This would be classified as a fad diet plan, if it were a real plan. Instead, it’s a collection of basic tips on how to meet your caloric needs, feel satisfied when you eat, be able to manage cravings, spend less money on food, and not want to kill yourself with hunger. We’re going to start with a few keystone ingredients. These are items that have high nutritional value, low cost, and can be flavored easily to add variety to your meals. Whether your goal is to save money, eat healthier, or lose weight, these are the corners of the puzzle.
It’s helpful to note that the darker, more textured your rice, the better it’s going to be for you. Rather than the bleached white carb, aim for brown, or long grain rices. Buying these in bulk gives you a way to battle bread cravings with a friendly starch. Rice has never heard of gluten, and that makes it a popular pasta alternative.
You can use a slow cooker or rice cooker to help you along, but decent rice is easier than drive thru. A little chicken stock, water, and some seasoning with a cup of rice in a pot, set to medium heat. Come back to check on it and stir every 20 minutes – timer’s on your phone – and serve when it’s fluffy. Throw sauces, meats, eggs, or scads of vegetables into it. Rice loves all.
Learn to season with curry, BBQ, pizza sauce, salsa, and your own sriracha concoctions. Rice allows you to stretch a pound of ground chuck into more than a meal. To hell with Hamburger Helper! Though, actually that sounds good about now… To hell with them after dinner!
Let this bit of science wash your cares away. Rice and beans, when combined, create a similar amino acid chain to that of animal protein. As a staple of any vegetarian diet, beans are packed with protein, plentiful in type and texture, and can be beaten down or dressed up in a thousand ways. Season them, bake them in maple syrup, put them and some chipotle peppers with the rice for a Tex Mex taste. Beans, feel that.
This applies to whole kernels – as in the type you pop in a pan. When microwave popcorn, store-bought popcorn, or processed popcorn of any kind slip into the mix, the healthful facets take a nose-dive. Whole kernels are extremely healthy for you, as they are a whole grain. Popcorn also takes up a lot of space in your stomach, making you feel fuller, faster. It has a high satisfaction rating, giving you that ‘melt in your mouth’ sensation.
The key to popcorn is in the topping. That’s what make or break this beast. Heavy butter and salt are the movie theater staples, and those clog your heart and expand your waistline. Going all the way to bland kernels is too far. The compromise is to douse them with a minor dusting of salt, sugar, chili powder, Italian seasoning blends, Mrs. Dash, or whatever sweet & savory blend you can whip up. A splash of sugar can get you through a bucket of this while barely tilting the calorie marker.
Yep, another in the whole grain family, oatmeal. Personally, there’s nothing better than steel cut oat groat. But you do it up how you prefer. With oatmeal you can add sugar, fruits, or pour it over pancakes for a carb treat that makes a nap sound good. You can start out making it too sweet – like southern grits sweet, y’hear – then throttle back on the sugar as time goes on. Your body will get used to the healthy carbs and not crave the processed ones, making the transition easy.
Whole Grain Pasta
Don’t be a fool and think the song of Marinara or Alfredo won’t be heard because you have enough rice. Arm yourself with whole grain pastas for a more nutritionally balanced way to answer with gusto. The unprocessed grains provide your body with complex carbohydrates for energy, without as much going toward lipids (which are fat – inglorious fat!)
Flavor is always the biggest concern in any eating regimen. Without satisfaction from eating, you’re going to eventually go off track and consume a platter of Kobe beef sitting in a mall window display. To keep your diet in place, you have to dress your food in sauces you can tolerate, or your tongue gets bored. And when tongue gets bored, it chokes brainy to death and goes on an ice cream rampage.
Many red pasta sauces are fairly healthy, but high in sodium. They’re also very easy to make, requiring little more than a few cans mixed together, then seasoned. If buying canned options, check for the lowest sodium content you can. Some brands offer low sodium choices, which can be helpful. If making it yourself, season with spices other than salt for variety without the sodium side-effects.
Tomato sauces are the way to help you dress your foods when you’re hoping for a budget-friendly answer to low flavor. Yes, you will be increasing your sodium intake, but by staying smart, reading labels, and throwing a few things in a pot yourself, you can manage costs and girth.
Salsa is even healthier than red sauces, and brings a whole new southern experience to the table. Plus, there’s approximately 80,000 different kinds. Give or take a baker’s dozen.