How to Cook Well, Even When You’re Too Busy For Anything Else
The single most important step we can take to prevent the American food system (food manufacturers, restaurants etc.) from controlling our health destiny is to take control of our kitchen and cook at least a small portion of our own food.
Life can get really busy. How often does microwavable convenience food, pre-packaged junk or time-saving takeout replace nourishing meals and snacks which can be prepared simply and affordably in your own kitchen?
To the cooking-phobic suggesting that they should get into the kitchen and turn on the stove can be a turnoff. The promise of improved health and budget does not turn them on.
“Cooking (from scratch) is the single most important thing we can do as a family to improve our health and general well-being.” — Michael Pollan
As for this late-comer to cooking, I spent years packing up my mother’s leftovers and skimming her freezer for goodies I could take to my home to reheat and eat. It was only when I got serious about wanting to make lasting changes in my health that I discovered how easy, delicious and economical healthy home cooking can be. Now I cook because it’s a habit that provides delicious options every single day. I should note that I don’t cook every day. I batch cook on Sundays and might slip in an impromptu stir-fry or baking session in mid-week. I typically make recipes with no more than the number of ingredients that I can count on one hand. Reheating store-bought prepared food in a hot oven doesn’t count!
Batch cooking has multiple definitions. For some it means preparing and refrigerating or freezing whole meals once a week. Fitness and bodybuilding enthusiasts proudly post their chicken, broccoli, rice and/or sweet potato combo meals stored in Tupperware on social media. For them, routine trumps constant creative meal planning. Whatever works right? For others, including myself, batch cooking is more about making pots of ingredients at the beginning of the week and using them as a base for healthy fast food to be consumed the rest of the week.
Even a Breakfast Cookie recipe is prepared without the intent to polish them off at one sitting, rather to wrap them individually and freeze for later use. When you wake up, whip up a fast protein shake or a hard-boiled egg and some fruit and with a defrosted breakfast cookie you are out-the-door.
One Smart (Breakfast) Cookie
This recipe is prepared without eggs, dairy or gluten.
- 2 1/2 bananas, ripe
- 2 cups rolled oats, blended into a coarse flour
- 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
- Pinch of coarse salt
- Optional: dark chocolate chips (Yes please!)
Directions: Mash bananas in a bowl. Add oat flour, nut butter and additional optional ingredients. Drop by large mounds onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake at 375 degrees for 18 minutes. Cool. Store cookies in freezer. They defrost in minutes. Nestle one in your backpack or briefcase as you head to school or work.
- Bananas should be super ripe — close to brown in color or very speckled — that’s the secret!
- You can substitute almond or sunflower butter and add dried fruit (dried cherries or raisins) and nuts.
- Don’t over-bake.
Cherry Almond Butter Smoothie
- 2 cups unsweetened almond or cashew milk.
- 1–10 oz. package of cherries– pitted and frozen (2 heaping handfuls of the fresh kind in-season)
- 1/4 cup creamy almond butter
- Optional: 2 teaspoons of raw honey
Directions: Place all ingredients into a high-performance blender and purée until smooth. Serves 4.
Recipe is courtesy of Whole Foods Market.
TIME-SAVING COOKING TIPS
- Keep the home freezer stocked with these staples: flash frozen vegetables, frozen fruit (mango, grapes and berries), frozen bananas for impromptu smoothies and ‘nice’ cream (more on this in a minute!)
- Pantry must haves: canned beans, tahini (sesame butter), low sodium tamari, gluten-free or minimally processed crackers, hot sauce, chili flakes, nutritional yeast, sea salt, vegetable stock cubes and brown rice pasta/bean pasta and a jar of low sodium traditional tomato sauce.
- Keep your fridge filled with easy dishes that can be thrown together in no time during the week. On the weekend I’ll make hummus, quinoa, roasted vegetables, baked sweet potatoes. I’ll also pre-cut vegetables and store in quart-sized zip-lock bags or Tupperware for quick crunching or fast dipping. Buying bags of triple-washed greens from the market makes for easily adding oomph to stir-fried, omelettes and simple sautés.
- Keep a plate with easy to reach flavor boosters by your cooking station: sweet red onions, a bulb of garlic, and lemons are personal favorites. I keep a generous piece of fresh ginger in the fridge and grate over raw stringed beans cooking in a hot cast iron pan. Top with a splash of low sodium tamari and keep shaking the pan as vegetables cook for optimal caramelization. Hit the cooked beans with a squeeze of lemon juice and turn off heat.
- Seek out simple recipes with few ingredients to start. Or try a recipe that calls for a combination of basic cooked ingredients topped with some fast prep raw ingredients for healthy store-bought toppers like fresh guacamole or salsa. This Black Beans and Rice Extravaganza is a quick, delicious meal that can be prepped in 15 minutes. If you have already batch cooked the rice, even less.
“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients.” — Julia Child
How about whipping up a whole food salad dressing rather than resorting to that bottled dressing with hydrogenated fat, sugar and excess salt. These from DrFuhrman.com are a fresh start:
Apple Pie Dressing
- 2 apples, cored and peeled
- ¼ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
Orange Sesame Dressing
- 4 tablespoons un-hulled sesame seeds divided into two even portions
- ¼ cup raw cashew nuts
- 2 navel oranges, peeled
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or blood orange vinegar
Directions: Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet pan over medium heat for 3 minutes, mixing with a wooden spoon and shaking the pan frequently. In a high powered blender, combine 2 tablespoons of the sesame seeds with the cashews, oranges and vinegar. If needed orange juice can be added to adjust consistency.
Sprinkle remaining sesame seeds over salad.
Home-cooked meals in a jiffy might include a combination of simple cooked grains like rice, pre-cooked beans from the can, raw avocado (or a favorite pre-made guacamole), cut up fresh vegetables and a store-bought salsa. As you get more comfortable in the kitchen you can make the condiments from scratch. Listen to how good your body feels when a healthy meal is prepared by hand vs. takeout. It nourishes your body differently.
Black Beans and Rice Extravaganza (from Engine 2 Diet)
- 2 cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup water or vegetable stock
- 1 Tablespoon Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (Good staple item for the healthy pantry; it’s high in sodium but you use little and it’s packed with nutrition)
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder
- 2–3 tomatoes chopped
- 1 bunch of scallions (green onions)
- 1 can water chestnuts, drained
- 1 cup corn: fresh, frozen or canned
- 2 red, yellow or green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
- 1 small bunch cilantro, rinsed and chopped
- 1 avocado peeled and sliced
- 3 cups cooked brown rice
- Salsa or tamari, to taste
Directions: Heat the beans with water, Bragg’s and chili powder. Chop the vegetables and place in individual bowls.
To serve, place big spoonfuls of brown rice in individual serving plates or ceramic bowls and ladle beans on top.
Add generous handfuls of chopped vegetables on top of the beans.
Add salsa and a splash of tamari.
Drizzle with dairy-free sour cream (or regular if you are just heading down the plant-powered path and carry this staple in your fridge already).
The Urban Dictionary defines ‘Nice Cream’ as homemade ice cream or gelato (using mainly bananas.) I think of it as dairy-free soft-serve which is best eaten within minutes of being prepared in a high performance blender, a classic food processor or my new favorite kitchen tool — a Yonanas Frozen Fruit Treat Maker. Nice cream is free of refined sugars, saturated fat and chemicals often packed into traditional ice cream. It nourishes the body in ways the classic stuff never could.
It is ideal that the bananas used for making nice cream are so ripe that they appear almost brown, or at least heavily speckled. Freezing the bananas ahead makes for a chilly and soft consistency like ice cream. When blending frozen bananas you can add additional ingredients like peanut butter, frozen strawberries, bits of chocolate or nuts and even go savory with fig balsamic vinegar.
The example of this alternative ice cream universe is a sweet reminder that preparing even some of your own food can be satisfying and fun-filled. Getting into the kitchen to playfully experiment with basic recipes like the ones mentioned above, introduces a new kind fast food that nurtures health and vitality. If you are someone who “hates to cook” or “can’t cook,” as I used to be, remember that this one change of habit can transform your health. Cooking is less of a chore and more of a powerful gift if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and have the courage to give it a try. Restaurants, take-out and fast food will never be motivated to do for you what you can do for yourself. Healthy home cooking is a revolutionary act.
Originally published at vikingnews.net on April 20, 2016.