Cooking at home is a great way to make sure you’re eating healthy, and Regional One Health’s clinical nutrition team has some advice for how to make it happen.
Stocking up on ingredients, cooking tools and recipes helps you stay prepared and reduces the temptation to eat out or make unhealthy choices.
Preparing food at home helps you save money and gain control over what you eat – both in terms of getting creative with flavors and meeting your health goals.
While cooking may seem challenging, there are easy ways to overcome the intimidation factor, Regional One Health’s clinical nutrition team says. Along with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, they’re offering some tips for making it easier to prepare successful meals on you own.
What foods should I keep on hand?
Stocking your pantry and freezer with products that keep for a long time is a good starting point for always being able to prepare a tasty, healthy meal.
Great shelf-stable products that you can store for months include:
- Dried or canned beans, including black, garbanzo, kidney, white and pinto
- Green, yellow or split peas
Keep healthy staples on hand for snacks and recipes. Fresh fruits and veggies are great, but their frozen and canned counterparts also work well for cooking.
- Canned vegetables like diced tomatoes, green beans and corn. Look for versions with no added salt.
- Wholegrains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, millet and whole-grain pasta
- Fish and chicken in a can or pouch
Stock your freezer with bagged vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, brussels sprouts, etc.) and fruit (berries, cherries, bananas); whole wheat pizza dough; and frozen poultry or seafood.
Also keep olive, canola or vegetable oil on hand to cook with, as well as dried herbs and spices to add healthy flavor to your meals.
What tools do I need?
Cooking is a lot easier when you have the right basic equipment. While you can often improvise if you need to, these tools are useful for making most meals:
- Baking sheets and roasting pans
- Stock pot, saucepans and skillets
- Tongs, spatulas and slotted and mixing spoons
- Potholders and towels
- Colander or strainer
- Mixing bowls in various sizes
- Separate cutting boards for raw and cooked foods
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Chef knives and vegetable peelers
What if I don’t have everything I need for a recipe?
If you keep your home stocked with some basic staples, you can create healthy, tasty meals with what you have on hand, even if the ingredients differ from your recipe.
Look online or in cookbooks for recipes that match your tastes as well as the amount of time you can devote to cooking. You can also make up your own recipes but adding foods you enjoy to staples like pasta.
Eggs can form the basis for an omelet with vegetables or scrambled eggs with cheese, salsa and toast. Boiled eggs add protein to a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, olives and oil and vinegar.
Beans are great for vegetarian burritos or black bean or pinto bean burgers.
There are lots of ways to make pasta – toss together canned tomatoes, olive oil and herbs for a marinara sauce; or throw in garbanzo beans and frozen vegetables.
It’s also a good idea to learn common substitutions, like using Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or interchanging cauliflower and broccoli in casseroles and soups.
Remember, you’re more likely to stick to a healthy eating plan if you’re basing it on convenience and foods you enjoy. Stock up on your favorite healthy items, learn a few simple recipes, and purchase the kitchen equipment you use regularly.