6 Expert Healthy Meal-Planning Tips for Cooking Beginners
Drooling over the recipes in your Pinterest feed (vegetarian classics, anyone?) or the delicious-looking meal prep Instas and Snapchats your fave foodie bloggers share on the reg? Join the club! We’re ALL about scouring our fave social sites to find inspiration for yummy eats that will give us a ton of energy and help us save more money by bringing lunch to work. To figure out how to actually cook them like the pros who post, we reached out to Erica Sanchez from Cozymeal and Cara Harbstreet from Street Smart Nutrition. Scroll on for their awesome tips, which are great for healthy eaters AND those of us who are total beginners in the kitchen.
1. Shop smart and fresh. Good cooking starts at the grocery store. Erica says, “Each week, take note of your calendar to determine how many meals you want to make that week. Then, make a list and stick to it to help stay on track at the store.” Not only is her tip a surefire way to avoid forgetting a critical ingredient, but it can help you make healthier choices or stick to the few recipes you’ve chosen for the week too.
To find the best stuff, she says, “Try to exclusively shop the perimeter of the store. Fresh foods are more affordable AND healthier than the foods you’ll often find in the aisles.” Fresh ingredients are also super important in making sure a meal tastes good, so snap up the best produce you can get your hands on.
2. Learn your food types. Cara let us know that processed foods like frozen veggies, canned beans and par-boiled rice can make cooking faster, simpler and more nutritious. Highly processed foods, on the other hand, “feature little health benefit and discourage us from cooking more healthful meals.” To be efficient and healthy in your kitchen, she says to use the info from nutrition labels and recipe ingredient lists to make choices. Sounds easy enough, right?
3. Invest in your kitchen. Though kitchen gadgets can be super fun, the novelty often wears off early. Cara advises investing in quality tools, even if it’s just a few things that’ll take your cooking to new levels. She tells us, “Get a 10-12″ cast iron or non-stick skillet, saucepan, baking sheet and quality chef’s knives. These are often all that are needed to prepare a nutritious meal in a short amount of time.” She says to pay special attention to your knives in particular, warning, “A dull knife is a dangerous knife — so keep the blade sharp and brush up on how to safely use it with a cooking class or YouTube tutorial.”
4. Season and spice. Kitchen pros know how far seasoning can go, especially when it comes to simple dishes. Erica agrees and advises, “Use sea salt (or pink salt) and fresh ground pepper as you cook to enhance flavors and taste as you go. A little goes a long way!” Want to take it a step further? She says, “Try adding in garlic, shallots, green or red onions for a more advanced flavor and added health benefits.” Sounds so yummy!
5. Plan for leftovers. Both Erica and Cara dished the deets on leftovers when we chatted with them. Cara says, “Build a habit of batch cooking whenever you can. It’ll help save you both time and effort with your cooking and cleaning. Stock staples like rice, grains, beans and legumes — all of these are easy to prep in advance and store until you need them.”
Erica clued us in on some tasty ways to make your leftovers just as exciting as the original, Pinterest-worthy dish too. “A chicken dinner can turn into an easy, healthy lunch like chicken salad (use greek yogurt to stay on the healthy side), chicken tacos or fresh nachos,” she says. “Steamed brown rice from tonight’s dinner can be used in tomorrow’s breakfast fried rice with chopped veggies. And for a quick dessert, add coconut milk, sugar and cinnamon for a sweet treat.” If you were looking for permission to unleash your creativity in the kitchen, consider it totally granted.
6. Cook with friends. Have friends who are more seasoned (pun totally intended) or culinary? Invite them over to cook together! Erica says, “Batch cooking with friends or roommates lessens your workload and can be super social and fun.” You might also learn some smart tricks from your foodie friends.
(Photos via Getty)