Today's walk takes us into your kitchen. While this tip may be obvious to most, it's the doing that is harder, so we'll talk about some easy steps to making this happen. We all know that cooking our own food is better than buying processed, packaged, quick-fire meals, but so many people shy away from making their own food for the simple convenience of it all. Here are some "baby steps" toward making your own food that you could incorporate one at a time for long-term success.
1. Make a grocery list with recipes in hand. Choose which recipes (or maybe it's more realistic to just do one a week to start with) you want to use for the week. I usually list the days of the week on one corner of my list with the recipes next to each day. Then make your list according to those recipes. Here's the key: ONLY BUY WHAT YOU'RE PLANNING FOR. If the kitchen's stocked with quick and easy meals, you'll always use those, and the fresh veggies and other ingredients will go bad in your fridge.
2. Find recipes that you're excited about--clip them from your magazines as soon as you see them; print them off the Internet right away; make a binder of recipes you want to try. All this will add for more motivation when making that grocery list.
3. Start with simple meals. Ask around for recipes your friends use that involve very few ingredients.
4. Buy an easy-to-follow cookbook. The fancy cookbooks at places like Williams Sonoma leave all of our mouths watering, but when you look at the ingredients and instructions, you're left asking, "Wha?!" Find a book with ingredients you recognize and instructions you can follow. My favorite is Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.
5. Avoid recipes that include processed ingredients (mixes that come in a bag, box or pocket). If you read the label on these products, you'll usually find stuff you want to stear clear of. On another walkthrough we'll talk about reading labels, but as a teaser, I can say this right now--packaged, dried products usually contain MSG, and you want to stay far far away from that.
6. This isn't a baby step, it's a big one. Throw the microwave away (or sell it on craigslist for an extra buck or two!). I know that sounds daunting, but get through the other steps before you even consider this one. We don't have a microwave, and you'd be surprised how easy (and healthy) it is to use substitutes for zapping food. Most of my leftovers I heat on the stove or in the toaster over. I pop popcorn on a whirlygig contraption and it takes less time than a microwave--plus no MSG! I have a kettle always ready on my stovetop for boiling water. I thaw frozen meats under running water (use cool water so bacteria doesn't have ideal conditions to grow--but plan for it to take a little longer. I put my meat in a sealed plastic bag in a bowl that catches the water, that way the meat is always surrounded by the water. Then I also don't have to run the water for the entire time; I just let the meat sit in the water for a bit, then run the water to freshen it up).
7. This is my favorite: Watch the Food Network on a regular basis. Seeing someone else put the meal together always makes a recipe more feasible. Plus, all of the recipes you see on TV you can find on Food Network's website. And you can watch what they put in the recipe to see if it's ingredients you recognize. Best of all, they make it look so easy! My mom started making a lot more of her home-cooked meals because of Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals. "There's just something about how she breaks down the recipe and makes it easy to do." I can attest to the ease of her recipes--but a couple of disclaimers: 1) her stuff usually takes a bit more than 30 minutes 2) she loves to throw in one or two higher-priced ingredients, so sometimes her recipes get a bit pricey. But, if she empowers you, then it's all worth it, right?
All of these tips will help you take steps toward making your own food and avoiding processed packaged foods. Do you have any simple recipes you want to share with us? Feel free to post them in the comments box. We'd all love to try them!