How to Plan Healthy Family Meals and Other Secrets from a Popular Mom Blogger

April 28, 2016
by Dana Poblete for Thrive Market
How to Plan Healthy Family Meals and Other Secrets from a Popular Mom Blogger

With a newborn and an impending divorce, Brooke Griffin’s life looked a lot different than she imagined it would. After gaining nearly 70 pounds thanks to lingering baby weight and the mountain of stress, she figured out just what she needed to transform her life, and her baby’s. It was as simple as suppertime.

Griffin started eating healthier, and her blog SkinnyMom.com grew out of that—and has blown up since. (She’s got 350K followers on Facebook to prove it.) Through a combination of writing the blog, her book “Skinny Suppers: 125 Lightened-Up, Healthier Meals for Your Family,” and cooking up healthified dishes, she overcame her depression and dropped those 70 pounds.

Here Griffin shares her best tips for making wholesome meals for the family, along with a vegetarian tikka masala recipe that’s to die for.

You lost 70 pounds. What were the key aspects of your diet and exercise routine that got you there?

Food had become a comfort, so I knew it would be a real challenge. I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with changes, so I started with suppers. I was dedicated to eating one healthy meal in the evenings, and eventually that carried over into other meals throughout the day and more days in a week. After feeling the results of these healthy changes in my energy levels and attitude, I decided that I would continue making small changes and to avoid eating two bad meals in a row.

I also had a newborn on my hands, so it wasn’t like I could just head off to the gym any time I wanted! I started working out from home with the little equipment I had. I took it one day at a time, and didn’t let the end goal—a 70-pound transformation—stop me from celebrating the little victories along the way.

Sharing my experience was a key factor in my success. I had people in my corner who were cheering for me, so I knew I had to continue working hard each day! Plus, I was getting new readers and social media followers [from SkinnyMom.com] every day, so that was a huge accountability factor and responsibility … I did not want to let these ladies down!

How does suppertime influence eating habits positively?

As parents, we have the responsibility of feeding our kids nutritious meals to help them grow and develop, but we also have to teach them how to recognize fueling foods for themselves! [A regular] family supper can be such a useful tool to help educate your kids on what they’re eating and why it’s good for their bodies. I think many people who battle with food-related disorders weren’t taught to understand the purpose of food or they may not have the family support they need to live healthier. Eating nutritious meals as a family and engaging in precious conversation will help your children develop a better relationship with food, but as the parent, you have to set a positive example!

In your book, you find ways to lighten up traditionally heavy dishes like biscuits and gravy and cheeseburger pie. Can you share some of your secrets?

Oh, I love sharing secrets from “Skinny Suppers” ... The lesson is just to use the most nutritious, highest quality ingredients in place of traditional ones. In the Cheeseburger Pie, for example, it’s as simple as swapping ground beef for lean ground turkey and using reduced-fat crescent rolls instead of [normal] buns. In other recipes, I swap out mayo or sour cream for Greek yogurt, or I’ll use panko bread crumbs and bake the meat for a healthier crunch instead of frying it. Skinny cooking doesn’t have to be difficult—you just have to find easy, time-saving ways to cut calories and fat. And it most definitely doesn’t have to be boring. All of the recipes in the book and on my website are decadent, full-flavored dishes the whole family will love!

What are 3 recipes from the book that you guarantee kids will love?

Kids will love the Lightened-Up Monte Cristo Calzone—it’s both sweet and savory!—and the cheesy, mess-free Un-Sloppy Janes. A personal favorite of my son’s is the Supreme Pizza Pasta Casserole, which you can also find on my blog. It’s a flavorful dish that sneaks in some good-for-you veggies, but all he sees is pizza and pasta in one!

What's your No. 1 favorite recipe in your book, and why?

Being a southern Kentucky gal, I’ve got to say the Southern Shrimp and Grits. In the south, grits are a staple for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between. Being able to create a version with fewer calories and less fat than the recipe I grew up having was exciting to me. I indulge in it every chance I get and reminisce about all the time my family and I spent gathered around my Granny’s big country kitchen table, enjoying her favorites.

What's the one health food that you can't live without?

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ve been on a smoothie kick for a while now. What’s not to love about a simple and delicious beverage that packs in protein, fruit, and veggies in one? I love experimenting with different flavors and ingredients, and I’ll take any time-saver I can in the mornings!

What's your favorite indulgence or guilty pleasure?

As a mom, my idea of a wild Saturday night is having a cheesy pizza with my little guy, Easton. It’s not a food I’d consider to be in my everyday diet, but I sure do enjoy it when I indulge!

What are the top 10 items you absolutely, always must have in your kitchen?

I think having all the tools you need and creating a plan for cooking is essential—so much that there’s a section in “Skinny Suppers” called “Prepare for Suppertime Success.” I share some of my best tips and staples, including these kitchen must-haves to set yourself up for success in providing your family with delicious, nutritious meals. They’re definitely my go-tos!

  1. Set of quality sharp knives
  2. Knife steel/honing steel
  3. Quality cutting board (or a few!)
  4. Kitchen scale
  5. Good set of pots and pans
  6. High-powered blender
  7. Heavy-duty mixer
  8. Set of mixing bowls
  9. Set of measuring cups and spoons
  10. Quality slow cooker

Share your top 5 tips for saving time and money when it comes to cooking.

So many people steer away from buying healthy groceries or cooking smart meals because they think it’s too expensive and too time-consuming. I promise, it isn’t! I definitely use these tips daily and I’m happy to share these secrets.

  1. Make a meal plan and grocery list: This is a real key to saving money. Plan out your meals for the week and write a full grocery list, then stick to buying only these items! You won’t waste food or spend time wandering the aisles for naughty snacks.
  2. “Power-Planning Sundays”: I am a huge believer in what I call Power-Planning Sundays. It’s all about prepping and planning to set yourself up for success and save you time throughout the week. You can get a step-by-step guide to it here! Remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail!
  3. Use leftovers: Cooking healthy doesn’t mean you need a new meal on the table every night. Make a casserole on Monday and have it a time or two throughout the week!
  4. Cook with pantry staples: Coordinate your meals based on what you’ve already got in your kitchen. Don’t buy something you’ll only use once and let the rest go to waste!
  5. Use accessible ingredients: If you want to save money while eating healthy, use the smarter ingredients that are available to you. There’s no need to buy expensive ingredients or ones you can purchase from specialty stores only. Healthy foods can be made from your local grocery!

What are your final words of wisdom to single parents (and parents in general) about how they can best care for themselves and their families?

The only way you can live a smarter, better life for yourself and provide one for your family members is to live balanced. You have to realize that you can’t do everything all at once! Make small, conscious decisions that impact your family in big ways. Think of shortcuts that’ll save time, money and effort; it doesn’t have to be made from scratch! And if you can’t get a workout in, run around with your kids or stream an exercise video online. If you teach your kids to be active and live well by example, you’ll have done your job.

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Griffin’s Vegetarian Tikka Masala

While there are many variations, tikka masala is typically a delicious red cream sauce that marries a variety of earthy spices with traditional Indian flavors. Masala spice blend is readily available in most grocery stores alongside other spices like curry and thyme, so the sauce is super easy to make.

Yield: 4 servings
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

4 medium sweet potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1½-inch pieces
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
1 small onion, diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 serrano chile pepper, minced
1 tablespoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 (14.5-ounce) cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2⁄3 cup lite coconut milk
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped raw unsalted cashews
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges (optional)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes and 1/2 tablespoon of the coconut oil and gently toss to evenly coat. Arrange the potatoes on the prepared baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 30 minutes, turning at the halfway mark.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the serrano chile, garam masala, salt, and black pepper and stir to evenly coat. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer.

Add tomato paste, tomatoes, and chickpeas and stir. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

Pour in the coconut milk and simmer for 6 minutes longer. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.

To serve, top each portion of sweet potatoes with a heaping cup of tikka masala. Garnish with the cashews and cilantro. If desired, squeeze a lime wedge over each portion.

Calories 379 • Fat 9g • Carbohydrate 64g • Fiber 14g • Sugar 17g • Protein 11g

Brooke Griffin is the author of best-selling cookbook Skinny Suppers: 125 Lightened-Up, Healthier Meals for Your Family and the creator of SkinnyMom.com, where over 6 million women a month ‘get the skinny’ on healthy living. She lives in Kentucky with her son Easton.

Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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This article is related to: Cooking, Food, Grocery List, Living, Moms, Tips, Healthy Meals

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