What’s standing in the way between you and a good dinner most evenings? If you’re like most people, you’ll say some combination of time, expense, lack of skills and a shortage of ideas.
So, what can we do about it?
We can’t get more time in the day, but we can free up more available time by simply shifting our attention. Maybe it doesn’t exactly mean killing your television, but by turning it off or allocating more time to making real food we have the potential to have a real impact on our health. One of the best things you can do for your health and the health of your family is to make it a priority to prepare real, whole foods meals with nutritious ingredients that are organic, locally and sustainably sourced as much as possible - this week, next week, and all year.
Why cook? Because you were born with one amazing machine, my friends - emphasis on one - and the best way to fuel your machine is with nutritionally-dense real, whole foods. Period. We may get extra chances now and then to clean up our act and shift our eating style, but most of us wait until something drastic is staring us in the face to make those tough decisions about doing the best thing for our bodies. (Nutritionally dense foods are essentially foods or ingredients that are as close to their original state as possible as when they were grown or harvested - unprocessed, unrefined, and with a correspondingly high nutrient value.)
You may need a few more resources to help you on your way if you’re ready to get started right now. By asking friends whose healthy lifestyle inspires you to share a few recipes, subscribing to pra approachable food magazines like Real Food or Whole Living, taking a cooking class, or following a healthy food blog, you’ll get access to new ideas and tested recipes to start moving in the right direction of learning how to prepare great food.
To keep things affordable, consider shopping for staple items in bulk at a co-op grocery or at most grocery stores. Foods purchased in bulk allow us to buy more without paying extra for packaging, plus we contribute less garbage to the waste stream and we can buy just what we need, eliminating excess food being thrown away or not used. To save money while keeping it local, shop for pantry basics when they’re on sale, sign up for a CSA share this summer and plan to frequent a farmer’s market throughout the growing season to make use of fresh foods while they’re in season. Learn how to preserve foods for later – by freezing or canning fresh foods when they’re at their peak of flavor and nutrition – to eat fresh and locally on a budget throughout the year. If your family eats a lot of meat, consider sharing a portion of a large animal to freeze to have access to top quality, ethically-raised meats without paying the highest prices in the grocery store.
No matter what, using any of these thoughts to help shift us toward adopting a more nutritious way of eating will have us spending more time in the kitchen. That’s not a bad thing. The kitchen is typically the heart of any house, so let’s bring it to life and start cooking up some better stuff for our bodies with the goal of simply living better.
Curried Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup
adapted from the Cafe Brenda Cookbook
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
6 - 7 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1.5 tablespoon curry powder
1 cup carrots, diced
1 jalapeño, minced (optional)
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
5 cups sweet potato (choose one with deep orange flesh), diced
1 14-oz. can organic coconut milk
2 cups dried red lentils, sorted and rinsed
8 cups vegetable stock or bouillon
juice of one lime
1 bunch cilantro, minced
Sauté red onion, garlic and ginger in olive oil for 15 minutes in a large soup pot. Add curry powder, hot pepper, carrots, bell pepper, and sweet potatoes. Sauté another 5 to 10 minutes.
Add coconut milk, lentils, and the stock. Simmer, covered, until lentils are done and sweet potatoes are tender, approximately 45 minutes. Add lime juice and cilantro and serve.
To make this in a crockpot, prepare soup on the stove through the addition of adding coconut milk, lentils and the stock, then transfer to a crockpot on low to cook for 6-8 hours. Reduce stock by 1 cup and add lime juice and cilantro just before serving.
A bounty of vegetables from Gracie's Garden in Ely, MN – August 2010
Yesterday, columnist Mark Bittman announced the end of his weekly “The Minimalist” column in the weekly Dining section of the New York Times. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Bittman’s column for the ease and sense of “no big deal” with which he approaches everyday cooking – while paying attention to details and great flavors all at the same time. I’ve also admired his shift in direction towards eating more plant foods in his own diet by adopting a "vegan until 6" eating style on an earth conscious as well as health conscious premise, and sharing that story through his column and most recent two books, Food Matters and Th≠e Food Matters Cookbook.
An occasional feature of The Minimalist was to produce a big list of super fast, tasty, and 3 ingredient “recipes” – again, aimed at encouraging people to cook more often and to dispel the myth that great tasting food has to be complicated or too long to prepare.
With this blog, I pay homage to The Minimalist by keeping this short, and by making a short list of my own based on all of the things that are close to my heart: eating more vegetables and fruits, increasing the nutritional value of what we’re putting in our bodies every day, and keeping things delicious and interesting.
So here it is – 21 ways to boost the nutrition on your plate. Why 21? Because it’s three weeks of good ideas - and hopefully enough time to turn some of these new ideas into lifelong nutritious eating habits. Some of these may seem obvious, but on the other hand; some ideas may not have occurred to you yet. Either way, I encourage everyone to keep up the good work – and to keep striving to make your way of eating even better.
21 Ways to Eat More Plant Foods (and Boost the Nutrition on Your Plate)
1. Keep a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter so that fruit is always visible and accessible for snacks.
2. Thaw frozen organic blueberries or organic mixed berries in a glass jar in the fridge; add to breakfast oatmeal, use for yogurt topping or as smoothie ingredient.
3. Chop up vegetables at the beginning of the week and refrigerate in an airtight container for easy, affordable snacking.
4. Pack a piece of fruit and a mixed container of veggies every day - for snacks, for errands, and to eat with lunch.
5. Add greens to your fruit smoothies.
6. Add greens to your pizzas.
7. No matter what you’re eating for dinner, add a salad with 1 or two extra (colorful) veggies on it and add a side vegetable (corn, potatoes and green beans don’t count).
8. Make sure that at least 1/2 – 3/4 of your plate is green and colorful.
9. Stir a green leafy vegetable into your favorite soup - escarole, chard, spinach or kale are all good options.
10. Choose a different colored fruit for every snack.
11. Put vegetables on, under, and in between your sandwiches.
12. If you’re eating an egg, have it with vegetables.
13 Make your next batch of homemade mac and cheese with half pasta, half cauliflower.
14. Better yet, make your next batch of homemade mac and cheese with all cauliflower!
15. Eat fruit with nut butter for your own “power bar”.
16. Make your own batch of dried fruit and seeds for your “energy snack”.
17. Switch to dipping your hummus, guacamole, baba ganoush or yogurt dip with sliced vegetable “chips”.
18. Blend fresh spinach into your hummus or yogurt dip.
19. Eat your cheese or nut butter with an apple instead of crackers.
20. Eat a main dish salad once a week for dinner and use protein for your topping, not the main course. (2-3 times a week in summer!)
21. Count your veggie and fruit servings every day for a week to get used to the idea of how much to consume.