Week 5 Tips: Healthy Cooking

I thoroughly enjoy cooking. From looking for a recipe or making one up, to the grocery shopping, to the prep work, and then serving it the whole process is like my therapy. Eating well and living well starts in the kitchen. Here are my tips for cooking healthier at home.

  1. Saute in oil instead of butter. Look, don’t get me wrong butter tastes great but it’s also loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol. Oils like canola, olive, and one of my personal favorites grape seed are low in saturated fat and have no cholesterol. Fun fact: teaspoon for teaspoon oil and butter have the same calories and fat grams.
  2. Use tons of veggies. Just when you think you can’t add any more, try it ūüėČ But seriously half of your meal should be veggies so go for it! Instead of loading them up with butter, flavor instead with veggie/chicken broth, onions/garlic, lemon/limes, herbs, spices, hot sauce, and my personal favorite vinegar/vinaigrettes.
  3. Lean on whole grains instead of prepackaged processed grains. Sure Hamburger Helper is quick and easy but it’s also loaded with salt, fat, has no fiber, and little nutrition. To ease into the whole grain world you can definitely try the boxed grains with added flavor. They are higher in sodium than just plain grains but it’s a great start. Ideas include¬†whole wheat pasta, barley, quinoa, farro, brown rice, black, rice, and wild rice.
  4. Choose lean meats. Beef, pork, and lamb are considered red meat. Loin (sirloin, pork loin), lean ground beef, pork chops, eye of round, top and bottom round roast are the leanest. Chicken and turkey breast (white meat) is leaner than the dark meat. Dark meat is leaner than red meat. Although salmon is considered an oily fish and is higher in fat, the fat is WONDERFUL for your health. White fish like haddock and cod are super lean.
  5. Don’t be afraid to play with flavor! Adding herbs and spices to your cooking makes the flavor of your dishes pop without adding too much salt. Admittedly I use some salt in my cooking but not a lot because of herbs and spices.¬†I obviously have my favorites but will branch out depending on the type of food and recipe. Experiment with them and don’t be afraid of flavor!
  6. Gather kitchen equipment. Truth be told I don’t have many expensive items¬†in my kitchen. I like to cook but I’m also pretty simple and use¬†my favorites. These are the cooking tools I use every week: some pots and pans (I prefer stainless steel but you don’t need a huge set, just the necessities), sharp knives (I’m very picky about my knives and I don’t buy sets I just buy the ones I need), cutting boards (wood), silicon lid (to steam veggies in glass), slow cooker (I have a programmable one which helps people who work longer hours), pressure cooker (nothing fancy just works well).
  7. Keep the necessities. Herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, garlic, onions, frozen veggies (and fruits), grains, and beans can be on hand because they stay for a long time and you can use them in healthy cooking every week.

Eating out isn’t terrible. I actually think it is good to go out and try new things but make sure you’re eating in more often than out. Cooking healthy doesn’t mean you’ll be eating “cardboard” or spending a ton of money. I’ll be doing later blogs on saving money while eating well so stay tuned. Cooking well can be delicious, quick, and fun. Experiment. Being a good cook doesn’t happen over night. Ask any chef ūüôā Work at it, eat out less, and I assure you this will help with your long term goals.

Souper Easy Wellness Soup

Lame title, I know but it truly is super easy!

It’s fall and where I live, the leaves are gorgeous! Vivid colors that pop out of the green landscape and the cool weather that makes you want to eat warm soup. Here’s a picture taken on a walk last week. Simply beautiful.

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Listen, eating well and homemade cooking does not have to be hard, time consuming, or tasteless. That’s the theme of this blog. I want to show you how to eat well, simply; without having to buy¬†rare ingredients at a specialty store, recipes that take minutes, and taste delicious! This recipe is what I call a “dump” recipe. I dump all of the ingredients into the pot with very little prep time. Easy peasy!

I have spun this soup recipe many ways but I must admit this one may be my favorite. It’s vegan which means it is entirely animal product free! I wanted to do it in October because you could also call this anti-cancer soup or anti-inflammatory soup but wellness soup fits more peoples wants/needs.

You cannot get too many veggies. If I’m missing a vegetable that you usually use in a soup or stew, add it. If there are leftover veggies in your freezer or refrigerator and you want to use them, throw those kids into the pool! Same thing with herbs and spices…use what you have and what you think will taste good together. You can’t go wrong with veggie soup, add what moves you!

To quote my dear friend and fellow dietitian Heather Tressler “Baking is a science, cooking is an art” meaning that when you bake something you probably should follow the recipe or it may not turn out well. Cooking however, is an art meaning that it is up to interpretation. Add, subtract, make it your own piece of art!

Let’s get down to it because I know you want the recipe!

Amanda’s Wellness Soup

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic (or more up to you)
  • 1 medium chopped onion (shortcut: use frozen chopped onions)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more if you want to really spice it up)
  • 2¬†tablespoons balsamic vinegar (surprise ingredient)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoons basil
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 64 oz vegetable broth
  • 32 oz frozen soup vegetables (microwave for 5 minutes in a glass bowl)
  • 7 oz frozen corn
  • 10 oz shredded cabbage (you can shred yourself (about 3 cups) or use already shredded
  • 7 oz can of mushrooms (or any type of mushroom you like)
  • 5 oz frozen chopped kale
  • 1, 32 oz can diced tomatoes

Directions

  1. Heat a large stock pot over medium high heat, pour canola oil in and follow it up with garlic and onion. Allow the onion to cook until for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add black pepper, turmeric, cayenne pepper and balsamic vinegar and allow the vinegar to cook down slightly (about 2 minutes)
  3. Add bay leaves, basil, oregano, lentils, and quinoa. The pan will be fairly dry but that is ok! Allow the lentils and quinoa to toast for about 1 minute before pouring the veggie broth.
  4. Place the soup veggies, corn, cabbage, mushrooms, kale and diced tomatoes into the pot.
  5. Allow soup to cook down (I had mine in the pot all day on low/simmer) or put in a crock pot on low all day.
  6. It’s ready to go right after all of the veggies warm up but I like to let the flavors marry for a few hours.

5 Quick Nutrition Lessons (from this recipe)

  1. Frozen veggies are just as awesome as fresh. In fact when vegetables are not local/seasonal then frozen is actually better than fresh. After veggies are picked they begin losing antioxidants within hours. Frozen vegetables are picked and flash frozen soon after harvesting which saves those amazing antioxidants. So this winter go for frozen vegetables!
  2. Turmeric is amazing (as you notice I have it in almost all of my recipes). It doesn’t work as well by itself so you need to make sure that you are pairing it with black pepper, garlic, and/or ginger for the anti-inflammatory properties to come alive. It’s also not as effective in supplement form. Cook with it! Enjoy that subtle smoky flavor in most of your cooking!
  3. Herbs and spices help improve the flavor of food without having to add a ton of salt. I do add some salt (not a lot by most standards) and let people shake it on if they prefer. We use way too much salt as a society so sometimes it takes a while to get used to the flavor without a ton of it in our food. If you (or someone you cook for) has high blood pressure, congestive heart failure (CHF), kidney disease, and some other diseases you may have to cut back. Reduce the salt and increase those delicious herbs and spices!
  4. Lentils, quinoa, peas, and corn are used as protein in this dish. You don’t need meat in order to eat protein…at all. All of these are actually less expensive than meat but more nutrient rich. So eating well doesn’t have to cost more, especially when you use these plant sources as protein. This soup is a meal in itself…protein, starches/carbohydrates, and vegetables all wrapped up into one delicious dish!
  5. This is a great soup for cold and flu season as well. It has been shown that garlic and onions are natural antibacterial and antiviral foods. They can help your body fight off these nasty viruses and bacteria! Remember when mom made chicken soup for a cold? There’s something to be said about that especially if she used garlic and onion. Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C which is a building block for your immune system and cayenne pepper has also been shown to ward off illness.

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Basically you cannot go wrong with this soup! From chronic disease prevention to common colds this soup has you covered!

I had leftovers that I wasn’t able to eat so there will be delicious leftovers in a few week!

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I’d like to hear from you! What would you add to this soup to make it even more healthy and delicious?

 

Healthy Kitchen Must-Haves

Eating well requires meal preparation. That means I need to have quality foods in my pantry and the ability to prepare them. There is a list of food and kitchen items that are essential in my kitchen and I wanted to share. If you are new to the cooking world or maybe are wondering what a healthy kitchen could have to offer, here are some of my favorites.

Food Must-Haves (besides the typical foods on a grocery list…)

  1. Fats and oils. This is number one because they get a bad rap but these are essential for healthy living. From canola and olive oil to organic butter and vegan butter spreads these are a staple in my kitchen. The best oils include canola and olive but also include grape seed, avocado, and walnut oils. I like canola oil for its mild taste, high omega-3 content, high cooking point, and price tag. Grape seed oil is a close second but the price tag makes me shiver a little. It’s great for a special occasion or recipe. Olive oil is a power house in the heart health world packed with mono-unsaturated fatty acids. Great for finishing dishes like salads and pastas, not so great for cooking at high heat. Organic butter (or pasture raised/free range if I can find it) is an essential in my house. It works great at higher heats, wonderful for adding a pop of¬†flavor to dishes, and doesn’t have the additives that some butter-like spreads have. Vegan butter spreads are also a staple in my house but mostly for buttering breads and throwing a little in steamed veggies.
  2. Herbs and spices. I cook with herbs and spices daily whether it goes into eggs for breakfast, salad dressing for my lunch, or any number of them flavoring dinners these are a staple. The top herbs I use are parsley, cilantro, chives, oregano, and basil. My spices of choice are black pepper, turmeric, paprika, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground ginger.
  3. Variety of vinegars. I. Love. Vinegar. Balsamic, white balsamic, red wine, white wine, apple cider, rice, champagne, the list can go on! I haven’t met a vinegar I didn’t like! I use vinegar daily. Mostly in salad dressings, marinades, and pops of flavor in sauces. There are specific vinegars I use depending on my mood and the dish. Apple cider is my most used. This is so versatile and so good for your body! Balsamic is more for sweet/savory dishes. Red wine is used a lot in Greek and Italian cuisine. Rice is a sweet vinegar that I like to add to salads and various Asian dishes. For a fancy vinaigrette dressing I’ll pull out the white balsamic, white wine, or champagne vinegar and add some fresh herbs!

Kitchen Must-Haves

  1. Sharp Knives. A good set (3) of sharp knives can be the difference between quick preparation and keeping all of your fingers and tedious cooking and stitches. For real you just need 3…a chefs knife, paring knife, serrated knife. They must be sharp, if not buy yourself a sharpener. Hand wash to keep sharp. You’ll thank me, I promise!
  2. Stainless steel pots and pans. Get rid of your non-stick stuff. As soon as it scratches the non-stick companies do not promise that it is safe anymore…take a look. Is it scratched? Then it’s probably not safe. Replace one pot at a time unless you have a budget for a new set of pots and pans. I have a variety of different brands of stainless steel pots/pans and I like them all for different reasons! It may not look fancy but I’m a simple kind of girl ūüôā Use healthy oils to cook with and if the pot gets burnt on the bottom (which it shouldn’t if you are paying attention while you cook) just use a bristled brush or a scour pad to clean.
  3. Wooden cutting board(s). Instead of the plastic stuff or the glass cutting boards that can make your sharp knives dull invest in some good wooden cutting boards. These do not dull knives and they stay a lot longer than plastic. Sure you can’t wash them in a dishwasher but a little soap and brush will get them clean quick. Side note: I do not cut meat. If you do just have 2 cutting boards an animal protein one and a plant one.

Those are the six items that I truly cannot live without in my kitchen. I build my healthy meals around these items every day!

Final thoughts: make sure you have some staples in your pantry and basic kitchen tools so that you have the ability to cook a variety of healthy meals for you and your family. Shop for discounts, head to a thrift store or yard sales for kitchen tools…I have found some great deals! I have a can opener that I got before graduate school at a yard sale and she’s still opening cans of beans for me 10 years later!

Challenge: think about the staples that you have in your pantry. Are they beneficial for your health?