So, you’ve decided to start cooking healthy meals for you and your family. Your body and your budget will thank you. Imagine not spending twenty to forty dollars a day on take-out and pizza. Making this decision might be the best thing you have done for yourself in a while, but how do you follow through?
If you are looking for ideas to help you start and stick with cooking healthy, then you have come to the right place.
Create Healthy Cooking Habits
Just like any change in your life, you have to replace some habits with others. Break the habit of stopping at the drive through and create the habit of cooking healthy meals following simple, healthy food recipes.
Here are a few good habits to develop for healthy cooking and eating.
- Eat a breakfast filled with whole grains, like oatmeal. A healthy breakfast will let you begin your day on the right foot. Oatmeal can be prepared on the stovetop, in the microwave, and even in the fridge, and it has the added benefit of lowering cholesterol.
- Stick to one-ingredient foods. Try to eat only real whole healthy foods, without added ingredients. Buy the head of cauliflower, the steak, the rice, and the apples to make your meal.
- Shop the outer edges of your grocery store for meat, produce, and frozen foods that contain only the one ingredient.
- Plan ahead. Meal planning is probably the best new habit to develop. Planning your meals will save you from buying food that is wasted or thrown out. It will keep you from having those days where you don’t know what to cook and call for pizza delivery. When you plan ahead, you can see that you and your family are eating a good balance of foods.
- The USDA Website ChooseMyPlate offers a variety of meal planning ideas. And planning ahead will allow you to develop the next habit:
- Prepare in advance. Once you have planned your meals, you can make some things ahead. You can chop and store vegetables. You can prepare your grains ahead of time. You can set out the ingredients you will need the night before you need them. More importantly, you will avoid those last minute trips to the grocery store.
- Use the slow cooker. One of the most under-utilized tools in many kitchens is the crock-pot or slow cooker. The crock-pot does all the cooking for you, while you go about your day. Simply fill it with the ingredients in the morning—or better, the night before—turn it on and ignore it for the next four to six hours. Dinner is done when you need it, with no pressure on you.
- Eat foods you enjoy. A lot of us, when we think of cooking healthy, think we will be stuck eating foods we don’t like. This should never be the case. Try new foods cooked in a variety of methods, and if you don’t like them, don’t add them to your menu. Forcing yourself to eat things you don’t like will also force you to give up the new healthy eating habit.
- Finally, develop the habit of reading labels. The longer the ingredient label on your packaged food, the less healthy it is for you. And if you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t eat it.
All of these habits can be developed over a period of time. Like any journey, the path to healthy eating can be taken one step at a time. Plan a few meals. Shop for those meals. Cook those meals. Eventually, you will grow your healthy habit into a healthy lifestyle.
Explore New Recipes
Another great way to begin cooking healthy is to explore the millions of very healthy recipes. Recipe websites, like allrecipes.com and foodnetwork.com, have entire pages and sections devoted to healthy foods. Some recipe sites also offer menu or meal planning tools, too.
As you explore healthy recipes, you might be surprised to learn how easy it is to prepare healthy versions of your favorite restaurant or take-out meals. Here, as an example, is a healthy version of Chicken Parmesan that you can make at home. Eat healthier, save time, and save the server tips for yourself.
Restaurant Style Chicken Parmesan (from foodnetwork.com)
*Serve over whole-grain pasta. Serve with a tossed greens side salad.
- 1 1/3 cups Bread Crumbs—or make your own by grinding whole wheat toast
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 4 teaspoons paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 egg whites
- 1/2 cup skim milk
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 (6 ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 1 jar good-quality marinara sauce (about 3 1/2 cups)
- 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- 2 tablespoons (1/2-ounce) shredded Parmesan
In a medium bowl, toss the crumbs with oregano, garlic powder, paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites and milk together. In a third bowl stir together the flour, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Dip each piece of chicken, one piece at a time, in flour, shaking off excess, then egg, then breadcrumbs, shaking off excess.
Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Place breaded breasts in a glass baking dish and spray on each side with cooking spray, about 5 seconds total per side. Bake breasts until cooked through and crumbs are browned, about 15 minutes. Top with marinara sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan and return to oven for an additional 10 minutes, until cheese is bubbling.
Serve over prepared whole-grain pasta.
Dessert Recipes Can Be Healthy Too
On good recipe websites, in addition to great healthy meals, you can also find ideas for healthy things to bake, healthy and delicious desserts, and even healthier versions of traditional holiday favorites. Many times your family will not even notice that they are eating healthy—since the food is so delicious.
We found a healthy recipe for that delicious frozen treat from a fast food diner, the Frosty™. Here is a healthier version of the milkshake:
In a blender, blend:
- 12 ice cubes
- 1 very ripe banana
- 2 Tbl honey
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 Tbl cacao powder
- 1 cup coconut or almond milk
To find healthy versions of your favorite restaurant meals, simply use your favorite search engine and begin browsing. Beware, though, you may find yourself so drawn into finding great healthy recipes that you forget to start preparing your own meals. That’s when you will want to fall back on your very own super quick healthy meals.
Super Quick Healthy Meals
Super quick healthy meals are more than a lovely tossed salad, although that is a great option for a healthy dinner.
In fewer than 20 minutes you can prepare a chicken, beef, or shrimp and vegetable stir-fry, a white chicken chili, or an elegant and tasteful couscous salad served in avocado bowls. If you have done your meal planning and advanced preparation, even getting lost in the netherworld of internet browsing won’t keep you from cooking and serving healthy meals for your family.
Here’s another sample recipe; this one is for a super quick meal.
- 2 tbsp oil, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
- 3 eggs
- 4 cups brown rice (cooked, cooled, and separated) (where advanced prep helps)
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 1-2 cups frozen peas
- 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2-3 tbsp soy sauce
- add-ins of your choice, like spinach, broccoli, leftover veggies
In a wok or a large pan, heat one tbsp oil over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and ginger and stir-fry for one minute. Crack eggs directly into the pan and gently stir until barely cooked, 1-2 minutes.
Add the rice and stir-fry for a few minutes. Add the remaining oil and turn up the heat. The eggs will incorporate to the rice.
Add the corn, peas, rice vinegar, and soy sauce and stir-fry for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in any additional add-ins and serve.
Making the change from a typical modern rush-to-grab-the-take-out lifestyle to one of healthy cooking and eating will have so many benefits for your life.
Your family will enjoy more meals together; they may even begin to enjoy cooking together.
Your wallet or bank accounts will thank you—in spite of claims to the contrary, it really is not more expensive to eat healthy, especially if you plan your meals and waste less food.
Finally, your body will begin to show signs of health—your blood pressure may be reduced, your waistline most likely will be reduced, and you may even find that you “just feel better.”
Best of all, you don’t have to make all of these changes on the same day. Give yourself time to adapt to the new way of doing things. Take it slow. Plan for cooking healthy meals three times a week. Set aside a Saturday morning for meal planning and a Sunday afternoon for advance prep. As you begin to get better at it, increase to five or six days a week. Eventually, healthy cooking and eating will become your go-to option.