Do you ever think healthy eating is too expensive or too time intensive? Or do you think you have to be a gourmet in the kitchen to eat healthy and have it taste good? I know that LOTS of people I talk to think some of these things, which can interfere in their own health journey. In my own cooking and healthy eating, I have admittedly tossed a few “oops” dishes that just didn’t taste that great.
One of the best pieces of advice for beginning to eat healthy, whether you are a novice or returning, is to begin with fresh food. This means the freshest produce at the grocery store or farmer’s market, fresh meat, and LOTS of herbs and spices. Many of us were raised on salt, pepper, and a little Lawry’s seasoning salt which limits what we know about adding flavor to food. Common spices and herbs I find add flavor to dishes are cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, garlic, paprika, black pepper, ginger, oregano, basil, thyme, parsley, mint, and curry. More on those in a minute…
When it comes to fresh produce, where you live makes a huge difference. Here in the Pacific NW, we live in a food mecca surrounded by local agriculture that provides the freshest of ingredients. Some of you may live in food deserts where local agriculture is minimal and food is transported in. Frozen produce works well and provides high levels of nutrients because they are flash frozen, locking those vitamins and minerals in. Don’t be afraid of using those bags of frozen broccoli, carrots, and berries!
Simple dishes that taste great and are both healthy and inexpensive that I recommend to people are:
- Stir fry
- Tacos and burritos
- Rice bowls
- Soups and chilies
- Big salads with rice, beans and/or meat
- Grilled meat with a side of rice or quinoa and salad or steamed veggies
Some of you might be thinking to yourselves “BORING!”. When you add in the flavor of spices and herbs, precook some of the foods for time management, and look at the money savings from not eating out, it’s a win on all counts! By eating in more, you can control what is going into your food and you can control the flavor a little more. Mostly, reducing the amount of sugar and salt is a bonus and supports your health.
Back to those herbs and spices. You can certainly purchase dry herbs and spices. You can grow your own and harvest them, saving them in glass jars. You can even create your own spice blends! I once had a student who grew his own herb garden and harvested the herbs, making his own fresh Italian seasoning that he dried. For added flavor, you can dry roast your herbs and spices in a pan, being careful not to burn them. Dry roasting adds a depth to flavor, particularly with cumin, garlic, ginger, black pepper, and paprika. It’s best to roast the spices whole, then grind them up in a food processor.
When you think about the aroma of an Asian restaurant, probably the underlying smell is ginger and garlic. Try lightly sautéing fresh diced ginger and garlic in a pan with light olive oil or avocado oil, then adding in your meat to cook in a stir fry with tons of veggies. Serve this over a bed of brown rice and voila, dinner is served! Tasty, nourishing, and relatively inexpensive.
You can take rice bowls to the limit on flavor and healthy ingredients. They are simple, especially if you precook the rice or quinoa so it’s ready in a pinch. Cooking down veggies and meat or tofu in the flavors you like, you can create an amazing dish in very little time! I like to make mine in different flavor profiles, using Mexican spices (cumin, chili powder, black pepper, green chilies), curry (cardamom and curry spices), BBQ (mesquite flavoring, black pepper, smoke flavor from Haute Sauce), and Asian (Chinese 5 spice, garlic and ginger). There is no getting bored with rice bowls and when feeding a family, it’s easy to pick the veggies people like best.
One last quick tip on eating healthy and cheap – green chilies! Talk about flavor and diversity! Green chilies can be used in a variety of dishes and add an incredible nutrient profile. I like to use poblano chilies mixed with a serrano or jalapeno for spice. You can roast them, lightly saute them, boil then blend them, and add them to almost anything. They spice up ground beef and chicken, perfect for soups, chili, tacos and burritos. You can make a chili blend and freeze it for use later on, simplifying time in the kitchen.
We are all busy and cooking indeed does take time. However, it can be simple and rewarding! Just knowing you are nourishing your body and your family is the best feeling in the world. We can’t always control everything about our health, however eating healthy is one of the best defenses you can give your body!