DISCLAIMER: I’m certainly no expert on this. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned in case someone else finds it useful.
Part V: Recipe Finding
When we started eating for health three years ago, we pretty much threw out the bad food but didn’t know where to go from there. Slowly we’ve added more and more diversity to our diet and learned to love lots of different dishes. Unfortunately, I have no miracle cookbook or recipe site to recommend to you, because I haven’t found one! (I plan on making one for our family’s use and I’ll share it here as well, but that’s another post for another time.)
Recipes Must Pass The Test
Here’s what I do recommend: First, get a good idea of what is healthy. Then, when recipes cross your path as they do so often online, simply put them through your filter. If they pass the test, or can be made to pass the test with some reasonable alterations, try them. Then you can use your normal filter for deciding if you’ll make it again. Here’s mine: Yumminess, cost, and time to make. If it’s yummy enough, we’ll make it again even if it’s pricey or takes a long time to prepare. If it’s fast to prepare, it’ll show up again even if it’s not our absolute favorite tasting dish, etc.
The key thing though, is to just be ruthless with the initial filter. If it’s not healthy, cross it off your list. Don’t spend any time on filing it, etc. Just move on until you find something that fits your criteria. There are so many thousands of of recipes out there, you can afford to be choosy and you MUST be choosy. Remember that *most* Americans battle with their weight and will get a preventable, chronic disease. If you don’t want that for you and your family, you must be ok with being different.
Here’s what I personally look for in a healthy recipe:
– No meat, or meat that can be just left out. We still eat seafood once a month or so.
– No cheese or dairy. Occasionally we’ll put in some plain yogurt, but we really find plenty of recipes that don’t lean on a layer of cheese as a crutch.
– No refined flour. Often this is super easy to adapt: just choose whole wheat pasta, serve over brown rice instead of white, etc.
– Light on the oil and salt. These are easy to dial down, but just be aware that some recipes depend on them to taste good, so you may need to cross those recipes off.
What’s left? You can guarantee the majority of calories will come from things that are healthy: fruit, veggies, beans, nuts, whole grains, etc. What you don’t want is for the cheese or meat to steal all the calories away from the things that are good for your body.
I’ve found soups and ethnic foods, in particular, are great categories to look for healthy dishes. Scott is much more willing to try new ingredients and it’s helped a ton with getting me out of my comfort zone. When I started eating better, very few veggies were in my inner circle. Now, I’m happy to say, that circle encompasses most of the produce department.
Our favorite cookbook: Veganomicon . This deserves a post of its own to tell you the recipes we love the most, but I’ll tell you one of our all-time favorites as an example.
Chickpea Romesco is heavenly and we just had some leftovers for dinner. Essentially, you saute up onion and garlic and serrano pepper, add thyme and rosemary, add blended up canned tomatoes and roasted red peppers, ground up almonds, and chickpeas. Simmer and serve over brown rice or quinoa. It’s rich, flavorful and completely healthy. Why compromise when dishes like that are “out there”?
We also find lots of recipes from epicurious.com and the recommendations from friends. I have posted lots of recipes here on the blog: Recipes on Beanland but I know I owe many many more there. I really need to share the love in this regard. It’s on The List. 🙂
You Don’t Always Need a Recipe
I never thought I was one of those people who could put together a meal without a recipe. I’ve surprised myself lately, though, after a few years of cooking with real, simple foods, I’ve gotten much better at knowing how to cook things without googling or leafing through a book.
Here’s what I really wanted to say about this, though:
If your family is willing to be flexible, consider relaxing a bit when it comes to meals. Mackenzie and I will often have a day that looks like this:
– Breakfast is steel cut oats with whatever fruit and nuts and seeds we have on hand.
– Lunch is chopped up red bell pepper, a plain baked sweet potato or squash, and fresh fruit.
– Snack is nuts or homemade whole grain bread with healthy applesauce on top.
– Dinner is leftover veggie soup with brown rice
Notice how that entire day I didn’t need a single recipe? I hear this a lot: “I would eat healthier, but I have the hardest time finding healthy recipes!”
If I’m pressed for time, or just burnt out on cooking, a single veggie soup recipe can get me through two or three days, easily. Especially when I supplement with some of the healthy food that simply doesn’t require a recipe:
– Black beans, simply mixed with salsa from a jar.
– Veggie sandwiches, store-bought hummus spread on healthy bread and piled high with fresh spinach, sliced bell peppers, sprouts, avocado, etc.
– Steamed veggies that can come straight from a bag in the freezer
– Whole grain tortillas smeared with nut butter and chopped up apple and raisins
– Fruit & veggie smoothies
If you’re a meal planner, you will find healthy recipes fold nicely into a weekly layout system like those frequently touted online. For fun, here’s a quick example:
Monday: “Something on a Bun” night – Lentil sloppy joes one week, black bean burgers another week, bean ball subs with marinara sauce another week.
Tuesday: Mexican night – Beans, rice, and fajita veggies as burritos, or nachos
Wednesday: Soup night – black bean soup, veggie soup, curried squash soup, homemade tomato soup
Thursday: Ethnic night – Veggie curry and flatbread, veggie stirfry with brown rice
Friday: Pizza night – whole wheat crust, loaded with yum like roasted garlic, broccoli, and red peppers, light on a flavorful cheese like parmesan or goat
Sunday: Something different – Fish, oven-baked veggies, waffles for dinner, or a new and crazy recipe.
People who menu plan (I don’t… yet?) tell me it’s really helpful to have a loose outline so you can plug favorites into the month’s menu in advance and then fill in a few slots with new recipes to shake things up.
Open to More
If you have a favorite recipe, cookbook, or website with healthy recipes… please share! Even with the pretty strict criteria I mentioned in this post, I have a surprisingly long list of recipes still to try but I’m always looking for more.