How I Learned to Cook for the Heart


How I Learned to Cook for the HeartLet’s face it. Military life is busy. As we prioritize our “To-Do” lists, exercise and nutrition tend to get pushed to the bottom. As a military spouse, young mom, and full-time professional, I know this feeling all too well.

Healthy is not a foreign concept to me. I’m distinctly aware of what it should look like — eight hours of sleep, daily consumption of fruits/vegetables, and 30 minutes of exercise. Too easy, right?

Wrong. Even with the best intentions, the weight of my responsibilities makes life complicated. Admittedly, I’ve had a hard time finding a balance between taking care of the kids, holding down a career, and working around my husband’s unpredictable schedule. We often opt for the quick fix while racing from one activity to the next. This usually involves grabbing an empty calorie snack before the big meeting or hitting up the drive-through on the way home.

As our family started to grow, I realized this wasn’t the type of life I wanted to live or the example I wanted to set. I needed a change that included eating well on a budget for a family on the move.

It took a little effort, but here’s how I learned to prioritize health and nutrition in a way that fits our lifestyle.

First — I started by doing a simple Google search for heart healthy foods. Every article identified the same top 10 list: nuts, greens, eggs, tea, oatmeal, oil, salmon, fruit, yogurt, and chocolate. So I simply started adding these super foods into our weekly routine.

Second — I researched seasonal fruits and vegetables. I now know that during the month of February broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and butternut squash are in season. With this in mind, I’m going to make an extra effort to select these vegetables while they are fresh. These options, I’ve learned, are much less expensive than their out-of-season counterparts that have to travel from a different climate. Heart healthy and budget friendly … yes, please! My go-to-guide for seasonal produce has become the InDependent food challenge that is offered online as a weekly series.

Third — I make a meal plan to ensure these key nutrients are included in our diet throughout the week. When my refrigerator is stocked with healthy options and I have pre-made snacks packed to last throughout the day, I’m less tempted to swing by the fast food joint for a quick fix.

For example, here are three meals I plan to cook for dinner this week:

Butternut Squash Lentil Soup
Butternut Squash Lentil Soup

How to Prep: Butternut Squash Infographic camera
Operation Live Well Recipe: (Pg. 14)

Garlic Roasted Salmon & Brussels Sprouts
Garlic Roasted Salmon & Brussels Sprouts

How to Prep: Brussels Sprouts Infographic camera
Operation Live Well Recipe: (Pg. 34)

Rigatoni with Broccoli & Sausage
Rigatoni with Broccoli & Sausage

How to Prep: Broccoli Infographic camera
Operation Live Well Recipe: (Pg. 26)

Finding the right system really helped our family develop healthy habits. We eat well while also sticking to a budget. With a little extra effort and preparation, you can do it too.