Eating on the Run: Ways to Add Flavor to Your Favorite Meals
The number one reason to cook with herbs and spices is to add FLAVOR! Certain spices can even replace or reduce salt and sugar during meal preparation. Herbs and spices are aromatic, natural substances that come from various parts of the plant such as the leaves, root, bud, or seed. You’ll find strong or dominant flavors such as pepper, ginger, or bay leaf all the way to delicate flavors such as chervil and chives. You can purchase herbs and spices fresh or dried. Fresh herbs and spices have a short shelf life, so plan your menu so you can quickly use the herbs. Finely chop the leaves to help release the flavor.
Keep your pantry well-stocked with herbs and spices so they are readily available when needed. Keep jarred herbs and spices in air-tight containers and keep in mind, they do not have indefinite shelf-life so make sure you go through them at least every six-months. In the meantime, keep a moderate amount of on-hand (no need to buy them in bulk unless you are using them in bulk). I like to always have these spices for my day-to-day cooking: cinnamon, basil, oregano, nutmeg, cumin, cilantro, garlic, rosemary, and thyme. A teaspoon of cinnamon is a great addition to smoothies, oatmeal, and pancakes. Fresh cilantro is great with any Mexican-themed meal. And, if you’re cooking a Mediterranean meal, try using dill, cumin, paprika, oregano, turmeric, sumac, rosemary, coriander, and bay leaves.
Be conservative in the amount of an herb used until you know the strength of it. Start with a pinch and you can always add more if needed.
Eating on the Run: Tips for Meal Prepping
Save time and money, and eat better by taking a few hours each week to plan and prepare your meals. Spend some time on the weekend (such as a Saturday or Sunday afternoon) preparing food for the week with a strong focus on lunch and dinner. In the beginning, there is some trial and error to figure out the correct amount of food. If you prep too much, you will end up wasting food. Start small by putting together a meal plan for three days before expanding to a full week. Seasoned pros can put together a full month’s worth of meals, but no need to start out with this big project. Choose three back-to-back days during the week – plan dinners first and then use leftovers for lunch. Keep breakfast simple for busy weekday mornings. Big batch cooking is key here and then add a twist of creativity so meals don’t get boring. Most importantly, make meals that you like. Don’t take on recipes that are above your cooking skills. Like many of my clients, I am busy during the week and as much as I consider myself a good cook, many of my weeknight meals come down to making sure I am nourishing my body with nutrient-dense food over gourmet cuisine.
Tips to get started:
- Meal plan for at least three back-to-back days.
- Organize your kitchen. Purchase basic cookware, cooking utensils, and air-tight containers for storage.
- Be prepared to multi-task. Maximize your hands-off cooking time with hands-on time spent cutting, dicing, and chopping time. While some foods are cooking in the oven or stove top, you can be hands-on with other tasks. For instance, when you’re making hard boiled eggs, start dicing veggies for the week. Also, re-use cookware to minimize cleaning. It’s ok to sauté a pan of veggies and then use it again to sear chicken breasts (but not the other way around).
- Focus your efforts on lunch and dinner. These are the meals that are consistently jeopardized due to workout schedules and family commitments. Make a big batch of things like stews, casseroles, chili, and grains (e.g., rice, quinoa). One sheet-pan meals also fit into this category. Freeze portions to pull out later. Use the “first in first out” (FIFO) rule in the freezer to keep food rotated. My motto: extra food now = less work later.
- Prep fresh veggies. Eat them raw at lunch time or prepare them for roasting, steaming, sautéing, or fresh for salads. Any veggie that are left over at the end of the week always go in a pot of soup in my house!
- Make one basic salad dressing (find a basic recipe for oil, vinegar, and spices). Add your favorite herbs and spices to a base of oil and vinegar.
Katina Sayers is the owner/operator of Katina’s Nutritional Coaching Corner. She has an extensive background in health and education that began with degrees in exercise physiology, health and physical education, community health, and culminating with a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction. She completed an advanced certificate of study in Integrative Nutrition and Health Coaching from the renowned Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in New York City. For the last four years, she has worked one-on-one with clients, presented a multitude of nutrition topics for large and small audiences, contracted with businesses to implement worksite wellness initiatives, and currently manages day-to-day food service operations at a local non-profit agency, as well as directs activities related to nutrition and health. Katina can be reached at email@example.com.