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Five things to add to your kitchen to help you cook and eat healthier meals

I am not into New Year’s resolutions.

But January is always a month where I feel like I need to re-commit to my efforts at healthy cooking habits. I think it has something to do with the three weeks of eating snickerdoodles, bacon-wrapped tenderloin, cheesy spinach-artichoke dip, country ham biscuits, peppermint bark, bacon on a stick (seriously, Foode makes this), fudge squares, cheese straws, candied pecans, Japanese fruitcake, chocolate-dipped shortbread–hey, wait, are those cupcakes? I LOVE cupcakes–crab bites, leftover tenderloin and chocolate-dipped pretzels that come at the end of December.

If you need a little boost to put your cooking on the right track after the annual binge, here are a few things to have in your kitchen that will make that easier.

1. Whole-grain flours – Start experimenting with substituting a portion of the white flour in your recipes with whole-wheat flour, or even wheat germ or ground flaxseed. Wegmans has even started selling a store-brand white whole wheat flour for those who still want the look of all-purpose.

2. Frozen vegetables – For a lot of folks, it can be intimidating–not to mention expensive–to go out and stock the fridge with a bunch of fresh vegetables from the produce section. Frozen vegetables are processed at their peak freshness, and they retain a lot more nutrients than canned, and sometimes even fresh but well-traveled, vegetables do. Roast up a tray of frozen broccoli with some Parmesan cheese for a tasty side dish, or add frozen mixed vegetables to your next pot of soup.

3. Beans – Whether canned or dried, these are a very affordable protein that can be the building-block for an easy, healthy meal. Keep cannellini beans on-hand, along with some whole-grain pasta, and you can whip up a variation of pasta y fagioli in no time (just about anything in this recipe, other than the pasta and beans, can be substituted or omitted). Consider serving roasted chickpeas with your favorite seasoning instead of French fries the next time you have burger night. If you’re looking for a new meatless main dish that features beans, I recently served this chickpea casserole and really enjoyed it (although I might add a little feta to the mix next time).

4. Lemons – So many foods can benefit from a splash of lemon juice or a grating of lemon zest. Keeping these in your fridge and learning to use them to enhance the flavors in recipes can keep you from adding unnecessary salt and butter to your dishes. A simple mix of lemon juice, olive oil and a little Dijon mustard can beat most any bottled salad dressing.

5. A meal-planning notebook – Whether you do it weekly or monthly, taking some time to make at least a rough plan of the meals you want to serve can help ensure you have the ingredients on-hand to get them on the table. When you know at 9 a.m. what’s for dinner, you’re a lot less likely to end up in the McDonald’s drive-through line at 5 p.m. Find a system that works for you. Even if it just means jotting down a few rough notes (and making note of nights when you have plans and don’t need to worry about dinner) before you head to the grocery store for the week. Devoting a little bit of time to this will make a difference in the quality of your family’s meals.

What ingredients do you keep in your pantry to help keep your cooking on-track?

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