FUNDAMENTALS OF HEALTHY EATING PART VIII: COOK AT HOME (EVEN A LITTLE)
If you've missed parts 1-5 of my Fundamentals of Healthy Eating series, check out previous posts here, or review this summary before jumping in below:
Part 1 encourages you to identify a health-focused motivation for mixing up your eating habits, to have patience and compassion for yourself, and to let this be a slow evolution towards a sustainable way of eating.
Part 2 is all about increasing awareness around what, why, when and how you're eating and the impact of your choices on your overall wellbeing. This awareness is a SUPER important foundation for lasting change.
In part 3 you pick up that fork and dig into some dietary changes by filling your plate and your belly with more vegetables throughout the day.
Part 4 is where things get a little interesting. I challenge you to examine and reduce the amount of added sugar you're eating daily. Womp.
Part 5 sets you up for this next phase by explaining the importance of whole, real foods in your diet.
Part 6 is loaded with ideas around how to integrate more whole, real foods into your diet.
Part 7 gives you meal ideas, product recommendations and helpful tips to help you fill your kitchen and belly with more whole foods and less processed foods.
You don’t have to be a wizard in the kitchen or spend hours every day cooking complicated meals entirely from scratch, but spending a little more time creating balanced meals with whole food ingredients is an investment in your health that you’ll never regret. With just a few hours spent in the kitchen each week, you can reap the benefits of more health promoting nutrients in your diet. Think better digestion, increased energy, more stable moods, clearer skin, improved immunity and so much more!
Below are my tips for anyone who is overwhelmed by the idea of even putting on an apron, or for anyone who is convinced they don’t have time to cook (but spends hours watching Netflix).
STOCK UP: Fill your pantry with the spices, vinegars and oils that will help you recreate the flavors you love at home. Love Chinese food? Pick up Chinese 5-spice blend, tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) or coconut aminos (soy replacement) and sesame oil. Love Italian food? Be sure to have granulated garlic, oregano, basil and a good olive oil on hand. If you’re cooking a recipe or doing meal prep for the first time, check the ingredient list agains what you have and pick up any missing items at the store.
START SIMPLE: Try picking 3 single-skillet, sheet-pan or slow-cooker meals each week to experiment with. They’re always fast and easy and a less intimidating way to get into cooking. I just made this incredible sheet pan meal last night and it’s perfect for beginner cooks!
Don’t be afraid to START WITH MEAL DELIVERY KITS OR SERVICES: I’ve heard fantastic things about the meal kits from Sun Basket, but if you’re looking for fully prepared food, I can’t say enough about Methodology (use code ELIZABETHA0A7 to receive 10% off your first order). If you’re plant-based or vegan and willing to splurge, Sakara Life is utterly incredible (but not cheap). Use REF_MFW15 on their website for 15% off your first meal program. Regardless of what you choose, I recommend looking for the paleo options even if you’re not paleo. Why? Those options almost always have the simplest ingredients and meals free of additives. You can always add a grain at home if you prefer!
USE TIME SAVERS like pre-chopped vegetables, pre-washed greens, frozen vegetable blends, or batch cooking. If you know you love rice or sweet potatoes with most meals, cook a big batch on Sunday and reheat throughout the week. Every couple of months, I triple this dressing recipe and this herb drizzle and freeze individual servings in ice cube or baby food trays. Salads or simple protein + veggie dinners come together so much faster when you have homemade sauces and dressings already made! Ready to spend 2 hours to save about 4 hours during the week? Take a stab at the quick component based meal prep routine I outline in this blog post.
LEVERAGE SHORTCUTS: You’re never going to stick with cooking more at home if it’s too time consuming and complicated (unless you’re a foodie or chef). Don’t hesitate to take shortcuts that make things easy on you. Snag prepped stuff from the salad bar at your grocery store or buy a rotisserie chicken, de-bone and store in an airtight container to use on salads, in wraps or bowls throughout the week.
COOK WHAT YOU LOVE: There’s no better incentive to cook more at home than beautiful drool-worthy meals (especially when they’re much more affordable than the restaurant alternative). Love asian food? Try Nom Nom Paleo or I Heart Umami recipes. Love comfort food or Italian? Start with this recipe from Pinch of Yum (a great resource for both). Want a healthy twist on classic dishes? Don’t miss No Crumbs Left. Put the effort in to find recipes or foods you can create at home that will make your taste buds and tummy just as happy as when you dine out. If you half ass it, you’re not really giving this whole cook at home thing a chance!
USE HERBS AND SPICES to keep things interesting. No one likes bland food, and it isn’t going to get you pumped to spend time in the kitchen. Start by purchasing spice blends (avoid additives) that allow you to create flavors you love at home. Garam Masala, curry powder, Herbs de Provence, Everything But the Bagel Seasoning, Italian bend, Greek blend and Cajun are great ones to start with. Sprinkle them on chicken, fish, pork or veggies before cooking for instant flavor!
MIX UP PREPARATION METHODS for a variety of textures and flavors that will keep you from getting bored. Try roasting, grilling, steaming, sautéing, braising and slow cooking. It’s incredible how the same meat or vegetable can taste entirely different when steamed versus roasted!
LEARN TO LOVE YOUR FREEZER to help you be more efficient, waste less and always be prepared. Leafy greens about to go bad in the fridge? Freeze them for smoothies. Have a labor intensive sauce you love but can’t bring yourself to spend 30 minutes plucking herbs every single time you want it? Quadruple the batch and freeze extras in an ice cube tray. Have extra beans, grains or even oatmeal sitting in the fridge? Freeze them in baby food trays and you can skip the waste and have easy sides on hand for later. Love bread but never eat a full loaf? Buy it, slice it then store in the freezer in an airtight container with little squares of parchment paper in between the slices. I store all of the above in stasher bags. (Use MISFIT for 15% off on their website. We have at least 1 in every size!
BRING IN AN EXPERT: Last but not least, if you’re really having a hard time getting into a groove in the kitchen, you can bring me in for a consultation. I LOVE helping people get prepared, comfortable, happy and healthy in the kitchen! Click here for more details!