“It’s only food”.
This is my mantra, when I get anxious about what I will serve for dinner, because we are running low on groceries. When I feel like “we should probably just eat out”, because I worry that I can’t pull a delicious meal together.
“It’s only food” reminds me that, as long as we have some essentials in the house, I can prepare healthy food. It might not win any prizes, but it will nourish my family. And, more importantly, it keeps us off the slippery slope of fast food.
It’s habit that must be cultivated, but it’s fairly easy, once we get comfortable working with what we have on hand. Here are a few tricks that have helped me along the way:
Keep it simple. I think it’s much easier to create one dish meals, such as stir fry, pasta salad, or burrito in a bowl, than it is to create three items. Sometimes I worry that my family will think this is boring, but I’m starting to think they actually prefer it!
Think of vegetables, salads, beans, rice and/or quinoa as the main course. i try to build meals around whole foods, instead of meats. It’s not only healthier, but it also makes it easier to create a meal when the pantry seems bare.
Get in the habit of roasting and sautéing. If the pantry and fridge are stocked with essentials (as discussed in my last post), I always have some fresh veggies on hand. Most vegetables taste great roasted or sautéed with oil, salt and pepper. And don’t forget about fruit! My family loves sautéed apples, pears, peaches and pineapple.
Go raw. I try to serve raw carrots, bell pepper strips, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and fresh fruit salads as sides when possible. Sometimes I make them into a slaw, or salad, but either way it’s a great way to boost the nutrient content of meals, and save time in the process.
Don’t forget the nuts and seeds! I use raw nuts and seeds to boost the nutrient content of our favorite salads, pastas, baked goods, veggie dishes and desserts. They also make great appetizers when “candied” with a little oil, sweetener (such as raw honey), salt, and spices (such as cayenne or rosemary).
Learn to make homemade dressings, dips, and sauces. Dressings, dips and sauces keep things interesting, and can boost the nutrient content of our meals. I also find that salads taste much better with a homemade vinaigrette, than a bottled dressing! All that is needed for dressings is an acid, an oil, a sweetener, sea salt, and a spice or two (optional). My favorite is balsamic vinegar with olive oil, sea salt, maple syrup and cayenne. My favorite homemade dip is an oldie but goodie: simple guacamole made from avocados, tomatoes, red onion, garlic, and tabasco.
Season to taste. Letting go of precise measurements helped me realize that cooking is as much art, as it is science. I don’t have to measure the salt and pepper every time! It helped me get more comfortable experimenting with other spices, and realize that there’s a lot of possibility in a bag of rice, some fresh veggies, and a drawer full of spices.
Add fresh foods to preserved supplemental items. When short on time, I turn to preserved organic foods, such as dry quinoa pastas, or Amy’s soups and chilis, to build meals for my family. It’s not as healthy as fresh foods, but it’s always better than fast food. One of my favorite quick and easy meals is quinoa fettucine with lots and lots of sautéed veggies (more veggies than pasta), grape seed oil, and a little shaved parmesan.
Experiment within reason. We have to take some chances, in order to change. When I get bored with what I’ve been serving, I look for recipes that are outside my zone, and figure out how they might help me improve my cooking without recipes habit.
I hope this three-part series has helped you think different about how you prepare healthy meals. Let me know which tips you have found most useful, and if you have anything to add to these suggestions. And thanks to everyone who has been commenting…I love sharing this crazy healthy life with you!
Namaste and happy cooking without recipes!