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.
I don’t always buy organic fruits and veggies. It depends on the prices, and how much of the food I’m going to eat, and how easy the surface is to wash. And also taste! Organic strawberries and carrots taste so much better than conventional!
But another factor is which foods tend to be most pesticide-laden. Every year, the Environmental Working Group puts together a handy two-part report card called the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen.”
Here’s the list for 2015. (It usually doesn’t change much from year to year. But you can always google “clean fifteen” for the given year.)
In our house, we’re mostly sporadic organizers. Or sporadic messies, depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kinda person.
But in the places where I need to find stuff day-in and day-out, I like to keep things pretty neat, because searching for stuff makes me nuts!
Here are a few cheap, easy things I’ve found that help keep my stuff findable. Most of the containers are items you’d find at an office store, Target, or the like.
Batteries in a magazine file
In a house full of computer nerds, we go through batteries like crazy, so I buy the huge multi-packs at Sam’s. For the longest time, I just stashed them willy-nilly in my office shelves, but one day as I was deciding whether to throw out this magazine bin, it hit me that this is the perfect size for those big battery blister packs.
Spices* in a CD box
*or anything else that comes in flat bags or envelopes
We buy most of our spices from a local specialty store (yay, The Spice Merchant!), where the spices are packed in these flat plastic bags that are 4 or 5 inches wide. I’ve found a CD bin works perfect for this, and is just the right depth to stash in an upper cabinet. This would also work for instant soup packs and small boxed mixes such as Rice-a-Roni or Zataran’s.
Nuts* and clothespins
*and other things that come in paper bags
Nuts are both healthy and versatile, so I always keep a good stash of several different kinds on hand. The ones we eat most (walnuts and pecans) go in big canisters, but the ones that we buy in smaller quantities, I keep in the original bag (shout-out to another local: Nifty Nut House!), in another metal-mesh bin in the pantry. Writing the name on a clothespin helps me see what’s behind the front row at a glance.
- Breakfast – my pre-chopped onion, roasted sweet potato, and greens that I make into hash almost every morning.
- Fruit and yogurt
- Snacks; cut-up veggies and dips
- Nuts and coconut
Shopping bags in a folder holder
An office organizer, usually used to hold folders, is the perfect place to stash shopping bags of various sizes. When I have too many to fit in the holder, I know it’s time to start throwing them in the recycling or passing them on to thrift stores.
But don’t hate me because I’m organized…
Keeping a kitchen organized is a bit like putting an octopus to bed. You get one part tucked away neatly, and another tentacle pops out somewhere else! But you gotta keep trying. Can’t let the octopus take over!
Here is how I make sure my salmon is perfectly done, every time. This method works for me whether I’m broiling the salmon, baking it in the oven at 450 F, or cooking it on the grill.
Note: I’ve also made a video showing how to perfectly pan-sear salmon — now my favorite method!
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!
14. Likewise, have a plan for how you’ll eat when meeting friends at restaurants. Study up on tips for Eating Paleo/Whole30 When Eating Out.
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.”
* (Read the original Rubies and Radishes post here, if you have a few minutes.)
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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?
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.