Eight Tips for Cooking Whole Foods from Scratch–Quickly and Easily (Part 1)

Way back in this post, I asked you all if you’d be interested in tips on speeding up the process of cooking whole foods from scratch. Today, I’ll begin to answer that question. I realized there is so much to say on this topic that I’d need to split it up into two smaller posts. So today’s post covers the first  four tips; check here for the rest of them!

Tips to Cook Whole Foods Quickly & Easily on Diet, Dessert and Dogs

[Clockwise from large photo: My Dad's Vegetable Soup; Nacho Supreme; green smoothie; Cinnamon-Curry Spiced Pumpkin Seeds.]

If you cook 98% of your food from scratch as I do, it’s really just a basic survival strategy to find ways to speed up the process and make it easier.  Below are some of the things that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve come to most of these ideas on my own over time, but have also found some useful information on blogs and sites I’ve read along the way. So thank you to all the lovely bloggers and writers whose words contributed to this post!

Note: A truly “from-scratch” meal would be made entirely on my own, without ANY help from food manufacturers. If most of the ingredients were fresh and/or cooked entirely by me, I consider that from-scratch. If I use a canned or packaged product that is basically a single ingredient and one I could also make at home (most common in this category would be canned diced tomatoes or natural nut butters, for instance, but I also do use packaged alternative milks), then I also consider that “from scratch.” Of course, you have to draw your own line where it feels comfortable to you.

Tip # 1: Use a Meal Plan (or, as my dad used to say, “Do what I say, not what I do”).

Let me start right off the bat by confessing that I have a hard time sticking to a meal plan.

These days, I seem to channel my mother when it’s time for dinner. You see, when she was around 20, she shared a room at her older sister’s house with my cousin, CBC. Apparently, Mom was so disorganized that when it came time to get ready for work in the morning, she’d stand before the chaotic pile of blouses, stockings, scarves, skirts, shoes and whatever else she’d dropped on the dresser (instead of folding or hanging in the closet), thrusting first one, then the other hand into the pile to fetch an item. She’d glance at it, then throw it behind her if it didn’t suit the purpose, over and over, until she finally found something to wear for the day. My cousin observed from her side of the room, amazed at the seemingly endless parade of flowing silk and nylon and cotton as it was thrown up in the air behind my mother, first one side, then the other, each item floating to the ground to form a new heap for the following morning’s rush.

Well, that’s kind of how I feel when I stand before the refrigerator at dinnertime each evening.  While I don’t fling the food away behind me, I do reach in, push aside, pick up and examine countless containers, bags of vegetables, jars of fermented food or nut butter, bottles of juice or Bragg’s or sriracha–then do it again, until I finally decide which items I will combine to form a meal.

Not the most efficient way to cook, obviously.

I did use meal planning for a few months last year thanks to this series on Amy’s blog, and it truly was a wonderful, useful way to save time (and money) on meals.  I fell out of the habit when I was focused so intensely on testing for and photographing my cookbook, and somehow never got back into it with any regularity. I intend to meal plan again, because I know how much time it saved me, both shopping and cooking. (It’s also a great way to ensure that no fresh produce is wasted, since you have plans for that chard and fennel long before they go bad).

So, I will keep aiming for that perfect meal plan-into-action in my life and kitchen. For now, though, I will recommend it to those of you who can follow through!

Sweet potato rounds with sweet almond sauce on rickiheller.com

[Sweet Potato Rounds with Sweet Almond Sauce]

 Tip #2: Keep a Well-Stocked Fridge and Pantry.

Having basic ingredients on hand at all times works well to prevent last-minute trips to the grocery store when you’re halfway through a recipe (or worse, having to throw away a half-mixed recipe).  If you have staples on hand, you can also usually find new and creative ways to throw them together, too, if you’re stumped for dinner ideas.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Fill the pantry with most-used non-perishables (and a few less-used ones, too).  I have cans of beans (for when I don’t have time/desire to soak and cook my own); extra jars of unsweetened applesauce for those last-minute baking ventures; boxes of nondairy milks (again, if I don’t have time/desire to make my own); a few jars of natural almond butter or tahini;  jars or cans of artichoke hearts and capers, and some canned goods that I know and can depend on (see below) are all stacked neatly in our pantry waiting to be used when needed.
  • I think of nut butters, tahini, coconut butter and other sauces (such as pesto) as “good mixers.” Any of these can easily be combined with one or two other ingredients to create a quick and easy dish. For instance, Baked Sweet Potato Rounds with Sweet Almond Sauce or Almond-Curry Sauce is a favorite breakfast; noodles tossed with pesto of Savory Sweet Potato Spread, cilantro and hemp seeds is a quick pasta; chickpeas and some tahini-lemon-garlic sauce makes the bulk of this warm salad.
  • I do store some prepared canned goods for true emergency dinners (not at all “from scratch,” but one way to get  quick meal on the table). Amy’s products are some of the best out there, containing ingredients I’d use if I had time. We particularly love their spicy chili, which I usually rev up with chopped fresh chard or kale. Add a slice of hearty bread and you’ve got a filling meal in less than 10 minutes. (Or, if you have more time, add the chili to this Chili Mac casserole).

Tip #3: Prepare in Advance, and Always Prepare More than You Need.

When you arrive home from grocery shopping, prep your veggies right away instead of unpacking and then placing them all in the refrigerator, only to use more time removing and prepping them when it’s time to cook. If you prep only once, you’ll save time later on (and if you use a meal plan, you’ll know right away which veggies will need to be chopped for use within the next few days).

I’ve been preparing greens and lettuce this way for years. When I first prep my lettuce or leafy greens (this works best with hearty greens like romaine, kale, collard), I wash and spin them all, then store in a bag with clean paper towel (or clean white tea towels). They will stay fresh for up to 5 days that way.  Then, when I’m ready to mix up a salad a few days later, that part of the prep is already done.

Crunchy Green Salad on dieetdessertndogs.com

[Crunchy Green Salad]

Tip #4: Always Cook More Than You Need (also called “Batch Cooking”)

These days, I never cook up a stew, soup, or any other main course without making enough for a minimum of two meals.  Once you’ve got the veggies and other ingredients out, it’s really no extra work to fill two pots or two pans and let them cook. (It saves on the cost of electricity or gas, too, since you’re firing up the oven only once). Then, I freeze leftovers in single servings for another day.

Some of the things you can cook in advance and freeze:

With so many frozen ingredients or dishes on hand, we’re never without a meal or snack, even when I don’t have time to make it that day. Of course, this tip presupposes a large freezer somewhere in your house!

There you have it–four tips to get you started with some whole-food ingredients so you’ll be ready to whip up healthy meals in a flash. Next time, I’ll focus on the process of actually cooking and what you can do to quicken the pace. See Part II here. 

Do you have other questions about how I cook whole foods, anti-candida meals at home without spending the whole day in the kitchen? Is there something specific you’d like me to cover in Part 2? Ask away in the comments!

Never miss a recipe–or a comment from The Girls! Click here to subscribe to Diet, Dessert and Dogs via email. (“We love subscribers, Mum. . . almost as much as we love treats!”)

Last Year at this Time: Dog Day: Mum, this is Your Day 

Two Years Ago: Raw Gingersnap Cookie Bon Bons (gluten free; ACD Stage 2 and beyond )

Three Years Ago: Gena’s Raw (Bean Free) Broccoli Hummus (gluten free; ACD  Stage 2 and beyond)

Four Years AgoAlmond Feta, Carrot Pate and Cinnamon-Roasted Chickpeas (gluten free; ACD Stage 3 and beyond)

Five Years Ago: Swiss “Cheese” in a Mosaic Salad (gluten free; ACD  Maintenance)

© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs

 

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Comments

  1. Ha! My favorite line… “Do as I say, not as I do…” I try to meal plan too, but too often, I just wing it at the last minute. ;)
    Awesome tips, Ricki!! Loving these!!

    • Thanks, Kim! It’s an ongoing process for me. But I have learned SO much since I started cooking with whole foods, from scratch–most of the time. :)

  2. great post – I do tip 2 and tip 4 – but I am not good at meal planning – my mind is full of too many ideas and I get distracted easily – even last night my meal was different by the end of cooking than when I started. But I do have an idea of what I should have in my pantry to keep it well stocked but I think I get over ambitious about meals and sometimes need to simplify. Glad you like the tip about the scraps for the freezer – must make some soon now it is getting colder

    • Thanks, Johanna! And yes, I love that tip about the soup stock. Even when I don’t have time to make a full-fledged stock for the HH and me, I just boil up the scraps for The Girls and pour it over their food for extra vitamins and minerals. ;-) And I’m like you–things evolve organically and can change even while cooking!

  3. I, too, appreciate the “Do As I Say, Not As I Do.” I’ve never been much of a meal planner and when I have planned meals for several days at a time, we always end up with two much food that we can’t use. We tend to go by the weather and our moods. I’ll have some ingredients and I’ll say to Mr. GFE, well, I can make A, B, or C, which do you prefer? And then I go from there. Maybe I’m blessed with a gift, because I can usually look in the fridge (I do it the same way you do!) and/or pantry and usually come up with something good. :-) So obviously I believe in #2. And often my new recipes come from that moment–paired with a wee bit of anxiety–where I have to come up with a plan. ;-) I do loosely plan in my head a few meals as I pick up things at the store or farmer’s market.

    Mr. GFE says I always cook enough for an army, so I guess I do #4 best. When you’re often used to cooking for a hungry “youngster” and a support group, it’s hard to gear down to cook for two who are not so hungry or need much food. Just being two not so hungry means that we can make great “smorgasbord” meals of leftover bits of this and that though. Often those meals are our very favorites. :-)

    Great post, Ricki! Will share for sure!
    Shirley

    • Glad I’m not the only one who cooks for an army with two humans in the house! I realize the numbers should be even larger for those with families. :) And I love that you can whip something up last minute–I think there is a real art and talent to that kind of cooking (I’m still working on it!).

  4. Such a great post – I look forward to part 2! We cook ‘batches’ and I have even started freezing some of my home-cooked beans which are so much easier to digest than canned ones. Preppng the veggies before storing sounds like a great time saver, I never thought about the extra time of putting away and then having to sort through and get out again. This should help with ‘forgotten veggie syndrome’ as well. Thank you for all that you do to bring healthy food preparation to all of your readers :-)

  5. Great information here! I’m just getting the hang of batch cooking. When I lived at home, my mom always made enough food for the fourth army, and so that’s how I learned to cook. Then, when I got married, I had to learn to trim down the recipes I knew from mom so we weren’t drowning in leftovers! Now I’m learning which foods to cook extras of…

    • I agree, it doesn’t work if you don’t have enough people (or desire) to eat the leftovers! ;-) But I’ve found making extra always serves me well. You also never know when you’ll have friends or family over–and then dinner is already served at the last minute that way, too!

  6. This was awesome Ricki. I’m generally pretty good at most of these, except for batch cooking which would be a great thing to get into the habit of doing. It would make things easier having beans and grains waiting for me in the freezer. I don’t do canned beans and sometimes forget to put dried in to soak the night before I need them.
    Thanks for all these links too, lots of new to me recipes here!

    • Yay–so glad to hear that! I know that some of these are old hat to those of you who’ve been cooking with whole foods for a while, but it’s always good to have your tips all in one place! And the frozen, pre-packaged beans and grains can be a lifesaver. :)

  7. These are some great tips! thanks for such a helpful post, Ricki!

  8. I try to batch cook! And I try to meal plan :) It ALWAYS works better that way! I’m useless if 5:30 rolls around and I don’t know what we’re having…take-out!
    I love the greens tip, I’m going to try that for sure! Thanks for keeping me inspired Ricki. xo

    • Thanks, Maggie! And you’ve now inspired me to really put the effort in for meal planning. I’m somehow less organized as I get older. . .time to work on that again. ;)

  9. I always batch cook, partly as a time saver and partly because, living alone, it’d usually be more trouble to scale down recipes anyway. What I hate is when I wind up at the end of the week with just enough leftover to NOT be a full a meal, and then I don’t know what to do with it. I need to get back to what I used to do in college, which was batch cook and immediately portion it all evenly into individual Tupperware. How did I find the time? Shouldn’t I have been studying or something?!

    • Ha ha! I totally agree–when I was really busy as a student (with 2 part time jobs), I STILL somehow found time to do so much! Nowadays the time seems to fly out the window. . . then again, blogs (and even the internet) didn’t exist back then. ;-)

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