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.
- 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.
- Use tons of veggies. Just when you think you can’t add any more, try it 😉 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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).
- 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 🙂 Work at it, eat out less, and I assure you this will help with your long term goals.
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…)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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 🙂 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.
- 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?