Cooking Healthy: Keep It Simple
Through the people I’ve spoken to about creating healthier habits, I have found that idea of cooking healthy meals at home is intimidating to many. It seems their minds instantly turn to think of cooking shows or the theatrics of pulling together a large Thanksgiving dinner. The truth is cooking at home doesn’t need to be a big to do. It can be super easy and even enjoyable!
First things first, set yourself up for a smooth cooking process by ensuring you have the right tools. If your kitchen is limited in what tools you have for food prep investing in a few of the right ones can make a huge difference in your enjoyment of cooking. I would say the essentials include: a cutting board, chef’s knife, a basic spice cabinet, salt and pepper, cooking oil, spatula, spoon, large pan, small pan, frying pan and baking sheet. If you're on a budget I really recommend buying a decent chef’s knife and skipping over a knife set. A set may seem like a better deal but honestly, lower end sets have subpar knives that are frustrating to work with. Working with a good knife will change your life...at least when it comes to the kitchen.
Okay enough about knives, let’s talk about basic cooking techniques:
I’m going to preface of all of this with the fact that I am a vegetarian and so, really do not have much experience cooking meat. If you do eat meat check out this article for some tips on basic ways to cook up different varieties and cuts of meat. With that said, all of the below cooking techniques do apply to meat (except the last).
Baking/roasting. Forget complex recipes. It's as simple as chopping or slicing some veggies up, coating them in oil salt and pepper maybe a spice or two and popping them in the oven to get nice and crispy. And, it’s in my opinion, that everything is better with cheese so adding a sprinkle in the last 15 minutes of cook time can make it that much better! Baking tofu in the oven is just as simple, though be sure to drain it will before chopping it up and seasoning it to get it nice and crispy.
My Favorite: Brussels Sprouts
- brusseles sprouts (fresh or frozen, but the smaller the faster they cook) - salt and pepper - olive oil
Preheat the over to 400 degrees. Coat the brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper. The best (and most fun) way to do this is by adding all the infredients into a ziplock bag or a container with a lid and shake them up. Then place them on a cookie sheet and bake them for around 45 minutes. You'll want to roll them around about half way through so they brown evenly.
Frying. Dice up some veggies, heat some oil in a pan on medium heat and then toss in the veggies. Again, add salt and pepper and maybe a spice or two to mix things up. Cook until the veggies are tender and a fork can easily pierce through. In the recipe below, I like to add beans to my veggies for some protein. It’s delicious wrapped in a tortilla with some fresh lettuce and sour cream!
My favorite: Zucchini and squash with beans
- 1 zuchini - 1 squash - 1 white onion - 1 can of beans (do not drain) - a heavy sprinkling of chili powder
Dice up the zuchini, squash and onion. Heat some oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add all ingredients into the pan, cover and allow to simmer till veggies are tender, about 15 minutes.
Boil. Chop or slice and then boil till soft. Again, you can easily test if your veggies are ready with a fork. If it can effortlessly pierce through a piece it’s done. Season afterward and add butter for extra yum (yes, that's a thing). If cooking any root vegetables check out my favorite way to prepare them below for something a little different than the ole chop or slice routine!
My favorite: mashed root veggies
- potatoes - carrots, sweet potatoes and/or parsnips - milk - butter - salt and pepper
Chop up your veggies while you bring a pot of water to boil. Once your water comes to a boil add in your veggies and cook till tender, about 15 minutes. Drain your veggies and mash in a bowl while slowly adding milk, butter and salt and pepper till you reach your desired texture and flavor.
Grill. Slice or chop your veggies and coat them in oil, salt, pepper and some seasonings. Depending on what you are grilling ,either wrap in tin foil or oil the grate before placing veggies on it. I’ll be honest, I don’t own a grill and have rarely if ever used one. However, I do love, and I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, a big portobello burger.
My favorite: Portobello burger
- large portobello caps - salt, pepper, desired seaosninngs - oil
Mix salt, pepper, seasonings and oil in a bowl to create your marinade. Coat the mushroom caps with your marinade while you preheat the grill to medium heat. Grill mushrooms for around 5 minutes on each side. Serve like a burger!
Raw. It doesn’t get any easier than raw veggies! By pre-slicing veggies after shopping, you’ll not only have some to snack on throughout the week but it will make it a breeze to toss a salad together for lunch or as a side for dinner too. While not necessarily raw, keeping nuts on hand is a great way to incorporate protein without having to heat anything up.
My favorite: Sweet and Salty Salad
- lettuce mix (I usually reach for something with baby spinach) - feta cheese - cucumber - onion - mushroom - raspberry vinaigrette
Dice up veggies and mix all in bowl. Easy peasey!
You might note that most of these recipes don't have specifics for measurements of their ingredients. I know you may find this omission frustrating, but hear me out. By experimenting on your own instead of relying on an amount given you will discover your own preferences and be able to make a dish exactly as you like (and also in the exact amount you need!). Remember this tip: start small and add more of something if you aren't getting the result you're are looking for. Afterall, you can always add more as you go. You can do this!
Don't forget to add brown rice, quinoa or some fresh slices of bread and a protein option to any of the above for a complete meal. And hey as you get more and more comfortable cooking simple recipes at home you may even find yourself looking for more advanced recipes to further test your skills!
What do you think? Will you be trying some simple recipes in the near future? What keeps you from spending time in the kitchen? Comment below to let me know, it could become the next topic I cover here on the blog!