Health & Wellness

Simple Cooking Strategies for Healthy Eating

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Cooking meals at home can be an easy way to maintain a healthy diet.

Too often the salad you order at a restaurant is drenched in a creamy dressy, the vegetables drowning in butter, the chicken deep-fried.

“When you cook from home,” says May Tom, RD, MPH, nutritionist at the Cal-a-Vie Health Spa in Vista, California, “you control how much sugar, fat and salt you use and the quality of each ingredient. You also decide the portion size you serve.”

A few simple strategies can make cooking at home nearly as fast and easy as going out or ordering in.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. If you don’t have the time or energy to make everything from scratch, consider using high-quality prepared foods as a component of your meal. For example, canned beans, a jar of salsa and taco seasoning can be the foundation of an at-home taco salad bar. Add seasoning to ground beef, slice a fresh avocado, shred lettuce and cabbage and cut lemons or limes into wedges. Or, stir fry a bag of frozen vegetables, add your protein of choice and your own sauce and serve with cauliflower rice or reheated grains.

A little forethought goes a long way. Pick one day a week where you can set aside time to grocery shop. Take a peek at weekly ads and build a few meals around what’s on sale and in season. Make sure to pick up some produce that has a longer shelf life and will last through the week. Instead of buying only delicate greens, consider root vegetables, hard squashes, cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and savoy cabbage.  If you’re buying a couple of avocados, choose one that is ready to eat and another that is hard.

Make a habit of batch prepping. Prewash, spin-dry and store herbs in a plastic bag. Winter and root vegetables, like kale, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are resilient enough that you can prewash and precut them without color or texture changes. If you don’t have time to prep, purchase pre-washed, precut vegetables such as broccoli slaw or shredded cabbage.  Prewashed lettuce and salad are another timesaving convenience.

Mix up enough dressing to last you a week.  For a lemon-mustard vinaigrette, combine ¼ cup lemon juice, ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon honey and ½ teaspoon sea salt in a bowl. Whisk until all the ingredients are fully incorporated; pour into a jar, label with the date (masking tape and a marker work fine) and store in your fridge. To save on calories, dress your salad bowl, not your greens. Start with a teaspoon or two of dressing in the bottom of a bowl, add the greens and toss to coat evenly.

Devote a few hour a week to cooking. Roast a big tray of vegetables at the beginning of the week. You can then throw them on a salad, eat as a snack with a dip, layer in a sandwich or reheat as a side dish. (Cut the veggies into the same size for even cooking, spray or toss with a small amount of oil, season with sea salt, and add fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives, tarragon or rosemary for extra flavor. Cook in a preheated 350-degree oven for 8 to 15 minutes.)

A pot of beans or a pot of a hearty grain, such as farro, barley or brown rice, made on Sunday will also hold up for the rest of the week.

Keep it simple. Meals that involve lots of ingredients and lots of pots can get in the way of cooking at home. Instead, opt for one-pot meals with five ingredients or less. To get started, Google “sheet pan dinners,” “one pot meals” and “five-ingredient recipes.” You’re sure to get inspired!

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