What’s Up in the Kitchen?-by Mar
I remember about 20 years ago, my older brother Mike, while living on a lean college budget, used to make a meal called Tuna Noodle F@ck. OK, sorry about the less than family-friendly title, but he named it. My family laughed when Mike explained the recipe as tuna, noodles, and whatever else you F-ing had in your refrigerator. So you get the point. Mike turned out to be an amazing cook who teaches a great lesson. Though he has graduated from the canned fish and noodles, his idea is a natural style of using what is available to prepare a meal.
Many of our friends with whom Steph and I have visited get a little freaked out by The Kitchen Remix project when it comes to the philosophy of cooking something new and working with a recipe. Today, I would like to encourage you to create meals with whatever the F@ck you have available. Let go of the idea that healthy has to mean complicated. Accept that health is a journey, often an imperfect one, and know that sometimes “good enough” meal preparation is just that. I would like to share a few ideas of how to simply come up with delicious, quick meals when you do not want to work with an extensive grocery list or have limited time.
1) Stock up on the basics. My pantry (actually just two cabinets in my kitchen) always has the basics. In clear bins, I have bulk items like quinoa, lentils, brown rice, and whole grain pasta stocked at all times. I keep a jar of store-bought, organic healthy spaghetti sauce on hand for those nights when we are in a hurry. Sure it is more ideal to make a tomato sauce from fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices on my stove top, but often I don’t have the time. I can still feel confident my family is eating well, and I don’t feel guilty when I open a jar. I also keep two or three cans of organic tomatoes on the shelf to blend into sauces.
2) READ THE LABELS! So if we prefer to make meals in our kitchen (most of the time) for health, family, and budgetary concerns, yet agree it is OK to not always make it homemade, we have to be vigilant readers. When I am considering an item in a package as I grocery shop, I first see what is in it. I look for organic, non-GMO, vegan ingredients. I look at the sugar, the type of fat, and protein content. I consider where the product is made. Then I will either toss it in my cart or leave it behind.
3) Spice it Up, Baby. I keep a huge variety of spices on hand, knowing that even the most basic stir-fry is going to turn into an experience with the right spices. I experiment with flavors, colors, and textures as I cook and try not to get too hung up on perfection. Some of the tastiest dinners have looked a little funky, right? Get creative. Just because you or your family has always eaten it a certain way, (or would not even try it before), doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vary your pallet. You may be surprised how excellent steamed kale is with a little coconut oil and garlic. Ginger, cumin, cayenne, black pepper, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, cinnamon, cilantro, tarragon, sea salt, red chili pepper, and curry are spices I always have in my kitchen.
4) Buy fresh produce (or grow your own). It may seem like a “no-brainer”, but you can’t eat well if you don’t have fresh food. In my house we have fruits and/or veggies at each meal, with extras at dinner. At dinner time, we call it a “starter”; I serve my children a veggie plate with about 3-4 varieties of raw and lightly steamed vegetables while I put the finishing touches on the meal. This wards off snacking and ensures that they are beginning the meal with the “goods”. Stock up on the basic vegetables and fruits you enjoy. Choose at least one or two new vegetables each time you shop. I only buy organic produce. Here is my basic, weekly produce shopping list (for a family of 5):
5 pounds broccoli
5 pounds carrots
3 heads of cauliflower
3 large boxes baby spinach
1 box mixed baby kale
1/2 pound of another kale variety
5-6 heads of romaine lettuce
1 pound celery hearts
2 onions (I like to rotate in leeks and green onions, too)
3 large sweet potatoes
1 pound of mixed greens (I like arugula, collard, and mustard greens)
8 bell peppers (my children love the red, yellow, and orange ones)
Sprouts (We grow our own broccoli, alfalfa, and sweet pea sprouts. It is VERY easy and fun for my children. You can buy them, too.)
Mixed fresh herbs (mint, cilantro, parsley, basil, and oregano are my “go-to” herbs. In the warm weather, I grow my own.)
Veggie Variety (I crave bok choy, mushrooms of all types, jicama, parsnips, celery root, turnips and squash.) Try something new and see what you think.
3-5 pounds apples
2 pounds pears
2 pounds of oranges
SEASONAL FRESH FRUIT*- I buy fresh fruit when it is season. *In the winter, I buy frozen, organic fruit for smoothies. (Berries, peaches, mango, and pineapple are our favorites.)
I look for local produce and buy, when possible, from a local organic farm and shop at our neighborhood farmer’s market. I used to have an amazing organic garden in my yard before I had children (and when they were very small). As they got a little older, and I had three children to look over as I weeded my garden, I simplified it to flowers, herbs, pumpkins, and tomatoes. As my children mature into gardening helpers, I will add more vegetables.
In my house, I have received applause for making a pizza with a pre-made whole wheat, organic crust. It is topped with sauce made in my blender from a few tomatoes, fresh basil, oregano, and a pinch of salt with roasted red bell peppers crowning the sauce. Sure, in an ideal world, I would be making the pizza dough from scratch, but because of sports, homework, and hobbies, I often don’t have the time.
My children love macaroni and cheese from a box. Most kids do, actually. About once a week, I make a box of Annie’s Organic Mac and Cheese. While the noodles are boiling, I steam a head of cauliflower, blend it with a little coconut or flax milk, and dump half the little packet of cheese in the puree (I toss the rest in the garbage or save for a future homemade dish). When the noodles are finished, I add the cauliflower-cheese mixture and serve. My children have already had their raw vegetables first so maybe some steamed broccoli rounds out the mac and cheese main dish. They love it and I have time to play with them, help with homework, and listen to piano practice before baths and bedtime.
It can be frustrating spending hours in the kitchen cooking a gourmet meal, only to have my family ask for a sandwich instead. Though I do enjoy cooking and creating new healthy recipes, I keep it simple most meals. Smoothies, maybe followed by oatmeal, a whole-grain toaster waffle, sprouted English muffin, or a low sugar, dry cereal is our breakfast. Lunches in my house are nut butter sandwiches on sprouted grain bread, cut up veggies, and an apple or pear. Popular dinners are stir fry, roasted veggies, hummus wraps, quesadillas, anything with beans or lentils, brown rice, and pasta. I eat a mostly “vegan-ish” diet (definition: I will try a bite of mac and cheese, will have chocolate cake at someone else’s party, and if you invite me for dinner, I will not sweat it if you used chicken broth in your rice. I don’t eat meat of any kind, eggs, or dairy.) Once or twice a week, I make my children a little grass-fed, high quality meat. A couple times a week, I make them eggs (cage-free, organic certified). They eat a little dairy, but again, it is organic and in very small quantities (for example, one cup of milk on cereal and one slice of cheese). Some days my family likes what we eat, and sometimes they complain about it. I continue to serve healthy food and try to “remix” it up, knowing we must challenge our families (and ourselves) to be open to new culinary experiences. This is how my house works most of the time. Every once in a while the pizza man comes, and I am a hero.
Hopefully your menu is not Tuna Noodle F@ck but that you give yourself permission to explore the depths of your pantry, the produce section, and your spice rack. Put on your creative apron and get in your kitchen. Also know that if tonight’s dinner ends up being a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with carrot sticks, serve it up with style and grace!