Last night I finished teaching a six week class on Healthy Cooking for the Community Education program of our school district. It was great fun and forced me to truly examine my own beliefs about healthy cooking.
Let’s first toss aside a few incorrect assumptions.
Healthy cooking is not about losing weight, although if you truly cook in a healthy way your weight will naturally find its way to a healthy number that works for your body.
Healthy cooking is not about using “light” ingredients. It’s about using real ingredients –the kind that heal and grow your body. Many times these ingredients are anything but light.
Healthy cooking does not mean bland, boring food. On the contrary, it means exploring all kinds of taste sensations. It means cooking fabulous food that you LOVE to eat.
At last night’s class I shared my ten rules for Healthy Cooking. I’ll share them with you now. (and if you want to learn more about these rules, be sure to sign up for my class in the fall!)
Ten Rules of Healthy Cooking and Eating:
1. If you don’t buy it you can’t eat it.
This goes for healthy and unhealthy ingredients. Kids and husbands are no excuse – you should care enough not to feed them unhealthy food. I wrote this in my book and believe it with all my being - If you had a life-threatening condition – you would find a way to eat the food you needed. Your health is a life-threatening condition.
Cooking and eating healthy takes planning and time, but that’s not an excuse for not doing it. Luckily - the more you do it, the easier and less time-consuming it is.
Stock your cupboards and freezer with healthy ingredients. Don’t bring junk into your home to tempt you or your family. Why would you spend your good money on foods that will only harm you?
2. Don’t be afraid to fiddle. Recipes are starting points.
There are no kitchen-police. You don’t have to follow the recipe. When I discovered this fact, it was like a light going on in my creative soul. I could tweak, change, alter, add, subtract whatever I wanted to my recipes. I began keeping notes – written right into the cookbooks to help me remember what worked and what didn’t.
Eventually I designed a system for my recipes that organized them into notebooks. You can create your own cookbook in a three ring binder – make notes, change ingredients lists, throw out recipes that you don’t LOVE, add ones you’d like to try (yes – just rip them out of that magazine!).
3. Be heavy-handed with spices.
Spices are the secret ingredient (after fresh ingredients) to yummy, healthy cooking. Watch a TV chef – they add seasonings by the handful, not the carefully measured ¼ teaspoon. If you love ginger – use lots. Would fresh basil be a nice addition to this sauce - find out! Recipe calls for 1 tablespoon taco seasoning – use two.
Invent your own spice mixes. You can find knock-offs of just about every spice blend out there on the internet. I’ve got a few on this blog.
Whenever possible, grind your own whole herbs. Buy a second hand coffee grinder at the goodwill and grind cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, whole rosemary. You will be amazed at how much better (and stronger) your spices taste!
And while you’re at it, grow your own fresh herbs – many are perennial and take little to no care. Around here you can grow oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram, mint, chamomile, chives, even parsley as perennials!
4. Substitute healthier ingredients whenever possible.
Whole grain and nut flours substitute 1 for 1 for white flour. Experiment to see how much white flour you can replace – sometimes you can replace all. After a while you won’t even like white flour – too bland and unsubstantial!
Use real fats like coconut oil, olive oil, and real butter. Use whole dairy products from grass fed cows.(Light products simply add water or fillers. Grass-fed products are substantially better for your health.) Real fats and real dairy will fill you up and taste better which means you'll be less likely to overeat. More than that, your body needs fat. Eating too little is much worse for your body than eating too much!
Add veggies or nuts or seeds to anything. Remember rule #2 - you can make anything instantly healthier by adding healthier ingredients.
5. It’s all about taste. If it isn’t fabulous – why eat it?
Really, I mean this. Why would you eat anything that didn’t taste amazing? What’s the point? Find something better to eat. Cook it yourself.
Make your salads exciting – experiment with your own dressings (1/2 any oil plus 1/2 any vinegar, add salt and pepper - go from there and walah - instand dressing!), make homemade croutons (chop bread, spray with oil, sprinkle with seasoning and bake at 300 for 30 minutes) use dried fruits, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, cooked grains, even edible flowers.
6. Eat at least 2 Veggies and/or Fruit at EVERY meal.
Fruits and vegetables should be the bulk of your meals. You need more of them than anything else. Eat them first so you fill up and won’t eat so much starch or protein (both of which the typical American eats WAY too much). And speaking of starch…
7. Don’t overload on starch.
Bread counts. Somewhere along the line we have been programmed to have bread with every meal. A steak dinner comes with baked potato AND bread. Every pasta dish in any restaurant comes with bread. Why? Bread can stand alone as your starch. If it’s delicious whole grain bread you made yourself – it can more than stand alone. Do your health and your body a favor and stick to one starch per meal.
8. Discard your preconceived notions about what makes a meal.
The purpose of a meal is to refuel, reconnect with your family, and feed your body the vitamins and minerals it needs. If you had a big lunch with protein, extra starch, plenty of fat, then dinner doesn’t need to be a big deal. It could be just veggies and hummus. You don’t need to sit down to a full plate every time you eat. Balance your day. Sometimes your snack was your meal and you are better off skipping dinner altogether.
9. Sit down to eat, no technology, be present and grateful.
When you do sit down, be there. Don’t bring the phone or the TV or even the stereo to the table with you. Pay attention to your food and your company. If you’ve taken care and cooked something healthy and delicious – taste it, enjoy it, appreciate it. Why would anyone spend time cooking healthy delicious meals that her family eats while doing other things? Set the table. Use real napkins. Say grace. Even if it’s just you. Your food, your body, and your efforts deserve this much respect.
10. If you aren’t hungry – don’t eat. It’ll go to waste either in your body or in the trash – which is better?
Even if you spent the better part of the afternoon preparing this meal, if you are full, stop eating. I was raised by a mom who grew up in the latter years of the depression in a coal mining town with very little. She insisted that I eat what was put in front of me. Most of us are programmed to clean our plates. Here’s the problem with that – it’s wasteful either way. If you throw it away it’s going to waste, but if you eat it, it is also going to waste because your body doesn’t need it. Pack it up for later, compost it, throw it away. Don’t waste it in your body.
What are your rules for healthy cooking and eating? Don't have any - you should! What you eat and how you prepare it can change your life!