Starting to learn healthy cooking can be super overwhelming if it’s something you are not used to doing. Getting the hang of seasonings and how to make things taste great while using whole ingredients can be super tough. When I was eating a vegetarian diet I felt so overwhelmed. I strongly believed eating whole foods was the answer, but I had no idea how to cook a meal without using meat! I struggled for so long and had so many failures, sometimes I wanted to give up.
To save you from that same fate, I’m here to share what I’ve learned when it comes to healthy, whole cooking. There are 5 ingredients that I always have on hand to make sure I can make the best meals for my family with as little processed as possible. Most of these, you probably already have in your kitchen!
Salt and pepper are your basic seasoning starters. They are both so versatile and can be easily used in almost any dish you want to whip up.
While salt can quickly over-power food and make it too salty to eat, it is also capable of helping the natural flavors of food pop in your mouth. I highly recommend sticking to the “just a pinch” theory when it comes to healthy cooking with salt. Too much can over-power the taste of your food and isn’t good for your body either. To avoid this, keep the table salt off the table! By seasoning your food early on in the cooking process, the salt will really have a chance to soak in and help those flavors burst when you bite into your foods. If salt is added at the end of cooking, it tends to give food a stronger salty flavor instead of complimenting the food, it quickly becomes over-powering. No one wants that.
When it comes to cooking rice or noodles, add a pinch of salt to the water while they are cooking. This will help your grains absorb the salt while they cook. This is a far better option than adding the salt to sauce later in the process. Leave the sauce seasoning to other spices like basil, oregano and our next spice…
There are so many spices out there that you can add to food but it’s so tough to know what spice goes with what and how to pair them. Pepper takes the guessing out of this game. It is a great one to have on hand to help you avoid over-salting food because it assists in kicking up the flavor a notch.
So many pre-mixed seasonings already have tons of salt added to them and can get you into trouble pretty quickly! If you are just starting to flavor your meat or veggies, don’t be afraid to turn to pepper. I have had a few years of experience of experimenting in the kitchen and still, my personal favorite way to make veggies is with a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of salt and a little pepper. Don’t worry about getting too fancy too soon. Sometimes we just gotta get back to the basics.
Garlic is probably my absolute favorite thing to flavor food with. Not only does it have crazy health benefits like preventing the common
cold and helping to improve cholesterol levels. Because garlic is super body beneficial and flavors food amazingly, there is really no need to worry when adding it to your food.
I did struggle for a while with over-using garlic or adding it to sauces too late which caused it’s flavor to be over-powering. I have since worked out the kinks and usually add 3-4 cloves to almost every single thing I make.
Another struggle I faced when going through recipes was knowing what exactly a clove was. So let’s clear this up. A head of garlic is the whole bunch together. A single clove is one of the separate pieces that you can pull off.
If you are planning on using garlic more in your kitchen, I highly recommend investing in a garlic press. Mine has completely saved my life. It’s something I use almost every day and has spared me the time of trying to chop up those tiny cloves. More often than not, if I am making veggies or cooking meat in a pan, I will begin by smashing my garlic, adding a bit of water to the bottom of the pan, and letting the garlic cook in the water before adding the rest of my meal. Usually, if I’m cooking garlic in the bottom of a pan, it is probably accompanied by my next cooking must have:
Just like garlic, onion is a must have for healthy cooking.
There are tons of different types of onions out there that all help flavor your food in different ways. If you are just working your way into the kitchen, I suggest starting with white or yellow onions. White will be a little bolder of a flavor and yellow will be a little sweeter, (studies have shown yellow to be the healthiest).
No matter the type, there are great added health benefits to adding onion to your cooking. Onions help boost your immunity, assist in healing infections and can reduce inflammation.
There are even those hand-me-down onion uses that have nothing to do with cooking. Like cutting some up and adding them to your socks at night to purify your blood, or even cutting one in half and leaving it face up next to your bed at night to purify the air. Just don’t use those ones in your cooking, please! If every person was put here for a purpose, whose to say onions don’t serve this super awesome purpose, right? I mean besides giving our food the flavor we want, of course. My favorite use of onions is with a big pan full of oven roasted veggies! Just like salt, it helps give all the veggies mixed in alongside it really great flavor and makes it that much easier for my kiddos to gobble them up! Which is always a plus when you’re a mama.
I have tried other oils besides olive oil for cooking, like avocado oil and coconut oil and olive oil still takes the cake. I know using oil can be an iffy thing when it comes to consumption, especially if you’re trying to eat whole because oil, well, isn’t whole. But if you are using it to replace other cooking go-tos like butter, or canola oil, it’s a no brainer. Olive oil is a far healthier fat than butter and is also an anti inflammatory food.
Nine months ago I switched my diet from vegan to something more along the lines of a Mediterranean diet. The mediterranean diet includes in it the use of olive oil as a main source of healthy fat. As I said in my blog post, Vegan Diet and Why I Had to Quit once I started digging a little deeper, I noticed that in all the studies I did during my Holistic Nutrition Certification, the health of the people on a mediterranean diet were very close to those of a vegan diet. I myself have found even better health eating this way than I did on a strictly vegan diet (watching my olive oil intake.)
While I try to avoid olive oil when cooking my garlic and onion, it is something I love adding to my roasted veggies. It just flavors them way better than other oils and helps give them a nice crispy-ness. The other oils I felt almost made my foods even soggier. So, for now olive oil is in my kitchen, avocados will be eaten whole, and coconut oil will be my main source of skin care! (Maybe I’ll have to touch on that a different day.)
Yes, I know you’ve got this streaming right into your kitchen! Water, the stuff that makes the world go ’round. The stuff that we’re made of! While I would love to lie to you and think up some other product, the truth is, water is something I would just collapse without. Not only do I strive to drink a buttload of it every day (that’s a technical term,) I also use it every day in my cooking. Water can be used in cooking tender meat, steaming vegetables, cooking onion and garlic (like we talked about) in place of oil, boiling rices and noodles, tea, cooking mashed potatoes. I mean, seriously, I could go on and on. It’s also a key ingredient in my three ingredient waffles, but, let’s focus on a few ways you may not have mastered yet.
This is the way I cook my vegetables most of the time because it is just the easiest, way to go about it! By adding a little water to a pot (just enough to cover the bottom) and putting your veggies on top you are well on your way! Add in a little salt, put the top on your pot and let
those veggies steam! Keep an eye on them because over-steaming can make them soggy and that’s not fun for anyone. Keep them on medium heat, and let them cook for 10 minutes or until veggies are tender.
I am a firm believer in making every scrap of food count.
After we peel a banana or crack an egg, we take the leftover peel and shell and put them to use by adding them to our compost. The same goes for our veggies. After chopping an onion, celery, zucchini or carrot, there is usually some part that gets cut off and left to fend for itself.
The day I started putting those scraps in a ziplock and tossing them in the freezer was a cooking game changer. Fill up your bag and add all your scraps to a big pot and bring them to a boil. Let them boil for 2-3 minutes and then turn to a simmer. Leave them on for another 15 minutes or so so that all the vegetable juices have time to work their magic. Strain the water into a separate container and you’ve got yourself some homemade vegetable broth all thanks to some scraps and water! This is also a great money saver to have in your back pocket! One less thing to buy in the store.
There you have it, my 5 must haves! Time to start putting them to use!