One of the most common questions I get asked is ‘How can I start to cook healthier food?’.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions around healthy eating is that it’s more complicated, more expensive and more time consuming than what we’re most commonly used to. In fact, those three worries are some of the biggest barriers that I see hold people back from switching to a healthier diet and making those more nourishing dietary choices. One of the biggest myths that I love to bust is this idea that clean eating or healthy eating is time consuming and expensive – in fact, for me the majority of the time it’s cheaper and I know that I don’t personally spend hours in the kitchen!
I love cooking and eating healthy and nutrient dense foods but eating healthy isn’t about buying into the latest superfood or stocking your pantry full of foods that you will never eat! Eating healthy is about making those more nourishing swaps when possible, buying fresh whole foods and fuelling our bodies with all the macro and micronutrients it needs to thrive! It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that!
When it comes to eating healthier, one of the best places to start is with your cooking. After all, you’re going to be the trail blazer in your house hold for cleaner eating, so the way you prepare and cook your food makes a huge difference in your efforts! It doesn’t have to be overwhelming and you most certainly don’t have to buy a million and one ingredients – work with what you have, and start to make those small changes. Small changes on mass add up to make huge differences in your life so even if it doesn’t seem like much at the start, trust me, it really is a big deal!
When choosing what to cook, try and aim for fresh produce whenever you can. It’s not always the cheapest option but there are ways you can make it more budget friendly! For example, in season produce is usually more affordable so it’s a good idea to stock up and freeze it for when you might need it. Another money saving tip is to freeze any fruit or veg that might be going off in your fridge or at home. Finally, look for fresh produce that is on special offer and again freeze what you don’t need.
Canned and frozen foods do also contain a high nutrient content, but fresh will almost always be best as it usually has a higher nutrient content than packaged foods.
Local produce hasn’t had to travel as far and therefore is a lot fresher than produce that has had to be imported or that has travelled from greater distances therefore it has a higher nutrient content. As it doesn’t have to travel far, local produce such as fruit and vegetables have most likely been picked at their ripest so you get the most benefit out of eating them. Plus, if you can get to a local farmer’s market, you can ask them about how they grow their veg and what pesticides (if any) they use. The same goes for any animal products. If you choose to eat animal products then local is always best as you’ll find it’s probably not only more affordable but again you can ask how the animals were raised. Healthier cooking does start with the ingredients you choose to cook with so be selective and opt for those healthier and more sustainable choices whenever you can.
Organic produce hasn’t been grown or raised with added pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or antibiotics. All of these are toxins that will enter our bodies if consumed and although they might not affect the majority of us straight away, these toxins will build up and cause bigger problems down the line. Now, I do understand that organic isn’t always an option as it is more expensive. However, that’s why I always say to choose it WHENEVER POSSIBLE. One organic item in your kitchen is better than none after all and it’s all about making those small changes whenever you can. If you do have a tighter budget, then looking at the CLEAN 15 and DIRTY DOZEN (the 12 foods that are recommended to buy organic) list may be a great place to start! You can also save a few pennies by going to your local farmer’s market.
Although fresh foods are always best, when it comes to sourcing healthy ingredients there is nothing wrong with choosing to buy canned or frozen foods. These foods do retain a high nutrient content and are therefore better than nothing! Frozen fruit and veg usually have been picked when they were at their ripest and by freezing it their nutrient content remains high. Canned foods can also be nutritious, are more budget friendly and don’t require spending hours preparing before you can even start cooking. Some of my favourite canned foods to buy are lentils, beans and chickpeas.
Again, this is about sourcing healthier ingredients for your cooking and by staying on the outer perimeter of the supermarket, you’re surrounding yourself with all the fresh produce and avoiding the inner isles full of packaged foods. The inner isles of the supermarkets usually contain foods that contain additives and preservatives (which are best to avoid whenever possible).
Healthy cooking DOESN’T have to be complicated! When you first start to cook healthier foods, make it as simple and time efficient as possible. If you start off by overcomplicating things, it might not be sustainable for you and therefore it might not last. The simpler you can make your meals and the foods you prepare, the more you’ll be able to continue with your healthier food choices and the less overwhelming it will be. Choose to use easy to follow recipes, recipes that don’t require fancy ingredients or just follow the simple portion guidelines I share and make sure your choices are as clean and healthy as possible.
Portion guidelines are:
Let’s face it, we are all extremely busy and it’s not feasible to expect we will all be able to cook from scratch every night. This tip is an amazing time saving hack AND you’ll always have healthier meals prepared for those days when you’re running late, are feeling overwhelmed or just don’t have time to spend in the kitchen. Whenever you make a healthy meal, make double or triple the quantity and store leftovers in the freezer. Then, when it comes to eating them again all you have to do is re-heat it! No fuss and no unnecessary time spent in the kitchen when you’d rather be doing something else. This also means you’ll be less likely to reach for those unhealthy takeaways or packaged convenience foods.
As with anything, if we are too repetitive things can very easily get boring. Change up your cooking styles to keep the foods you’re eating as exciting as possible! For example: Steam, boil, roast or stir-fry veg. There are so many different ways of cooking the foods you eat so switch things up every now and again – you’ll find they taste a lot different too depending on how you cook things.
As with changing your cooking style, varying the flavours of your foods can help spice things up and keep them interesting! Experiment with different herbs & spices, try out a new recipe or add a bit of heat to your cooking! Another great idea is to make a condiment tray that you can bring to the table – that way, everyone can add their preferred flavours to their food and it makes it all that extra bit exciting! See who has the winning combination!
This is all about having fun! Healthy cooking doesn’t mean it has to be boring!
I can not emphasis how important this tip is! Healthy cooking or clean eating still needs to be about eating delicious foods. It’s not about forcing yourself to eat something just because it’s good for you or ‘healthy’. If you don’t like avocados then don’t eat them. If you can’t stand kale then don’t cook with it! Remember, it’s about making small, sustainable changes that will last the long-term so make sure you’re not punishing yourself with the foods you’re eating. You want to aim for a strong, healthy relationship with food – eat foods you enjoy!
Again, this is about creating those sustainable and long-term habits. It’s all about creating a loving relationship between you and the foods you choose to eat. If you want to start cooking and eating healthier then that also means you have to consider how you like to eat. For example: Don’t force yourself to eat breakfast if it doesn’t agree with you OR on the flip side, if intermittent fasting isn’t for you then make sure you have a delicious, nutrient dense breakfast to set yourself up for the day. Understand when you enjoy eating, how you enjoy eating and where!