Wellness Week: Healthy Cooking
We're spending more time in the kitchen than ever before. If you've taken some of our gentle advice to heart and have organized your kitchen space, you're ready for our next wellness topic: a healthy diet at home. You may not enjoy or have the time for cooking full meals, so we are focusing on small changes and easy meals to make cooking seem less of a chore and more of an enjoyable path to self-care.
We get it: the idea of cooking meals at home is daunting. It's time-consuming, takes quite a bit of skill and timing, and leads to more dishes to clean. And nobody likes doing more dishes. So let's begin by framing cooking in a new way... as a powerful tool for our personal health.
Your diet affects almost every other aspect of your waking life, from your energy levels throughout the day, to your ability to concentrate at work, even to the ease at which you get deep, restful sleep. Not only will you feel better, but you'll find things like exercise or long hours at work becoming easier to handle.
Most importantly, your health is invaluable. It's all you have. Eating well will help prevent sickness and disease, as well as improving your mental health and lowering your stress levels. A healthy, balanced variety of foods can do wonders for your immune system, keeping you out of the doctor's office.
Cooking is as much about preparation and planning as it is about doing the actual cooking. Give yourself the best chance to succeed by getting rid of fridge and pantry items that will not be part of your new dietary goals. Start by parting ways with the worst offender: sugar. We know how hard it can be to get rid of your "comfort foods", but clearing your diet of a daily intake of sweets can show remarkably fast results in sustained energy levels and a slew of other benefits. If you are feeling extra motivated, ditch carb-loaded foods like pancakes, white breads, ready-to-eat cereals, potato chips, and canned fruits.
Did we make it through the pantry purge? Great! We're really proud of you! Now let's create that healthy foundation for our new diet goals. Cooking even a majority of your meals is very difficult for most people, what with time-consuming jobs, fussy kids, and already precious little free time. We get it.
Make cooking easier by stocking the kitchen with healthy snacks: fruits, veggies, avocado, granola, plain yogurt, and nuts like almonds and cashews provide quick snacks to help satisfy those sugar cravings.
Don't Get Overwhelmed
Searching online amongst the mountain of healthy recipes can feel overwhelming. There are not only loads of meal ideas, but there are also a handful of popular diets professing to be the best solution to health. We won't get into the complexities of specific diets, as our goal is to help you find what works best for your well-being. Diets are not "one-size-fits-all".
Rather than prescribing to a single diet and working within strict guidelines, we suggest incorporating a few things at a time as you work up to cooking more meals.
Luckily, there are widely agreed-upon assumptions to get you on the right path. Here are simple guidelines to commit to:
- Eliminate added sugars and sweeteners
- Double down on vegetables like broccoli, leafy greens and squash
- Stick to lean proteins and healthy fats, like salmon and ground turkey
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day
- Prioritize anti-inflammatory foods, like blueberries, cauliflower and lentils
And conversely, here's a hard-and-fast list of foods to try to eat sparingly or avoid in your meal plans:
- Food and drinks high in processed sugars
- Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pastries, and sweets
- Red meat
- Processed meats and fried foods
Quick, Simple Meals
As you make progress in the kitchen on your health journey, you'll begin to have a better understanding of which foods work the best for you and your family. But starting out, you have to dive right into cooking simple, healthy meals, and see what works. Spoiler: not every meal will be a winner, and that's ok! It's all a part of the process.
The easiest method for getting your hands dirty is to select 4-5 easy recipes to start with. Focus on choosing meal ideas that use familiar ingredients. Searching for meal recipes that are "single pan" recipes or don't require extra cookware is always a great option to avoid those pesky post-dinner dishes. Luckily, there are many, many websites dedicated to bringing you simple, healthy recipes to choose from. Pinterest and Instagram are also great resources for recipe ideas and motivation.
When in doubt, stick to roasting veggies in the oven and adding a lean protein like salmon or ground turkey. Adding sides like quinoa, legumes, and herbs will give your meals a big, healthy boost in flavor. And simple additions to your meats and veggies like garlic, onion, and spices will infuse an otherwise boring meal with new life.
The health and wellness benefits of a balanced diet are numerous. But there's another equally important aspect to healthy cooking: being with the people you love. Food is communal, after all. A family dinner or a meal with friends can serve as a wonderful platform for spending quality, uninterrupted time together.
If you've gone to the trouble of investing hours into becoming a more competent, healthy cook, reap the social rewards of sharing that new-found skill with the people around you. In the frenzied, chaotic times we live in, eating together is as important as ever, giving us the chance to slow down and be present with each other. Your social media and email can wait.
We know, we know: it's quite a bit of work to overhaul your eating habits. But the rewards of sticking to a balanced, nutrient-rich diet will be numerous and life-changing. Start with small changes and you'll begin a gratifying, lasting journey to well-being.