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5 Tricks to Cooking More

Last night I went to hear Lisa Leake of 100 Days of Real Food speak. It was so inspiring to hear her story and to learn about her family’s journey from a life full of processed foods to one of real foods. One of the things I really appreciated about her talk was that while she shared an ambitious vision of what a life with real food looks like to her and her family, she presented it with a healthy dose of balance and a realistic vision of what is and isn’t possible for most families.

As I work with families to help them to bring more health, balance, and home-cooking into their lives, a lot of what I focus on is helping them to not be intimidated by the kitchen. If you have been depending on take-out or convenience foods for a long time, the idea of cooking from scratch on a regular basis can be quite overwhelming.  But there are small steps you can take along the way that can help to break down those barriers and make cooking a little less scary. Here are 5 ways to start cooking more healthy (and delicious!) foods at home.


tomato sauce

1)   Frozen vegetables are your friend. People often think of frozen vegetables as not being as nutritious or fresh and, therefore, not worth it. I disagree! Nowadays, frozen vegetables are flash frozen just hours after being picked, so they actually have preserved a lot of their nutrients; they are super convenient; and they won’t go bad in your veggie drawer, leaving you feeling frustrated by your not cooking and wasting money. So maybe you buy one or two fresh vegetables that you are confident you can incorporate into meals, and then stock up on the frozen ones, too.

2)   Pick processed foods where you can recognize/pronounce all of the ingredients. Preferably 5 ingredients or less. If we all made all of our foods from scratch we would go crazy, there would be no time for anything else, and it just wouldn’t be fun. So let’s embrace the fact that there are some foods that are worth buying already made, but let’s make sure that the ones we buy don’t include ingredients we wouldn’t cook with ourselves or can’t pronounce. And, whenever possible, a good rule of thumb is 5 ingredients or less because then you really know what you are putting into your body.

3)   Start with a high-quality sauce and add to it. While making your marinara and salsa from scratch is a great way to go, if that is stopping you don’t let it. Instead, try buying a high-quality sauce (see tip #2) and then adding to it. Add more chopped vegetables, seasonings that you like, a splash of wine, or some sautéed meat or seitan. In other words, make it your own. Then, once you feel good about that, maybe you’ll move on to the from-scratch sauces.

4)   Condiments are your friend. As I wrote about the other day, condiments are a great way to engage your kids in food and eating, but they are also a great way to make your food more interesting. For instance, brown rice tossed with olive oil, garlic, Italian seasonings, and some veggies can make a great pilaf one night and then that same rice thrown together with some soy sauce, chopped veggies, and egg can make a great fried rice the next night.  Spices can change the flavor profile of a food, make things more interesting, and make the experimentation that helps you to gain confidence in the kitchen more fun.

5)   Start with one or two meals a week and build from there. Just because you have decided to start doing more home-cooking doesn’t mean you suddenly need to become a domestic god/goddess! Be kind to yourself and realistic about what you can and can’t do. Start with a meal or two a week and then build up as you gain more confidence and comfort in the kitchen.

Which of these tips feels like something you could integrate into your life for the coming week?

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