For those of us whose concept of a happy meal is a healthy one – this is a quick Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress. This is my take on “Happy Meals” with no-cook recipes with step-by-step instructions on and how to create them for your family. Sometime back, my daughter (she is away at college) had mentioned that she was ordering pizza more often than she liked to because she didn’t want to have to cook. Knowing how strongly she feels about eating right and staying healthy so for all those who like my daughter lacks the time or the will to produce home-cooked meals, I say – don’t beat yourself up for ordering Pizza. There are worse things in life I tell her! Nevertheless I understand her concern. So I sat down to create this how-to guide for her and others that are concerned about the food they eat to how it affects their physical and mental health. It was the beginning of my journey to find “happy foods” or ingredients or foods that make you more happy and less anxious.
Here’s how to use happy foods that reduce stress to draw up a Weeknight Meal Plan. If you don’t want to cook, you don’t have to. By following the steps you can save time, eat healthy and avoid worrying about your health because you’re ordering out, not to speak of wasting money. It is a process, one step at a time.
DITCH THE STRESS –
When you shop for groceries, plan a little and buy stuff so you don’t have to cook at all. This way you’ll eat healthy and feel good about yourself. And you’ll be happy There’s a ton of meals that require none to minimum cooking time. Yes….Really! Let’s face it with everything thats going around, planning for a meal can sometimes be stressful and exhausting. Let’s talk healthy no stress meals with little or less cooking time and no elaborate planning.
CREATE A TEMPLATE LIST –
A big stress buster – this I have learnt from my daughter – is to make a quick list, a sort of a template – in your Iphone’s “notes” or “reminders app. Make a list of staples each week (it makes life a lot easier) and switch them around week to week. You can add or take away items as you need, before you go to the shops.
SHOP FOR STAPLES –
Here are some of my basic must-haves for a Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress:
- Quinoa – believed to be among those foods that make us happy – or rice or flax seeds
- Lentils or beans or black eyed peas. All simple and easy to make ahead or right at dinner time with no stress.
- Onions, Carrots and Peas – good for any kind of veggie sautés or meat stir fries
- Potatoes – looking for a weeknight meal plan with happy foods that reduce stress need very little work and time?Potatoes are great for the occasional french fries or a quick Indian style curry with potatoes AKA Aloo dum.
- Yoghurt is another one of my staples. They are rich in probiotics which is known as one of those happy foods. You can put it in an Indian style curry such as Spicy Egg Curry or Mom’s Chicken Curry. It gives the sauce its creamy texture without adding cream or butter. The secret is out!
Rice and Lentils are easy to make however most other ethnic cooking like Curries – chicken curry or fish curry – usually require more prep and more elaborate cooking. Either way, cooking elaborate comfort foods from one’s own culture following mother’s recipe may or may not be included on a how to guide on creating Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress. But to make that once in a while, Indian food on a weeknight I have some quick tips as well. For that reason I have a list of basic ethnic food ingredients as well that I keep stocked in my kitchen for when the mood strikes:
Ethnic Store Basics
- Basmati Rice
- Naan Bread
- Lentils – Moong daal and/or masoor daal and/or Rajma
- Coriander seeds (dhania)
- Mustard Oil – small bottle (Fish sometimes smells a little, unless cooked in Mustard oil)
If you can’t make it to the Ethnic store, don’t worry, you can still eat yummy healthy meals all week long, with my guide to creating Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress with minimum cooking. Start by making a list of some staples each week at the grocery store.
Grocery Store Basics
- Jasmine Rice
- Tortillas – alternate between while wheat or corn or Spinach Tortillas
- Lentils – alternate between split pea or kidney beans – (the latter takes longer to boil and must be soaked overnight before you cook)
- Lousiana Fish fry mix OR just bread crumbs – plain or seasoned
- Garlic Salt
- Sardines – I buy the ones in water – not in oil or tomato sauce which are fatty or mushy and tasteless …blah!!
- Cereal – I usually get Kashi with or without berries
- Milk – Almond Milk or Coconut Milk
- Corn chips or alternate week sweet potato chips
- Hummus – 2 different kinds alternately – to use as spread on toast in the morning or for lunch sandwiches with cold cuts or cheese and tomato or for cucumber sandwiches
- Soup – alternately clam chowder or minestrone or tomato soup or split pea. I don’t like the chicken soup because it just tastes like water and salt and does not fill up my tummy satisfactorily
- Tomatoes – they go with everything – in curries to make the sauce thick – or in tomato and cheese sandwiches or tomato slices served on the side with rice and fried fish.
- Onion – small bag – for sautes and/or curries
- Garlic – a small one will last you weeks.
- Small potatoes – 1 bag – for curries or fries or lightly seasoned potato wedges
- Mixed Vegetables – buy an assortment of fresh veggies – they stay fresh for a week, My favourites are squash, bell peppers, mushrooms, green beans and cauliflower
- Broccoli – 1 bunch you can just eat them steamed for 10 – 15 minutes
- Radish – 1 bunch – you can eat them raw (wash thoroughly and soak in water) or steam for 10 minutes!!
- Baby carrots – with the green leaves – these cook in 5 minutes. Besides they are sweet and tasty.
- Fresh Greens – Spinach or Kale or Bok Choy
- 2 different kinds of salads in bags. A trick to creating WeeknightMeal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress. I buy salad kits. They make life easier. Besides, they have toppings and berries all planned out.
- Light salad dressing of your choice and alternate the flavour every two three weeks.
- Lemon – a squeeze of lemon juice goes well with steamed rice and seafood besides adding flavor to lentil soup.
I try not to buy anything from the frozen section – because I don’t like preservatives – except frozen peas. I have not bought fresh peas in the longest time, as I don’t have time to sit down and shell them. Not that it wouldn’t be a nice thing to do in the kitchen. Gather around as a group, shelling and swapping stories, like old timers. Slow down – celebrate the past. Maybe someday! For now let’s get back to Weeknight Meals To Make You More Happy
- Bread – sourdough, whole wheat, multi grain, garlic bread or focaccia. Rotate every week so you don’t get bored.
- Cookies – 1 bag or box only every two to three weeks. Once again, you can rotate the kind of cookies you get.
- Cold cuts – 2 different types – I get the turkey breast from the Real Simple line (something like that, I forget the name brand) but its the one with no additives. i like to make sure there is no Sodium Nitrite – I am told it can cause cancer but I guess as per the FDA the jury is still out.
- Rotisserie Turkey Breast or Roasted Chicken
- Cheese – 1 or 2 kinds
10 READY MEAL PLANS FOR THE WEEKNIGHT –
Don’t get too overly concerned with cooking in order to eat. If you plan the shopping, then you can eat what you have in your fridge when and if you’re hungry and not worry about the specter of cooking hanging over your head.
THE MAIN DISH –
(1) Steamed Rice or Quinoa or Naan Bread
On Sundays I sometimes make a quick cup or two of quinoa or boil a couple of cups of rice ahead of the week as a way of my rudimentary food prep. That will go for a week. I buy Naan bread or Tortillas. You can make any number of quick and easy entrees throughout the week to go with the main dish.
THE SIDE DISH –
(1) Lentil Soup
Plan ahead and prep and even pre-cook – if need be – your main dishes for the week. I like to spend some time over the weekend and get this part done. Then combine them with meat and fish entree from my weekly list.
Lentils are a great source of protein and fibre. Here’s how I do lentils to make daal. Boil a half cup of lentils or black eyed peas in 3 cups of water, When it looks and feels mushy, take it off the heat. Take a fresh pan – heat a little bit of oil. Add a pinch of coriander seeds, Then slice a couple of green chillies lengthwise and add to hot oil. Roughly chop some tomatoes. When coriander seeds begin to sputter, add the tomatoes, stir for a bit until they begin to lose color. Add frozen green peas. stir a bit until they begin to lose color and feel a little softer. Next pour the boiled lentils mush into the pan. Sprinkle salt and turmeric. When it begins to sizzle, turn down the heat to low and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Take off heat. Pour very carefully into a deep bowl. Add some cilantro on top. Enjoy with boiled rice and a squeeze of lemon juice.
(2) Bok Choy in Olive Oil
Bok Choy is a green leafy vegetable that appears on the list of happy foods as well. Lightly toss these in olive oil with some sesame seeds until the greens begin to turn soft – but not mushy. Season to taste with a little salt and fresh ground pepper. flakes. Best served with seafood.
(3) Spicy Kale
Kale is a versatile vegetable. I like to follow my quick and healthy easy recipe for Kale and Eggs
(4) Sauteed Mixed Vegetables
Cut the vegetables in equally sized pieces. Heat Olive Oil in a long-handled wok. Add onions. cook until they turn transparent. Add the other veggies. Grab the handle of the pan and flip the pan up in the air tossing the vegetables to coat them evenly with oil. Alternately you can use a spatula as you would toss a salad. Cover with a lid and cook for a few more minutes. ad a splash of water if they begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. Test the cauliflower with a fork to see if its cooked through – but not soggy- to know when its ready to eat.
THE ENTREE –
The above should see you through a week of healthy meals combined with one or more of the following easy poultry or seafood entrees to choose from :
(1) Pan Fried Fish
I use Salmon, because of its health benefits. Food that promotes mental well-being and happiness. You can use any other fish that is available. What I do is on Sunday with the rice and lentils or daal, for a few minutes extra I cook a basic Salmon Fry. If you like that, heres how you do it -(beat a couple of eggs together in a bowl, dredge the Salmon fillets in egg, then cover with breadcrumbs or Louisiana Fish fry mix). Heat Mustard Oil, fry both sides until brown, carefully lift out of the frying pan on to plate lined with paper towels.
(2) Turkey Rotisserie
Buy a split Turkey breast or a whole rotisserie chicken. Carve and serve with the rice and lentils with tomato slices on the side. Make a quick and easy Raita or yogurt dip. Beat a cup of yogurt with a fork. add some red pepper flakes and salt to taste. No cooking today!
(3) Baked Salmon in Mustard
Make sure to get the spicy style mustard – not the sweet one. Put the fish fillets in a baking dish, cover and coat with mustard. add mustard oil, add two slit green chillies and bake for about 30 minutes – turning once – 15 minutes on each side.
(4) Fish in coconut Milk
You can substitute coconut milk (in a can) for mustard and follow the instructions from the above recipe. Add a pinch of turmeric – which is another “happy food” and cook the same way.
(5) Sardines on the Side
Open a can of sardines – heat it up with rice and lentils then serve with some pita chips on the side. No cooking!
(6) Cold Cuts of Meat
Warm up some cold cuts (lunch meat). Serve with rice and lentils, with cucumber slices and halved radishes on the side. No cooking and you can still have the benefits of the meat protein.
(7) Soup for dinner
Open up a can of soup – hot clam chowder OR hot Tomato soup with a little bit of milk added, served with toast spread with hummus or guacamole on the side.
(8) Dinner Salad
A big bowl of salad with your choice of salad dressing and some cold cuts and chips added on top.
Do not overthink or sweat about an entire week of meals. It can drive you nuts. If you’ve planned the shopping you can now eat whatever you have in the house!
I like to eat one big meal through the day. For instance, rice with vegetables and a fish or chicken entree. Usually it’s Lunch – because then it has all day to get digested as we are running around doing stuff. I eat a bunch of small snacks in the evening as soon as I get home from work. I cut a piece of brie along with some grapes – another “happy food” and a small piece of bread dipped in olive and some salami or chicken sausage. Sometimes I’ll either have a bowl of salad or hot soup with toast for dinner – I try to avoid bread or rice at dinner. Try not to eat a heavy meal late in the evening as it might keep you up at night.
If I get hungry later when I’m writing or watching TV, here’s my quick fix for a snack. A bowl of cereal with yogurt sweetened with a little honey or a tiny bit of brown sugar. It tastes like ice cream. That way I get the fibre from the cereal and get my sweet fix at the same time.
6 DAILY STRESS BUSTERS –
- Try to carve out a time – preferably a fixed time every afternoon or evening, for tea (or coffee). Drink it from a cup and saucer. Sit down with the teacup or coffee cup and savor each sip. Serve yourself some crackers or cookies in a little plate to go with it, or salami or olives. Make sure you are not watching TV or reading at the same time. Just have happy thoughts and enjoy your tea. I like to sit outside and enjoy the view.
- Try not to focus on what you did not get done that day but instead focus on how amazing a person you are – because you are! No one tells you that nearly enough, neither do you.
- Try to get to bed early and get up early. Try not to focus on what you need to get done that day as you get ready for the day. You have a calendar for that. Do not stay up late. It will lead to sleeplessness.
- Instead of your list of tasks, try to focus instead on how amazing the day is and how lucky you are to get to enjoy it. It’s not gong to be easy but you have to keep working at it. If you wish to be happy there is no other option.
- Try to rotate your routine for simple everyday tasks. Even something small as switching your toothbrush holder and soap pump from one side of the sink to the the other makes you feel good in the morning.
- Smile into the mirror. Notice how your face lights up. How you look more attractive than when you wear a frown.
Hopes that my simple guide of Weeknight Meal Plan – Happy Foods that Reduce Stress will help simplify your life. Also hope the 6 stress busters work for you. Try them – and try again – until they start to work. The objective is to turn your mind around so as to perceive your actions as just something essential. Accept what you did or did not do in terms of not right or wrong – just in terms of you being YOU. To not be sad or angry at things you did or failed to do or things that others did to you because your only obligation is to yourself, your only goal is to make you happy. Tamp down negative thoughts as soon as they crop up. Then turn then into the positive thoughts.
In reality, one may have to do this repeatedly because the neuro-pathways may have become used to thinking that negative is productive. That is only because the negative may have become a habit – stressing out or worrying may have become familiar. But familiar does not necessarily mean right. In some cases indulging in worrisome, anxious thoughts at night or at bedtime may have become routine. Make the effort to identify them as counterproductive and move to the positive. Keep in mind, fear has no basis and worry has no outcome. We must keep fighting those until being sad stops feeling familiar and being happy becomes more commonplace.
I feel we must devote time and energy to controlling our stress on our own – spend more time on ways to avoid stress and less time in stressing. Therein lies the biggest secret. As in every thing in life – the important thing is to keep at it – practice, practice, practice. Because….
….The only place where SUCCESS comes before WORK is in the dictionary – Anonymous