It’s any night of the week, and you want to make something healthy, easy, and absolutely delicious for dinner. That might strike you as a tall order – but believe us, it’s not! Here’s the lowdown on how to make healthy, easy recipes your second-nature way of cooking, so you’ll always have the keys to the taste-good, feel-good kingdom right in the palm of your hand.
Good Stuff Cheap
The first step is to keep your pantry stocked with a short list of healthy, flavorful ingredients. As faithful readers will recall (check out our Diet Food Recipes article for a refresher), healthy go-to ingredients are high-fiber veggies and carbs, low-fat dairy and proteins, and olive oil to grease the wheels, so to speak. These don’t have to be expensive or fancy – far from it! Things like frozen veggies, whole wheat pasta, canned beans, fat-free sour cream and cottage cheese, a soy-based meat substitute like Morningstar Meal Starter Crumbles and the cheapest olive oil and tomato sauce available are all ideal items to include on your healthy shopping list. You can use them in endless combinations to make healthy meals that taste fresh and delicious, leave you feeling satisfied and energized, and are a cinch to whip up. Remember, expensive ingredients are not what makes a dish delicious – it’s what you do with your ingredients that makes the difference.
Easy Does It
What can you do with these healthy ingredients to make them into easy recipes? Just as you have a list of easy go-to ingredients, have some quick, simple go-to cooking methods. And when it comes to quick and simple cooking, we really can’t say enough for the one-pot meal. The more separate dishes you get into making for a meal, the more time and effort it’ll take to get dinner on the table, and who has time and effort to spare on a weeknight? We certainly don’t. This is the basic equation for a one pot meal: starchy stuff (whole what pasta, brown rice, beans, etc) plus pan-seared chewy stuff (veggies, soy protein, etc) mixed with saucy stuff (tomato sauce, fat-free cottage cheese, yogurt, creamed soup, etc) equals one pot deliciousness. Using this basic cooking method, you can come up with a wide variety of healthy, easy recipes which suit your tastes and make cooking a breeze. Fun, even. Italian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, whatever dishes you fancy, you can make happen using a wee bit of creativity (or a whole lot of creativity, if you’re so inclined) and this basic method.
Of course, you don’t need to limit yourself to the one-pot meal, but it sure is a nice trick to have stashed up your quick and easy culinary sleeve. Other easy recipe ideas include using baked potatoes, toasted whole-wheat bread or tortillas as a starchy meal base, resulting in mouth-watering loaded baked potatoes, comforting open-faced sandwiches, and hip, snappy burritos and wraps. You can also stop short of mixing the one pot components together, serving your pan-seared and saucy stuff on a bed of starchy stuff (classic stir fry is a good example), but this isn’t always the easiest way to go, and in our humble opinion doesn’t contribute much except fancy looks to your finished dish. Save that sort of lark for the weekend, or other occasions when you have spare time to blow in the kitchen.
Bold Spices, Big Flavors
Seasonings can turn good dishes into great dishes, and are especially important to use when you’re cooking low-fat, high-fiber foods. If you’re not familiar with using a lot of seasoning, don’t worry, it’s totally easy. The ideal time to add seasonings is in with the pan-seared stuff once it’s nearly cooked through for a lighter flavor, and earlier in the pan-searing process for bolder flavors. When you pan-sear seasonings, they add a stronger and more complex flavor to your dishes – eliminating the need for unhealthy flavor enhancers like bacon, fatty ground beef, and excessive cheese in your recipes. Are you having an a-ha! moment? By George, we think you’ve got it! And don’t worry about using too much spice, because it’s easily avoidable. Remember, you can always add more seasoning to a recipe, so err on the side of conservatism as you spice things up. We’re big fans of the cheapie shake-’em-in seasonings you don’t have to measure – this is supposed to be easy, right? Just shake a little into your pan-seared stuff, stir it around so it cooks a bit and gets nice and flavorful, take a big whiff (your nose will tell you a lot about how something tastes), take a little taste, and then add more if you’d like. Brilliantly fool-proof, and we’re the fools who’ve proven it.
Around the World In 13 Spices
If you don’t own a good supply of seasonings, no worries. You can get a good, basic stash going for very little money. We recommend gathering small collections of Italian, Mexican, Chinese and possibly Indian flavors to start with, as these are the most versatile and will give you the most bang for your buck. For your Italian spices, we suggest having an Italian seasoning blend, a pizza seasoning blend, oregano, garlic powder and red pepper flakes on hand. When you’re in the mood for Mexican, you’ll want to have chili powder, cumin, garlic powder and red pepper flakes available. If you crave Chinese, you’ll need some Chinese Five-Spice powder, ground ginger, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and some low-sodium soy sauce, which should be used sparingly because even low sodium soy sauce is fairly high in sodium. When you want something spicy and exotic, reach for the Indian spices. You’ll need curry powder, cinnamon, clove, cumin, and once again, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. One thing is pretty clear from all this: garlic powder and red pepper flakes are extremely versatile, so always keep them in your pantry.
So now you have the basics on cooking quick, healthy, delicious dishes. Here are some recipes to give you ideas and get you started in the right direction.
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