meal planning: week 2


So, did you try out any of the recipes on the meal plan last week? If so, I want to hear about it! Leave a comment here, or you can tell me on twitter @realfoodfirst.

Here is another round of healthy recipes for next week. Again, the shopping list is included! For the pizza, I just included the crust recipe so you can choose whichever toppings you like best, but you’ll need to add these to your shopping list.

Pizza is a great way to sneak in veggies – I love one with artichoke hearts, banana peppers, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and spinach. You can also add some chicken or Canadian bacon, which is lower in fat than sausage or pepperoni. Chickpeas are also a good addition if you want to add a little protein but don’t eat meat.

Another good pizza combo is leftover chicken tossed with a little barbeque sauce (I like Gates or Stubbs brands for their recognizable ingredients). I also add green onion and tomatoes to this one. The possibilities are endless really :)

week 2 shopping list

coconut water


Coconut water has become all the rage in recent years as a more natural form of hydration, especially surrounding exercise. If you’ve tried coconut water, you may have discovered that it also has a pretty steep price tag. So, is it worth it?

Here’s what you’ll find in an 8 oz serving of coconut water: 45 calories. 30 mg sodium. 470 mg potassium. 11g carbohydrate. 0 g protein.

While the ingredients may be “all natural” (just coconut water + vitamin C), there are a few issues when it comes to using coconut water for rehydration during/after exercise. The main one being sodium.

Most sports drinks heavily promote their ability to replenish electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, that are lost in sweat. Here’s the thing: the main electrolyte you lose and would need to replace is sodium. There is about 1000 mg sodium lost per liter of sweat, compared to about 200 mg of potassium per liter. When you compare this to the daily recommended amount of sodium (1,500 mg) and potassium (4,700 mg), you can see that it is much easier to replace potassium that sodium after exercise.

As you can see above, coconut water mainly provides potassium, with very little sodium. This makes it an inadequate form of post-exercise rehydration.

So, is coconut water a miracle rehydration beverage? No. Is it fine to drink because you like it? Of course – just be mindful of the calories it adds to your daily intake, as with all caloric beverages. If you’re exercising for greater than 60-90 minutes, in a hot/humid environment, or are a heavy or salty sweater (you have visible salt on your skin or clothes after working out), then I would recommend a sports drink for hydration surrounding exercise. Otherwise, water is more than adequate!

meal planning: week 1


I talk a lot about meal planning, mostly because it is a great way to set yourself up for success when you’re trying to eat well and/or save money. But I get it – actually setting aside the time to plan your meals for the week ahead is HARD. When you have some spare time, you might not want to spend it browsing recipes. Plus, there are billions of recipes out there and it can be overwhelming.

So, I thought I’d do a series of posts with actual short meal plans for the week ahead. Since today is Friday, you’ve got the weekend to head to the store and get everything you’ll need – and the shopping list is included! I only included three recipes since not everyone eats at home every night or you might have leftovers, etc.

The shopping lists include every ingredient needed for all 3 recipes, so take a quick glance in your pantry to see if you can cross anything off that you already have before heading to the store. Things that people might already have (olive oil, spices, etc), I put in the “other” section at the end of the list and I assumed everyone has salt and pepper, so they’re not included; everything else is arranged by general section of the store.

Let me know if you try it out and be on the lookout for another week of meals next Friday!

week 1 shopping list


It appears that winter is upon us. I am not a fan of being cold, so prepare for lots of recipes that will warm up both you and your home! Also, if you like checking out all the recipes but just can’t quite get yourself to put them into a meal plan, you are in luck. Check back here on Friday for the start of a 5 week series of meal plans complete with shopping lists!

sometimes you  just want warm food the second you walk in from the bitter cold and I can’t think of many things better than slow cooker chicken fajitas to have ready and waiting for you

healthier (but still delicious) oat + pistachio crumble topped sweet potatoes for your thanksgiving menu

shepherd’s pie, but easier

this maple bourbon pumpkin butter would make a fun holiday gift! or you could add it to these pumpkin spice overnight oats.

roasted broccoli is a staple in my house. it is such a quick, easy, flavorful way to make sure you have veggies on the table. plus, broccoli is usually only 99 cents/lb this time of year!

simple roasted carrots with salt + pepper are also a favorite of mine, but here is a slightly fancier version if you need a little more flavor. or you could always make some carrot fries

I guarantee that this homemade pineapple chicken is much healthier than anything you’ll find on the chinese buffet

if you haven’t tried homemade applesauce, I highly recommend it. you barely even need a recipe. my most recent batch was: 3 lb bag of jonathan apples (peeled + cored) in the slow cooker with 1/4 to 1/2 cup water or apple cider, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, and a dash of ground nutmeg. set on low and it was done within 5-6 hours. it’s good by itself, on pancakes, on yogurt, on oatmeal….on ice cream? you should make some.

this one isn’t a recipe, but if you like looking in people’s refrigerators, you will probably also find this photo gallery incredibly interesting


This week’s list has a mix of quick dinners, veggie-filled sides, and a few sweets…just as it should be! Enjoy!

I’ve had chocolate chip banana bread, but chocolate banana bread?? yes, please.

can’t go wrong with chicken noodle soup and homemade is SO much better than canned

you can even make your own candy (it’s way easier than you might think): chocolate pumpkin almond butter cups

this thai brussels sprouts salad will bring some serious color to your grey winter days

people will think you spent a lot longer than 20-30 minutes on this cheesy ravioli and italian sausage skillet

all it takes is 10 minutes to toss all the ingredients for this smoky black bean + sweet potato chili into the slow cooker and dinner will be ready when you get home

covering vegetables in peanut sauce is always a good idea

if you’ve never loved brussels sprouts, I suggest you try this brussels slaw with tahini dressing. it might just change your mind!


Fall foods and veggies dominate this week’s recipes. The pumpkin recipes are unavoidable at this point too. I did a lot of cooking last week (peanut butter cream pie, homemade cinnamon rolls, chocolate chip cookie cake…..). It was so refreshing to be back in the kitchen & I hope to keep it going! Hope you’re able to do the same with some of these recipes. Enjoy!

trick those taste buds during the upcoming eating holiday season with this cobbler turned juice or maybe these pumpkin cheesecake bites

how to make oatmeal ahead of time. there are really no excuses for skipping the most important meal of the day!

everyone will find something to love in this white bean tortellini soup

this tuscan vegetable stew looks a.m.a.z.i.n.g

don’t let the title of this creamy vegan herb salad dressing scare you. homemade dressing is way healthier than store-bought. and I think I could totally get on the tofu train if it were blended up into a salad dressing.

I have a feeling even veggie haters will be able to get on board with these roasted vegetable stuffed shells

make your halloween dinner fun with these halloween stuffed peppers

italian provolone pull-apart bread would make a perfect snack for watching football (or baseball! GO ROYALS!)

make your lunch time carrot sticks festive with spicy pumpkin chipotle hummus

pecan spiced buttermilk pancakes make for a perfect fall morning

instead of butter, you can spray this pumpkin spice popcorn with a little cooking spray to help the spices stick and you’ve got a healthy, whole grain fall snack!


eating out


Eating out at restaurants often gets a bad reputation. Although most restaurants have some not-so-healthy items on the menu, they also have better choices that allow you to enjoy the restaurant experience without totally breaking the calorie bank for the next week.

Going to a restaurant is a social and often rare experience and you should enjoy it rather than stressing about how many calories are in your meal. However, it’s good to be generally aware of what you’re getting because many meals can set you back 2,000+ calories and, over time, that just isn’t great for your health or your waistline.

For example, some places have great bread before the meal but at other places I could take it or leave it. Why waste 200+ calories (more if you’re dipping each bit in olive oil) on so-so bread before your meal even arrives? If you think you’ll be ravenous by the time you get to the restaurant, eat some fruit before leaving the house. It’ll take the edge off your hunger and then you can taste the bread while saving plenty of room for the main course.

apples[used with permission from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics]

Portions at restaurants are also much larger than what you would serve at home. It can be hard to remember this when your plate arrives since you’re probably used to just eating whatever is on your plate. Some self-control is required here, but try to envision how much you would serve yourself if you prepared a similar meal at home. Pasta is a perfect example. At home, I prepare one serving (~1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked) and it’s plenty. Restaurants serve 3-4 times this amount and there is no reason I need to eat it all. It’s hard when it’s right in front of you, but try to pay attention to how you feel as you eat and stop when you’re comfortably full. Many places serve a lunch portion that is much more reasonable in size (and cheaper!) if you ask.

Look out for items that add a ton of unneccesary calories to a meal and either avoid them or cut back. Did you know that a 6 inch turkey sandwich from Subway has 280 calories and approximately 210-230 of those are from the bread? I also love cheese but don’t bother with it at Subway because I can’t even taste it so it’s not worth adding an additional 100+ calories. A similar example is the burrito at Chipotle. The tortilla alone is 300 calories before you even add rice, meat, cheese, sour cream, or guacamole. By getting the rice bowl, you get all the goodness from the inside without that additional 300 calories added on. These same concepts go for any restaurant.

balanced meals[source]

Other tips to make your meal a little healthier include:

  • order sauces or dressings on the side…you often need MUCH less than you think
  • avoid/limit items with fried, breaded, battered, crispy, or cream in the title
  • aim for items that are baked, grilled, steamed, or roasted
  • fill up on as many veggies as you want – just watch the added dressings or other toppings; order a salad or ask for a side of veggies with your meal (many places will do this for only a couple dollars)
  • cut back on pre-meal bread and if you’re getting pizza, aim for a thinner crust. you get the same basic thing for way fewer calories.
  • drink plenty of water!
  • don’t “save up” calories all day when you know you’re going to eat out…this ALWAYS backfires. eat regular, balanced meals throughout the day and you’re less likely to go overboard and end up miserable when you go out

At the end of the day, eating out isn’t bad but it should be a special treat. When cooking at home, you have much more control over what goes into your food, you can control the portion size, and you save money! If you don’t eat out often, choose a great restaurant and just enjoy it. But, if you eat out more frequently (> once per week), try to incorporate some of these tips so you don’t sabotage your efforts to stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight.