Heart-healthy food that’s REALLY easy?

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Heart healthy fork by MilkandHoneyLuxuries
I’ve recently been diagnosed with heart disease.

I’m only 21 and in college. So I need to go from a “what can I grab and go?” fast food diet to a heart-healthy diet asap.

My partner is all for eating healthier, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are both short on cooking time.

Are there any quick/easy meals or tips on how to have a heart-healthy diet on the go? -Kelsey

First, we’re so sorry to hear about your diagnosis! We’re totally NOT doctors, but generally-speaking, heart-healthy diets focus on lowering the amounts of fat and salt you eat.

Your easiest bet is to focus eating on whole food — not like the store, but unprocessed food basics like rice, veggies, fruits, and grains. What’s really weird about eating heart-healthy food is that it’ll actually save you a TON of money and time — whole food is really easy and cheap once you get the hang of it… and so much better for your heart!

Our best suggestion is probably just to get a rice cooker — that gives you a ton of super easy options like rice and beans, or rice with frozen veggies and soy sauce. Super cheap, super good for your heart, and super easy.

Speaking of super easy: we have a whole archive of what we call “Megan simple” recipes. See, our editor Megan can’t cook FOR SHIT, and recipes for her have to be beyond easy. Check these posts for some easy recipe ideas. This post may also be helpful: You can afford better food: 10+ ways to get more out of your grocery budget.

But we’d love to open this up to Homies: any suggestion for super easy recipes that are also heart-healthy?

Comments on Heart-healthy food that’s REALLY easy?

  1. I can definitely attest to the fact that it’s actually cheaper to buy healthy food than quick and easy stuff.

    The key to quick eating is making things ahead of time. I’ve also recently found myself in a position where healthier options are necessary, so I basically just need to make some time to cook. Sometimes I’ll chop veggies in a ten-minute period and stick them in the fridge to deal with later. Or keep them as is and have them with hummus. The other night I made some rice pudding (just milk and rice on the stove – in the time it takes to actually cook it you can get some studying done) and then mixed in blueberries and walnuts. Made for a good breakfast three days in a row.

    If you have a little more time one day, I recommend tabouleh. It is a bit more time-consuming, but it makes a ton of food that will last you a while.

  2. Fish is very heart healthy, and it cooks SO FREAKING FAST! Fresh is always best, but there are lots of good kinds you can buy frozen and individually vacuum sealed. Throw a piece of fish into the pan with some olive oil and seasoning or soy sauce and you will be cooking up something good for you and tasty – really fast.

    • And don’t forget about those wonderfully oily fish that are chock full of omega-3 goodness for your heart. Sardines, mackeral, wild salmon, char, tuna, trout, anchovies, and oysters are loaded with the stuff.

    • The environmentalist in me wants to supplement this awesome advice with a plea: Please be a mindful consumer when purchasing fish. Fish consumption is outpacing some species’ populations! The Monterey Bay Aquarium has some wonderful advice on buying fish that are abundant and well-maintained, and how to find fish that are healthy for you. They have GREAT resources that explain why this matters.

      • SOOOOO glad you posted this. Always a balance between eating healthy and protecting the environment. You can also get the Monterey Bay Aquarium information in a pocket card that fits in your wallet. Buy fish off the “green” list and you’re good without too much effort.

        • There’s also an iphone ap.

          Which reminds me, I need to download the latest data into it. 🙂

  3. A rice cooker is great for folks with limited space and time, particularly if you get a slightly nicer one that has at least two rice settings (like brown and white) with a steamer basket. I am one of “those” people who actually can make good rice just on the stove with a pot and water, BUT the beauty of the rice cooker machine is that it’s little internal computer allows you to SET IT AND (for a little while) FORGET IT. Which means that you can come home from classes, throw rice and water (and maybe seasonings) in the cooker, press go, then go off and work on your latest homework or classes for a few minutes or HOURS and your rice is still good, still unburnt, still hot, and you didn’t have to baby sit it, setting the lid half off the pan just so, etc. You can cook up a few veggies to go with it or include them (carrots, peas, onions, the like) in the rice mixture. You can also make a huge quantities of food at a time with the same minimal effort and feed all your friends. You can use the cooker to cook many other grains as well (my cooker does not have a porridge setting, but apparently this is useful for some grains like quinoa and amaranth) and can be used to steam veggies tofu and meats. AND, you don’t need a range to use it, so you can cook like a fifties house wife IN YOUR DORM ROOM, or tiny studio apartment, or hotel room if you are on the road and don’t want to subsist on typical fast food.

    • Rice cookers will also keep the rice warm for 24 hours, so you can eat it for many meals that way, without having to transfer it to different containers and then heat it up.

    • Not all schools allow rice cookers in the residence halls — just something to check out before you buy one!

  4. Do you have access to a freezer? Frozen vegetables are the BEST. They’re cheap. They’re pre-cut, so they are fast. They can’t spoil because they are frozen, so you don’t have to worry about using them by a certain time. It’s so easy to add frozen spinach into pretty much any sauce, soup, or rice in the last couple minutes of cooking to heat it through. So if you get a rice cooker, when you get home just throw some spinach in there for a couple minutes to heat up with the rice.

    Another super easy thing you can do is get several smaller reusable containers and buy the large containers of yogurt, which are way cheaper per oz. Spoon in some fat-free yogurt (protein), add frozen mixed fruit, top with nuts (protein and healthy fats). The frozen fruit keeps the yogurt cold for a couple hours, so you can throw this together quickly before heading to class or the library. Depending how much you like yogurt, this can even be lunch!

    There are also lots of foods you can make in a crock pot (slow cooker) that can simmer for a couple hours and don’t require precise cooking times. Look for soup recipes that basically require only opening cans and dumping them in. You can cook beans in them, too. And of course in the last 10 minutes of cooking you can add frozen veggies to heat through.

    For a quick snack, you can pop 1/3 cup plain popcorn kernels in a brown paper bag folded over the top in your microwave. No, it doesn’t taste like movie theater popcorn, but plain popcorn has more flavor than you’d expect.

    And the last thing- baby carrots! In a pinch, I’ve made a “salad” from baby carrots and salad dressing. Carrots and hummus are a great snack, but make sure you buy hummus that is actually made from olive oil for the healthy fats. Some of the popular brands don’t actually use olive oil, so check the label.

    I hope these suggestions are helpful for your situation!

    • Forgive me for using you instead of the google, but is there a big difference between olive oil and soybean oil in this regard? My hummus uses soy, which research had told me was pretty healthy as well.

      • There’s a massive divide on the “is soy bad” front. My best advice is do your research and decide what is best for you. Personally, if I can have coconut or olive oil or real butter I’m going to go with that. But I don’t freak out about the occasional soy product because stressing about food doesn’t help anything.

      • So here is a table comparing the amounts of saturated versus unsaturated fats in common oils. It says the info comes from the USDA. (Trans fat is still worse than saturated fat. Unsaturated fats are the good ones.)
        http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/culinaryreference/a/fattable.htm

        So it looks like soybean oil isn’t bad! Some people hate soy because it contains phytoestrogens which they think can mess with their hormones. And other people hate soy because it might be genetically engineered. And tofu is processed, so I typically add shelled edamame to my meals if I have the choice. But I still eat tofu occasionally. So I am not in the soy-hating camp, but other people have their reasons.

        While we’re on the topic of other oils:
        Coconut oil is tricky. It has no cholesterol, but it has the most saturated fat of them all, so that would mean that it’s bad if you are tying to avoid saturated fat. But coconut oil is is a unique blend of the types of fats, so there could be something special about those specific fats or the ratio of them to other types of fats. I would wait until more research comes out on coconut oil, but I’m a nerd like that! I know enough to know that cholesterol and fat processing in your body is…complicated. So I generally just stick with olive oil because I know it’s good, not necessarily because everything else is evil.
        http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/coconut-oil-and-health

        • Thank you for this extremely informative answer! I appreciate the simple breakdown.

  5. I would second the use of a crockpot and frozen veggies. Also explore vegan cookbooks, especiallyMediterranean vegan cookbooks – they often have easy, heart healthy recipes. I use this one a lot: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1557883599 . We also always have a variety of healthy salad ingredients on hand: prewashed power greens, nuts and seeds, hardboiled eggs, and low fat feta crubles.

  6. One of my favorite go-to meals that takes about 3 minutes to prepare (and can be tossed in a tupperware to go)

    fresh spinach, rinsed and torn or cut for easy nomming
    pre-cooked rice
    canned black beans rinsed (you won’t need a whole can for one person, put the rest in a container and refrigerate, it’ll keep for a few days)
    salsa
    shredded cheese of choice

    combine in a bowl, amounts of ingredients varied by taste and hunger level, zap for about a minute or two to heat through and wilt the spinach/melt the cheese. eat.

    healthy insta-taco in a bowl. vegetarian and gluten free too!

  7. Sorry to hear about your diagnosis.

    Heart-healthy food does not have to consume much time. I would say all meals we cook at home either take less than 30min to throw together or can be left on the stove unattended for long periods of time (think stews, chili etc.).

    Your doctor can best tell you what you should focus on, but most healthy diets are built around vegetables and fruit with a side of protein and carbs. You do not have to go all sciency, just remember that the less you do with your food, the better. (In most cases. Of course legumes, for example, can be quite unhealthy when eaten raw, as can potatoes and meat.) You might want to stay away from excess salt – try replacing it with herbs and spices. It takes some getting used to, but it works.

    By the way, there are plenty of sources for great, delicious recipes out there, such at eatingwell.

    Good luck!

  8. A few years ago I was diagnosed with a health problem that also meant altering my diet from a fast food one, which was hard considering my very on the go lifestyle. While my lifestyle is still very much on the go, I’ve figured out a lot of tricks for eating very healthy while busy.

    There are some adjustments that are big though, the main one being that sometimes you have to plan ahead and prep meals for the next day, that sometimes means that 30min before bed I’m getting breakfast ready for the next day, or chopping vegetables, etc.

    I also highly recommend going through recipe books and websites to find things you like and want to try, after a time you start to get the feel for what foods go with what.

    – Make sure your pantry and fridge are stocked with healthy foods that you like, nuts, fruit, veg, etc. If it’s there you won’t be inclined to go elsewhere to get something faster.

    – Change your definition of grab and go, oranges, apples, carrots, nuts, etc are all great grab and go foods.

    – Get a slow cooker, seriously, best invention ever. Chop up your vegetables, brown your meat, etc before bed. Put it all the in slow cooker, throw it in the fridge for the night. In the morning take your slow cooker out and turn it on low. By the time you get home from work or class you will have a tasty supper with leftovers ready for you.

    http://www.theyummylife.com/Refrigerator_Oatmeal Refrigerator oatmeal, is my favourite breakfast for on the go. You throw everything into a jar the night before, shake it up and leave it in the fridge overnight. Next morning, breakfast is ready and waiting.

    – Smoothies are awesome for breakfast or snacks, get a little “magic bullet” style blender, throw whatever you have into it (my fave is frozen berries, yogurt, spinach, avocado or banana, water). Nothing easier than turning a blender on.

    – Try something new at the grocery store! Intimidating, I know, I hadn’t tried asparagus until I was 18…I thought it was creepy and weird. And then I ate it. Now its my favourite food.

    – Stay away from boxed foods, they may claim to be healthy but usually they are filled with preservatives and other things you probably shouldn’t be eating. Leave boxed foods for treats (that means granola bars and cereal too).

    – Herbs and spices are your best friend, use them liberally!

    http://www.busybuthealthy.com is one of my favourite websites to grab a healthy and easy recipe from. Everything from cookies to 30min suppers, and its all pretty tasty and healthy.

    – Treat yourself every once in a while. Really want that cheeseburger and fries? Go for it, just reduce how often you eat it. Instead of 3 times a week, maybe twice a month. Whatever works for you. Don’t entirely deny yourself the things you love, that just leads to resentment and frustration. Also, don’t punish yourself if you really find yourself pressed for time and you grab a meal from a fast food restaurant, it happens!

    – Try to find time to really involve yourself with your food. I usually try to spend one night a week baking healthy treats like homemade granola bars, or healthy muffins and cookies. It just meant re-arranging my values a little bit. It doesn’t always happen, so when I’m really really busy, I don’t bake. It also means that my intake of cookies and treats has slowed down. If I don’t have time to make it, I can’t eat it.

    Be patient with yourself and with the changes you are making, they are big ones! It took me a year to really start to change my diet, but 4 years later I’m eating even healthier than I was that first year of changing. Not to mention that it took a while for my tastebuds to leave behind my overly salted diet for sometimes more subtle flavours.

    • I second the comment about smoothies. I didn’t used to think of cold beverages as meals, but they can be really nourishing, healthy, and SO FAST! Protein powders, pre-washed veggies (spinach, lettuce, cucumber, kale, chard, etc!), a little fruit, unsweetened almond milk – and you’re done.

  9. The most important thing I have learned is to beware of hidden salt- nearly all condiments and prepared or canned foods are full of it. Even `low sodium`products can have alarmingly high amounts, but most stores will offer a sodium free option for common canned goods like beans and tomatos. Salt-free spice mixes (Italian, etc.) are a great way to add flavor, or try a squeeze of citrus or some fresh jalapenos. Broiling or grilling fish, chicken or veggies can give you a yummy hint of caramelization or char. I use a lot of sodium free veggie or chicken broth (like these http://kitchenbasics.elsstore.com/) for soups, stews, stir-frys. Try for a plate that has lots of fruit and veg and smaller portions of meat and carbs. Eating out is tricky, but if you ask your server for heart healthy options they can usually help customize a menu item.

  10. not a recipe, but – you can cook beans in a pressure cooker, no soaking required. i’ve found ours takes 3 hours on high (4 for chickpeas because they are larger). i’m sure with some experimenting you could cook them for longer on low and do things like toss them in before work or overnight.

    also, lentils are easy and yum. i’m all about the legumes. my lazy method: chop veg, fry veg with flavors/spices, add water/stock and lentils (something like twice the water, but you can always add more) directly to the veg frying pan, simmer ’till lentils are cooked (red lentils cook faster, maybe 20 minutes, brown lentils take more like 40…ish) not a fast meal from start to finish, but fast to prepare. bonus: you can chop the veg on your day off and put it in jars for later, dropping the prep time to almost zero.

    • I second the lentils! If you don’t want cook them, you can soak them overnight on the counter to sprout, and then toss with salad dressing (and any other veggies you like) to make a quick salad.

      • Every time I try to sprout something I just end up with moldy seeds. Makes me sad 🙁

    • My favourite lentil recipe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/sweet_onions_with_lentil_01078
      To minimise the fat/salt, we use low salt stock and yoghurt instead of crème fraîche. If you cook the bacon slowly, you don’t need to add extra oil for frying. It takes a while, but we make it in bulk and freeze it. 🙂

      My boyfriend and I eat a lot of pulses and grains – things like cous cous (takes 5 minutes), bulgar wheat and pearl barley (take a bit longer but you just leave them in hot water to plump up). They provide slow-burning energy and keep you feeling full. You can add all sorts of ingredients and get creative. A favourite lunch/side is cous cous with cumin, sultanas, lemon juice and coriander. Pop everything in a bowl with some hot water, cover with clingfilm and it’s ready to eat in 5 mins. 🙂

  11. I used to drink a lot of soda, which even if diet/light is known to be quite unhealthy.
    I have switched from drinking soda to drinking fruit & herbal teas. Tea takes less than 5 minutes to brew and has no calories.
    You can add a no-cal sweetener and milk, or just drink it plain. I like to chill it and drink it as iced tea in the summer. If you like it fizzy, brew it dark and then add bubbly mineral water or soda water.

    • I’ve found that for herbal iced tea you actually don’t even need hot water (at least with the teas I use). Room temperature water in a pitcher, with a couple of teabags thrown in, stuck in the fridge for an hour or two, works just fine. I make it much more now that I don’t have to bother with heating the water.

      • YES. I’ve also found that heating is very much not necessary with the herbal teas. I bought one of those big glass pitchers that has a spout that dispenses from the bottom – I load it up with water and a few tea bags, shove in the fridge, and take the tea bags out when I go back for my first glass in an hour or so. (If you don’t take them out, it gets overly strong and kinda icky.)

        Plus, you can add fruit! Yay!

  12. I agree with all of the above. Rice cookers are fantastic (and actually, you can make a lot more than just rice in them–I’ve made soups, cooked eggs, made curry…) and due to the way they’re made, you don’t need a lot of oils or anything to make a lot of different foods in them.

    For those shorter on time, yes, frozen veggies are a godsend. I incorporate them into my cooking a good bit–if you have the freezer space, they’re going to keep a hell of a lot longer than buying fresh, so no “oh crap I absolutely HAVE to figure out what to do with X tonight, or it’s going to go bad”. Also, it’s easy to add just a little bit from a bag of frozen broccoli or something to your food–I just use something like a chip clip to clamp the rest of the bag shut and toss it back in the freezer (don’t let it defrost before you use a little, though).

    Something I’ve really tried to do over the last few years (I haven’t been diagnosed with heart disease, but heart problems are common in my family, so it’s just a matter of time, I fear) is read labels more carefully. Not only for things like sodium, but also checking the ingredients–if it has stuff that you can’t identify (or you’re not sure how it came from a natural source), it probably isn’t good for you. If you’re not sure what something is, look it up: it could be something that you just didn’t recognize (maybe it goes normally by another name, or it was the Latin name of something) or it could be something you really shouldn’t be eating and now you know to avoid it.

    At first, all of this can be pretty hard–it takes time to learn to cook more from scratch, especially when you’re shorter on time and energy to do it, plus really reading labels can mean that it takes even longer to get through the grocery store (until you develop go-to items, at least), but all of the effort is well worth it. I know that I feel better when I cook for myself, as I know what’s going into what I’m eating and I have a better idea of the nutrients I’m getting.

    • Yes, it was common on both sides of my family, so while it was shocking to learn I had it at this age, I knew I’d need to be careful at some point, but with college I put it on the back burner.

  13. I’m so sorry you are dealing with this.

    You may or may very well NOT be looking for new information, so take this or leave it…but in our family when faced with heart issues we started reading medical literature hard. I mean, HARD, and found that a low-fat diet wasn’t in our best interests. We ended up learning that whole, natural, saturated fats were far better to stabilize heart issues, which was totally counter to the advice from the dietician. (You know, not KFC or donut fats, but like avocado/almond/grass fed beef fats.)

    When we learned this and actually saw the numbers from the doctor reflect better outcomes, we found out that cooking could be super simple and quick. And if you are cooking with whole foods, you are automatically controlling your salt intake. We are fans of simple, quick meals because we are out of time for extensive kitchening, so things are either made in the oven (a set it and forget it kind of thing) or a throw it all in the pan and cook kind of thing.

    -Fish cooked in a bit of coconut oil (we don’t have coconut allergies) or butter with a veg cooked in the same pan (a sprinkle of kosher or sea salt will do wonders for any veg and you are limiting your salt intake still)
    -Handful of almonds and berries
    -Wheels of cheese
    -Grass feed steak or chicken thighs and asparagus or green beans with butter
    -Homemade broths are eeeeaaaasy (if you can boil water and throw things in a pot, you can make broth) and can be used for soup stock or for cooking waters
    -Eggs and fruit for breakfast, with hard boiled eggs being an easy take a long snack
    -Big ass salad with salmon or chicken and whatever veg you have on hand and dressing you can pour ingredients into a jar and shake to make your own (a favorite is just olive oil, balsamic vinegar, done)
    -Fried rice with coconut oil and any leftover veg you have with eggs
    -It’s sooo easy to make your own yogurt and you can control how much or if you add sugar to it
    -Steel cut oatmeal, another set it and forget it thing as I soak it in milk overnight then cook for ten minutes when I’m ready to cook, all in the same pot (I actually think I got this recipe from Ariel Meadow Stallings a million years ago…Shark’s Steel Cut Oats?)

    Look up the Nourishing Traditions books or google it for a ton more ideas and discard anything that seems too damn complicated for your life (because good lord, who has time for that.)

    And good luck! I hope you find what you are looking for!

    • I do love how you did research from the medical literature and then saw results at the doctor’s office. It makes me nerd heart sing! As you found, fats aren’t bad, but you need to know which fats you are eating. I should do more research in this area myself because I know nothing about coconut oil, and that seems to be very popular right now.

      I second the homemade stock, since it allows you to control your salt intake better while adding flavor. A few tips for making stock:
      1. All veggies that go into stock should be fresh/good. You can use the extra parts that aren’t edible, but don’t use the spoiled parts. (tough kale stems, ends of carrots, tips of green beans, etc)
      2. You can save up your veggie trimmings in the freezer until you are ready to make stock. Just have a labelled container and add to it.
      3. Supplement the flavor of the stock with herbs and spices. (Onion powder helps, but I don’t know if that has salt because I’ve never read the label!)

    • If you’re interested in going this route I highly recommend picking up a book called Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis. He’s not a diet guy, he’s a practicing cardiologist. It does a good job both explaining the science (without being difficult to read) and giving recipes and the like that can be put to immediate use.

      Here’s the blog if you don’t want to splash the cash yet: http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/

    • Along with the Nourishing Traditions books, there are a whole lot of awesome blogs out there that you may useful. I’ll leave links to some of my favorites here as a jumping point – and don’t hesitate to contact these folks directly, they’re all super friendly and awesome!

      Emily at Butter Believer (http://butterbeliever.com/)
      Katie at Girl Meets Nourishment (http://girlmeetsnourishment.com/)
      Robin at Thank Your Body (http://thankyourbody.com/)
      Elizabeth at The Nourished Life (http://www.livingthenourishedlife.com/)
      Lauren at Empowered Sustenance (http://empoweredsustenance.com/)

      Village Green Network (http://villagegreennetwork.com/) – You can find even more blogs about real food health and everything else you could ever want through this network. I’m pretty sure all the blogs I mentioned above are part of the network, it’s a great place.

      Good luck on your adventures! I wish you all the best!

    • I just had to post to say a huge THANK YOU for posting this. The current beliefs about saturated (from real, whole foods..) fats is terribly outdated, and i just cringe when i see hospitals passing out little tubs of margerine with meals, saying its “heart healthy”. there is lots of info out there, but a great rule of thumb is if your great grandmother would not recognize it as food, dont eat it! (or you know, serious moderation)

      great post!!

  14. Nuts!!! Easy to throw in a bag and snack on, and super healthy — especially for people with heart problems (just go for unsalted!)

    I’m a huge fan of the WHFoods site — they talk a lot about the health benefits of certain foods, along with lots of simple serving ideas. I like it, because it makes eating healthy more tangible (ex: I’m more likely to eat a food that will specifically help to lower my cholesterol than something that is just ‘probably healthy’).

    Best of luck!

  15. My dude and I are trying to improve our eating habits, both by necessity and choice, but we’re both busy and it’s going to be really bad in the fall when we’re both students plus working.

    We do stock a few pre-made frozen items that are healthy. My dude loves stuffed chicken breasts and we found some by Maple Leaf (in Canada) that are actually not bad. He can throw that into the oven and do stuff while it cooks when there are no leftovers or he’s got other things that need to be done. Is it ideal? No. But if paired with veggies and other things, it is acceptable as an emergency.

    I also try to make recipes that come in large batches. There’s just two of us but anything that can be made in multiples means I have lunches to take with me. I am not a sandwich gal so leftovers mean I will take a lunch. Or we can freeze them for easy meals later. Sloppy joes, stews, pasta sauce, etc are all pretty easy. If you’re making it yourself, you know what goes in it and can adjust sodium and other ingredients appropriately. Basically, anything you can pre-prep on an afternoon when you have time will be a big help. I found some great tips on doing freezer meals on the internet and found that it shortened cooking time a lot. Like pre-cooking ground beef and adding in shredded carrot, onion and some green pepper meant that it just needed to be defrosted and thrown in for sauces, tacos, Spanish rice, etc. And no, you don’t even notice the carrot but suddenly it is more filling and you’re getting veggies. My dude is not a veggie person so hiding them this way is easy on both of us.

    Freezing breakfast options is also good. Make your own breakfast buritos and freeze them. Then you heat it up and go. Omega3 eggs, tomato/salsa, back bacon or chopped up chicken, a bit of cheese, or anything else you want in a wrap makes it a lot easier than grabbing something when you’re out. Or make healthy muffins (lots of options to substitute healthy things for the oil) that have protein and you’re good to go just grabbing that.

    I really have learned that in general, if you can put in some time to pre-prep things, it’s much faster and better for the days you get home and want to put in no effort. We all have those days so if you have something you can throw in a microwave or an oven, it saves you from ordering food. I make lasagna in multiple smaller containers rather than one big one, then we just throw it in the oven.

    We aren’t huge rice and bean eaters so other options are always helpful for us.

  16. I strongly suggest you look up the Primal / Paleo diet, which is known for reducing blood pressure, cholesterol, etc! Mark’s Daily Apple is a free website with lots of good information and recipes. It is outdated wisdom that says low fat / low sodium is a heart healthy diet — without fat the body is unable to absorb a large percentage of the nutrients it needs, and generally, low fat foods tend to replace the fat with sugar, which is even worse for you!

    As far as prep — I do all my cooking / prep on sunday so that I have either a bunch of meals to heat up during the week, or meals I can throw together in 10 minutes or less (for example, I’m doing fajitas tonight, but since the cheese is shredded, the peppers/onions are par-cooked and the chicken is already grilled and cut, I can heat all of it up on the stove in less than 10 minutes.

    • I just want to note a couple of draw backs to the paleo diet. I know it works for some people (looking at you, crazy CrossFit people 🙂 ), but I really don’t think it’s for everyone, nor is it easy! It hasn’t been around THAT long, so there are few large long term studies on its benefits. (The couple studies I found had fewer than 20 subjects, and one of them HAD NO CONTROL GROUP. So they proved that the Paleo diet is better than the normal diet the subjects were eating before, but not that the Paleo diet is any better than any other diet.)
      So I guess what I’m saying is that Paleo diet has GREAT things in common with other types of diets, like more vegetables and less processed food. These are the things people in general should focus on, not following a specific type of diet.

      You are right about the low fat foods adding more sugar! I’ve found that that is almost always the case when I read labels. Your body needs fat to absorb fat-soluble nutrients. And as other comments mentioned above, the type of fat is important. I’m not an expert, but I think you get healthier fats from olive oil and nuts than you do from meat. There seem to be long term studies on beef that show that grass-fed beef has better fats than grain-fed beef, and that overall grass-fed beef has less fat than grain-fed beef. (I don’t eat beef, but my husband and family do, so I care about this!)

  17. If you’re a mac & cheese person and want that yum without all the cholesterol…

    Cashew cream sauce!

    I get about a mason jar full of RAW cashews and soak them in hot water for at least three hours. Drain, throw ’em in a blender with two tsp of minced garlic, a tbsp (or more! I prefer more) mustard, 1/2c of nutritional yeast (or more! I prefer more… I always prefer more of like everything), some salt, pepper, and enough soy (or whatever non-dairy milk/creamer) to blend it into a thick sauce. If it looks mealy, just keep blending. It will eventually turn smooth. Cook up your whole wheat macaroni, spoon out some sauce, bam! Mac & cheese. It’s not exactly like the real deal, but it sure as hell hits the spot.

    These measurements are all really guesses on my part, I don’t measure anything like ever.

  18. I recommend checking out an online meal-planning service, like thescramble.com or thefresh20.com. Usually for a very modest fee, they will give you a new menu each week, which you can then customize, plus an auto-generated shopping list of all the ingredients you need for a whole week. It’s a way to eat healthy food and not have to menu plan Every. Single. Night. The more you use the meal planning service to cook new things, the easier it gets to improvise, too. I changed to this service about 6 months ago, and it’s made a world of difference for me–no more buying avocados and then throwing them out because they went bad before I could figure out what to do with them and much less stress around trying to decide what to eat!

  19. Thank You for answering my question!!

    I’ve been trying to get in with a dietitian, but I keep getting moved back, and it’s been a month already! So alllllll the advice here helps, I’m excited to try and build up an arsenal of healthy meals we like and go back too.

    Thanks guys!

  20. Get thee to a library!

    The one I work for has tons of cookbooks and many are heart healthy and/or quick cooks. You’ll never run out of recipes to try and it won’t cost you a dime (unless you return them late;))

    As far as quick tips go:
    -Stock up on spices and such. This will help you turn a blah meal into something a bit sexier.
    -Make sure you’ve got some healthy go-to snacks: vegs + hummus or guac, nuts, string cheese, yogurt, fruit, and such. If you aren’t making your own hummus (and you should totally try it-it’s super easy and wayyyyy better than store bought!) or yogurt, be sure to read the labels. There can be some nasty yuck in the ingredients.
    -Something that has helped me an my mister stay on track is menu planning. Pick a day to sit down together and plan what you are going to eat for the week, make a list of what you need, and buy it. You would be surprised how much easier (and faster!) cooking your own food is when you’ve got everything you need. It’s also a lot easier to stay on track and not have one of those “fuck it, let’s get pizzas” nights.

    Some of our favorite go to quick meals:
    Breaky
    -plain greek yogurt, low sugar granola, fresh fruit
    -hard boiled eggs and a piece of fruit

    Lunch
    -leftovers
    -mason jar salad (dressing on the bottom, topped with hearty veg (carrots, cucs, etc.), cheese/egg (if you want) and then smoosh a bunch of greens in and put the lid on it. At lunch you can dump in all in a bowl and since the greens were separated from the dressing everything is crunchy and delicious.
    -either of those with a piece of fruit and maybe a side of veg and hummus

    Dinner
    -big fuck off taco salads (giant bowl of greens, some onions, avocado, salsa, a bit of taco meat, and a sprinkle of cheddar)
    -healthy chunk of meat cooked on the Forman with a salad
    -rotisserie chicken from the grocery store with steamed or roasted vegs

    I hope this helps! I’ve been diagnosed with PCOS which is it’s own barrel of fun so I know how hard it can be to make big changes to your diet. I wish you the best of luck!

  21. My husband just got diagnosed with pancreas issues, which means a low-fat diet for him (and no more alcohol, which makes him a sad panda). We finally busted out the George Foreman grill we got for our wedding, and I love it so much I want to hug it. We do fish and chicken on it almost every night of the week, and we don’t have to add any oils to keep it from sticking like in our (cheap, old) skillets. We’ve done steaks and burgers, too, as it’s tilted so the fat runs off it. We live in an apartment with no lawn or patio, so a “real” grill is out of the question. The GF has made it much easier to quickly cook lower-fat and better-fat meats so we don’t resort to fast food that might make his pancreas explode. I also grilled bananas on it the other night, which was delicious and desert-y. I prefer grilled veggies to steamed, so that helps us get more veggies in us.

    • I 100% second the George Foreman grill- and you don’t need a new one either, an older one works fine. You can grill veggies, chicken, “mushroom burgers”, really, anything. You can even go real crazy and make your own paninis on there (but it depends on what ingredients you add to make it heart healthy).

      As a college student myself the George Foreman in the dorm room (shhhh fire hazards are only bad if you aren’t careful) was so easy and no one stole or broke it (like my pots and pans…).

      Also avocados are best friends forever, it’s the good kind of fat.

  22. Definitely try to pick up a medium sized slow cooker along with a rice cooker. There are so many meals you can prep the ingredients for on the weekends, then dump in the crockpot in the morning and come home to a lovely meal. Homemade soups are great and filling without all the sodium, you can make your own sauces like spaghetti sauce (way cheaper and you can use unsalted canned tomatoes if you don’t have access to fresh), and you can even cook your own whole chickens and the like.

    Size DOES matter with the slow cooker, though – it needs to be 2/3 full to really do its job, so you can’t just buy the biggest one and then make whatever in it. I have three of them, and I find the 4 quart one gets the most use for just me and my husband. If I’m making a crapton of sauce to save, I’ll use the 6 quart.

    Also – couscous. If you need a good, healthy grain with a meal and you don’t have time to cook pasta, rice, etc, just throw on a pan of couscous. It’s so quick to cook and so delicious, and you can add so many veggies to it! 🙂

  23. I super recommend the book Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. All of the recipes are low fat, and almost every recipe in the book can be made in under 45 minutes. Plus since it’s all whole foods the recipes are cheap! I love this book to pieces.

  24. My dad was diagnosed with heart disease when I was in 2nd grade, and my family immediately switched to a heart-healthy diet. Now his heart disease is super manageable 15 years later.
    One big thing we did was switch to a vegetarian diet. Generally speaking, vegetarian diets are lower in fat and cholesterol. My mom bought several heart-healthy cookbooks. There are quite a few quick cookbooks that are also heart-healthy cookbooks, so take a look at those.
    We also tend to cook very large portions so that we’ll have leftovers. This makes it easier to grab and go, rather than always having to cook.
    We eat lots of whole foods, as was mentioned. We also make regular recipes with meat substitute instead of meat in it – for example, we use fake ground beef to make spaghetti with “meat” sauce and fake chicken strips to make “chicken” fajitas. This helps us cut down on fat. We only use low-fat dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt. We have completely ridded our house of trans-fats, choosing to buy only natural peanut butter and trans-fat free margarines like Smart Balance.
    I hope these tips help you out a bit! That’s a rough diagnosis at your age!

  25. I always eat healthier when there’s stuff ready-made in the fridge, especially when it is pre-portioned!

    In the heat of summer, salads are super easy. Whole grain salads, veggies, and fruit all are tasty on their own or on top of lettuce with some simple homemade dressing. Also, did you know that spelt berries cook in about the same amount of time as brown rice? Awesome. I just found that out the other day.

    Here is a delicious one to get you started: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-chopped-brown-rice-salad-with-grapes-and-pecans-recipes-from-the-kitchn-190988 When I made it I replaced the brown rice with spelt berries, added chopped celery, and replaced the dressing and the cheese with homemade bleu cheese dressing. BEST IDEA EVER! It was fabulous.

    In the wintertime, soups are the bomb. Not only are they cheap, they are also a great vehicle for tons of veggies, last forever, and reheat like a charm. Make yours from scratch and you won’t be sorry. Borrow the dorm kitchen on a weekend with a stockpot, a cutting board and knife, and a bunch of pint mason jars. Cook up a huge batch of soup, jar it up, and then you can take those babies wherever you can find a microwave. Chicken and vegetable takes almost no time at all, but split pea with ham and beef barley (with tomatoes) are some I never get tired of (especially with a slice of whole grain garlic toast on the side). For a summer soup, here’s a nice one: http://farmhousemagazine.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/between-the-seasons-chicken-and-corn-chowder/ If you need to cut the fat, you can use skim or lowfat milk and trim the fat off your chicken (or use skinless) when you start, but it won’t taste quite the same.

    Tacos are also awesome, especially if they are heavy on the beans and veggies and light on the meat and cheese. A favorite in our house is black beans and leftover rotisserie chicken and onions cooked up together and served with raw white onion, lemon or lime juice, and a little sour cream. NOMS.

    And don’t forget eggs. An electric skillet can do wonders with poached or lightly fried (over easy) eggs on toasted english muffins and a little salt. No cheese is even necessary. Not to mention all the healthy omelets/scrambles you can make with veggies, especially if no or very little meat is used. Not to mention all the delicious bean dishes and stir fries you can cook in an electric skillet.

    Transitioning is going to be hard, but the best thing you can do is to eat whole foods and cook from scratch. Quantity cooking and learning to love leftovers will go a long way towards making your life easier and saving time and money.

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