wonderful recipe soon.

Wasa crackers and peanut butter.  Wasa crackers make a great foundation.  By themselves, many would say taste like cardboard, but top them with anything and they become the perfect vehicle and crunch for any topper.  One of my favorite toppers is cottage cheese, with a few onion slices and minced Kalamata olives.  A couple of these with a piece of fruit and I’m full until my next meal.  Lately, I’m hooked on eating them sandwiched over some crunchy Teddy peanut butter.  Keep a bag of them along with a jar of Teddy peanut butter and you have the perfect snack.  I love Teddy – it’s just roasted peanuts and salt, no hydrogenated oils added to line my arteries with transfat.  I also love to top my Wasa’s with bean soup or chili; Wasa crackers can stand up to anything you put on it and still maintain the crunch.

Olive oil.  There is some research that indicates several manufacturers have been caught substituting other oils for extra virgin olive oil.  Their recommendation was to get your olive oil from California or Greece.  I use my extra virgin olive oil to toss my veggies in before roasting, in some cake recipes and my salad dressing.  Of course one of the tastiest ways to enjoy olive oil is with some freshly baked bread.  Skip the butter, who needs that if you find some really nice buttery olive oil.  The link above also lists recommended brands.  Trader Joe’s California Estate scored well on a taste test.

Apple Cider Vinegar.  I love Balsamic vinegar but recently learned how only apple cider vinegar has an alkali pH – so it’s the only vinegar that can lower post meal blood sugars by interfering with the digestion of starches.  Over 9% or 29 million people in the US with diabetes, lowering post meal blood sugars could reduce some of the damage done to the arteries and reduce the workload on the pancreas if consumed regularly.  This doesn’t mean one can eat a whole pizza and follow up with a swig of apple cider vinegar to reduce the damage.  But it does mean that in addition to eating carbs mindfully, regular consumption of apple cider vinegar could lower blood sugars and A1c.  There is also some evidence that apple cider vinegar’s anti-glycemic effect could even help with weight loss.  Many sources recommend buying organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar and mixing 2 tbsp with 1 tsp of honey and water.  You can also mix this with olive oil and some of the Westminster Whimsy spice packets for a nice salad dressing.

Barley.  BarleyBarley is my rice substitute.  I add it to soups.  I use it in my seafood paella.  I have even substituted it for hot oatmeal.  Add a little low-fat milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, chopped walnuts and a raisins, and you have a perfect winter hot cereal full of fiber and protein.  You can follow the recipe mentioned here to slow cook it overnight.  It is slowly digested and will keep you fuller longer than most other grains, while also being one of the best foods to lower your bad cholesterol.

What You Might Notice After Eating These Ten Must Foods

What might you notice after a month of eating these ten foods?  Consumed regularly you will be giving your body good sources of low fat protein, plenty of fiber that will not only slow down digestion, keeping you fuller longer, but lower bad cholesterol as well.  You will also get fiber that will feed your good gut microbes that boost your immune system.  You will get anti-inflammatory agents that may reduce pain, arterial inflammation and perhaps even boost your mood.  You will be protecting your bones, keeping them strong for the future if you get at least 2-3 servings of dairy daily like low-fat milk, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt.  You could even lower your blood pressure by getting enough calcium from the above sources and the potassium from veggies like cabbage.  The antioxidants in the flax seed and cabbage will help your body fight against cancer.

It’s amazing how these ten foods will help protect your heart and arteries, fight against disease and cancer, help with weight loss and diabetes and even help auto-immune inflammatory conditions.  Isn’t that wonderful payback.  To feel better, improve health and possibly lose weight.  Try these ten foods on a daily basis for one month and see what you might notice.  You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

ten food musts

Ten Must Foods To Stock In Your Kitchen

Being empty nesters, my husband and I “wing-it” more often than not when it comes to mealtime in the summer in Maine.  We tend to eat simpler meals than the rest of the year.  For example, last nights meal consisted of a huge bowl of cut-up tomatoes from our garden combined with some fresh veggies, a scoop of low fat cottage cheese and a piece of whole grain toast.  Nothing fancy, but with freshly picked veggies from our garden, I was totally satisfied.  Making a quick health meal means always keeping key essentials around.  I have ten “must” foods that I always keep stocked in my kitchen so I can put together a quick meal that meets my requirements beyond just being tasty:  they must keep me full and must promote health.

How My List Promotes Fullness And Healthy

The key to fullness lies in getting enough fiber, protein and fat with each meal.  The key to making it healthy is getting both soluble and insoluble fiber, lean protein and heart healthy fat.


Fiber increases biodiversity of microbes that boost our immune system and is linked to reducing the risk of many disease processes including irritable bowel disease, cardiovascular disease and even the intestinal infection, C-difficile.   Fiber keeps us full, lowers cholesterol and improves blood sugars.  The Institute of Medicine recommends that women eat at least 25 gms and men 38 gms daily.  The average American consumes only 15 gms a day.  Foods high in both these kinds of fiber include fruits and veggies, beans, nuts, and a variety of whole grains.


Protein is the building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.  Our body doesn’t store protein like it does fat and carbohydrates, so we need to consume it regularly and in the right amount.  The Institute of Medicine recommends .8 gm per kilogram of weight for the average adult.  That means a 200 lb person should consume about 72 gms daily.  Some research indicates eating large amounts at once, does not benefit the body as well as eating smaller amounts throughout the day.  On average, an ounce of meat, poultry or fish will deliver about 6-7 gms of protein.  There is also protein in beans, whole grains, nuts and dairy.  The key is to move away from the artery-clogging saturated fat found in beef and most dairy and move more towards poultry, fish and low-fat dairy.

Healthy Fat

Dietary fat is needed for energy and cell growth.  It also helps the body absorb certain nutrients and produce certain hormones.  Fats have more than twice the amount of calories per gram than carbohydrates and proteins.  Eaten in small amounts with the focus on heart-healthy types, it can help lower cholesterol, improve cardiovascular healthy and keep you fuller longer.  The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend that we consume less than 10% of our total daily calories from saturated fat and get most of our grams of fat from olive and canola oil, nuts, avocado and seeds.  Here is the good, bad and ugly on fats.

My Ten “Must” Food

My ten “must” foods list does not make a complete meal, but each item is an essential component of my daily diet and meets my criteria for helping with fullness and promoting health.

  1. Plain Fat Free Greek Yogurt – It’s high in protein with each 8 oz delivering 23 gms of protein – that’s equivalent to 3 1/2 oz meat, poultry of fish.  Plus it has probiotics that increase the good gut bacteria and are a good source of calcium for bone health.
  2. Low-fat cottage cheese – This is also high in protein with one half cup delivering 14 gms of fiber and is a good source of calcium.
  3. Cabbage – These crunchy leaves are a good source of fiber and sulforaphane, a compound associated with reducing the risk of cancer.  And red cabbage contains anthocyanin, a compound that can kill cancer cells.
  4. Flax seed – This is considered the most powerful plant food on the planet with 3 tbsp delivering 8 gms of fiber, 6 gms of protein, and loads of antioxidant lignans.  It has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
  5. Wasa crackers – Two of these whole grain crackers provides only 60 calories, 3 gms of fiber and are very low in sodium.  I use them as a foundation to put cottage cheese, sliced onions and olives on or to sandwich around a scoop of my next essential.
  6. Teddy peanut butter – With ingredients including only roasted peanuts and salt, peanut butter is a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber.  Peanut butter and nuts in general are linked to reduced risk of heart disease and alzheimers.
  7. Skim or 1% milk – This is one of the best sources of calcium while also providing 8 gms of protein.
  8. Barley – This delicious grain is one of the best sources of soluble fiber and a great alternative to rice.  A half cup of cooked barley delivers 8 gms of fiber and 5 gms of protein.  It’s also very high in potassium which lowers blood pressure, and has also been linked to reducing risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  Barley provides a high percentage of an individual’s daily requirement of manganese and selenium.
  9. Olive oil – This powerful anti-inflammatory reduces the body’s inflammatory markers and is known to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer as well.  Where you buy your extra virgin olive oil does matter – not all olive oil is what it says on the label.  Consider getting yours from California.
  10. Apple Cider Vinegar – When combined with extra virgin olive oil this makes a wonderful low calorie salad dressing, especially if you use a 2:1 ratio, vinegar to oil.  Apple cider vinegar is alkali and is known to reduce blood sugars.   Lowering post-meal blood sugars is very helpful for those with diabetes as well as those with insulin resistance (many people who carry excess weight around their belly have insulin resistance).  It has also been linked to weight loss, possibly by interfering with the breakdown of fats.  Taken with meals, apple cider vinegar interferes with the digestion of starches, allowing more for the good bacteria in our gut to enjoy.  The unfiltered apple cider vinegar is considered to be best.

I certainly don’t eat a perfect diet.  However, I believe the more I consume the foods on my list on a daily basis, the more I reduce my risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.  And perhaps these items will make up for my occasional splurge on cookies, chips and cheese.  Life is not about being perfect, it’s about being better.  And these ten must foods might help you have better health too.

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthy lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word

Is Granola As Healthy As It’s All Cracked Up To Be

The first cold breakfast cereal, Granula, was first invented in 1863 by James Caleb Jackson.   Somewhat like “Grape-nuts”, it was a dense cereal made from whole wheat flour and required soaking overnight.  It wasn’t until William A. Kellogg, the son of a Seventh Day Adventist factory worker in Battle Creek, Michigan, returned from medical school to become medical superintendent at the Western Health Reform Institute, that the first ready-to-eat, packaged cold cereal was developed.  At that time, the Adventist establishment was in search of more natural remedies to cure illnesses and believed a vegetarian diet, including grains for breakfast, rather than the customary ham, eggs, sausages and fried potatoes, was a better choice.  In 1895, Dr. Kellogg patented and launched Corn Flakes, made from toasted flakes of corn.  And so began the first prepackaged, ready-to-eat meal and the concept of no hassle, instant fulfillment.  But is today’s cold cereal and granola in particular, really the best thing for breakfast?

Granola Versus Other Grains

GranolaGranola, as it later became known once Dr. Kellogg developed a tastier version, is still considered by most to be a healthy cereal or snack.  Yes, the first ingredient is whole grain oats, but look more closely and notice each half cup serving contains 12 gms of sugar.  And don’t be fooled by that little honey wand on the front of the package.  The larger amount of sweetener in there is coming from “refiners” syrup, another name the Corn Refiners Association came up with for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).   Although chemically similar to table sugar, there is controversy over HFCS’s link to metabolic syndrome and diabetes.  I guess the Corn Refiner’s Association decided to let HFCS go incognito so it could go under the radar.

And that added protein you are getting is not coming from wholesome soy.  Nope, it’s recreated soy that’s been processed with fillers, flavorings and preservatives called soy isolates.  Most people might think that if it’s granola, it’s healthy, so why not eat as much as you want, right?  A half cup serving has 210 calories and who is going to stop at a half cup?

Eat Oats Another Way

Oatmeal Comparison

Compare Oatmeal

Oatmeal is naturally high in fiber, protein and low in sugar.  It is also really high in avenanthramides, an antioxidant found only in oats that fights arteriosclerosis – or hardening of the arteries.

Old-fashioned, steel-cut or quick cook oats all start out as groats.  Old-fashioned oatmeal is made from steaming and rolling the whole oat groat.  Quick cooks are just old-fashioned oats that have been chopped up to cook more quickly. Steel-cut  are made from cutting up groats in thirds.   All of these forms of oatmeal have similar nutritional labels but there are some who believe that there are more nutritional benefits from going with the less processed steel-cut oats and even the groat.  The real difference is when sweeteners are added; this is where the real nutritional value declines.

maple vs plain oatmealIf you compare the original and maple 40 gm oatmeal packets to the left you’ll see that you get half the protein and fiber and 12 more grams of sugar in the maple packet compared to the original unsweetened oatmeal.  Knowing that some consumers only look at calories, the manufacturer cleverly kept the calories the same but stripped out a large portion of what keeps people full and replaced it with sugar.  Yeah, you’re getting the same 150 calories, but you are getting half the amount of fiber and protein and more of the sweet taste.  Yup, no wonder you will get hungry an hour later.

Steel Cut OatsNow if you look at the steel-cut oats labels below, you’ll see that the Hodgson Mill brand on the left has almost the same carbs, fiber and protein as the old-fashioned packets but Bob’s Red Mill still beats on Hodgson Mill when it comes to protein and fiber, albeit, not something to really holler about.  I just happen to really like Bob’s Red Mill products.

The Best Way To Get Your Oats

With the 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommending we get less than 10% of our calories from added sugars, starting off your day working towards that limit doesn’t make sense.  With the average middle-aged moderately active woman consuming the recommended 2000 calories per day, consuming 12 grams at breakfast leaves only 38 grams for the rest of the day.  And to give you an idea of how sugar adds up – one Oreo has 9 gms.  A teaspoon of sugar in your coffee has 4 gms.  Four squares of Lindt’s dark chocolate has 18 gms.  A 20 oz coke has 65 gms.  Instead, why not add your own sweetener to your oatmeal by adding fruit – which does not count towards your daily limit?  And then top it with some plain Greek yogurt to boost the protein.  Now that’s going to keep you full until lunch and you won’t be dealing with hunger and yawning at 10 in the morning.  Meanwhile, those arteries will be pumping for joy, and you’ll be keeping up with your grandchildren without any complaints.  Now that’s a really nice payback and a healthy way to live.






Getting Fish Into Your Budget

Eating fish gives your body an internal massage.  Fatty fish like salmon, trout, sardines and blue fish are really high in omega 3’s which reduce inflammation and artery clogging triglycerides.  In particular, it’s the omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA that have all kinds of health benefits.  According to WebMD eating 2-3 servings of fatty fish a week can:

  • reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering triglycerides
  • reduce inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis and asthma
  • reduce the risk of dementia
  • reduce symptoms of ADHD
  • reduce symptoms of depression

With these kinds of benefits, can’t you hear your blood vessels purring?  And from my anecdotal experience I have brought my triglycerides down to 51 without medication, well below the guidelines of 100 and have been able to cut my asthma inhaler dose in half.  Between the fish I eat on a regular basis and my daily smoothie that is loaded with flax seed, containing another omega 3, ALA, I feel the best I have felt in years.

The Cost Of Fish

I discussed five different ways of preparing fish in the last post.  Three of the recipes were different ways of preparing salmon by cooking it once and recreating different meals in order to save time and not get bored with leftovers.  The total budget for the five meals in the last post came to $102 for a family of four.  That comes out to $5.10 per meal.  That might be more expensive than hot dogs and chips but the comparison ends there.  Eating fish will make you feel better, reduce health complications, possibly reduce the need for as many cholesterol lowering meds, asthma meds, blood pressure meds, arthritis meds and even antidepressants.  Now go enjoy that hot dog.  Your mouth and stomach might be humming right now, but the rest of your body will not be purring.

How To Get Fish Into Your Food Budget

The salmon was $8.99 a pound and the cod was $7.99 a pound – more expensive than most meals unless you can get in on a really good sale. But you can still make it work if you look at the overall picture.  You can offset the cost of fish meals by making other meals during the week much less expensive.  On the weeks you choose to eat salmon make some vegetarian or meatless meals.  My lentil soup recipe costs less than ten dollars and serves eight.


Frittata – tata!

My Frittata also costs less than ten dollars, makes eight servings, and can be served for breakfast or dinner. It’s delicious in a wrap with some spinach and grated cheese and salsa.

Both these meals, at $1.25 a serving, make enough for two meals for a family of four and can offset the expense of the fish meals.

And there are cheaper sources of fatty fish like sardines that are just as high in omega 3’s.

You Can Do The Fish Meal Shuffle On A Budget

My meal shuffle is all about preparing really healthy meals with less time and money.  The pork and beans meal shuffle came to $3.75 per meal and the chicken and barley meal shuffle came to $4.16 per meal.  Buying meat and fish on sale certainly will reduce the cost.  And cooking things like grains, beans and even soups in abundance and freezing, are all time-saving tips that can keep you from going out to eat.  In a study done by JAMA internal medicine, the average calorie count of a sit down meal at a restaurant was 1,128 calories.   My meals are less than 500 calories and will have your body purring.  Now that’s a loud ME-OOOOOW!!!


Salmon Shepherd's Pie

Five Easy Fish Recipes For Meal Shuffling

I’m a calculating person.  I try to save time and money by looking ahead at how I can do things in my life more efficiently and with less time.  My awareness of time passing more quickly as I get older makes it the most precious commodity in my life.  My goal for everyday cooking is to make extra portions and find creative ways to eat them again without feeling like I’m eating leftovers.  I’m a premeditated cook and you get to benefit from my way of thinking and process about meal preparation. I call my process “the shuffle” because it is like a dance where you cook an item once with extras in mind and then you shuffle the extras around to create a new meal in less time.

In the past few blogs I’ve covered a meal plan week with pork and beans, then one with chicken and barley (or you can use brown rice) and now my focus is on fish.  This is the fish shuffle week with five easy fish recipes for your busy week.  These meals are all under 500 calories and deliver almost completely heart healthy unsaturated fats.  You will do the bulk of your cooking on the first day.

Five Easy Fish Recipes

  1. Baked Salmon with Garlic Mashed Cauli-Potatoes and Green Beans
  2. Salmon Shepherd Pie
  3. Blackened Fish Tacos
  4. Blackened Fish Chowder
  5. Salmon Mediterranean Salad

Baked Salmon With Garlic Mashed Cauli-Potatoes and Green Beans

One of my goals is to add as many non-starchy veggies to a recipe as possible without compromising taste.  Mustard, Panko SalmonThis lowers the calories and carbs and adds more volume.  You will make extra of each of these items to use in the other recipes.  Buy enough fish for the three salmon meals allowing about 4-6 ounces per person.  Allow 1 medium potato per person and make enough for the first two dinners.  Roast extra garlic to add to the fish chowder.  You could also keep a little extra mashed potatoes to add to the Fish Chowder to thicken it.  You will also make double the green beans to save for the Salmon Mediterranean Salad.  These recipes will be based on making enough for a family of four.  Adjust accordingly for a smaller or larger number of people.

Ingredients for 4 servings (enough salmon for 3 meals)

  • 4 # of salmon fillets (about 1 1/3 pounds per night)
  • 9 medium white or Yukon potatoes  ( I like to leave the skin on for extra fiber and nutrients)
  • 1 head of cauliflower cut into large flowerets
  • 2 heads of garlic
  • 3 tbsp of butter
  • 2 pounds of fresh green beans (use 1 pound and save the rest for the Salmon Mediterranean Salad)
  • 2 tbsp brown mustard
  • 3/4 cup Panko
  • Lemon juice from one whole lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Before you get everything out to make dinner, start on the garlic.  Preheat the oven to 400.  Take the heads of garlic and cut off 1/4″ off the top.  Drizzle olive oil the tops and wrap them in foil.  Start baking these while you gather and prepare the other ingredients.


A steamer is great way to preserve the nutrients in your veggies

2.  Cut the potatoes into eighths and break the cauliflower into 2″ flowerets.   Place both in a large pot with a steamer and fill with about an inch of water.  Steaming your vegetables preserves more of the nutrients.  Steam with the lid on until you can easily put a fork through the potatoes, but be careful not to let the water boil away.

3.  Turn the oven down to 325, leaving the garlic in there.  Place the salmon fillets on a large greased cookie sheet.  You will prepare the fillets two different ways to be used in three different recipes.  Over 1/3 of the fillets, spread the brown mustard and then sprinkle with Panko.  This is the salmon for tonight’s dinner.

In a small bowl, combine the juice from one lemon, the olive oil and the dry seasoning.  Brush this on the rest of the salmon.  Bake the salmon for about 20-25 minutes or until the fish flakes easily and the thicker side of the fillet is cooked through.

4.  While the other ingredients are cooking, trim the ends off of the green beans and cut in half.  When the potatoes and cauliflower are done place them in a large mixing bowl along with one of the roasted heads of garlic.  Then put the green beans in the pot you cooked the potatoes in and steam those on high for about 5 minutes or until the green beans are tender.  When they are done, drain the water, take out the steamer and toss the green beans with a teaspoon of olive oil, and sprinkle with garlic powder and a bit of salt to taste.  Cover with a lid and set aside off the burner.

5.  While the green beans are steaming make the mashed potatoes.  Take the cauliflower, potatoes, one head of roasted garlic, 1 tsp of salt, and 3 tbsp of butter and blend well until it is smooth.  There is a high water content in cauliflower so you probably won’t need to add any milk.  Set aside a little over half of the potatoes for the Shepherd’s Pie and a little for the chowder.

Each serving should consist of about a deck of cards worth of salmon, 1 cup of green beans and one cup of the cauli-potato mash.  If you follow this process you will have the leftover salmon seasoned with lemon juice and spices for two other meals, mashed potatoes for tomorrow night’s dinner, roasted garlic and green beans to use in the next recipes.  Refrigerate all these ingredients as soon as possible.  Cooked fish lasts about 5 days in the refrigerator.

Nutritional Information:  Calories: 389   Fat: 11g   Carbs: 40g   Fiber: 7g   Protein: 35g

Salmon Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients for 4 servings

  • 20 oz of salmon or half of the remaining salmon from last night
  • 1 # of fresh asparagus with woody ends removed
  • 2 garlic cloves from last night’s dinner
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • Mashed potatoes leftover from last night

Preheat oven to 375.  In a large skillet mash 2 roasted garlic cloves and mix with the olive oil.  Turn the heat on medium high and roll the asparagus in the olive oil mix.  Saute for about 3 minutes and then remove from heat.  In a deep 8″ by 8″ or equivalent casserole break apart half of the salmon and spread evenly over the bottom of the dish.  Cut up the asparagus into 1″ pieces and sprinkle over the salmon.  Cover with the rest of the mashed cauli-potato from last night and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes.  This is a whole meal all in one dish!

You can either continue with the Salmon Mediterranean recipe or if you need a break from salmon you can go on to the Blackened Fish Taco recipe and come back to the salmon at the end of the week.  It’s always nice to have options when you cook!

Nutritional Information:  Calories: 364   Fat: 9.1g   Carbs: 39g   Fiber: 8g   Protein: 34g

Salmon Mediterranean Salad

Ingredients for 4 servings

  • 16 oz of salmon leftover from the first night
  • 2-3 cups cooked green beans, leftover from the first night
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes cut in half
  • 12 small 1″ new potatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • Juice from one lemon
  • 1 tbsp apple cider or rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste

Steam potatoes in small pot for about 10 minutes until knife easily penetrates.  Once they are done drain the water and speed up cooling by placing in cold water bath for about 15 minutes while you work on other ingredients for the meal.

In a small bowl mix the juice from one lemon, vinegar, olive oil and the spices and set aside.  In a large bowl shred the salmon and then add the green beans, cut tomatoes, capers, and chopped olives.  When the potatoes have cooled enough, cut them in half and add to the rest of the ingredients.  Pour the lemon/olive oil dressing over everything and toss well.

This makes a delicious summer meal for a hot day and is a simple all in one dish!  Serve with some thinly sliced apples with fresh lemon juice and you have the perfect meal!

Nutritional Information:  Calories: 486   Fat: 17g   Carbs: 52g   Fiber: 12g   Protein: 35g

Blackened Fish Tacos

ingredients for 4 servings (save half of the fish for the chowder)

  • 2 1/2 pounds cod, haddock, tilapia, or catfish
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 4 Lavash wraps
  • Chopped green cabbage or 3 cups of cole slaw mix
  • 1 avocado
  • Juice from one lime
  • Salsa
  • Blackening seasoning

Preheat skillet on medium with the canola in it.  Pat dry the white fish and sprinkle blackening seasoning on both sides of fish.  If you can’t find blackening seasoning, I like to make my own using this recipe.  Place the fish on the skillet and let cook for two minutes.  Then gently flip over, turn off the heat and cover for 2-3 more minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.  You want to handle fish as little as possible.  When done, remove for skillet.  Save the other half of fish for tomorrow night’s fish chowder – put in the frig to cool as soon as possible.

Then take 1/3 of the green cabbage and cut into very fine strips, almost shaved if possible. Using either a Lavash or some other 10″ wrap, place the cabbage, then the fish, thin slices of avocado, some lime juice, then salsa.  Wrap it up and enjoy!  With this low carb meal you could still have a serving of ice cream or even some of my blueberry-rhubarb crisp!

Nutritional Information:  Calories: 328   Fat: 1g   Carbs: 18g   Fiber: 6g   Protein: 36g

Blackened Fish Chowder

The blackening seasoning on the fish adds wonderful flavor to the chowder if you used the leftovers from the previous meal.  I also keep a bacon bank in my freezer.  We cook a pound of bacon at a time and keep the extras in the freezer to use in meals like this to saves a step.

Ingredients for 4

  • 1 1/4 white fish (use leftovers from the fish tacos) and break into pieces
  • 4 medium Yukon potatoes  with skin, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 2 strips of bacon
  • 2 tbsp butter (if you are starting with cooked bacon)
  • 1 large onion chopped finely
  • 2 celery stalks chopped finely
  • 4 roasted garlic cloves (from the first night)
  • 1 1/2 cup chicken bouillon or clam juice
  • 2 cups low-fat milk
  • 1 cup of mashed potatoes (leftover from cauli-potato mash)
  • 1/2 tsp chopped thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon in a large sauce pan until crispy (unless you keep a bacon bank like we do) on medium heat.  Remove the bacon and mince finely, then add back to the pan along with the garlic, onions and celery.  If you started with previously cooked bacon then mince this and add to the pan along with 2 tablespoons of butter to saute the onions and celery in.  Once the celery and onions are translucent, add the chicken broth or clam juice along with the potatoes and thyme.  Cook until the potatoes are tender.  Then add and stir in the cup of previously mashed potatoes.  If you don’t have the mashed potatoes, then take a third of the potato mixture and mash well.  Gradually add the milk stirring constantly to keep the broth smooth.  Let simmer for 10 minutes to thicken.  Then add the cooked blackened fish, salt and pepper and gently simmer for another 5 minutes until the fish is warm.  (If you are starting with fresh fish then you would add this to the soup when you add the potatoes.)  Serve with a slice on whole grain bread and a nice romaine salad to round out your meal!

Nutritional Information:  Calories: 367   Fat: 8.4g   Carbs: 28g   Fiber: 1g   Protein: 43g

Too Much Fish In One Week?

The shuffle concept allows you to take different meals from different weeks and shuffle them around.   You could do the Fish Tacos and Fish Chowder part of one week followed by BBQ chicken, Chicken Tacos and Tikki Masala using 12 boneless chicken breasts in my Chicken Shuffle Blog.  Cooking in bulk and then freezing gives you the freedom to mix and match different meals.  It’s the concept of thinking beyond one meal.  Instead think of meals for 2-3 nights in order to save you time, yet eat tasty meals without feeling like you are eating the exact same thing over and over again.  Leftovers are boring unless you do the one step, two meal shuffle!








Budget chicken dinners

Life Is Good With These Budget Chicken Dinner Recipes!

We should really be more like chickens, at least make some of their sounds.  Did you know there are over 24 different sounds that a chicken makes?  The Flip Flop Ranch describes all of them but there are some that are heard more often – at least from what I notice living next door to a brood of them.  The more common sounds are the soft irregular chirp when all is physically well, the gentle warbling sound when “life is good”, the hard to miss panic peep when in danger and the obnoxious cackle when the hen proudly tells the world she has laid an egg.  The website describes other sounds but it’s the gentle warbling sound, the “life is good” sound, that I know you will feel when you make my budget chicken dinner recipes from my last post.  You will warble when you realize how delicious these meals are and how healthy, easy and cheap they are to make.

1.  Expand The Cooking Window 

Using a crock-pot to prepare parts of meals while you are at work or being productive outside the kitchen is what cooking with an easy stride is all about.  The last three meals in the previous post call for cooking the 12 chicken breasts in the crock-pot.  Not only does this free up your time to do other things, but it also makes a really moist chicken.  You could even make your chicken stock from the roasting chicken in the crock-pot overnight.  Can you imagine waking up with that soothing aroma?  If that doesn’t make you chirp, then you better go back to bed.

2.  Make The Soft Warbling Sound Rather Than the Panic Peep

Clustering your recipes so that you can make double and even triple amounts of different components for multiple recipes will help you to avoid the panic peep.  No one likes the panic peep.  It not only makes you anxious and cranky but it makes the rest of your brood very uneasy.  You can also freeze the extra grain, chicken and even beans as another time-saving tip to keep you making soft warbling sounds.

The Real Cost Of The Budget Chicken Dinners

Here’s my shopping list for the following meals that feed a family of four for at least five days:

  1. Roasted Lime Chicken With Barley and Roasted Vegetables
  2. Sublime Chicken Barley Soup
  3. Barbecue Chicken With Orange Zest Cole Slaw
  4. Chicken Burrito Wrap
  5. Tikki Masala

Shopping List with prices:

  • 1 large capon – $14.13 for a 7#
  • 12 boneless chicken breasts – these were on sale, buy 4 breasts (1.6# each) and get one free – 8.73 for 2 packages, but you will need 3 so buy 4 and you will have leftovers!  Total – $17.46
  • 30 oz bag of barley – $2.99
  • 2 heads of cauliflower – $2.98
  • 4 heads of broccoli – $2.48
  • 1 head of green cabbage $2.40
  • 1 bag of carrots – $.99
  • 1 bag of onions – $2.85
  • 1 avocado – $1.50
  • 1 lime – $.33
  • 1 bag frozen chopped spinach- $1.50
  • 1 bag frozen fiesta veggie mix – $1.50
  • 1 apple – $.65
  • BBQ sauce – Sweet Baby Ray’s was $1.88
  • 1 can frozen orange concentrate – 12 oz can – freeze the extra for the future – $1.99
  • 1 bottle of vinegar $1.69 (you should have some from the pork/bean week)
  • 1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes – $1.00 – use half for each recipe
  • 1 14 oz can of black beans – $1.50
  • 4 large whole grain wraps – Lavash whole wheat was $2.28 for 4 wraps
  • 1 loaf whole grain bread (to have with soup) – $2.98
  • 1 jar salsa – $2.99, but you should have some left from the pork/beans week of recipe week
  • 1 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt – 4.99 for the 4 cup container or use leftover from the pork/bean recipe week
  • 1 small bottle of olive oil – $4.99, but you would have plenty leftover from the pork/bean week
  • Tumeric – $3.69
  • Garam Masala spice – $6.99.  This is a blend of 7 warm spices, you can also make your own with this recipe

Total:  $83.35

These five meals for a family of four amount to $4.16 per person.  That is including the extra chicken purchased on sale as well as the yogurt, salsa, olive oil and vinegar you would have leftover for the pork/beans meal plan.  Subtract these last four ingredients and that would reduce the total by $14.66 for a grand total of $68.72.  That’s $3.43 for each delicious, healthy meal that will keep you full, avoid the hungry causing insulin spike, nourish your body and give you energy.  You’re not going to get that kind of payback at any restaurant or take-out.  Furthermore, meal preparation is a stress-reducing experience; it allows all your senses to engage while your thoughts focus on the tasks in the present.  Cooking is a wonderful way to get your mind off work and worries.

Budget Chicken Dinner Recipes That Will Make You Warble!

Who says that eating healthy is expensive and takes a lot of time?  Initially it may take some planning but using these steps will teach you the process and tips to save time.  It will get you thinking outside the box, keep you from feeling “cooped up” and penned down to the same old, boring meals or heart-clogging fast food choices.  Now that is really something to warble about!  Life is good.