My friends and family often laugh when they look at my pantry. “There’s nothing to eat!” they inevitably exclaim. Other than pretzels, cereal and some nuts, they’re right- I don’t generally keep a lot of ready-to-eat food around. Even my fridge and freezer are packed with raw ingredients rather than bags and packages of snacks and meals. This isn’t just because I love to cook. Having a pantry stocked with raw ingredients and not pre-made foods can not only save money, but can also help you eat healthier by cutting out on preservatives and calories. There are certain staples that most of us know to have by now: brown rice, whole wheat pasta, olive oil, vinegars, natural peanut butter, and milk to name a few, but I’d like to give you a list of 7 key things every healthy pantry should have (even though there are many, many more). All of these items are versatile and pack a huge amount of flavor and nutrition for a relatively small amount of calories. I’ve included a quick recipe idea after each one and encourage you to stock up and get cooking!
1. Canned beans are perfect for spreads, thickening soups, quick bean salads, topping to a green salad, or…
A delicious side dish…Saute onions, garlic and white beans for 15 minutes and top with fresh chopped basil. Just make sure to rinse your beans thoroughly to get rid of the excess sodium.
2. Canned tomatoes can be used in soups, quick pasta sauces, a base for a sauce for meat or chicken, or…
Salsa…Puree 1 can diced tomatoes with diced red onion, fresh garlic, lime juice, hot pepper and cilantro.
3. Dried fruits are a great addition to savory chicken and meat dishes, rice, fresh green salads, trail mixes, or featured in…
An easy yogurt topping…Cook 1 cup chopped dried fruit in 1 tablespoon white wine, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of honey.
4. Low fat/fat free yogurt can be used as a substitute for sour cream, heavy cream or buttermilk for dips, dressings, marinades for chicken and meat, or can be used as…
A sandwich spread…Mix 1/2 cup yogurt with 2 tablespoons mixed herbs, 1 clove chopped garlic, salt and pepper
5. Frozen spinach is a healthy addition to soups, sauteed vegetables, spreads, dips, and sandwiches or…
With some delicious pasta…Defrost and squeeze out spinach and saute with 1 bunch chopped scallions, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, and 3 cloves of sliced garlic. When done add 1/4 cup cooking water from pasta, toss with pasta and add a light sprinkling of fresh parmesan cheese.
6. Low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock is ideal for sauce, soup, rice, beans or…
Cooking down hearty spring greens…Saute 1 bunch greens with 1 tsp olive oil and 1 sliced sweet onion just until the greens begin to wilt, add the stock until it just covers the greens and cook partially covered until the greens are very soft and very delicious.
7. Vinegars add lots of flavor to food without any calories and are great in sauces, dressings and marinades. Or try…
Balsamic caramelized onions…Thinly slice 2 sweet onions and saute with 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt and 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally and when nicely browned turn the temperature to high. Add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and let bubble until most of the moisture cooks off. Use to top your favorite chicken or meat!
Just when you think you’re doing something virtuous and working towards living a healthier lifestyle, a new article comes out and makes you second guess yourself, AGAIN! This time, we seem to be hearing a lot of bad press about organic food. The New York Times recently published a review of an article from Stanford University stating that organic foods just aren’t that healthy. What has followed has been utter confusion on what is and is not healthy and how to best understand how foods are labeled. So, are you ready for some answers?
The organic label has never meant that the food which bears its label is more likely to help you lose weight or is more likely to contain good-for you nutrients. Organic foods are simply grown without the use of chemical pesticides, which makes them better for the environment and for encouraging agricultural diversity. The potential heath risks of pesticides in foods have not been adequately studied, which means that scientists can’t fully rule out any long-term risks of pesticides, hormones or genetic modification. So, although organic foods may not be more nutrient-rich, there are certainly many other compelling reasons to buy organic.
On the other hand, organic foods often travel many miles and pass through many hands before they arrive in your local grocery store’s produce department. The more time between when a food is plucked from the ground and when it reaches your hungry tummy, the more nutrient loss occurs. For this reason, local food has been shown to be more nutritious than organic foods in many cases. Additionally, frozen fruits and vegetables are often much higher in nutrients since they are freshly picked and then preserved by the quick freezing process.
In the end, whether or not you eat organic is not going to make or break your healthy lifestyle. Its much better to eat all conventional produce and to fill your meals and snacks with fresh produce, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy than to fill your shopping cart with organic frozen dinners, cereals, chips, bars and snacks. Kids tend to store the residues from pesticides more readily than adults, so that may be a good reason to feed your children primarily organic foods. If you feel like money is just too tight to buy organic but want to do something, try a mix of local foods and avoid the Dirty Dozen (also check out the clean 15).
The USDA recommendation to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables is excellent advice, but how much steamed broccoli can you eat? For those of us who take our veggie eating seriously, are we seriously going to continue to simply roast, saute, steam and grill our veggies and toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper for the rest of our lives? Do summer barbecues always have to feature grilled peppers, zucchini and eggplant? Simply prepared vegetables taste delicious and are easy to prepare, but sometimes, don’t you just want more? I’m not going to try and tackle all possible vegetable cooking techniques, but since its still grilling season, read on for 10 interesting things to do with 10 interesting vegetables. You’ll be amazed at how much you can transform that half of your plate! (Keep your eye out for a post this winter on roasting)
2. Cut head of romaine lettuce in half. Brush with olive oil and grill until wilted and use as the base for your favorite salad.
4. Cut medium radishes in half and toss with ground mustard, salt and pepper. Grill on both sides and toss with lemon juice and fresh thyme
5. Toss green beans with Chinese 5 spice powder and peanut oil. Lay across grill and cook 2 minutes. Remove and toss with a bit of soy sauce
6. Slice cauliflower vertically into large steaks and season with curry powder, garam masala and cayenne pepper. Grill on each side and top with a dollop of fat free plain yogurt.
8. Thinly slice beets and red onion and toss with olive oil, dried oregano, salt and pepper. Grill on each side and top with feta.
9. Toss okra and cherry tomatoes with smoked paprika, olive oil, salt and white pepper and place on skewers. Grill on each side and top with fresh thyme.
By now, I think you know that 200 calories of ice cream does not pack the same nutritional value as 200 calories of peanut butter. But why is that? We Registered Dietitians answer the question with calorie density. Simply put, calorie density is the calories of a food in relation to the weight of a food. However, calorie density means so much more and demands your attention if you are aiming to live and eat healthier.
Think of it this way: most people need 1500-2000 calories per day to maintain their weight, which when it comes down to it, really isn’t that many calories. So, whats a better way of hitting the 2000 calorie mark- potato chips, egg McMuffins and fried chicken, or whole grain pretzels, egg and low fat cheese on wheat bread and a grilled chicken cutlet? I think you know the answer.
Most of your foods should be nutritionally dense, but….mmmmm…..unhealthy junkfood with ingredients I can’t pronounce, salty fatty chips, sweet, alluring desserts…these foods all seem like no-no’s in healthy living, right? Well…not really.
If you try and deprive yourself of some of your most enticing food weaknesses, chances are you’ll end up on a bender and could wake up grease covered, surrounded by empty wrappers, and slightly nauseous. Ok, maybe that’s taking things a step too far, but you get the picture. Personally, I’m sick of health-foodies telling everyone to throw away their oreos and make brownies with splenda and evaporated skim milk. Enter discretionary calories and the difference between a snack (nutritionally dense) and what we’ll call an “extra” (nutritionally light)
Snacks are vital to your nutrition. They keep you full between meals, provide you with the opportunity to consume additional protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other essentials to a healthy diet. Snacks can and should taste great, but they should always be healthy and nutritionally dense.
Extra foods are just that- extra. As long as you’re eating an otherwise healthy, well-balanced diet, there is absolutely no problem with having 150-200 calories of “extra” foods throughout the day. Have 1/2 cup of ice cream, a small brownie, a serving of sweet and salty chex mix, or a strawberry daiquiri and ENJOY IT!
Cooking healthy isn’t just about steaming spinach and grilling chicken. There are plenty of easy adjustments you can make every day in the kitchen to make your cooking and eating healthier! Here are 10 simple things you can do.
1. Measure your oil. It only take 3 extra seconds and washing one extra spoon, but you’ll end up using a lot less! Generally, you shouldn’t need much more than 1 tablespoon of oil in a dish that serves 4
2. Replace half of the butter in baked goods with applesauce and half of the flour with whole wheat flour. This doesn’t mean that you should now feel licensed to eat double portions, but it does mean that what you are eating is packing with more vitamins and fiber and less fat!
3. Trim the fat and skin off of all meats before cooking
4. Refrigerate soups and sauces and skim the excess fat off of the top
5. Add at least 2 different colored vegetables to your rice, pasta or potato- you’ll end up eating less starch and more veggies!
6. Leave the skin on fruits and vegetables whenever possible for added fiber
7. Remember the dirty dozen of conventional foods and try to always buy those items organic
8. Try not to blacken foods when grilling or pan searing- that black stuff is pretty carcinogenic, especially if you eat it 2 or more times a week
9. Use lots of spices and herbs so that you can use a little less salt
10. Use beans to thicken soups instead of potatoes
You’re coasting along, enjoying your low-fat Greek yogurt and steadily losing 1-2 lb per week and then BAM! Your body hits a wall and you go 1 week…2 weeks…3 weeks…without losing any weight. You are sick of the Greek yogurt, tired of the treadmill, and the doritos look more tempting than ever. Welcome to your plateau my friends.
A plateau is just what it sounds in the world of weight loss and exercise and is exceedingly common. As we lose weight and adjust to our new ways of eating and working out, our bodies and our minds get a bit too comfortable in their new routine. The complex scientific reasons for this don’t really matter here. What matters is that this is no fun and you want OUT! Here are some easy tips for rolling through your plateaus and going down hill to a healthier, thinner you!
Change up your cardio at the gym
Add 30 second spurts of your maximum speed, attend a Spin or Zumba class or try a new machine or a new type of exercise. The more your body doesn’t know what’s coming next, the better!
Change up or add a weight routine at the gym
Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, which means that the more muscle you have, the more efficient your metabolism is. If you don’t know what you’re doing, ask someone, buy a video or attend a class. If you already have a weight routine, try heavier weights and fewer repetitions, lighter weights and more repetitions, a resistance band, or doing your whole regimen balanced on a bosu ball
Find a way to cut out an additional 200 calories per day
Reduce your serving size of cereal in the morning by half, have one less glass of wine over the weekend, go without the hot fudge on the ice cream…you get the idea. Sometimes all it takes to get over the plateau is just cutting a few corners!
Change up your meals
Swap that Greek yogurt for cottage cheese, replace the triscuits with whole-wheat crackers, try a new type of fish or vegetable, or just a new type of cereal. Food boredom can often lead to overeating, which keeps you in your plateau longer and longer. The more you can change up your food, the happier and more satisfied you will be. Check out this great article for suggestions!
Exercise 1 additional day per week or 20 minutes more per day
Get the people in your life on board
The more support you have from family and friends, the easier it is to eat and be healthy. If you’re having trouble with a friend/spouse/family member who is a constant bad influence, cook them a healthy and delicious meal and give them concrete things they can do to support you more and undermine you less!
Menu planning can be stressful, time consuming and annoying. In the face of indecision, many of us either turn to repeating the same dishes over and over again, or resort to pre-prepared, unhealthy meals. Read on for some super helpful advice on how to plan weekly meals and remain stress-free, healthy and full!
-Spend 30 minutes a week looking for dinner ideas (30 minutes on a Sunday or 6 minutes Monday-Friday, etc)
-Store the recipes you like in a folder
-Organize them by time they take to cook: 10-15 minutes, 15-30 minutes, 30-45 minutes. Eliminate anything that takes longer than 45 minutes
Questions to ask before you start…
-How many meals do I plan to have at home this week?
-Do you I want leftovers for lunches and other meals, or just enough for the meals?
-How many people will be eating at each meal?
-What foods do I already have that I want to use up?
-What are everyone’s food restrictions?
-What am I craving?
-What is seasonal?
-Plan your menus for the week all at once so you can go shopping once!
-Pick main theme/idea for each night or pick a recipe from your file…and stick to it!
-Use help when you can from healthy premade marinades, frozen veggies, precut veggies
-Start with a healthy ingredient and build out your meal from there
-Think protein, veggie, starch…but get creative with it
Check out my sample menu plan (and accompanying recipe!) to get you started
How many meals do I plan to have at home this week?
What foods do I already have that I want to use up?
What are everyone’s food restrictions?
Ari- doesn’t like nuts
Ora- doesn’t like anything spicy
What am I craving?
What is seasonal?
Inspiration/theme: Healthy Indian Yumminess!
Protein: Ground turkey meatballs in coconut curry sauce
Starch: Leftover basmati rice, or store bought whole wheat naan (if I can find it!)
Vegetable: Sauteed spinach and beet greens with garlic
Accompaniments: Salad if we have it leftover
Healthy/seasonal highlight: Ground turkey
Notes: Leave off cashews for Ari. Make a small separate pot for Ora with no spices
7 garlic cloves
2-inch piece of ginger
1/3 cup toasted, lightly salted cashews, divided
¼ cup cilantro leaves
¾ teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon pepper, divided
1 lb ground turkey
1 medium onion
2 large tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon ground mustard
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon group cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1 14 ounce can lite coconut milk
½ cup vegetable or chicken stock
Additional cashews and cilantro for serving
1. Mince garlic and ginger in mini-food processor or by hand. Set aside half for sauce and place half in a large bowl for meatballs
2. Finely chop cashews and add to meatball bowl
3. Mince cilantro and add half to meatball bowl; set aside other half for sauce
4. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper to bowl, along with egg
5. Beat egg and combine ingredients with a fork
6. Add the turkey and mix by hand. Refrigerate for 5 minutes
7. Slice onion and dice tomato.
8. Add olive oil to large sauce pot and heat over high heat. Add onion and sauté 3 minutes, until it begins to soften.
9. Meanwhile, measure remaining spices into small bowl. Add the remaining garlic, ginger, cilantro, salt and pepper. Add to onion and saute 1 minute, until fragrant.
10. Add tomato and cook until beginning to soften, 2-3 minutes
11. Add in coconut milk and stock and bring to boil
12. While sauce is coming to a boil, remove meatball mixture from refrigerator. Wet hands and quickly form into balls (its ok if they are different shapes and sizes!) As you form the meatballs, drop them into the sauce.
13. Cover the curry and cook 10 minutes, or until meatballs are done
14. Top with additional cilantro and cashews a
The most common misconception about healthy food is that it has to be bland and dry to be nutritious. This is likely because as a whole, Americans lack imagination and inspiration when it comes to healthy food. Although a healthy lifestyle doesn’t included candy dishes filled with butterballs (a la Paula Deen), there is plenty of flavor and excitement that can be added to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy to make you mmmmm with satisfaction on first bite.
Read on for a list of ways to zing up your food and excite your next meal.
Vinegar is such an inspired and delicious addition to food that I actually devoted a whole post to it a number of months ago. Vinegar is acidic and has a depth of flavor that can astound your palate. There even are entire stores, like this one, devoted to different vinegar varieties and flavors. Lest you think vinegar is only for salad, it can be added to soups or sauces for a bit of brightness of flavor or can be added at the end of cooking meat or vegetables to create a syrupy, delicious glaze.
This should go without saying when we’re talking about flavoring your food, but I’m mentioning it because I’m begging you to expand your spice rack and use what’s there! Some of my favorites include smoked paprika, turmeric, cardamom, cumin, fennel, white pepper, coriander and red pepper flakes. Also, it really does make a difference when you take the time to buy whole spices and toast and grind them. (Check this out for some serious inspiration!)
Umami is basically naturally occurring, succulent, and not-at-all-bad-for-you MSG. Trust me, its goooood. Soy sauce, parmesan cheese, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, anchovies, clams, oysters, fish sauce, shrimp paste, carrots, miso,…these are all foods that just make anything you’re already cooking even better. Use them!
Broths and stocks
If you want your vegetables, grains, meats and sauces to taste like water, you should definitely cook them in water. If you want them to taste like a New Year’s Eve party, birthday celebration and wedding bash all rolled into one, use broths and stocks. See here for how to make and store your own, or keep a handful of vegetable, chicken, beef and fish stock around for all of your delicious cooking needs.
I’ll end on perhaps the most obvious note. You need to salt your food, you probably need more than you think, and you should definitely be using a good Kosher or sea salt. If you have very high blood pressure, congestive heart failure or other condition that necessitates you to limit your sodium intake you may want to use less, but you can still use some! Most of the salt in the American diet comes from sodium in processed foods, not from the saltshaker in the kitchen or at the table. If you’re eating foods that don’t come in a box, can or jar, you’re probably ok- so season your food with salt!
All of this being said, it bears mentioning that fresh, juicy local produce like coral-hued cantaloupes and earthy spinach rarely need more than a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil to be better than any fast-food burger or tuna noodle casserole out there. So, start using your food as a canvas on which you can build complex, astounding flavors for truly satisfying meals and snacks!
Bear with me, as this is my first time doing this, but check out this video that includes some great tips on getting dinner ready quickly AND a delicious recipe idea. Enjoy!