Big Batch Cooking

While I’m working on coming up with a new video series for the blog (totally open to suggestions of what YOU want to see) I thought I would use the Wednesday post to share a few of the things that I do during the week to help make eating and being healthy easier.

Big batch cooking is one of the best ways that I save time and brain power when it comes to making healthy meals.  It’s exactly what it sounds like; I cook a lot of food all at once.  That simple.  I do this with vegetables and grains/legumes. Sunday and Monday I will spend time washing, cutting, and prepping all the vegetables that I bought on Friday.

Parsnips cut and ready to be roasted

Parsnips cut and ready to be roasted

Then it’s time to cook it all.

My favorite way to cook my vegetables is to roast them.  It tastes great and it’s an easy way to cook a lot of vegetables at one time.  I roast sweet potatoes, parsnips, beets, cabbage, and green beans.  I also saute a big batch of broccoli and sometimes throw a few carrots into the mix.

Broccoli cooked and ready to be added to meals!

Broccoli cooked and ready to be added to meals!

While my vegetables are roasting I cook up quinoa, brown rice, and whatever beans I have on hand like black beans or garbanzo beans.  I cook these on the stovetop.  I know a lot of people like to use canned beans for the convenience, but I like to use dried beans because it’s cheaper than buying the cans.  It takes a little bit of planning since you have to soak the beans before you cook them but other than that you just boil and simmer them on the stove for 20-40 minutes.

Once everything is done cooking, I put them into large glass containers, let them cool, and stick them in the fridge.  Now I don’t have to worry about cooking them on a busy weeknight.  I can just pull out the container warm them up, throw them into whatever dish I have planned for that night and get dinner on the table in a timely manner.

You can do this with other things as well.  You can cook up big batches of chicken or pork, you can hard boil a bunch of eggs, or you can wash, dry and cut up leafy greens to be used for salads throughout the week.

Batch of my chickpea tofu ready to be added to stir fry

Batch of my chickpea tofu ready to be added to stir fry

Cooking a whole lot of things all at once and having them ready when you want to eat takes the work out of planning a healthy meal.  How many times have you come home from a long day at work and realized if you want to eat a healthy dinner you’re going to have to spend at least 40 minutes in the kitchen getting it ready?  At that points it becomes much more tempting to just grab something at a drive through or get a frozen dinner from the grocery store, neither of which are that healthy of an option.

Do yourself a favor and give big batch cooking a try.  I bet you’ll find that it saves you a bunch of time and helps you stick to your healthy lifestyle!

Keep It Simple Series: Oatmeal

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I have another video for you today and it’s all about oatmeal!  This is one of my favorite grains and I have started adding it as a part of  my breakfast every morning.  It is such a versatile grain that you can prepare in so many different ways.  I give you two different ways to make oatmeal in the video, so go check it out!

Here are the nutrition profiles of each oatmeal that I talked about in the video:

 

NOTE: In the video I say you need 2 cups of broth/water for the savory oatmeal when you need 3.  Also make sure you lower the heat to low once you cover it.  Sorry if there were any oatmeal mishaps because of that!

How To Stock Your Kitchen

For some of you, eating healthier is a whole new ball game.  You’ve never done it before and now you’re wondering what to buy at the grocery store and what to keep on hand in your kitchen.  You were used to shopping and eating one way and now that needs to change.  You can’t continue buying junk food and expect to lose weight or be healthy.  But what do you buy?  What are things that “healthy” people fill their pantries and fridges with?  I am going to share four simple things that I always keep around and are easy to incorporate into meals for healthy dishes.

Fruits and Vegetables

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Let’s just start with the obvious one and get it out of the way.  Yes, I always have fruits and vegetables in my kitchen.  For the most part I buy what’s in season because it’s cheaper and tastes better, but I also buy carrots, bananas, frozen vegetables, and potatoes year round.  If you want to eat better, start adding more of these foods into your meals.  Your mother was right, eat your vegetables because they’re good for you!

Grains and Beans

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At the moment I have a variety of beans, including chickpeas, pinto, black-eyed peas, and split peas, on my shelf.  I also have two kinds of oatmeal, millet, quinoa, brown rice, pasta, popcorn, and polenta.  All of these are great add ins to many meals as well as a food foundation to top with sauces, vegetables, meat, and more.  Most of the grains that I keep on hand are very easy and quick to cook so they can be made for a tasty week night meal.  I like the taste and texture of dried beans better than canned, but they do take longer to prepare because you have to soak them to cook them.  If you don’t have the time to do that, there are plenty of good brands of canned beans.  Just make sure to read the ingredient list and rinse them well before you use them.  The other reason that I like having a plethora of beans and grains on hand is that they are cheap.  I buy all of these things from the bulk bins at Whole Foods and most are less than $2 a pound.  If you don’t have a store with a bulk section these foods are still cheap.  You can get a one pound bag of lentils or brown rice for .99 cents!  That is some good and cheap eats.

Canned Goods

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I always have at least one can of tomato paste, tomato sauce, and diced tomatoes on my pantry shelf.  These can be used for stews, soups, sauces, toppings for meatloaf, salsa, or anything else that you can think of for tomatoes.  I buy the no sodium added kind and make sure that there is nothing but tomatoes on the ingredient list.  These are also pretty cheap because I buy the store brand at Jewel.  One other canned good that I usually have on hand is full fat coconut milk and pumpkin.  Again these can be used in so many dishes, from sweet to savory and can be found for fairly cheap prices if you look around.

Herbs and Spices

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I have a huge herb and spice collection and it is bound to get bigger.  I love making my own blends, like taco seasoning, and trying out new flavors in dishes.  Herbs and spices are a very important part of my cooking because they help take food to the next level.  Many people complain that healthy food is bland and boring, but it doesn’t have to be if you have a handful of spices around.  Try classics like oregano and basil, or branch out with spices like curry or garam masala or berbere or harissa.  Experiment with different flavors and find ones that you like the best and kick up your meals a notch.  I’m fortunate to live in Chicago near The Spice House and buy most of my seasonings there, but Whole Foods sells theirs in bulk as well and many grocery stores have a large and good selection.  As with any food though make sure you read the labels because some companies add in chemicals to keep the spices from clumping in transit.

There you have it.  Four staples of the Dawson household.  I use these things on a daily basis to create healthy meals and they are a good starting point for stocking a healthy kitchen.  Of course I have more than just this food in my house, but I would say that most meals that I make are based on or incorporate these foods.  Don’t feel overwhelmed if you are just starting out.  Build your healthy kitchen slowly and find things that you enjoy and will use regularly.  There is no wrong way to create your own healthy stock of food!

How To Repurpose Leftovers

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I am a big believer in leftovers.  I think that they play a big role in eating good, healthy meals all week long, as well as helping keep food costs down.  I only cook for two people, but I tend to cook like there are four of us and make extras to have for lunches throughout the week.  One thing that I have noticed though is that people tend to get bored of eating the same thing over and over again.  If you get bored with having the same food, you might be more likely to switch back to your unhealthy eating habits.  Because we don’t want that, I wanted to share just a few ways that you can repurpose your leftovers and make a whole different meal with just a few minor adjustments.

 

 

Meats 

This might be one of the easiest things to turn into a different meal.  Summer time is the perfect time to pull out the grill and BBQ some meat.  When you do this, make sure to throw a few extra pieces of whatever you’re making onto the grill.  Now you have some extra meat to turn into lunches or dinners for the week.

  • Shred chicken or pork and make a stir fry by adding it to some vegetables, brown rice, and soy sauce.
  • Slice up steak or chicken and add to a salad
  • Use fish to make some simple fish tacos.  Just add some salsa or corn, cilantro, and squeeze a little lime juice over everything
  • Make a chicken salad with shredded chicken, celery, avocado and mustard
  • Add any kind of meat to a frittata

Vegetables

If you do your meal prep over the weekend, make sure that you cook up some extra vegetables however you like.  Grill, roast, or saute them and you can use them for meals throughout the week.  Summer time also means the garden is full and your farmers market is in full swing, so you might be loaded up with extra vegetables.  Here are some ways you can repurpose your vegetables for leftovers.

  • Roasted root vegetables, like sweet potatoes or parsnips, can be added to salads or cooked grains for a simple lunch
  • Root vegetables are also really good pureed into soup or a sauce for pasta.  Add almond milk (or whatever milk you like) for an extra creamy texture
  • Grilled eggplant can be made into a simple baba ganush
  • Grilled zucchini or summer squash can be added to tomato sauce for extra texture and flavor
  • Cooked vegetables can be added to stir frys, soups, frittatas, or sandwiches
  • If you have an overabundance of cooked vegetables, you can also freeze them to be used later

 

Grains

Grains are a great thing to cook in big batches and then just add to meals throughout the week.

  • Grains make a really good bed for stir fry, vegetables with sauce, or cooked meat
  • Add your favorite grain to a leafy salad for a new variation
  • Leftover pasta?  Use it up by making cold pasta salad.  Toss your favorite pasta with some olive oil, seasonings, and vegetables like cherry tomatoes or avocados for a delicious summer meal
  • Try adding cooked grains to your lettuce wrap for extra texture and oomph

 

Fruit

Fruit is also pretty abundant this time of year and you can make it into a few different meals throughout the week.

  • Use leftover fruit salad as a cereal, granola, or yogurt topper for breakfast
  • Freeze leftover fruit and use in smoothies or added to water for extra flavor
  • Make a quick toast topping by mashing up leftover berries and adding a little honey/cinnamon
  • Turn frozen leftover fruit into sorbets by blending them in a high powered blender or food processor

 

There are a ton of ways that you can vary your leftovers so that you don’t eat the exact same meal every single day of the week.  With just a little bit of prep work, you can have the makings of a healthy and new meal each day.  Get creative and see what you can make out of the meals in your fridge!