Monday, October 12, 2009

How to cook healthy every day and maintain your sanity at the same time!

I'm beginning to realize that I'm a bit of an odd duck. I know a couple of people that cook from scratch like I do, but not many! I've always wondered why everyone doesn't cook from scratch like I do, and then it hit me . . . 'cause it's a LOT of work. And a lot of clean-up.

I've got to tell you, though, I've come up with a few strategies that have really helped us along:

1. MEAL PLAN. Either Friday night or Saturday morning, I sit down and pick out what recipes I want to make for the week. (This also gives Dan the opportunity to add his two cents to the meal plan!) I then go through those recipes, check what ingredients we have on hand, and add the ones we don't to the grocery list. This is also a good time to figure out what things we'll need for breakfasts, snacks, and treats throughout the week, too. While I'm checking on available ingredients, I also clean out and reorganize the fridge. Helps me find ingredients that need to be used up ASAP!

2. GROCERY SHOP. I take time, usually earlyish on Saturday morning, to hit the Farmer's Market, co-op, Asian grocery store, and/or Middle Eastern market to finish our shopping in one outing. I always go to the Farmer's Market first in case I can't find something on our list, and can then pick it up at the co-op instead. Since I know all of these markets like the back of my hand, I can usually have our shopping for the week done in less than two hours! (This used to take longer when I walked everywhere, but now that I can borrow Dan's car, it's much faster.)

3. COOK AHEAD. I block time most Sunday afternoons for a cooking marathon. I make a big list of all of my cooking projects for the week, and get cracking. I usually bake one or two things for the week, (usually a breakfast muffin/scone/granola and a treat,) and spend the rest of my time making soymilk, bread, sauces/marinades, shredding cheese, cooking rice, and prepping as many veggies as can be pre-prepped. I go so far as to pre-measure spices for different stages of recipes! My first step in this cooking marathon is usually preparing Sunday dinner, so it's ready to pop in the oven (or serve out of the Crock Pot) when my marathon is over. If I start my marathon as soon as I get home from church, (around 11 AM,) I'm usually done and ready for a nap around 3:30, and this includes cleaning up!

4. THINK AHEAD. For example, we're having fajitas for dinner tonight. SO, this past weekend, I made the fajita marinade and sliced the tempeh, peppers, and onions. This morning? I had to remember to add the marinade to the tempeh and veggies. Easy enough, right? Tonight, all I have to do is cook up the tempeh and veggies, make guacamole, and set out the toppings! Woo!

5. PACK LUNCHES AFTER DINNER. This is something I'm slowly getting better at, but I find it SO easy to just set out a couple of tupperware containers to fill up as we're dishing up dinner. While we eat, these portions cool, so packing fruit, snacks, napkins, and flatware takes seconds after dinner! I'm totally not a morning person, so I love having almost everything ready to go the night before.

6. CLEAN UP AS YOU GO. This is a habit I've developed due to our miniscule kitchen, but cleaning up during "idle time" in cooking has made cleaning up after dinner take less than ten minutes! I always run a sinkful of hot dishwater before I start cooking, and when I find myself with a few free minutes, (onions are softening, water is coming to a boil, oven is preheating, etc.) I wash a few dishes. By the time we sit down to eat, the kitchen is usually almost completely clean! This leaves only serving dishes/pots and our plates, silverware, and glasses to wash after dinner. Speedy!

Anybody else out there have awesome tips for staying on top of a healthy, whole-foods meal plan? Please share!


Anonymous said...

Sounds very similar to what I do. I love the cleaning as you go...I usually have all the dishes done before the meal/baked good is finished too, which really is a time saver, and is so much less intimidating than having to face a whole sink full/day of dishes at once! Now that you have Dan's car, in addition to going to the Asian grocery store and farmers market to save money, you really should check out the reduced price shelf at the Produce Exchange! Anytime you want to go, let me know--I am happy to show you where it is and scout out deals with you :-) They also have a Holy Land at the Global Market, which is much closer than going to North Minneapolis for the main store...


Unknown said...

All great tips. I am lazy about the meal packing though. I am not a morning person either. When I organize my food the day before I am so less prone to eating junk food

Liz said...

We're practically clones.

Regina said...

Great tips, they make me wanna cook all day! I do a meal plan too, and since we have a pretty regular weekly schedule with work and classes, when there's no time to make a "fresh" plan, I just pull out an old one from my binder!
Also, this may seem really obvious, but I didn't use to make things that we ate for 2-3 meals - a big pot of chili, soup or stew. Now we have at least one item like that, which helps "anchor" the week. I love cooking, but I have to admit it's nice to not have to do it every single day!
I love, love the idea of cooking marathons, and reaping the benefits all week. You've just inspired me to make more of an effort in that area. Thanks!
And by the way, do you still work at Kitchen Window? I had a gift registry question that I'm hoping to e-mail you about.

Vic Robinson said...

I always prefer to cook from scratch. It is always more gratifying.