Before I transitioned to a plant based diet, my home cooked meals consisted of macaroni and cheese, and romaine lettuce with croutons and cheese. I was basically like a young Martha Stewart.
Let’s be real, going out to eat is just easy. When you come home after a long day of work, the last thing you want to do is spend hours slaving away in the kitchen. However, the simplicity and low cost of grabbing fast food on the way home or going to eat at a restaurant for many of our meals is one of the main reasons people today are sick, overweight, and unhealthy. Restaurants are in the business of making money, not making sure your family has a healthy, nutritious meal. They pack their food with much more fat, sugar, sodium, and shit than you would use at home. The portion sizes are huuuge, and you’re more likely to splurge on a dessert or soda when you go out to eat to treat yourself. You can check out calorie comparasins at the Obesity Action Coalition, http://www.obesityaction.org/educational-resources/resource-articles-2/nutrition/eating-out-vs-eating-at-home. (does it disturb anyone else that obesity is such a large problem that we need an ACTION coalition?!) All of this adds up to the sad fact that although going out to restaurants is one of the great pleasure in life, going to most restaurants should be more of a treat than a nightly occurance.
Many parents understand this, but the problem is, they think they lack the time necessary for a healthy home made dinner. This is where I step in! I promise, if you stock your pantry with some key ingredients, cooking from home can actually be pretty easy and MUCH more nutritious than going out to eat. The key is having ingredints that make it easy to make a meal on the fly. The reason my go to meal was always mac and cheese or a salad with cheese was because I ate cheese like it was candy and I was an unsupervised 5 year old in a candy shop. I ALWAYS had cheese on hand so my meals were cheese centric. If you have healthy food on hand, your meals will be health centric. Easy concept, right? When I first went plant based it wasn’t easy. The fruits and veggies I bought would go bad quickly, and I didn’t know how to make quick and yummy meals. Now that I have learned that the grocery store consists of more than the dairy and boxed food aisles, I have found narrowed my list down to 8 foods to always have on hand to make easy, quick, and healthy meals..
If you stay stocked with these ingredients, it will make your life soooo much easier!
1. Garlic and Onions – I always, always, always, have garlic and onions on hand. They can make any dish flavorful in a healthy way. I may cook more, but I am still lazy, so I usually purchase a carton of crushed garlic and sprinkle that shit on everything.
Garlic has amazing medicinal properties, antioxidants, and is a low calorie food that is still highly nutritious with nutrients such as manganese, vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Selenium and fiber. It can even help combat sicknesses like a cold! Perfect for flu season.
Onions have vitamin C to help improve immunity and chromium to regulate blood sugar. Onions reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and can help prevent cancer. Even if garlic and onions didn’t make otherwise bland dishes absolutely delicious, they would be worth eating for all the health benefits. My favorite meals to add garlic and onions to include veggie stir fries, pasta sauces, soups, and Mexican dishes.
2. Some type of Pasta – My favorite is chickpea pasta – which they now sell at Whole Foods! Chickpea pasta is a great way to get a huuuuge protein punch, there are about 100 grams of protein per box, especially for those that prefer to get their protein from non-animal sources. This gluten free pasta has about as much protein as a steak! It also is chock full of fiber which will keep you more full for longer, which is great for weight loss.
Some other I also love pasta made from quinoa and brown rice. Do alternative pastas taste *exactly* like “regular” pasta. I’m not going to lie to you, no, they do not, BUUUUT, that doesn’t mean they don’t taste good. I don’t like to think of them as an exact replica for pasta, but they are tasty in their own way. Also, if you put on a tasty tomato sauce with GARLIC and ONIONS that you already have at home 😉, the taste difference is much less noticeable.
3. Beans/Lentils – I stock beans and lentils in cans for immediate use, but I also store it dry as well. Dry beans and lentils are less expensive, and you can unlock all of the nutrients and health benefits as well as eliminating BPA exposure from cans.p>
However, you do have to soak dried beans/lentils so I always have some canned organic beans and lentils on hand in case I want to make an impromptu Mexican dish. Beans and lentils offer an array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants while also being a great source of plant based protein. I am absolutely in love with Mexican food, and there is no better way in my mind to enjoy beans and lentils than with a Mexican kick.
4. Nuts – Walnuts, almonds, cashews and peanuts are my favorite and some of the healthiest types of nuts. Nuts are packed with heart healthy fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. The fiber in nuts can help you stay full, but if you are trying to lose weight, make sure to eat moderately as they do have a decent amount of calories in them.
Eat nuts that are raw or dry roasted to get the greatest amount of nutrition. I use nuts for so many purposes. They are the perfect for snacking on their own, or in a breakfast bowl of chia seed pudding or oatmeal. We use them on the daily to make milk (cashew and almond are our favorites), as well as cream. I made a delicious alfredo-like sauce using cashew cream that tastes so unhealthy and cheesy and delicious and it’s actually good for you! You can also use peanuts to make a home made peanut butter without all of the added sugar and hydrogenated oils that come hand in hand with most store bought peanut butters.
5. Herb/Spice Drawer – Stocking a spice drawer is a really easy way to make dishes much more flavorful and nutritious. You can stock with any spices that you and your family love the most, but ones that I keep on hand include oregano, garlic salt, basil, pepper, paprika, and cinnamon.
Herbs and spices have antiviral and antibacterial properties with disease fighting antioxidants. I use spices and herbs with almost every dish I make, whether it is cinnamon in my chia seed pudding or oregano in my vegetable soup. I love sprinkling paprika on hummus or using it to top off deviled eggs. The list and combinations of use for herb/spices are endless and their long shelf life make it a must have in any kitchen.
6. Olive and Coconut Oil – These 2 oils are a great staple for any kitchen. I use organic extra virgin olive oil for the highest levels of antioxidants and nutrients. Olive oil contains healthy fats, and has strong anti-inflammatory properties. My favorite ways to use olive oil include my homemade hummus, over cooked veggies, or part of a salad dressing.
I try to not cook foods with olive oil because it gives off a toxic smoke when heated beyond its low smoke point. That is where coconut oil steps in – specifically organic, unrefined virgin coconut oil. The health benefits and uses of coconut oil are actually endless, and I don’t want to bore everyone to tears, but I try to always use coconut oil when I am cooking with because of its higher smoke point.
7. Frozen vegetables – I think frozen veggies get a bad rap about being less nutritious than fresh veggies which is super unfair (I looked it up to make sure.) Frozen veggies have comparable amounts of nutriets to their fresh counterparts, but they last much longer than the fresh stuff, which makes them an absolute must.
I think most people know that vegetables are some of the most important foods to eat, but many of us don’t come even close to getting the recommended amount. Since I eat mostly plant based, my vegetable consumption has gone up dramatically – in large part due to frozen veggies. It is so easy to steam some frozen veggies for a stir fry, include them on a pasta with sauce, or even just heat and eat with some lemon, salt, and olive oil.
8. Lemons – Whenever I see that we are running low on lemons, I always make sure to get some more the next time I am at the store. Having a lemon water first thing in the morning alkalizes and detoxify’s your body and can help you lose weight. Adding lemon to basically any meal will instantly zest it up and make it delicious. I use lemon with guacamole for Mexican dishes, as a salad or pasta dressing, and as a marinade.
Well there you have it! I promise if you stock your kitchen with these simple staple ingredients, you will be able to make an impromptu, healthy, delicious and QUICK meal!