In the bygone days of the Nuclear Family, Mom would prepare and serve nutritious, home-cooked meals to Dad and the kids every day. Very little prepackaged food was necessary as Mom typically didn’t work, allowing her plenty of time to plan, shop, prep and cook every meal. That was the norm.
For folks who fall into the age classification of Gen X, Millennial, or even Generation Y, this concept is probably only something they’ll find in reruns of old family television sitcoms.
Today’s busy, non-stop world of drive-through fast food, ready-to-eat meals, and mailorder shopping leaves many people lacking the time or ability to cook healthy meals at home. Fortunately, you can remedy the situation with some knowledge and planning.
Healthy Cooking Tips
The following tips are designed to give anyone a starting point that can lead to healthier cooking.
Manage the Cooking Process
Many people are overwhelmed by the concept of cooking a complete meal at home. Planning the menu, shopping, prepping the ingredients, and cooking and assembling the meal may sound scary, but it shouldn’t be. To better manage this process, approach it in the same manner as a professional cook.
In a professional kitchen, you won’t find cooks spending time preparing complete meals for service to customers later. Instead, they prep many individual parts that can be combined to produce a variety of meal selections. This allows flexibility and speed when processing customer orders. Break down the project into smaller chunks and work on them individually. It’s like the old saying; “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
One of the easiest ways to shortcut the weeknight cooking process is a technique called blanching. That involves cooking vegetables in boiling water for a short period, then quickly cooling them in a bowl of ice water. The process slows or can even stop the enzyme action which can be detrimental to flavor, color, and texture of the stored vegetables. Blanching is also the necessary first step in freezing fresh vegetables.
Short-cutting meat, poultry or seafood is more about portioning than pre-cooking. The basic idea is to portion your selected protein into individual servings that you can retrieve quickly from storage for cooking. Ground beef, steak or other whole cuts can be divided into small amounts and stored in plastic baggies.
Seafood can be deboned, shelled or otherwise prepared, then packed on ice and wrapped in plastic. Poultry can be portioned and even cooked before storage to further speed the meal-prep process.
Finally, starches such as rice, pasta, and potatoes can be cooked, cooled and stored in a refrigerator for several days. These items can often require the most time during the cooking process so having them ready for a quick re-heat is a valuable shortcut.
Have you ever wondered how a restaurant could deliver your custom order to the table so quickly? If they’ve spent a bit of time on the prep side of things, pulling any meal on the menu together is typically a quick and easy process. Duplicating this at home works the same.
First, don’t complicate things trying to plan a meal for every night of the week. Take time on your day off to prep many individual items for later use. When you’re ready to cook, just select a protein, two vegetables, and a starch source from your prepped items in storage.
Reheat the veggies and starch while you prepare the protein. Unless you’re trying to cook a 16 oz steak well-done, the entire process shouldn’t take more than about 10 to 15 minutes.
While these tips and shortcuts only scratch the surface of easier meal preparation, they should get anyone started on the path to healthier cooking. Expand on these basic concepts with further research and experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try something new. It’s only food.