Simple, Real Eating

This post is not about how to use fewer pots or less ingredients. This post is not about fast, easy ways to feed a family on the go.

This post is about taking back real food and re-learning the joy of cooking. It’s about taking simple ingredients and turning them into something healthy and magical. Yes, magical.

I just finished devouring a bowl of stir fry made from all fresh vegetables over rice. Broccoli, green onions, cauliflower, cabbage, red pepper, carrots all lightly cooked with some cashews tossed in – sounds complicated, right? Not at all. It was as easy as throwing all of those ingredients into my wok.

Simple Stir Fry

How minimalism has affected my diet

Since I began simplifying my life a couple of years ago, my diet has changed too.

I used to eat simply in a different way: spaghetti and marinara sauce was my go-to meal for most meals. I was always tired, always grumpy. But then I started learning more and watching food documentaries.

It started with buying only organic mac and cheese and whole wheat pasta. Then I discovered organic canned vegetables and how simple those could be. I discovered organic soy milk and ate that with organic cereal.

Those cans and boxes were technically simple, but they weren’t the basics. As I’ve explored going back to basics in many aspects of my life, my food choices are following the same pattern. By basic food, I mean I choose the groceries with the fewest ingredients (want an easy tip? Fruits and veggies are only one ingredient).

I’ve been hanging out in the produce section a lot more and can regularly be seen carrying my shopping bags with giant greens sticking out of them.

My diet has become more complex, but it’s because I tend to eat whole, simple/basic foods in new and endless combinations.

But I don’t like vegetables

There are hundreds of excuses to not eat right: I don’t have the time, I don’t know how to cook, I don’t have the right kitchen supplies…

But if you fuel up with frozen foods and sugary processed snacks, how can you perform your best? Treating your body right isn’t difficult, and it makes a huge impact on your life.

And what’s the harm in trying to cook and eat more vegetables?

Vegetables

Rules for simple, real eating

I am not a specialist or a professional when it comes to food, so take my advice into your consideration and do your own research until you find the diet that’s best for you.

That being said, here are my rules for cooking, eating and general nutrition:

  • If it has a package or a coupon, it’s probably not the best option. This rules out a lot of the food in a typical American grocery store. Packages are covered in terms like “organic” and “gluten free” and “all natural” and “no added preservatives” to make you think they’re healthy. None of those terms mean healthy. Seek veggie alternatives to your usual snacks – carrots and snow peas dipped in hummus, trail mix or roasted chickpeas are some of my favorites.
  • Always cook for four. If it’s just for one or two people, don’t try to cook just a single meal. I try to cook at least four servings of everything because healthy leftovers are a cheap, healthy lunch for the next day and help me avoid impulse food buys. Sometimes I cook for six or even eight, but that gets a little hairy if it’s a new meal we may not like. Committing to gross leftovers is bad, but food waste is worse.
  • Get to know your produce department. Spend some more time getting to know what your grocery store has available. This helps you open your mind to new ingredients, and when you try new recipes you’ll know where everything is at. Another tip is to only shop the perimeter of the grocery store – all the healthiest whole foods tend to be on the edges aside from spices, beans, rice and pasta. The aisles are filled with tempting packaged food.
  • Spices are your friend. When we moved, we left all of our spices with family members. So we’ve been building back up! I consider spices an investment since we’ll always have what we need on hand and it opens up a lot more recipes. I like to keep things simple, but I have a lot of spices and wouldn’t change that for the world. Don’t be tricked by prepackaged seasonings like those for tacos and guacamole – with the proper seasonings on hand, you can make them yourself and they’ll taste better and have no preservatives.
  • Get the proper supplies. This doesn’t have to be expensive. First, know your eating habits and what you can see yourself actually doing. Don’t get caught up by this post and buy a blender, only to realize later on that you’ll never use it. But I do recommend a blender. Broccoli, kale, pears, bananas, cucumber, celery, avocados, almonds…all have found their way into my blender for intense and delicious smoothies. I also recommend a wok (and/or a large stockpot) and a good knife or two. I rarely use anything other than my 8″ chef’s knife and the wok or stockpot are awesome for cooking large batches of veggie-heavy foods.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things. Browse Pinterest, search for new recipes with your favorite veggies, explore new spices. Just don’t get caught in a bland routine. If you don’t want to spend time and money cooking a specific new dish, order it at a restaurant. If you like it, get all the necessary ingredients and try to recreate it. I’ve learned that it’s so much more fun to stay in and cook than it is to go out to restaurants, so once you’ve got it down there’s no need to go out for it again.
  • And finally, vegetables. Eat vegetables. I’ve come a long way from canned tomatoes and green beans, and it’s so fun to learn new ways to cook veggies I’ve eaten for years.

Some resources to get you going

I’ve been poring over food books and documentaries for a couple of years, but here are some of my favorites.

  • Anything by Michael Pollan. Food Rules is a short and sweet guide to eating right and isn’t preachy or filled with data. If you like data like I do, I loved In Defense of Food. His motto? “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
  • Forks Over Knives is a documentary that focuses on how the standard American diet affects disease. If you’re anti-vegetarian, this film is not for you since it emphasizes a no meat, no dairy diet.
  • I saw Fed Up at the Traverse City Film Festival and realized how much sugar is in everything. This film calls out processed foods and the sugar industry’s impact on the obesity epidemic.

You don’t have to be a nutrition fanatic or a chef to know what to eat and how to make it. Eating right takes patience, practice and a bit of research but it’s worth it.

You’ll lose the cravings for processed foods and you’ll notice little things like healthy fingernails that let you know you’re heading in the right direction.

Of course, occasional pizza and mac and cheese won’t hurt – remember what Emerson says about moderation?

Moderation in all things, especially moderation.

What does a simple diet mean to you?

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This Weekend’s Harvest

Last weekend I had the opportunity to spend time at my parents garden in northern Indiana. There’s nothing quite like being outdoors and eating fresh veggies straight out of the dirt. Not as gross as it sounds.

The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.

– Michael Pollan

I thought I’d share a few pictures of our harvest and the makings of our garden veggie stew that we cooked over coals near our fire.

While I’m not in the position currently to have my own garden, it’s so nice to have access to one. I know that someday I’ll have a full garden, but it’s city living for us for the next several years!

I do have some background in indoor gardening, so hopefully soon I can set up something (like aquaponics!) even on a small scale to grow some arugula and kale for my husband, rabbit and me.

Do you garden or will you garden?

Cutting Kitchen Clutter

These are the only dishes I am allowed to use this week.

These are the only dishes I am allowed to use this week.

One of my largest stresses is coming home to a cluttered kitchen. I rush around in the morning and throw my dirty breakfast dishes in the sink, then prepare food later that evening and find myself too tired to clean up, and the cycle continues until there are literally no dishes left for me to use. I have a feeling most of you are nodding your heads in agreement.

So, the most recent challenge I’ve posed for myself is to cut out the stress I feel when I see a dirty kitchen. The cause of that is that I just have too many darn dishes. I’m one person for heaven’s sake.

So here is my challenge: use one of everything. Just one.

For a girl with over 20 coffee mugs to her name, this is absurd. But I’ve decided that I’m not going to allow clutter to stress me out anymore! In fact, I’ve decided to get rid of 9 coffee mugs. It’s not as many as I’d like to see go, but it’s a good start.

To help me with this, I’ve hidden most of my dishes in the pantry. Habits can be hard to change, which is why instead of forcing myself to clean every other day, I’m forcing myself to use only one set of dishes. It’s working out nicely so far.

What stresses you out? Take a look at the root of the issue, and see what you can do to change it.