Have we forgotten where our food comes from? The importance of a whole foods diet has become more and more vital to our overall health and well-being, because, well, we’ve strayed so far from food. Farmers’ markets bring honest food to us. However, I certainly get lost and frustrated while shopping for food at a grocery store because a) there are too many products on the shelves and b) the multitude of choices requires label-ready due-diligence.
I read a recent statistic that the average supermarket carries 48,750 items. Where have the days of the simple grocery list of eggs, apples, carrots, broccoli, fish, milk, and butter gone? Food today has been exploited and nutrient-rich foods exchanged for empty calories.
Now, more than ever, it’s time we get back to the basics; be resourceful, ask questions about where your food is coming from, shop farmers markets, know your grocery, plant a garden, buy bulk dry goods, prepare your food at home, and cook with fresh ingredients as much as possible. It will save you loads of stress, and if done right, money, too.
As I share and encourage you to reconnect with your food, I hope you’ll explore new health-promoting hobbies, passions, and activities that can be enjoyed with family and friends.
Here are a few ideas and recipes to inspire you:
Plant a Garden
A few fresh herbs in your apartment or a tomato plant on your front porch is a start and can be done at home. Be sure to find a quality organic seed source and speak with your local garden store or nursery for guidance about which plants will do best in your area.
Community Gardens are another avenue for you to explore if space is limited at your own home. Or, join a CSA and support a community member’s farm and enjoy seasonal harvest without the getting your hands dirty.
Peruse the bulk section at your local health food store or co-op grocer and stock up on whole grains, legumes, nuts, and spices. Make an effort to buy a new grain (amaranth or millet) or spice (turmeric, paprika) each visit. You’ll add color and variety to your pantry and diet, while increasing your recipe repertoire. You’ll also find bulk items to be priced more cost-consciously.
Store your bulk ingredients in glass – Ball or Mason canning jars from your local hardware store are inexpensive and effective storage containers. Purchase exact quantities – small for sampling, large for staples – an advantage to buying bulk.
One of my favorite things to cook is vegetable stock. It’s a staple easily taken for granted. Homemade stocks are low-sodium and low-cost (compared to store-bought) and add nutritional value when cooking soups, grains, risotto, etc. Try heating a cup of stock in the morning or afternoon to calm stress and support the immune system. Stocks require little skill and are an excellent way to squeeze nutrients out of food scraps.
Here’s the How-To:
Save carrot tops and peels, beet and celery leaves, wilting dark leafy greens, sweet potato skins, even apple cores. Keep a Ziploc bag in the freezer and add your vegetables scraps to the bag. When the bag is full, remove from the freezer and defrost.
- 1 bag of vegetables scraps, fresh or defrosted
- 1 medium onion, diced
- ½ head of garlic, diced
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 5-6 cups water
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme, rosemary or mix
- 2 pinches of sea salt
- 1 pinch of cayenne chili flakes
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Heat olive oil over medium heat
- Sautee onion and garlic for 8-10 minutes, or until cooked through
- Add sea salt and cayenne chili flakes
- Add vegetable scraps, herbs and water, bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 2-4 hours
- Strain stock and discard vegetable scraps
- Cool stock and refrigerate or freeze
Chicken or Fish Stock
*Add chicken or fish scraps and bones to broth to make chicken or fish stock
Spice it Up!
Avoid sauces and dressings you buy at the store. Hidden sodium, sugars, and preservatives lurk. Instead, try one of your new bulk spices, add fresh or dried herbs to a salad with a squeeze of lemon or a new olive oil, and cracked pepper or chili flakes to your fish or poultry.
Chili flakes are a something I personally cannot live without.
Peppers are bursting with vitamins and have proven to be helpful in weight loss. With summer coming up, chilies will grace farmers markets. Here’s how you can make your own chili flakes at home.
Cayenne Chili Flakes
- 3-4 lbs of cayenne peppers
- Spice or coffee grinder, cleaned
- Pre-heat oven to lowest temperature (110 degrees)
- Place peppers on baking sheet(s)
- Note: It’s ok to crowd peppers, but do not pile too high. Use multiple baking sheets, if needed
- Cook on low heat for 24-36 hours, or until chilis are deep red and dried
- Cool well
- Removed tops/stems and discard
- Grind in small batches to preferred size – fine or coarse
- Store in glass container
If you’re committed to cooking and eating more local, organic foods at home, let’s not let food go to waste. Leftovers can be tasty the next day, but how about adding a little creativity to reinvent your leftovers into more than just leftovers; how about a whole new meal?
It’s likely the Southern Italian in me that doesn’t like to waste even a crumb of day-old bread. I’ve seen week-old bread rehydrated and the water wrung out into the spaghetti sauce. Or that same bread added to soup.
I like the simplicity of “Just Add an Egg”
- Side of Cooked Vegetables = Morning Frittata, Scramble, or Omelet
- Brown Rice = Fried Rice
- Reheat 1 cup rice over medium heat. Add ¼ cup water. Add ¼ cup shredded carrots and ¼ cup green peas. Crack in one egg and stir well until cooked. Top with one diced scallion.
- Quinoa = Breakfast Porridge
- Reheat 1 cup quinoa over medium heat. Add ¼ cup water and dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir in an egg. Top with almonds and/or blueberries and banana.
- Fish = Non-Nicoise Salad
- Served fish cold over a bed of lettuce with red onions, tomato, basil, one hard-boiled egg, a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, cracked pepper.
*When you’re reinventing leftovers, always add at least one vegetable, fresh herb, or fruit.
For recipe ideas for your fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, herbs, and spices, here are links to fantastic websites: