For the past 15 years, I’ve been on a mission to create healthy, wholesome meals at home. In some ways it’s much easier now than when I started. For instance, I usually cook without recipes or measuring cups, which saves a lot of time. And I pretty much don’t have to menu plan or make grocery lists like I used to. However, some things take just as much effort, like prepping vegetables, cooking, cleaning dishes, sweeping and mopping, cleaning out the fridge and pantry, taking out the compost and trash, etc. etc. etc. But I am convinced the benefits of cooking at home outweigh the burden of the extra work it involves. AND I think it would be great to have a housekeeper!
My post today focuses on some ways to be more efficient in the kitchen and stay ahead of the curve, so that you can sustain the practice of making great meals at home without getting overwhelmed. Healthy, wholesome meals begin with an organized, well-stocked kitchen. So here are my favorite tips for healthy home cooking!
Tip # 1: Clean out the refrigerator.
Before your main grocery shop of the week, take everything out of the fridge, one shelf at a time, and wipe down surfaces. Consolidate items that are still good and put back in appropriate shelf or bin. Discard anything that has spoiled or is about to spoil.
Tip # 2. Freeze vegetable scraps to use for making stock another day.
While cleaning out refrigerator, collect the vegetables that will not last another week but still have life to them. Include vegetables such as: carrots, scallions, garlic, chopped onion, celery and celery leaves, winter squash, shiitake mushrooms, and parsley (including stems). Do not include cruciferous vegetables, beets, or asparagus. When you have a little time at home, say in the evenings or the weekends, you can make a vegetable stock by throwing 1-2 quart-sized freezer bags full of frozen veggie scraps into a large pot. Fill with cold, filtered water and bring to a boil. Add a few whole peppercorns and bay leaf, if desired. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, then strain out vegetables and compost. Remaining liquid is your vegetable stock. You can also add frozen veggie scraps to bone broth after it has cooked for 1-2 days. Simply add the veggie scraps and cook another 30-45 minutes, then strain out all the solids at once.
Tip #3. Create a standard grocery list with staples you use regularly.
Having a standard list of staple pantry and produce items on your phone or computer can be really handy to produce a shopping list for your main trip to the grocery store each week. Check your pantry and refrigerator before shopping to see what needs to be replenished. Check off those items you already have so you don’t overstock anything. I prefer to browse the produce department or the farm stand to see what produce looks freshest and most inspiring. But I do keep staples like carrots, celery, onion, garlic, rice, and beans on hand year round.
Tip #4. Slice and dice some vegetables early in the week to use in recipes.
Dice a few onions and slice some of your favorite veggies (zucchini in half or quarter moons; carrots in rounds, half moons, or diced; celery in diagonals; etc) to use in quick stir fries or soups throughout the week. Store each type of vegetable in a separate sealed container in the fridge for use in different recipes. It’s amazing how motivating it is to make a quick soup, bean dish, scramble, or stir fry when some of your vegetables are already prepped!
Tip # 5. Early in the week, make one kind of bean and one kind of grain to use throughout the week.
Make one kind of bean and one kind of grain over the weekend or whenever you have a little extra time. Store enough in the fridge to use for the week and freeze the rest in quart-sized bags. Check out these recipes on my blog for ideas: black beans, white beans, brown rice, corn polenta. I also find it helpful to cook a big batch of udon or soba noodles and keep in the fridge for quick noodle salads and soups.
Tip #6. Schedule times you are going to shop, cook, and prep.
Making a schedule for when you are actually going to shop, clean the fridge, prep, and cook will give you a reality check. Ask yourself the following questions: Do I really have time to make all of these meals and use all of these groceries? Can I simplify my menus and make similar dishes several nights in a row that won’t create so much extra work? Or perhaps you need to get up 30 minutes earlier to fit in some prep for later in the day.
Tip #7. Go to bed with a clean conscience!
Each night before going to bed, make sure that your kitchen is all clean and ready to use in the morning. Wash dishes, load the dishwasher and run the cycle, dry and put away hand washed items, wipe down the counters, and sweep the floor. In the morning you will be ready to do a little prep for the day’s meals as well as make your own healthy breakfast!
Want to learn how to make delicious, healthy food while meeting new people? Chef Rachel’s current class schedule is available here.