Last week we covered some basics, for setting up a healthier kitchen and pantry. Now let’s build on that strong beginning, and move a little further down the path towards a real-food, whole-food, healthy diet!
If you read last week’s makeover article, you’ve probably already taken some important first steps towards a healthier approach to eating: the kitchen’s stocked with basic cooking supplies, and you’ve acquired (or started shopping for) a crock pot, rice cooker with steamer basket, Foreman-style grill, and blender or food processor.
You’ve done a little research about meeting nutritional needs, within whatever diet you want to follow (especially if you’re transitioning towards vegetarian or vegan habits). You’ve identified resources for fresh cheap healthy food, such as farmers’ markets or CSA groups near where you live, and have begun building your spice cabinet and pantry supplies.
You’ve also embraced forward-thinking food prep strategies: washing and chopping produce before putting it away, cooking more of any recipe than you need and storing the rest, and freezing staples like rice or whole wheat pasta in 2-cup servings for easy ‘fast food’ later.
You are off to a truly excellent start! The unhealthy food habits of the standard American diet will soon be but a dark and distant memory. To hasten that process, let’s take a few more steps down the real-food, whole-food, healthy-food path.
Cooking 101: Recipes to Live By
Buying real-food, whole-food ingredients does increase the need for some degree of food preparation, relative to fast food or Twinkies. But by increasing your food prep time from ‘zero’ to ‘a tiny bit,’ you can exponentially improve the quality of your diet without increasing your grocery budget.
For new cooks working with limited time and money, the value of a good cookbook or two can’t be overemphasized. There are infinite recipes available online, but generally cookbooks from experienced authors offer more consistent results. Thanks to the editorial process, they’re also likely to feature clearer instructions.
Whatever cookbooks you choose, look for those with recipes utilizing whole, unprocessed ingredients such as veggies, legumes, fruits, and whole grains. Look for mostly short-to-medium ingredient lists, simple cooking methods, and clear directions. Cookbooks are likely to be splashed on, dripped on, and scribbled in, so traditionally formatted books may work better Kindle or Nook versions.
Mark Bittman’s plant-centric but omnivore-friendly books, the Food Matters Cookbook and How to Cook Everything, offer an excellent introduction to real-food cooking and tons of simple recipes. My favorite recommendations for first cookbooks also include Quick-Fix Vegan, Vegan on the Cheap, Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet, and Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker.
Even if you’re not aiming for a vegan diet, if you’re hoping to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in your meals, simple vegan cookbooks by established authors provide a good basic beginner’s framework. You can always add other ingredients if you choose, but you’ll have a good healthy antioxidant-rich, high fiber, cholesterol-free base dish to build on.
Though not a functional replacement for cookbooks, online recipe resources can also be valuable. The most helpful recipe sites will show other cooks’ reviews of each dish, helping you sort the delicious wheat from the not-worth-the-trouble chaff. AllRecipes and Chow offer a wide variety of reviewable recipes, as well as community support for any cooking questions or problems you may encounter.