Starting to cook at home is one of the first steps on a nutrition journey. Making your own food helps to limit the processed foods you consume. I have heard from many of my clients that cooking healthy is overwhelming and many of the healthy recipes they find are complex. So let’s dive into when I first started cooking healthy…
When I first started cooking, I would follow recipes to a “T” because I thought that was how everyone else did it. As I started eating healthier, the recipes became more complex with ingredients I had never heard of or there were so many ingredients it was overwhelming. As with most things, I started asking questions:
“Do I need [insert ingredient here]?”
“Why is there sugar in this savory recipe?”
“Do I actually need to garnish my meals? Am I that fancy?”
It took practice and confidence in the kitchen for me to stop following recipes perfectly. Each time I would make the same recipe I would alter it a little bit by leaving a garnish off or I might accidentally forget an uncommon ingredient like Kashmiri chili and I would wait to see what happened. To my delight, recipes became less complex, healthier, and to be honest… they tasted pretty darn good!
Throughout my nutrition journey and now as a nutrition coach I started dissecting recipes to make my life easier and healthier. Here is the process I take!
Let’s take this recipe for example:
- Google a recipe for a favorite food you get at a restaurant. Mine is Chicken Tikka Masala.
- Scroll down to the list of ingredients:
- Remove any ingredients that are used for garnish and say optional.
This step depends on your goals. Consult with your nutrition coach for more information, but for me:
- Look at repeated macros (fat, protein, carbs). For example, in this recipe there is vegetable oil, butter, and heavy thickened cream. Personally, I do not cook with a lot of fat when I prepare meals and prefer to add it the day that I eat the meal, taking into account my goals. In this example, I deleted all three and added light coconut milk instead. I have learned recipes online tend to add multiple types of fat to their meals so they taste “too good” or play to the evolutionary desire to eat fattier foods when a recipe with lower fat tastes just as good and aligns better with nutrition goals. I chose coconut milk in this recipe because Indian dishes taste really good with coconut milk!
- One of the main objectives for me is also to simplify the recipe. So if there are multiple ingredients with the same role, I might leave one out!
- SUGAR!!! I ask myself if this is a dessert? Is it supposed to be sweet?
- When I look at food labels at the store, I also look for added sugar. Many canned and processed foods have added sugars when foods taste just as good without!
- Chicken tikka masala is not supposed to be sweet, it is a spicy delicious meal. Sugar is also an extra item to keep in the kitchen and I do not tend to have it around. Some recipes will add sugar for depth of flavor. That’s likely what the brown sugar is trying to do here. 1 tsp is not really enough to make that much difference either way, but substituting with maple syrup or honey for a more natural sugar would be interesting if you have it on hand.
- Add extra vegetables and protein!! This recipe doesn’t call for either.
- I added a whole zucchini, 3 carrots, 1 bell pepper, and 1lb of chicken!!!
When looking at a recipe:
- Make it easy on yourself and simplify it as much as possible.
- Change the recipe to meet your nutrition goals by leaving out ingredients you don’t want and adding ingredients that you do!
- Keep changing it until it is just right for you and you enjoy eating it! One of the most important rules of eating healthy sustainably: ENJOY YOUR FOOD!
I have used this recipe for meal prep for the last couple months. Each week I change up the vegetables and I have used ground turkey, ground chicken, and shredded chicken for protein. One week, I forgot the ginger at the grocery store and it was still good! If I eat this meal after a workout I will add a little bit of rice, otherwise it is amazing as is! There are endless ways that this recipe can be adapted to fit your individual nutrition goals.
The bottom line is that cooking at home doesn’t have to be complicated, and you can experiment with recipes and have fun. My clients always ask for different recipes to try because they get bored with the same thing over and over. The successful clients find ways to change and adapt recipes so they still enjoy what they eat. Find 10-15 recipes you love and experiment with ways to make them your own, make them healthier, and find ways to spice them up so you don’t get bored!
Sources: I apologize I do not have the website for this recipe. I took a screenshot awhile ago and all information was cut off. I found it by googling chicka tikka masala recipe.