03 July 2012

This 4th of July gain independence in the kitchen

Happy 4th of July to you all! As I was contemplating the words that define this holiday...independence, freedom, liberty...my thoughts turned to how reliant most of us are on our food. So often we neglect home cooked meals and instead opt for pre-packaged, take-out, or restaurant dining. These are all acceptable options in moderation, but if we want to be at our optimal health, they should be the anomaly. And nothing feels more liberating than preparing and enjoying a meal in the comfort of your own home. The most common complaints I hear from people are: "I don't have enough time" and "I'm not good at cooking." I would like to offer a few of my best tips for overcoming these roadblocks to gaining your independence in the kitchen.

-Make your kitchen a relaxing space. First and foremost, no one wants to prepare a meal in a kitchen that is cluttered and chaotic. Not only will an organized kitchen make the process of food prep more enjoyable, but the time you save searching for a particular spice or kitchen utensil can really add up. If your kitchen feels like a scary space of disarray, instead of a calming venue to inspire creativity, make it a priority to spend some time re-organizing.

-Plan when you shop. Instead of heading blindly into a grocery store on an empty stomach, where you are likely to reach for prepared and packaged foods, make a list of what you will need to turn your kitchen into a well-stocked pantry. Be sure to follow the advice above FIRST, as you may uncover all sorts of spices and ingredients that have long been buried in your cupboards (check expiration dates). You don’t want to waste money or time buying things you already have. If you come across a recipe that you would like to try, take note of it and add the ingredients to a grocery list. Which brings me to my next tip...

-Try one new recipe per week. If you are a novice at home cooking, start off by committing to trying one new recipe per week. Find a simple recipe that sounds enticing, add the ingredients to your list (cross-checking for what you may already have on hand), and choose one day per week to set aside a little extra time to tackle the recipe. The recipes that you enjoy can become staples in your budding repertoire, and the ones that turn out to be a bust will at least teach you some lessons in the process. In the meantime, you will be stocking up your kitchen with staple ingredients, so that each new recipe requires fewer and fewer new nonperishable items to purchase. After a few months of this, you will be amazed at how quickly you can whip a quick and tasty meal at home, without giving it much thought at all.

-Cook once, eat twice...or more. Once you become more adept at creating dishes, you will discover how you can consolidate your time with this practice. Grains are a perfect food to save time in the kitchen. Take quinoa for example. Here is a time saving strategy that I utilize with this super grain: Spend 15 minutes one evening cooking a few cups of quinoa, then store it in the fridge. The next morning, reheat some in a pot on the stove for this simple meal: Breakfast Bowl. For dinner, saute some fresh veggies (spinach, broccoli, zucchini, garlic, etc) and throw some quinoa into the pan the last few minutes to heat it through. You now have a healthy, fresh stir fry in under 10 minutes. With the remaining quinoa, make a cold quinoa salad by adding fresh ingredients such as cherry tomatoes, corn, black beans, avocado, onions, cilantro, parsley, spinach, zucchini, cucumber, etc.... top it off with a little sea salt, some olive oil, and some lemon or lime juice to keep it fresh. This dish will last for a few days when kept covered in the fridge.

-Spruce up your salad. Who said salads have to be boring? Salads tend to get a bad rap, but I assure you they can be a quick and satisfying meal if you think outside of traditional toppings. Once you start preparing more food at home, you will find your fridge and countertop becoming more colorful as they are filled with vibrant, fresh fruits and veggies. Basic salad greens can be turned into a unique meal by just clearing out all of your half-used produce. Some of my favorite salad ‘throw ons’ are raw zucchini, mango, avocado, fresh herbs (basil, parsley, cilantro) almonds, dried figs, dates, chia seeds, hemp seeds, sprouts, beets and left over cooked grains. Basically, any fruit, vegetable seed, nut or grain that you don’t know what to do with is a prime candidate for your salad. Think out of the box... and produce less food waste in the process.

-Grow your own food! Nothing tastes better, or more liberating, than noshing on fresh vegetables that you harvested from your own garden. Not only does a vegetable garden save you money, it saves you time from making trips to the store, and the freshness is just incomparable. If you can’t grow your own food due to lack of suitable space, try to frequent your local farmer’s market for your weekly produce. The many perks include: The variety of plant foods available may inspire you in the kitchen... You can almost always sample the food before you buy it...And the produce will last longer due to it being grown locally, thus eliminating transport time from out of state to your local grocery store shelves.

Preparing food is an act love. Find joy in the process. It will in turn fill you with joy through good health, stimulating and nurturing your creativity, and through your liberation from the chains of dependence on fast food!

Lori Zito | @LoriZito
Lori is an animal-loving, life-loving vegan who is passionate about spreading the message of better health through a vegan diet. She works as a certified holistic health and nutrition coach, a yoga instructor, and a physical therapist. Learn more at her website Live In The Balance and follow her on Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/bayasaa