Humans tend to be creatures of habit. Many of the things we do throughout the day, such as brushing our teeth or driving the same route to work, have become a pattern that we continually follow. These habits allow our brains and bodies to complete the task without much energy. We don't really have to think about what we are doing or decide whether or not we will do it, we just do.
Some habits are great because they simplify our days, allow us to become better at something (a daily running habit can improve your running speed and endurance), and keep most of our mundane tasks on autopilot. We don't have to relearn when and how to brush our teeth each day, the habit takes over and teeth brushing becomes basically automatic.
Of course, some habits are not so good, and changing them is difficult. Smoking, mindless eating, biting your nails, and procrastinating are some of the bad habits we develop and struggle with.
Some other habits aren't so bad, but really aren't great. One of these habits I find with many of my clients is performing the same workout day after day, month after month. While it is great that they are working out every day, their body has adapted to their program and they risk overuse injuries and will likely hit a plateau. Their workout could be improved and their fitness level increased with just a few, simple tweaks. No need for a completely new workout, just some minor changes could move their routine from OK to goal-busting. (More on this topic in a future post.)
Another habit I have noticed in many is eating the same meals day after day. Of course, that's not bad if the meals are healthy and within the proper calorie range, but it can be boring and may be deficient in some nutrients.
I was surprised to learn that some studies have found that over 50% of adults eat the same meals week-after-week for years. Certainly this habit saves some time and energy and reduces the need to make any decisions, but you may be missing out on some important nutrients and a variety of delicious, healthy foods. Variety truly can be the spice of life!
Eating not only provides our fuel for the day, but it should also be an enjoyable experience. The same meals over and over become mundane, which can result in mindless overeating. The meal is nothing special, you don't really pay much attention to it, and before you know it, you polished off a second serving. Do you feel satisfied? Probably not, so then the cravings begin. Imagine the extra calories you could eat if you cave into those cravings!
Varying your meals and the ingredients you use will perk up your taste buds and increase a sense of satiety. Plus you will improve the likelihood of consuming a well-balanced diet.
As Julia Child once said:
"People who love to eat are always the best people!"
Part of the habit of eating the same foods day after day stems from familiarity, but some also stems from not knowing how to change things up a bit. Again, this isn't about completely revamping your menu, but adding a little extra flair and flavor to the foods you eat often.
I always plan and prep my foods, but I seldom want to devote a whole day to chopping and cooking. I keep my plan simple and rely on "nights" such as Fish Friday to help me bring my menu together quickly. I have learned that I can schedule the same "nights" for months, without ever eating the same meal. How?
Bring on the sauces!
I eat ALOT of chicken breast each month. However, I seldom have it the same way twice. I may use it for chicken fajitas, moo shu chicken, chicken curry, or stuffed with spinach and roasted red peppers. But there are some days when I just want to keep things simple and have chicken with some vegetables and be done. This is when I rely on sauces.
Pesto is a standby that can be used in many ways. Toss it with pasta/veggie noodles, spoon it over grilled vegetables, smooth it on as a base for your flatbread, or use it as a sauce for chicken or fish. I keep this on hand at all times for a quick flavor upgrade.
Pesto is readily found in supermarkets, but is also quite easy to make. I make my own throughout the year and vary it according to what herbs I happen to have. I have made it with mint and pistachios, chives and lemon, cilantro and jalapenos, and even mixed herbs with garlic and whatever nuts are in my refrigerator.
I try to make large amounts of pesto at one time. It lasts quite awhile in the refrigerator and freezes well. I use silicon ice cube trays to freeze cubes then pop them into a freezer container to use when needed.
A sauce similar to pesto is chimichurri. This recipe for this sauce, originating from Argentina, varies according to regions and families and can be red or green. The green version, which I often make, relies on parsley and garlic for flavor as well as a bit of vinegar and red chili flakes. As with pesto, I often make this sauce in large batches and freeze it for later use.
Peanut sauce is another versatile sauce that is simple to prepare and can add an abundance of flavor to your meals. Often associated with Thai food, peanut sauce is used throughout the world and the ingredients vary according to regions. Thai peanut sauce is quick to make and can be easily adapted to suit your tastes and based on the ingredients you have. It can be used as a dressing over a Thai salad, as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, or poured over rice noodles and chopped veggies for a delicious dish.
Another sauce that is quick to prepare is roasted red pepper sauce. Again, there are many variations, but this can easily be brought together using pantry staples. A jar of roasted red peppers, some garlic, dried oregano, olive oil and a bit of balsamic or red wine vinegar are all you need to add instant flavor to many dishes. After a quick whirl in the blender, this sauce tastes great on fish, chicken, and even grilled steak. Adding a bit of half and half turns it into a creamy sauce, which again is delicious poured over fish but is also great over grilled veggies (especially asparagus). Or, add some tomatoes for a marinara upgrade to use on pasta, as a pizza sauce, or as the base for a fabulous Greek style shrimp with feta. The possibilities are endless!
Like pesto and chimichurri, this sauce can be frozen for later use.
Tzatziki, a cucumber/yogurt based sauce, is a staple with many Greek foods but is great on other things as well. Replace the sour cream on your potato, in potato salad, or in salad dressing recipes with this sauce. Serve it with grilled salmon, grilled eggplant, or chicken kabobs. The flavor profile can be changed depending on the herbs you choose - dill, mint, parsley, chives or even basil can be used with delicious results. Radishes, green or red onions, and sundried tomatoes are great additions to compliment the cucumber. Finely chopped celery adds a nice crunch.
So, maybe you like routine, so do I. But look how easily I can make 5 different chicken dishes just by using these sauces: grilled chicken pesto, chicken kabobs with chimichurri, skillet chicken with roasted red pepper and feta sauce, Thai peanut chicken salad, and chicken souvlaki with tzatziki. If you are tired of chicken, try the sauces with other proteins such as fish or pork tenderloin, or your favorite vegetarian meal. Simple. Healthy. Delicious.
Add some variety to your life, and your meal time, with these quick, tasty sauces.
Keep it simple. Keep it healthy. Keep it delicious. For the Health of It!