Chicago nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner, who created Shape magazine’s “Shape Up Your Plate” diet challenge, is quick to point out that she’s not a gourmet chef.
“It’s something I used to be embarrassed about. I’m in this field, I’m a nutrition expert, right?” Blatner said. “I’m not a gourmet chef, so if I can do it, anyone can do it.”
Blatner’s meal plan is part of Shape magazine’s “Personal Best” campaign, which gives readers the tools and inspiration they need to meet their goals all year long – not just in January as part of a New Year’s resolution. The campaign includes a Facebook group (that boasts more than 1,600 members) for readers to support another.
As part of the campaign, Blatner created the 30-day Shape Up Your Plate diet challenge with a theme for each week.
“The exciting thing for me was that it was definitely very different from any other new year plan you can do,” Blatner said. “You want it to taste good, you want it to be easy, you want it to be something you can do forever. That’s my personal brand of nutrition.”
And though the new year has already begun, Blatner says it’s never too late to get started. The meal plan even includes a healthy grocery list to simplify the process. Some readers have begun sharing their photos on social media.
“You can look at their grocery cart and see it mimics what a healthy plate is,” Blatner said.
The theme for the first week is a detox, but don’t worry – it’s not a juice cleanse. Blatner does suggest readers start their day with hot lemon water, matcha green tea or simple green juice.
“Basically, it sets the intention for your whole day when you do something healthy in your morning,” Blatner said.
Amond the first week’s detox meals: apple-almond butter toast for breakfast, a black bean taco salad for lunch and golden chicken with coconut rice and broccoli for dinner. Other dinner options include spaghetti squash and meatballs, a healthy take on classic comfort food. Or lemon chicken with roasted root vegetables, a simple yet tasty way to enjoy good, lean protein. Or a cauliflower fried rice bowl in which the cauliflower becomes a delicious, nutritious substitute for the starchy rice. A seven-day menu can be found here.
In addition to creating the recipes, Blatner flew to New York to film instructional videos on how to make each recipe.
“We definitely know it’s easy because we did all the videos in a very short period of time. We cooked all that food and did it in like two seconds,” Blatner said.
Week two’s theme focuses on creating a healthy gut.
“There’s so much research about gut health and not only immunity and digestion so you don’t feel as bloated, but also mood, so you’re eating not only for health but happiness,” Blatner said. The recipes include lots of yogurt, kimchi and fish.
Week three’s theme is vegetarianism. The recipes include a peanut butter and banana smoothie bowl, chickpea and lentil chili and a vegan tofu stir-fry.
“A lot of people want to do more plant-based eating but they don’t know what that acutally means,” Blatner said.
Week four is all about superfoods, which Blatner knows a lot about as the author of the “Superfood Swap.” She wants those who accept the diet challenge to end the month on a “crazy boost of superfood energy!”
Many of the breakfast recipes during the superfood week include greens, a personal favorite of Blatner’s.
“I love the idea of doing something veggie-based in the morning, like a green granola or a carrot-cake oatmeal,” Blatner said.
There’s no starving yourself on Blatner’s meal plan, which includes snacks and treats.
“The snacks keep you from falling from off your plan because hungry people make horrible decisions,” Blatner said. She recommends almonds and apple slices for a midday snack, and peppermint tea and dark chocolate for sweet treats.
Blatner hopes dieters will pick their favorite recipes and repeat them, which she calls “delicious monotony.” She encourages those who follow the meal plan to mix and match the recipes, and continue using them for the whole year.
Want to kick your butt into gear along with your new diet? Accompanying Blatner’s challenge is a workout created by trainer and Instagram fitness guru Anna Victoria, which features 9 fat-burning moves.
Not yet convinced? Blatner, in addition to her duties on Shape’s advisory board, has served as nutritionist for the World Champion Chicago Cubs for the last eight years.
“Whether they’re at home, in the air on an airplane, or at away games, I’m making sure it’s super easy and super fun,” Blatner said.
“That’s the problem with most diets,” Blatner said. “People feel like they have to do it or they should do it. You don’t have to force yourself anymore because you authentically want to do it.”
Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash Pasta
Makes 1 serving (with extra meatballs for leftovers)
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
12 brown rice crackers, smashed into breadcrumb texture
8 ounces lean ground beef
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 small spaghetti squash
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat broiler. Mix egg, milk, and cracker “bread” crumbs together and let sit for a few minutes.
Add ground beef, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper to egg mixture and mix until well combined.
Form meat mixture into 10 small meatballs, place on baking sheet, and broil for about 20 minutes, until meatballs are 160°F.
Cut squash in half, remove seeds, and place in microwave-safe dish, cut side down, with 1 inch of water. Microwave for 12 minutes until tender. Drag fork over squash flesh to get spaghetti-like strands.
Heat tomatoes in small pot for 5 minutes until saucy, and stir in vinegar and olive oil. Put aside 5 meatballs for tomorrow’s lunch. Top squash and remaining meatballs with tomato mixture and Parmesan cheese.