Cook Once, Eat Many Times: The Key To Better Health
There is nothing better than coming home after a long day to dinner already prepared and all you have to do is heat it up! You know what I am talking about…You had a long day at work, followed by several activities for the kids, which means you don't get home till 7:30pm, or later! It can be hard to find the motivation or desire to get into that kitchen and cook on days like this.
If you’re like me and my family, you like a wide variety of food choices on a daily basis. You also like making the decision at the last minute and getting a quick, low-hassle meal soon afterward. You like your food to be delicious and interesting, because although your health is important, meals are so much more than just nutrients. You like the idea of eating more wholesome foods and saving some money by not eating out in restaurants so often. Perhaps you’ve tried, or at least considered, being one of those people who cooks a lot, but aside from the freezer section and boxed dinners from the supermarket, you have no idea where to start. Perhaps you’ve thought that if you cooked more often, with healthy ingredients, that you could have more control over the quality of the food you ate and your health. And the good news is that you are right.
The question is “do you have one hour a week that you could use toward your goal of better health for you and your family?” If the answer is “YES”, then consider spending one hour every Sunday prepping healthful dinners for the week ahead. Planning a week's worth of light, filling and budget-friendly suppers is as easy as (1) shop for groceries, (2) prep key ingredients and stash them in the fridge and (3) make one beyond-simple recipe each night using your ready-to-go goods. Even people who love to cook don't necessarily love it all the time, and happily welcome shortcuts. One of the best ways to make it a little easier is to cook once, eat many times.
The first (1), and most important step, is to shop for groceries. This is otherwise known as “finding and buying the freshest, highest quality food available.” Like all good chefs know, a meal will only be as good as its ingredients. While there are tons of “quick and healthy” recipes out there using processed foods, it you really want to eat, feel and look better, you need to think like a European and buy fresh, whole foods. Despite the rumors “out there”, the remarkable thing is that it actually COSTS LESS to EAT BETTER. Which means that better quality food makes financial sense; both now and in the future, the return on your investment now is more likely to be less illness and better health.
If possible start at your local Farmer’s Market, the quality of goods is often very high at a reasonable price. Get your greens, tomatoes, corn, squash, sweet potatoes, fresh herbs, and anything else that appeals to you. You know whatever is there is “in season” and was just picked. Look for bright colors and firm textures. Don’t worry if it is new to you or that you don’t know how to cook it. What is most important is that it is fresh, and to remember that cooking is not a pass/fail grade, it is a creative process of discovery. The more you experiment, the more confident you will become.
If grass-fed meat, raw cheeses, or free-range eggs are available, then take advantage of the opportunity to buy for the week, or to buy extra to freeze. The quality is usually much higher, and the cost much lower, for these goods through a local farmer than they will be at your local grocery store or natural foods market. At the Farmer’s Market you have the opportunity to ask questions about where and how the products were produced, something that you can’t do at the grocery store.
The next stop is a grocery store that carries organic foods. There you should find basics that allow you to turn your healthy foods from the Farmer’s Market into a meal; organic butter, extra virgin olive oil, unrefined organic coconut oil, onions, garlic, herbs (like cilantro, basil, and dill) and spices (like cumin, cayenne, and cinnamon). If it isn’t available, ask your grocer to carry unrefined, mineral rich natural Celtic or Himalayan sea salt. Condiments like toasted sesame oil and tamari, allow you to make Asian dishes with ease. And good quality balsamic vinegar, raw apple cider vinegar, and fresh lemons used in hundreds of recipes for marinades and salad dressings. You can grind your own peanut or almond butter, and buy bulk quantities of walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and other nuts that make great snacks and add nutrition, crunch and taste to a number of meals. Look for fruits and vegetables that were not available at the Farmer’s Market, and buy organic if possible. Apples are always a good choice- they are the perfect sweet, crunchy snack that is portable and can last a few weeks in the fridge. Due to the amount of pesticides (apples are number one on EWG Dirty Dozen List, see www.ewg.org/foodnews/ and download a copy of the 2012 list) try to find organic or ask your grocer to stock them. Sweet potatoes, instead of white potatoes, are another versatile healthy staple to make sure you have on hand.
In the dairy case, look for organic milk and eggs, whole fat organic yogurt, and organic cheeses. You can find hormone and preservative free bacon, but most (if not all) of the organic meats are from animals that were fed organic corn, not animals that were grass fed for their entire lives. The difference in feed makes an enormous difference in the quality of the meat, and actually determines whether meat is healthy for you at all. Look for wild caught, not farm raised, fish and seafood, and hormone-free poultry.
Entering the middle of the store, look for brown rice instead of white, and either dried beans, which are high in protein and fiber and very inexpensive, or canned beans. Black, pinto, garbanzo, northern, there are numerous types and many wonderfully delicious healthy meals that you can make with them. Split peas and lentils are other options for low-cost, high protein and fiber dishes and soups. Add some corn chips, whole grain tortillas, and whole grain, or better yet, sprouted, bread (in the freezer section), and you have basic whole food ingredients to make numerous meals with.
Step (2) of prepping food simply requires that you put perishables in the fridge, wash your apples to remove any pesticide residue, and plan a few recipes with the foods that you bought. And for step (3), visit this website for easy and delicious recipes. You can search by ingredient, like “fish” or “asparagus”, or by type of dish, like “breakfast”, “desert” or “side dish”. Meals like Stir fry with beef, black bean burritos with homemade salsa and guacamole, and roasted vegetable lasagna are an example of three easy dishes that can be made ahead and eaten throughout the week for lunches or dinner.
One of my favorite categories is “Gourmet slo-cooker”. Though I love to cook, there are days when I’m so busy that I need a quick solution to dinner. Enter the Gourmet slo-cooker: it’s the best time-management tool any cook can have. A Gourmet slo-cooker allows me to prep ingredients for a recipe when it fits my schedule, then throw everything in the slow cooker, go out to work or run errands, and when I get home I don’t have to start fussing with dinner—the work’s already done. Our Gourmet Cookers are perfect for a pot of beans, soups, and even for whole chickens. Spending time cooking a large, one-pot meal one day a week can also turn into leftovers for the entire week. You can also easily transform those leftovers into a totally different meal the next night by adding a few fresh ingredients or different seasonings. This saves you a significant amount of time and money during the week by keeping you from going through the drive-through or picking up the phone to order-take out on those particularly busy days.
Preparing one or a few different meals each Sunday will supply you with dinner for the rest of the week, allowing you to sit and enjoy a meal with your family at the dinner table all week long. For so many reasons, home-cooked meals really are the best nourishment you can provide for you and your family.