I grew up in South America in the 80’s when cooking healthy was not a “thing” and my mom basically cooked what we had available each day. If one thing is for sure is that we ate 80% fresh food. Other than some canned food my mom stocked up, rice & flour that she could buy by the bulk, everything was bought daily: vegetables, fruits, meats and fish from the market. Sometimes she would even walk home with a chicken that still had feathers on. I never knew what frozen or microwaveable food was. I think that over the past 30 years we have been introduced to enough processed foods and now cooking healthy has actually become a trend. I think that I grew up eating healthy meals made by my mom every day, only that she didn’t stress out about counting calories or making sure we had enough greens, it was just a way of life.
For me cooking healthy is a life style and not necessarily a trend. A healthy meal should be a meal that has enough nutritious value and the least amount of processed ingredients. But let’s be honest, maintaining a well-balanced diet is not an easy task for our busy life styles nowadays. I know this first hand. What works for me is good planning. I am a busy mom with a full time job and some other community engagements. Most days I spend over 10 hours away from home and I know that it is the same for a lot of working mothers out there. Here are some tips that help me put nutritious dinner on the table for my family during busy weeks while keeping me sane (well, almost!).
1. Find the closest Farmer’s Market and make a weekly trip to buy fresh, local, organic produce. Plan your weekly meals ahead according to the season. Thinking ahead helps me spend the money on what I need with the least amount of waste. There are a number of Farmer’s Markets in Dane County, depending on where you live you should have a good option near you. If you must buy your produce at the grocery store choose organically grown produce whenever you can.
2. Wash all your fresh produce before storing it in the fridge. This way it will be ready for your use when making dinner in a rush on Wednesday night. I wash my greens by soaking them for few minutes in cold water with a tablespoon of white vinegar to keep their crisp freshness. If you don’t have a salad spinner to dry them out place them in a strainer over a bowl and let them stand for few minutes, toss it with your hands a couple of times. Store in an airtight plastic container with a paper towel on the bottom and on top to absorb the extra moisture. For a perfect side dish during the busy week, toss them with fresh tomatoes and homemade salad dressing, which brings me to my next tip…
3. Make your own salad dressing. Store bought salad dressing is often packed with hidden preservatives and tons of sugar. Make your own vinaigrette by whisking together 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard, salt & pepper to taste. To add additional flavors mix in any herb you have fresh at the moment, such as basil, oregano, thyme or mint. Keep in the fridge in a glass jar and shake before drizzling your salads.
4. Eat more beans. Dry beans are a very inexpensive source of fiber and protein. Make a whole pot of beans on a Sunday night and divide it into family portions that you can freeze to have later. Thaw in your fridge overnight and add on top of salads, tacos or warm up in a pan with olive oil, garlic, cumin and herbs for a quick side dish full of flavor.
5. Read the labels. When buying food at the grocery store, make it a habit to read the labels. Avoid products with high content of sugars or High-fructose corn syrup. The fewer ingredients, the better; if you can’t pronounce the ingredients listed on a label chances are that they are not good for you. Choose low fat over fat free, just know that saturated fats or partially hydrogenated fats are best to keep out of our daily diet.
6. Have a vegetarian day. Once a week we make a meal that is completely vegetarian. No meat, chicken or fish. This is especially easy in the summer time when there is a variety of locally grown vegetables all over the place; whether you grow them yourself or buy them at the market. Some ideas are: bean burger, mushroom burger, veggies stir fry, pasta & fresh tomato sauce with basil, zucchini egg frittata, butternut squash gnocchi with sage butter, tomato tart. The possibilities are endless.
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To check the latest recipes I have prepared with fresh ingredients for my family visit my blog www.fivesensespalate.com
In the next issue: 5 Different Ways to Eat Your Greens.