19 January 2016 Set Yourself Up for Healthy Cooking

Last month I wrote about how home-cooked meals are usually healthier and are often lower in saturated fat and sodium, and higher in nutrients and antioxidants. Home prepared food portions are often much more in line with health guidelines and calorie needs. If you are tracking calories and nutrients on MyNetDiary, you have probably figured this out. This month, I would like to expand on successfully preparing foods at home.

Here are some of my favorite strategies for setting up your kitchen for healthy eating, ease and hopefully some fun.

Equip yourself in the kitchen

Can you quickly find and access the tools and equipment needed for meal preparation? Try to set up your kitchen so it flows well. Are pots and pans near the stove? Are seasonings convenient? Are glasses by the refrigerator? Do you have the basic kitchen equipment? You don’t have to go to fancy cooking stores to find decent equipment. Shop around at garage sales, thrift stores and discount stores. Who cares if you have different brands? Department stores often have deals on sets of utensils and pots and pans. Gradually building your kitchen equipment inventory can be fun. Jot down a list of items to make cooking easier, and make it a point to check out the kitchen section of stores to find deals. Most people who cook regularly find that you end up having “go to” kitchen tools. There is no need to get bogged down with a clutter of kitchen gadgets. Kitchen basics such as knives, peelers, cutting boards, measuring spoons and cups, mixing bowls, cookware and bakeware, cooking utensils, storage containers, potholders, and towels are some important kitchen items. Yes, you do need a little more than a can opener and plastic eating utensils unless you are just dumping processed food out of a can or microwaving frozen food. If you are new to cooking, ask a friend who cooks what kitchen equipment they use or you can go to the kitchen section at the store and explore.

Stock the staples

A stocked pantry is a key element of successful home cooking. A kitchen staple is a food item that has a fairly long shelf life and is usually bought in a sizeable quantity for multiple meals. It can help to go through some recipes to see which items you might use fairly often. It is so much easier and more efficient to buy these items in quantities that last several weeks or longer. Ask family members to write items close to empty on a standing grocery list. With the staples in stock, you can buy perishable foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, tofu, cheese, yogurt and milk to complete the weekly meals.

Pantry staples might include: assorted pastas, rice, beans, quinoa, couscous, oats, baking soda, baking powder, flour, sugar, low sodium broth, pan spray, olive oil, canola oil, potatoes, onions, spices, canned tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, canned tuna, canned salmon, juice packed fruits.

Freezer staples include: a variety of frozen vegetables, a variety of frozen fruits, frozen chopped onions and peppers (either your own prepped or store-bought), and cooked meats (prepared and frozen for another recipe). Also, freezing items like nuts, seeds, breads, cooked rice, bread crumbs, and wheat germ can keep them fresh longer. You can easily pull these items out as needed. Keep freezer tape and a permanent marker handy so you can date items. This is more of a quality than safety issue.

Refrigerator staples include: eggs, soft tub margarine or butter-oil blend spread, condiments, minced garlic and salad dressing.

Make healthy food tasty and adventurous

Set up your kitchen with seasonings and flavor enhancers that make food taste great while keeping it healthy. Stock a variety of spices, salt-free seasoning blends, a variety of mustard spreads, hot sauces, lemon or lemon juice, lime or lime juice, a variety of vinegars, salsas and salad spritzers.

Come up with a menu plan for the week

Pick out a few recipes for the week. Plan ahead and think of your upcoming week. Use recipes that can do double duty. For example, make roasted chicken breasts in the crock pot for one meal. Make extra chicken to shred for another meal of chicken tacos. Another example might be to brown 2 pounds of ground turkey, one to use for a pasta dish on Sunday and the other pound for soup at the end of the week. Cook extra quinoa and roasted vegetables for dinner and have the extras on a lunch salad that week. Get family members involved by having each person commit to making one meal a week. Day of the week themes can make it fun and easier for planning, like Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays or Homemade Pizza Fridays. Try to make it as appealing as eating out.

If you are a newbie in the kitchen, start simple and build your skills. Find simple recipes on the web or get a basic cookbook to help you build confidence. Above all, have fun and make your kitchen an enjoyable place where you can unwind, be creative, and take care of your health.

Brenda Braslow, MS, RD, CDE

Brenda is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Denver,

Colorado who specializes in diabetes prevention and health enhancement.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Meal Planning & Diets/"Plan, Shop, Prep, and Cook"

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