If your response is “I need a recipe to boil water” when people ask if you can cook, you’re not alone. Cooking can seem intimidating to many people. However, there’s good news: you don’t need your own cooking show to unleash your inner Julia Child. We’re here to prove that anyone can learn some cooking basics that can lead to nutritious and delicious meals.
As we’ve discussed, meal prepping and eating at home more can help cut costs and excess calories from your meals. We’re taking that a step further during National Nutrition Month by showing you how to add some flare to your meals no matter your skill level in the kitchen. Get ready—it’s cooking time!
Banish the boring salad
Simply being told to “eat your greens,” may leave you feeling stuck. Create your salad with flavor front and center and enjoy getting your greens, as well as several other colors of the rainbow. Start with building your base; experiment with various vegetables—such as peppery arugula, hearty kale, or sweet red leaf lettuce—and see which tastes best to you. For additional texture, mix in more vegetables or fruits. How about a juicy tomato or a crunchy bell pepper? Add some natural sweetness to the combo using strawberries, apples, or other fruits. The options are limitless.
Next, consider a protein for heartier options. Sprinkle in a hard-boiled egg, canned tuna, or chicken. Inexpensive chickpeas, kidney beans, edamame, or black beans are also loaded with protein. Add in some healthy fats—such as almonds, cashews, peanuts, or pecans—for added crunch. Use them sparingly (a handful will do) to get all the great nutrients with not too many calories. The same applies to dressings and extras. Maintain the salad’s beauty and healthiness by going light on cheese and try not to overdo the creamy dressings – these can pile on the saturated fat. Instead, try low-fat yogurt alternatives or a simple oil-and-vinegar option filled with healthy fats.
For starters, give this combination a try: romaine lettuce, corn, salsa, avocado, grilled chicken, and lime juice. In the words of celebrity chef Ina Garten, “How easy is that?”
Explore the world via your kitchen
You don’t have to leave the confines of your home to get international cuisine. Many cultures have easy-to-make dishes that are nutritious and perfect for any day of the week. Looking for some Latin American fare and flare? Try wrapping scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and onions in a corn tortilla. Spice up those fish tacos on Taco Tuesday with avocado, salsa, and sauteed chard and pineapple. Ensure you’re getting the protein variety you need by simply combining beans and rice (arroz con pollo), and pretty it up with a side of peppers, tomatoes, and squash. Looking for a side or appetizer? Guacamole (avocadoes are filled with healthy fats) with cut vegetables couldn’t be easier to make.
Craving some Chinese takeout? Save on money (and all that added salt) by creating some da pan ji, a simple chicken stew with potatoes, ginger, garlic, and bell peppers served over some whole grain noodles. Or perhaps mapo tofu (tofu in a chilly bean sauce) with some sauteed choy sum or bok choy (both nutrient-packed leafy greens). The beauty of Chinese cuisine is how versatile it is. You can search for other recipes on the MyPlate recipe site. Use the “cuisine” filter to navigate between different international cuisines.
The spice is right
If you’re looking to cut down on salt without sacrificing the flavor, get to know herbs and spices. Both can resurrect the blandest of meals. Go beyond black pepper and find your preference. Start with some basics, such as dried rosemary, oregano, or thyme and then venture out. Try making your own seasoning blend to capture all your favorite flavors. Here’s a quick, mixed herb recipe from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: ¼ cup dried parsley flakes, 2 tablespoons of dried tarragon, and 1 tablespoon each of oregano, dill weed, and celery flakes. If you’re used to higher-sodium meals, don’t worry. Your taste buds will adjust. Haven’t a clue which spices pair best with certain foods? Try this resource from the University of Delaware.
Visit this blog throughout National Nutrition Month for additional tips on fine-tuning your eating habits.
—Fred Durso, Jr., is a Nutrition On Demand intern currently pursuing a master’s degree in food and nutrition and the necessary requirements to become a registered dietitian. Prior to heading back to school, he spent more than a decade as a journalist/communications specialist.