While most dietitians will tell you it’s OK to enjoy all foods in moderation, it’s not an approach McKel Hill, MS, RD, author of the forthcoming book, Nutrition Stripped: 10 Whole Food Recipes Made Deliciously Simple, necessarily believes in.
“I’m a big proponent of balance, but the whole enjoying everything in moderation isn’t in my wheelhouse. My approach is rooted in what I call the 80-90, where 80 to 90 percent of the meals you eat are made from whole foods, and the other 10 to 20 percent is a little more flexible. For some of my clients, that 10 percent is a glass of red wine or a piece of dark chocolate,” Hill explains.
Hill, who is a chocolate and potato chips lover, says you can still enjoy all your favorite foods, as long as they’re made with nutrient-dense ingredients. “I’m human and have cravings like everyone else. So when I want a cookie or potato chips, I think ‘Can I make my own chips or my own cookie?’ Homemade foods are always better than processed or packaged foods because you can control what goes into them,” Hill says.
Nutrition Stripped: The Case for Being Basic
In Hill’s new cookbook, she strips down the basics of healthy eating and empowers you with beginner guides on how to prioritize your grocery shopping list and properly stock your pantry. She also provides tips on how to make your own almond milk or other nut milks and prepare homemade nut butter and flour out of nuts, seeds and whole grains, like rolled oats, buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth. Much of what you’ll get in the cookbook supplements Hill’s blog and Nutrition Stripped Society, an online meal planning service that provides whole food recipes, meal planning charts, batch cooking guides and even guided workout videos.
“I’ve tried different diets myself and became a guinea pig for everything. I felt this was necessary in order to be able to treat my clients. I found that a plant-based lifestyle is what works best for me, and it has become my protocol for clients, but I always consider their lifestyle,” she says.
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Hill’s recipes are all plant-based and flexible for people who are dairy-free, gluten-free or vegan. But that’s not to say that meat eaters and comfort food lovers can’t enjoy the benefits of Hill’s cooking. The new cookbook features healthy takes on homestyle classics like Roasted Vegetable Lasagna With Lemon Raw-Cotta, Baked Sticky Fig BBQ Beans and Carrot Cake Quinoa Porridge.
“The recipes are designed to take out the intimidation factor and give inspiration to expand,” Hill says. “People don’t need to follow the recipes exactly, but it gives them inspiration to create their own meals and use different ingredients.”
Become a Meal Prep Maven
If you’re a meal planning non-believer, perhaps Hill’s tips will change your mind. Here are five things to remember as you start preparing your meals at home.
1. Set realistic expectations.
Just like weight loss, meal planning is a journey. Don’t expect to plan each meal in advance, which can be overwhelming. Instead, take a look at how your days are currently set up and tackle one mealtime challenge. “I used to skip breakfast, so when I started meal planning, I tackled that first. I would batch cook something for breakfast so I wouldn’t feel famished by mid-morning,” Hill says. Once you get into the swing of things, planning the rest of your meals will become second nature.
2. Keep frozen foods handy.
“When I think of convenience foods, I make sure to stock up on frozen organic fruits and veggies. Those are just really good for 911 meals when I come home from a long day and don’t have energy to prepare a full meal,” Hill says. She advises to use whatever time you have on a weeknight or weekend that you feel most energetic and efficient to multi-task and prepare meals in advance. “I also try to have back-up plans and freeze a chili or soup that I can easily heat up.”
3. Stick to what you know.
It can be intimidating to stock your entire fridge with fruits and veggies at first, which is why Hill says to start small and pick up things you know you’ll immediately use. First up, try some dark, leafy greens. “My fridge is always stocked with plenty of romaine lettuce, arugula and spinach. I recommend the Stripped Green Smoothie for most people because it’s the easiest way to sneak in some greens,” Hill says. She also likes to make her own coconut milk, which is always in her fridge. The other surprising thing she keeps on hand? Nutritional yeast. “In all honestly, everyone needs more B vitamins in their life, and nutritional yeast is an amazing source of it. It’s nutrient-dense and can be sprinkled on salads and added to homemade chips. It’s also just fun to play with.”
4. Streamline your week.
Your first inclination might be to look up recipes on Pinterest or food blogs and start buying all the ingredients to make those dishes. But the reality is, you might not have time to cook a fancy meal each night, so it’s best to keep things simple and prepare hearty dishes you already know and can easily put together. “Salad bowls are easy and have all your macronutrients. I also love making stir fries on weeknights because they take little time to cook,” Hill says.
5. Savor your meal.
All that said, the most important piece of meal planning is actually stepping away from your busy day (social media included) to savor each bite. “In an ideal world, I’m sitting down and taking a couple of breaths before I dive into my meal,” Hill says. “If I’m on the go and can’t stop work, I still chew my food very thoroughly, even smoothies. Chewing not only helps you take time to taste each bite, but it’s also good for digestion.”
Want more delicious recipes from Hill? Get your own copy of Nutrition Stripped: 100 Whole Food Recipes Made Deliciously Simple, on sale starting August 23.