So, you know you should eat a healthy breakfast every day, but those ready-made convenience foods — cereal, bagels, yogurt — make it so easy to load up on low-nutrient carbs that it’s hard to get out of that rut. But that rut is what makes you hungry again before 10 o’clock every morning!
I’ve previously shared ways to keep veggies on hand for quick, easy additions to healthy meals; today I’m going to show you how I stash proteins for the same convenience.
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.
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
10 things I always have in the freezer:
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!
Follow me on Instagram for more quick, easy healthy food ideas.
Changing your diet comes down to some really practical things. And if you can break it down and look at it as a series of small changes, it becomes much less daunting.
I love these seven strategies that Dr. Mark Hyman suggests for revolutionizing your eating habits. And I think the number one item is especially smart:
1. Change your mind about cooking. When you view cooking as an act of love that you share with your family, you strengthen bonds, teach important life-extending skills to your children, and enrich and nourish your bodies and your souls.
This has certainly been the case for me! I used to view cooking dinner as drudgery; now I see it as a creative outlet, and a way to thank my husband for working hard all day! And to bless any friends or family who might be joining us.
(Yes, I work too, but I have more freedom in my schedule than he does, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. Creating a healthy, enjoyable meal is one of the ways I show that gratitude. When he retires, there will be more sharing of the load!)
2. Keep staples nearby. …3. Choose frozen. While fresh foods in the produce aisles are ideal, frozen berries, vegetables, and other foods make longer-lasting alternatives. You can stock up and have [them] on hand in your kitchen for healthy, easy meals when you can’t get to the market or these items are out of season.
Some items I try to always have stocked in my kitchen: a bag of onions, fresh spinach and/or romaine, carrots, celery, cooked/diced sweet potato, tuna, one or more kinds of already-cooked meat, eggs, avocado (or Wholly Guacamole singles), and coconut milk. In the freezer: more meat (cooked or not), mahi mahi, shrimp, frozen berries and/or cherries, green beans and other veggies. More detail in my how I stock my kitchen post.
4. Reclaim your kitchen. Establish your kitchen as the ground-zero family meeting place and establish it exclusively for cooking and socializing.
This one challenges me! I think we (me and the hubs) need to kick the laptops out of our kitchen. The clutter we accumulate nearby quickly takes over. (True confession: I tidied up a bit before taking the above picture of my end of the kitchen table!)
5. Re-evaluate your time. Time is the biggest excuse why many of my patients don’t cook. Keep a journal for one week to monitor your time. You might be surprised at how you spend your time.
I highly recommend this! I think most of us would find ourselves much happier and healthier if we gave up a few rounds of Candy Crush or a couple hours of TV or internet or “retail therapy” on the weekend to spend a little more time planning and prepping meals for the week.
6. Make mistakes. If you’re new to cooking or your skills have gotten rusty, don’t aim for perfection with your first recipe—aim for experimenting and practicing. Start with… basic recipes with few ingredients and work your way up to something more complex.
Yes, yes, yes! Just try stuff! Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t come out great. Learn and move ahead!
7. Get everyone involved. Enlist help from family members—drag your kids away from their video games and ask them to measure ingredients, pull food from the fridge, or even chop veggies if they’re ready to take on this task. Decide on meals together to get everyone excited about what’s in store.
Again — Amen! If you don’t have kids, make it time with your spouse, friend, or sister. Or, if you’re an introvert, choose your favorite music, crank it up, and relish the alone time!
If you do have kids, and if having all the kids in the kitchen at once is a sure recipe for chaos and bickering, take one kid at a time and make it a special one-on-one time for the two of you. Let them choose the music. Infect them with a love for preparing good, healthy food! (Spoken from one who wishes she’d done it this way early on. Oh well, maybe with grandkids.)
Start kids (or yourself) off with something fun and easy, like cookies (they could be Paleo! like these coconut cookies), and work your way up to healthier, more complex stuff. My daughter’s love for cooking began early — mostly in her grandma’s kitchen!
By the time she was twelve, she was able to make chicken noodle soup from scratch, all by herself. Ten (fast!) years later, she’s now married and easily handles the day-to-day cooking. (I’m so proud of you, Sweetie!)
So don’t make changing your diet overly complicated. Start with learning a little more about prepping and cooking food, with simple dishes, and with changing your mind about creating meals!
(One way to learn? Follow me on Instagram. I often shoot a quick pic of my easiest meals and post them there with brief notes about what went into them. @janalovesrealfood )
“Changing your mind” typography by dudebeawsome on Instagram
Ready to cut refined sugar and/or grains out of your diet –
but still want to enjoy sweets?
Check out my cookbook…
I’ve assembled three weeks’ worth of mostly-healthy main dish recipes. When my kids were still living at home and evenings were crazy-busy, I used a three-week rotation to save me the trouble of having to figure out day-by-day what we were having for dinner. I resisted this level of planning for a long time, but once I started using it, it freed up SO much brain-space and simplified life so much, I loved it.
Most of these are my recipes; some are not. Most of these I’ve tried and tested. The asterisked ones I have not.* Most of them are pretty healthy.
A few notes:
Every Tuesday, you make extra chicken to be used later in the week.
Once you’ve tested these recipes and decided which are keepers, you can make up the seasoning mixes in bulk to streamline that part of weeknight cooking.
Note that some recipes can have part of the prep work done the night before, or earlier in the day, to further simplify your evening prep time.
Many of my recipes incorporate vegetables so I don’t have to make a side dish, but for those that do need one, my side dish usually consists of this: pulling a bag of frozen vegetables (green beans, cauliflower, mixed veggies) or pre-sliced carrots out of the fridge, steaming them, and adding some butter and salt. Other possible additions: cheese, for broccoli or cauliflower; pine-nuts, almonds or pecans for green beans; orange marmalade or cinnamon for carrots.
|Asian lettuce wraps|
Mon: Brown sugar glazed salmon* (lots of sugar in this one; sorry!)
Tues: Super easy shredded chicken tacos (start early; uses a slow-cooker. make extra for tomorrow’s salad)
Wed: Tex-Mex salad
Thurs: 10-Minute French dip
Fri: Asian lettuce wraps
|Almost-Panera’s Asian salad|
Mon: Herb-crusted salmon
Tues: Easy roasted chicken breasts (make extra for tomorrow’s and Friday’s salad)
Wed: Caesar salad; here’s a recipe for easy homemade Caesar dressing without raw or coddled eggs.
Thurs: Herb-roasted pork tenderloin
Fri: Orange-cranberry chicken salad (Try it with the small amount of curry, then adjust or omit to your liking)
For Fall and Winter meals, I would substitute the following soups for the Wednesday night salads:
*These recipes have not been tested by me, but they’re all highly rated on AllRecipes.com.
While as many as 8-10% of us may need to avoid gluten, 90% or more of us can enjoy a crusty fresh loaf of wheat bread.
Donald Kasarda, a USDA researcher, surveyed data and found that gluten levels in wheat have stayed pretty much the same for more than 100 years. Kasarda does note, however, that the use of vital wheat gluten as a food additive has increased three-fold in the last 15 years. (Like to read medical study reports? Here ya go.)
Scientists at the conference mentioned several factors that seem to increase our risk for celiac disease: Increased use of antibiotics, which wipe out good bacteria and bad in the gut. The rise in Caesarian deliveries, which bypass the mother’s usual transfer of bacteria to the baby. Introducing gluten into babies’ diets too early or too late (4-7 months seems ideal). The hygiene hypothesis, which theorizes that our immune systems don’t develop properly anymore because our super-clean homes don’t give them enough early exercise.