I remember the days when I used to go to Trader Joe’s and just buy ALLLLL the frozen Indian meals. And the pre-made refrigerated dinners. And then probably a few snack bars here and there. And cereal, oh yes, lots and lots of cereal and Almondmilk.
That was my grocery list and while, I tell you,Trader Joe’s has some amazing frozen food, I really didn’t feel like I understood what eating right was all about. I just looked at calories and tried to get some veggies in, but I felt pretty clueless about the whole thing. And I didn’t feel great and I was constantly hungry.
The first time I really got my hands dirty in the kitchen was during my second year of grad school, when I decided to try out Jillian Michaels’ online fitness program. Little did I know it would really change the way I thought about food and eating and cooking. Jillian Michaels really places an emphasis on eating clean and unprocessed foods, and getting good food into your body, as opposed to processed crap.
It seems silly when I think about it now: Jillian Michaels’ was my cooking guru. Of course, I had help from a dear friend, Katherine, who patiently explained how to properly mince a clove of garlic (thanks Kath!) and my husband (then boyfriend) who experimented with me in the kitchen and put up with a lot of fails. Now, just a few years later, I really feel like I’ve gained an understanding of what eating right is sort of about. I’m not calling myself an expert, but there are a few practical tips that are guide my meal planning now.
1. Plan your meals
The first tip is actually meal planning. When you take a minute or two on Sunday to plan your meals, you really take control of what you are eating throughout the week. I like to use Wunderlist and have a “Meals” list, a new item is one day and a subtask is a meal. This helps me share the meals I’m having with Alex, who can get started on the cooking if I can’t get to work on time.
2. Love your leftovers
Oh, I have heard it all before: I hate leftovers, they’re gross and soggy and tasteless. Whatever- the problem is that you are choosing to make the wrong foods that will make for terrible leftovers. Things that are meant to be crispy or fluffy are most likely going to make terrible leftovers. Meats that dry out because they have no sauce are another bad choice.
If you’re short on time, make a big batch of stew, chili or soup on Sunday, food that is meant to taste better the more it sits and the flavors blend. Choose sides that will hold for the next day, like roasted root vegetables (sweet potatoes, parsnips) or squashes (butternut, acorn, etc.).
3. Invest in a few good tools:
- A good knife: Yes, you just need ONE. This is the one that I own:
It will make allllll the difference in the world. Cooking will just be a breeze and a pleasure. Trust me. I’ve also heard great things about Wusthof.
- A food processor: I own a Cuisinart mini food prep, but would seriously consider investing in a larger food processor because I firmly believe in cooking in big batches to save time and money. This tool is really a must, as you can’t make certain things without a food processor (for example, pesto. Not sure how you’d pull that one off easily)
- Silpat: those French people know what they’re doin’. Silpats are basically a plastic liner thing for your cookie sheet which makes sure that things you cook on them don’t get burned onto your baking sheet and cook evenly (cookies, veggies, etc). It’s cheap on Amazon and also environmentally friendly (say goodbye to wax paper, parchment paper, aluminum foil, etc.), as it is reusable.
- Cast iron skillet: Will make your food taste MAGICAL. You can buy pre-cured ones too: I’m very happy with my Lodge classic skillet. Pro-tip: if you want delicious pizza and also an enormous vegetable roasting pan, also get the cast iron pizza pan:
- A grill. Any grill, even an indoor one. Or a cast iron griddle. Your meats will thank you.
4. Focus on quality protein (and food, for that matter). You’ve heard this before, but it’s all true. Protein will keep you satiated and energized. Quality makes a difference in nutrition and taste. Honestly, people complain that meats and organic veggies are too expensive- well maybe they should spend less money buying crap they don’t need (I’m looking at you, Sephora and Amazon!) and invest more in the quality of their comestibles! You will be living in this body a long time…
Some of my favorite proteins include:
- Fresh salmon wait until it’s on sale at the market, then buy a couple of pounds to freeze. Wild-caught rocks the house.
- Chicken breasts and thighs I don’t buy pre-frozen ’cause I think they taste less awesome. I’ll also wait for a sale on the refrigerated breasts and then individually wrap them in Saran wrap and freeze them up for later use.
- Eggs- guys, cholesterol (in eggs or otherwise) is not primarily what causes you to have high cholesterol levels (you can read about it here, or you can just google “eggs and cholesterol level correlation”), that has more to do with your consumption of saturated fats and trans fats. Eggs are good for you! And, if you purchase good quality ones, they are delicious and versatile. You can use them to make an omelet or frittata out of anything that’s going bad in your fridge, too!
- Grass-fed meats. You can taste the difference, trust me. And your body can tell the difference.
5. All (or at least most) veggies taste good roasted. Check out this roasting guide, buy up whatever veggies are on sale that week, toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper, roast and you are good to go! Make sure you are roasting them long enough, though, or they will just not taste as good (especially brussels sprouts!).
Tie it all up:
Plan your meals each week (usually at least four dinners big enough to leave you with leftovers for lunch, some breakfast staples like eggs, and fruits to snack on), buy what’s on sale and preferably in season as long as it’s high quality and fresh, and cook in big batches.
Your meal should consist of: half a plate of veggies (mix of root veggies and non-starchy veggies, preferably) and 6 oz of protein. I tend to eat medjool dates for dessert once in a while. Yummmmm.
Drink with a delicious glass of wine (or coffee, if it’s morning, unless it’s brunch!), and enjoy!