Ingredient readiness makes healthy homecooking so much easier! Fresh baby spinach is one of those things that’s ALWAYS on hand in my fridge. Its flavor and texture are very mild, and it’s an easy way to add healthy greens to so many dishes. But if you don’t store it right, it can quickly waste away into a slimy mess in the bottom of the veggie drawer!
Here are my tips on storage to keep spinach fresh as long as possible.
They say if you have healthy food on hand, you’ll eat it. But that’s not necessarily true. Faced with nothing but “ingredients,” it’s often tempting to just order pizza or go out.
And let’s be real: we’ve all chosen that road more than once! But if you keep those ingredients in an easy-to-use form, it increases your odds of actually cooking at home! I’ve written before about 30 things I always keep on hand for easy healthy meals, but this post is going to focus on what I keep in the freezer, with some tips and how-to’s.
I recently read a “30 Tips” post on Rubies and Radishes that had some great suggestions to make eating Paleo easier.* Most of them will apply to any real-food diet. Just substitute the name of your diet wherever you see the word “Paleo.”
But… compulsive editor that I am, I edited it down to what I thought were the best 15 tips for eating Paleo/real food, and add a few helpful items and notes of my own. Here you go!
1. When you’re just starting, plan out meals and snacks several days in advance. This keeps you from caving in on busy days. Once you get the hang of cooking and eating this new way, it will be easier to throw together meals from your well-stocked kitchen. (You might want to read about how I stock my kitchen for easy meals.)
2. If planning all your meals seems overwhelming, try it in phases. Most people don’t need a lot of variety in breakfast, so find one or two healthy breakfasts that work for you and get those nailed down. Figure out how to prep your breakfast so it’s a no-brainer in the morning. (Here are some no-brainer breakfast options.) Then find a few lunches that work for you. (If you eat out for lunch, check out my Eating Paleo/Whole30 When Eating Out post.) Then move on to planning dinners.
3. For encouragement and inspiration, join Paleo Facebook pages. Here are a few:
Also, if you’re on Instagram, follow me at @jana.realfood: I often post easy lunches and dinners there, as well as Paleo-friendly restaurant dishes.
For example, here’s a tip from my Instagram pages: a breadless BLT kit using romaine leaves as a wrap makes an easy summer lunch!
4. Cook meat in bulk, but don’t freeze it in a huge chub: portion it out into easy-to-thaw portions before putting it in the freezer. Hamburger, pulled pork, chicken, and your favorite kinds of sausage are all handy to have ready to deploy. You can also cook bacon in big batches and keep it in the fridge or freezer. Have you tried cooking it in the oven? So easy!
5. Dedicate time to prep ingredients every week. Or, if it works better for you, every evening after dinner, prep what you’ll need for tomorrow’s meal(s). Thaw anything that’s frozen. Chop up ingredients. Pre-mix seasonings or sauces. I’ve collected a few tips on ingredient prep, too.
6. Paleo eating and meal planning takes time to adjust to. Give yourself time and grace. Keep at it — it will get easier! It’s only hard until it’s routine.
7. Read labels. Learn to recognize sugar in all its disguises. Yeah, it’s overwhelming and kind of depressing at first, but it’s a necessary education.
8. Don’t spend too much time trying to figure out how to substitute or recreate the unhealthy food you once ate. Instead of mourning the loss of food that makes you feel yucky, celebrate new food discoveries that make you feel great! As you stick with this, your taste buds will change and junk food will become less and less appealing.
9. Explore Paleo blogs and books. The more Paleo knowledge you have, the easier it is to stick with your new lifestyle! (Check out my books page.)
10. When you make dinner, make extra. Enjoy it for breakfast (yes, you can!) or lunch the next day, or pack it in the freezer for an easy future meal.
11. One of the hardest things about eating Paleo (or your personal version of it) is the social pressure to eat junk. Always have a plan before going to social gatherings. And focus on how that food is going to make you feel tomorrow! Tell yourself, “When I eat crap, I feel like crap.”
12. Eat a satisfying meal before you go to parties so you won’t be tempted by unhealthy choices. Drink plenty of water while you’re there. Focus on enjoying the people, not the food.
13. If it’s a pot luck, bring your own Paleo dish (or two), because that might be your only healthy choice!
15. Remember to get the sleep you need every night, and drink plenty of water. And several times a week, if not every day, try to get a little sunshine and gentle exercise.
BONUS TIP: Expect ups and downs! Give yourself grace if you slip up. As Melissa Hartwig says in Food Freedom Forever, “Insulting yourself over your food choices is perhaps the most damaging behavior of all.”
Want to cook more healthy at home, but daunted by the meal planning?
Are you thinking about starting to eat Paleo, do a Whole30, or just eat cleaner, healthier, real food? If you’re going to change the way you eat, you’ll probably need to change the way you stock your kitchen. This can feel daunting, but I hope this list will help.
There are certain ingredients that I always keep on hand to make meals more doable. You know those articles in women’s magazines and blogs, where they show you eight articles of clothing that can be combined into 40 different outfits? This is the same principle! I’d guess that at least 90% of what I make for everyday meals can be accomplished with only these ingredients.
Your list doesn’t need to match mine, of course, but hopefully this post will serve as inspiration. This list is mostly Paleo, almost Whole30 except for a couple items, and completely whole, real foods!
And be encouraged: once you look over this list, you’ll probably realize that you’re already well on your way to a well-stocked kitchen.
10 things I always have in the fridge:
1. Chopped onions. I chop up yellow onions a couple times a week, enough to last two or three days.
2. Eggs. Always enough for a couple days worth of breakfast, at least, plus a couple to spare.
3. Good quality hot dogs or fully cooked sausage. Quick, hearty lunch when heated up with some sauerkraut!
4. Already-baked sweet potato. Add to scrambled eggs, soup, salads, hash; top with pulled pork or other meat. Or spread with butter or bacon fat, salt and pepper; or mash with butter and cinnamon for a quick, nutritious side dish!
5. Already washed baby spinach. Beyond salad: chop and add to soup or eggs.
6. Maple syrup. For glazes, sauces, and salad dressings.
7. Condiments: tamari (gluten-free soy sauce), mustard, sriracha, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (or just a jar of adobo sauce), pickles
8. Full-fat coconut milk. A good sub, in many cases, for heavy cream. If you’re not avoiding dairy, stock real, unadulterated cream.
9. Lemon juice. I juice a couple fresh lemons once every week or so, keep it in a small jar in the fridge. For salad dressings, deglazing a pan to make pan sauce, adding to tea, etc.
10. Flours: almond, coconut, flax. Substitutes for wheat flour in various uses. Keeping them in the fridge helps them last longer. Info on almond and coconut flour.
Additional things that are usually (but not always) in my fridge, or are seasonal:
Sauerkraut, bacon, rendered bacon fat, avocado, hard-boiled eggs, carrots, celery, green onions, zucchini (to make zoodles), bell peppers, cabbage, apples, bone broth, homemade mayo, romaine (used for wraps in the summer), already-baked russet potato
Want more info about how I do meal planning for people who hate to meal plan?
1. Chopped parsley, stored in a baggie with most of the air pressed out. It’s easy to scoop out a tablespoon or a quarter-cup as needed, with no additional chopping. This is more than a garnish; it adds a fresh, peppery zing and some bright green color to the party!
2. Hamburger; some cooked, lightly seasoned, and crumbled; some raw in 1/4 lb. patties. Sometimes, also fully cooked meatballs.
3. Salmon & mahi-mahi, individual portions
4. Shrimp, deveined & deshelled
5. Bulk sausage, Italian and/or breakfast, stored in individual portions
6. Homemade sugar-free marinara, stored in 1-cup portions. If you don’t want to make homemade, go for the most sugar-free brand you can find or afford.
7. Chicken thighs or breasts, prepped and frozen individually
8. Berries: sometimes mixed, sometimes single varieties
9. My veggies of choice: currently green beans, broccoli florets
10. Bone broth or plain chicken stock, stored in 2-cup portions
(Also: leftover chicken bones, onion ends, and parsley stems for my next batch of broth)
Things I always have in the pantry:
1. Bag of yellow onions
2. Head of garlic
3. Extra coconut milk
4. Vinegars: rice, balsamic, red wine, unfiltered apple
5. Oil: olive, coconut, and usually sesame for Asian dishes
6. Homemade seasoning mixes: taco, chili, Italian, burger (and of course other individual seasonings)
7. Nuts: cashew to top an Asian stir-fry; almonds, pecans, and walnuts for salads & snacks
8. A little wheat flour or rice flour for pan-frying fish
See? Not such an exotic list, for the most part. You probably have most of this on hand. It’s just a matter of learning to see new ways to combine these basic “wardrobe” pieces to create an infinite number of quick, easy, tasty meals!
One of the biggest challenges in eating clean and healthy is putting together meals. And one of the most important tips/tricks for making healthy meals super easy is to have some food “building blocks” ready in your fridge and freezer at all times. I plan to do a complete post on this soon, but for now, here is one of my favorites: sweet potatoes. They’re easy to prep, keep well in the fridge, and very versatile at playing well with other foods.
Plus, when you’re looking for nutrient-dense foods, sweet potato is a super-hero source of Vitamin A! This chart shows amounts for a whole 5″ potato, but even half this is good! (nutrition data source)
I learned this prep method from the ladies at Layers of Happiness, but their recipe was for a complete dish. I’ve just borrowed the method, and adapted it for the ready-t0-go-ingredients tray in my Whole30 compliant fridge. (A post for another day.)
I start with a medium-sized sweet potato. What I’m calling “medium” is about 5 or 6″ long and roughly 3″ wide at the widest point. Give it a good scrubbing with a vegetable brush under running water, then pat dry. Poke several holes in it with a fork. I usually make three or four pokes on one side, then turn it over and repeat.
Then I put it in the microwave on high for one minute and 45 seconds; turn it over and repeat. (Please note that all microwaves are different and you will probably need to experiment to find the timing that works with yours.)
If you learn better by watching, here’s a short video:
Next, I take it out and cut it in half. It should be somewhat soft all the way through. It doesn’t need to be thoroughly soft, and you really don’t want it to be. But if it’s still hard in the middle, you can put the halves cut-side-down on a microwave safe plate and zap it for another 30 – 45 seconds.
Then, using a sharp paring or steak knife, cut the flesh of the sweet potato into cubes of about 1/2″ — but don’t cut all the way through to the skin. You may go ahead and cut all the way through the middle, if you like. (Note/update: I used to leave them semi-cut, like this, but I found that I usually use them diced, so now I just cut all the way through the skin and store them diced.)
Just stash this in an airtight container in the fridge, ready to deploy for all kinds of easy Whole30/Paleo meals. Such as…
A breakfast stir-fry with eggs, sausage, spinach, and sweet potato.
Another breakfast option — and one reason you don’t cut all the way through the skin. Scramble your favorite eggs and meat combo, and serve it on top of a reheated sweet potato half or quarter. Add snipped chives, if you have ’em, for color and flavor:
A super-easy side dish: Spread some bacon fat (or other healthy fat of your choice), salt, and pepper on top, and reheat. Sweet potato and pork were made for each other:
Mashing your prepped sweet potatoes is another option. One of my very favorite easy meals is to top a prepped, reheated sweet potato with some pulled pork or carnitas. Optional: top it all off with some caramelized onions. I haven’t shot a photo of that exact dish, but here’s a similar combo from Free the Animal:
One of my favorite easy lunches is to throw some leftover pork or sausage in some bone broth — either chicken or ham — and some veggies from my make-ahead tray; here, I used sweet potato, onion, and zucchini:
This soup is thickened with an egg yolk. On this particular day, I was lucky enough to have some local eggs from a friend. The yolks were almost orange, and it gave the broth a lovely golden color!
The healthy breakfast and soup options are really endless — even within Whole30 restrictions! Once you have some mostly-cooked, mostly-diced sweet potato in the fridge, you’ll find all kinds of new ways to use this flavorful, healthful, versatile veggie!
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New to eating gluten-free? Or thinking of going Paleo?
One of the best ways to eat healthy is to eat at home more. But for any busy person, this becomes a real challenge when it’s 4:30 and you have no idea what to make for dinner. Prepping some ingredients and/or dishes ahead of time to stash in the freezer can save the day. Not only does it save you cooking time, it also saves you brain effort at the very time of day your brain is most overtaxed!
Sure, these mean a little more work on the weekend — but you can do it at a leisurely pace, when you’re rested and not rushed. Which I’ve found makes cooking so much more enjoyable!
NOTE: not all of these are real food/Paleo/Whole30.
Here are tips for stocking your freezerwith precooked and seasoned meats, which gives you more versatility than already-assembled dishes. Includes instructions (but not exact recipes) for twice-baked potatoes, two different ground beef mixes, a teriyaki marinade that you can use on any meat, poultry or seafood (lots of sugar in it, though), and shredded chicken plus broth. Also has a few nifty tricks for neater packaging.
Here’s Pioneer Woman’s freezer cooking post. Not a lot of healthy stuff on the list, but I do love her tip for grilling whole chicken breasts and freezing them to have on hand for dozens of uses. I count about 11 main-dish recipes on her list, skipping the carb-laden ones.
10 meals in 1 hour – super organized and detailed; even includes shopping list! Really just five recipes; double batch of each. Honey Lemon Garlic Chicken – London Broil – Quick Taco Soup – Orange Glazed Pork Chops – Creamy Italian Chicken
10 meals in 1 hour, take 2; the no-bake version; includes five warm weather recipes that are cooked either on the grill or in the crockpot—no oven required!
More about the method…
Here are a couple resources that aren’t recipe lists, but more of a how-to go about mealprep and make it work for you.
A planned/non-planned approach. No recipes here, but some pointers for stocking your freezer with ready-to-go meat and cheese portions, then how to plan meals the weekend or night before, taking into account your schedule, the weather, and what’s in your fridge that needs to be used up.
And here are a few ingredients to have pre-cooked and ready in the freezer: