Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. But when challenged with preparing healthful meals that satisfy a family’s diverse preferences and picky taste buds, adopting some cooking knowledge and skills can really promote success of healthful lifestyle changes.

What Cooks Should Know

  1. Cooking Preparation Saves Time
  2. Using the Right Cooking Technique is Important
  3. Herbs and Spices Should Be Your Flavor Helpers

Cooking Preparation

Cooking preparation includes meal planning, ingredient preparation, and all those steps that support getting a healthful meal onto the table. Our household is working towards a zero-waste kitchen and planning is a key part of a zero-waste kitchen. If you are just starting with preparation the basic steps include a) planning your meals and snacks, b) wash/cut/prepare as much as you can in advance, and c) keep your schedule in mind when planning your meals and preparation.  Cooking preparation can include cooking a batch of beans, chicken, or even stew in order to save time during the week.  Purchasing already prepared items from bagged salads to canned beans can double or triple your food costs.  If you have seen the small plastic bags and containers with diced onions, diced celery, and chopped butternut squash then you already know how convenient having these items pre-prepared can be.  When you prepare your ingredients yourself, then you save money at the store and save time during the week.  I know families that will prepare large batches of meals on a weekly or monthly basis in order to freeze them for future days and then thaw and heat them on their busy days.  As an individual with a full-time job, a part time job, and school to balance, those monthly cooking days are essential.  The result is that I can cook large batches of 3-5 recipes to be portioned and frozen really save me from ordering take out or from eating less healthy items when I am pressed for time.

Using the Right Cooking Technique is Important

Healthy cooking might be considered boring, dry, or just unappealing. Good cooks know that they cannot just substitute healthier ingredients or remove all the less healthy items from a recipe without some tasteless results.

Moist Cooking Methods – Preparing soups and stews are great for winter comfort meals.  There is the added advantage that moist cooking methods add (you guessed it) moisture which may be a lower supply when using leaner cuts of meat.  Moist cooking methods include boiling, braising, stewing, poaching, simmering, and steaming.  Cuts of meat that are lean such as chicken breast, pork chops, eggs, and beef eye of round often benefit from moist cooking methods that maintain moisture and also serve to break down connective tissue in tough cuts of meat when cooked at a lower temperature for a longer period of time.  Using wine, broth, or liquid from canned or cooked vegetables add moisture and flavor to dishes.

Herbs and Spices Should Be Your Flavor Helpers

Fats, salts, and sugars all add flavor.  Some scientists study the way people are genetically predisposed to crave and enjoy these flavor powerhouses.  So when we are removing great sources of flavor we need to think about other sources of flavor.  I often create homemade seasoning blends based on whatever meals I have planned.  Homemade spice blends also make great gifts.  I will almost always have an Italian seasoning, Greek seasoning, and Mexican seasoning on hand.  While there are great recipes on line, here is one example of a resource for recipes –  I would omit the salt from the recipe so that you have more flexibility when using the seasonings.  I love a lot of seasoning, so I will add salt separately in order to avoid that drastic mistake of adding too much salt to the food.

These chicken breasts are an example of an at home strategy incorporating all of the above tips to make daily food preparation less timely, less costly, and more flavorful.  Chicken Breasts – While grilling chicken breast may be summer staple or something quick to pick up from the frozen food section, I prefer chicken breast seasoned with garlic, topped with water, and cooked in the slow cooker to be a great, low effort strategy for preparing moist and versatile chicken breasts that can then be used in recipes throughout the week.  I will be using the chicken breasts as a main part of the meal just prepared and then shredded, followed by using them in grilled chicken and cheese sandwiches, Soft chicken Tacos, and a baked chicken and pasta with Italian seasoning and sundried tomato sauce.



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