Become your own personal chef!

By Heather Morton, ND

Increasing the number of meals we eat at restaurants increases our risk for disease. While most of us are perfectly capable of becoming our own personal chef, we often go to a restaurant for our meals out of convenience and lack of time. This is allowing others to dictate what goes into our bodies. Since food sustains life, it really is important to ensure it’s nourishing and nutrient dense! There are many staggering statistics about the standard American diet (SAD) and disease along with many shocking nutrition labels on prepared food. Let’s take the power back and start making our own meals out of whole, fresh foods! Here are some first steps:

  1. Take inventory of your kitchen supplies. Absolutely necessary items include:
      • Stove, refrigerator, sink, oven
      • Cutting board
      • Sharp knife (dull knives inhibit vegetable consumption)
      • Small frying pan*
      • Large frying pan
      • Large oven-safe soup pot
      • Medium sauce pan
      • Small sauce pan
      • Baking pan
      • Blender**
      • Wooden spoon
      • Spatula
      • Set of measuring cups and spoons
      • Plates, bowls, knives, spoons, forks
      • Mugs and glasses
      • Storage containers
      • Colander
      • Towels, sponge, dish soap
      • Garbage can/compost bin
      • Cook books and/or the internet

Convenience items include:

        • Vegetable grater and peeler
        • Food processor
        • Hand juicer
        • Dehydrator
        • Many, many more

These items are regularly available at low cost from thrift stores such as the Goodwill. You may just find some real gems!

*Teflon free is best due to evidence of endocrine disruption, but if it’s all you have, start with it. Cast iron, ceramic, or stainless steel are great options.

**Any blender is fine to begin with, but if you get really into cooking and want to advance to making your own milks, fancy sauces, etc., you will want to save your pennies for a high powered blender such as a Blendtec or Vitamix.

2. Organize your kitchen. A tidy kitchen is much more pleasant to cook in than a messy one. This includes some planning and time, but once you’re done, it saves you in both departments. Here are some of my suggestions:

    • Keep your counter space as open as possible while still having frequently used items handy so you don’t have to take things out all the time.
    • Try and do your dishes as you cook, especially on batch days (see below), so you’re not left with a sink-full when it’s all over. Using the same dishes for all your dishes will also minimize clutter. 
    • You will be constantly coming up with new ideas on how to best organize things. It’s fun, it’s life, tell yourself that.

3. Plan. Browse the internet or a cook book for some recipes and make a plan:

      • Google searches are my favorite. Pick your favorite whole food and type in that name and the word healthy. If you follow a special diet, just type it in (vegan, paleo, low carb, etc.) with the word “recipes”. There will be tons of options. You can type in “quick” or “easy” to narrow down the choices further. Don’t forget to choose options with lots of veggies representing the colors of the rainbow (not skittles)!
      • Try to plan for 3-4 days of meals. This will decrease your shopping to 2x/week. This is best when using lots of vegetables (which you will) to ensure optimal freshness. The total time per week planning varies at first, but you will soon develop the skills to plan for 4 days of healthy meals in 20-30 minutes. This planning session also includes making yourself a grocery list and taking periodic inventory of your kitchen.
      • Before you go shopping, have a meal. Don’t go there hungry, way too much temptation.

4. Batch cook. Unless you have a few hours everyday for cooking, you will need to batch cook. This may start out as a chore, but if you approach the task with the proper mind set, cooking becomes a joy. You will be nourishing your body, which means you will start feeling better. You will be preventing many health problems that are occurring at astoundingly increasing rates by being in charge of what goes into your body. Taking one of your days off and spending several hours batch cooking is well worth it – it is your life! Here is a typical day in my life of batch cooking:

        • Soups and stews. These can be kept in the fridge and eaten all week. Freeze what’s leftover for a few months if there are weeks you’re not able to spend a whole day cooking. You’ll soon have some stock available! While fresh is best, your frozen home cooked meals are much better than store bought frozen meals.
        • Sauces and salad dressings. This makes throwing together a salad, stir fry or marinade easy and quick on those long work days.
        • Protein preparation. Prepare your meat or vegetarian protein in advance for easy access later.
        • Breakfast. Breakfast is often simplified to grab and go foods. Preparing a healthy breakfast ahead of time can help you start everyday with some proper nutrition without having to get up early. If you are an egg person, perhaps an egg-vegetable quiche. If you like to have meats, search for some healthy sausage recipes on the internet and make a big batch, even freezing some. Roasted or sautéed veggies, avocado, or sauerkraut are great options for starting your day. Step outside the breakfast box of cereal!
        • Wash your veggies and fruits ahead of time. You may also choose to chop some up in advance, but not more than 2-3 days. 

Cooking all your own meals does take some getting used to, I know. I lived in large cities with wonderful restaurants as a single person for 15 years. I became addicted to the restaurant convenience. But I know that’s not health sustaining. Tell yourself you must do this for your health, it is the truth. Whole, fresh foods are the key to disease prevention – 70% of chronic diseases are caused by our lifestyle. Like one of my favorite bands of the 90s says, take the power back! 

Handy links:

Peeling garlic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0d3oc24fD-c

Dicing an onion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwWRY_8KfxM (note: I like to leave the root on, makes handling much easier and safer for a klutz like me.

Other chopping tips: https://happyherbivore.com/2015/02/chop-prep-vegetables-quickly-how-to-videos/

Note on my personal tastes for recipes: I have tried many eating styles in my lifetime. I feel best on an omnivorous, vegetable dense diet. I like to minimize simple carbohydrates that contain no fiber and avoid dairy products. These are my favorite sites:

http://autoimmune-paleo.com/ (I also love the cookbook)

http://www.elizabethrider.com/

http://meljoulwan.com/category/recipes/

http://www.simplerecipesforjoy.com/ (I also love the cookbook)

http://www.thepaleomom.com/

Many of these sites also contain detailed meal plans with recipes and grocery lists, which are extremely helpful for those first starting out.

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