This is the first of many articles part of the Getting Started series designed to help you find the joy in food and nourish your family in a way that works for you in 2016.
Above all, food should bring you joy. Nourishing your family shouldn’t be a chore, it should fit seamlessly into your lifestyle. However, many life barriers tend to get in the way. With meal planning taken care of, prep schedule organized, and total cook time managed, you would actually be free to spend that extra time with the people that matter most.
With the fresh start of a new year, perhaps you’ve resolved to cook more meals at home, spend more time with your family, or simply eat a more balanced diet. It can be a daunting task, but there are a few simple ways to get started so that you can set yourself up for success. It all starts in the kitchen.
- First, toss out what you don’t need (e.g. mismatched Tupperware) or any items that have expired. Next, group objects by purpose and assign them to specific cabinets (e.g. a cabinet dedicated to bakeware or cutting boards).
- Make room for a clear prep space. Even if you live in a tiny city apartment, make enough room for a cutting board. If your kitchen lacks counter space, consider a rolling island. They save space and are great for holding appetizer platters during dinner parties.
- Every few weeks, go through your inventory to keep on top of your pantry and equipment staples.
Take Inventory of Your Pantry
There are numerous healthy pantry staples that you’ll want to stock up on. For now, we’ll review some of the basics to get you set up, but stay tuned for a future blog post elaborating on these staples.
- Let’s start with the grains.The Dietary Guidelines recommends that we “make half our grains whole.” This means that out of all the grains you eat in a day, at least half should be considered “whole grains” vs. processed or refined grains. These recipes from EatLove are a great way to add more tasty whole grains to your family meals.For starters, make sure to have whole grain pasta, brown/wild rice, quinoa, and oats in your pantry. For baking, you’ll also want to include whole wheat flour or white whole wheat flour (or gluten-free if needed).
- Another important pantry section would be our canned and dried goods. Canned or dried beans are an inexpensive nutritional powerhouse and extremely versatile. Canned tuna or salmon make for a great pantry protein. Canned tomatoes can be tossed into soups and stews and dried fruit (e.g. raisins, prunes) can make for a quick snack.
- Our pantry wouldn’t be complete without our cooking oils or spices. Stock up on heart-healthy oils such as canola oil or extra virgin olive oil. Spices will vary per each family’s taste preferences, but some common ones may include dried basil, oregano, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, turmeric, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, and of course, salt and pepper.
- Other miscellaneous pantry items may include honey, maple syrup, peanut butter, nuts, breadcrumbs or panko, mustard, vinegar, and low sodium soy sauce.
- Once you feel your pantry is fully equipped, organize your pantry shelves as you would a library, with food items grouped by category.
Clean Out Your Fridge
- Have you heard about choice architecture? Many workplace wellness cafeterias will use this nifty design to nudge you to make a healthy choice. For instance, when you grab a cold beverage from the case, you may see water and other low calorie beverages at eye level. Whereas the soda and juices may be placed further below. Without even realizing it, you may be more inclined to grab the water.
- Apply this concept to your fridge, and plan to keep fresh produce front and center, and less healthy options below, to gently nudge your family to make better choices.
Don’t Forget About the Freezer
- Frozen fruit and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh, and can come in handy when you need to whip up a healthy meal in a pinch. Stock up on frozen fruit (e.g. berries), frozen vegetables (e.g. broccoli, spinach, corn, peas), and even frozen shrimp for a lean protein staple.
Survey Your Equipment
- Think about the recipes that you plan to cook in the next few weeks.Contemplating tackling slow cooker recipes to keep warm? Finally jumping onboard the smoothie train? This will help identify what you still need (e.g. slow-cooker, blender) vs. what you already have at home. Stay tuned for a post elaborating on kitchen equipment essentials.
Get Everyone on Board
- Lastly, get the whole family involved in your kitchen organization. This way, everyone will be able to move seamlessly about the kitchen, easily finding what they need. This translates into more helping hands during food prep, less mess, less chaos, and more fun food memories.
At EatLove, we truly believe that a simple, enjoyable 30-minute dinner with your family can be an everyday reality. Whether you’re looking for a hearty dinner or a well-balanced breakfast, we’re cooking up something for you.
Sources: United States Department of Agriculture. All About the Grains Group. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/grains. Accessed 12/23/15.