Last week’s blog post was all about how to get fit on a budget. Much of that post was about the importance of eating a healthy diet, but I didn’t really dive into actual cooking tactics to make that food.
Clean eating is often seen as a burden because it’s either too much work or too bland. If you picture a sad little salad or hours of work when I say “healthy food,” I’m here to kick those misconceptions to the curb.
Without further ado, here are some of my favorite foods and tools that I keep in my arsenal so that cheap, healthy, easy weeknight meals are always an option.
Better than Bouillon
Better than Bouillon is a bouillon paste. It’s mixed with water, much like you would with a bouillon cube, to make broth. As its name suggests, though, it’s better than bouillon. This stuff really is amazing and is such an easy way to add more flavor to soups, risottos, and a variety of other dishes. I’ll never use boxed broth again.
If you’ve watched any of my food-related videos on YouTube, you’ll have seen me mention this before. True Lemon is a crystallized lemon powder that makes it so much easier to add lemon flavor to anything you’re making.
The real secret here is to add just a bit of it to your dishes just before you take them off of the stove. A small bit of acidity and brightness added to a meal will help to lift and round out the flavors.
Original Unsweetened Almond Milk
Long-time vegans already know about this, but I want to briefly bring it up for anyone who is new to the plant-based milk scene. There exists quite a variety of milks to choose from, and it can be overwhelming at first.
While I do encourage you to try out anything that interests you, I recommend unsweetened original almond milk for everyday milk-substitute uses. Unless the label says “unsweetened,” you’re likely buying a sweetened version, and you do not want that for most uses. Also make sure that you’re not buying vanilla milk unless you intend to use it for baking (and even then, the original flavor is still fine).
I don’t just mean your average, run-of-the-mill hot sauce here. If you like spicy, and you only have one bottle of hot sauce, you’re doing it wrong.
Get out into the world and explore all of the many types of hot sauces that this planet has to offer. You won’t even have to leave your town (or bed). Yes, there’s Cholula and sriracha, which are both great, but try sambal, gochujang, chili garlic sauce, harissa, and whatever other red (or green) bottles of goodness that you can get your hands on.
Yes, really. I really do cook with MSG on a regular basis. I put it in most things that I make. MSG is not bad for you, and it will not make you sick, give you a headache, or cause whatever other symptoms you’ve heard attributed to it.
MSG is savory. It’s umami. It adds a boldness and richness and depth to whatever you add it to. It works in nearly any dish, so don’t worry too much about figuring out how to use it. Just add a pinch to whatever you’re having for dinner, whether that’s lasagna, stir fry, or lentil cakes.
If the MSG still scares you a bit, try miso paste instead. It comes in a few different types, with the darker versions being more sweet and mellow and the lighter versions having a bit more tang. I personally prefer white miso.
Miso can be added to anything that would work with a cheesy, umami flavor. The secret ingredient in my white bean and kale soup is a spoonful of white miso. Stir it into pastas, sauces, soups, whatever. Just mix it into a couple of tablespoons of water before adding it to the dish so that it dissolves more easily.
One of the small modifications that we’ve made to our kitchen to make cooking easier is to put our oil into squeeze bottles like these.* We primarily use three types of oil—evoo, regular olive oil, and vegetable oil—and have a bottle of each on the counter.
This makes it super fast and easy to grab a bottle and squirt some in a pan while I’m cooking. It might not seem like much, but little bits of convenience like this add up.
A jar of spoons
We keep a wide ceramic jar of spoons on the counter right beside the stove. This is one of the most recent adjustments to our kitchen, but also one of those most useful, for two reasons.
First, you should always taste food as you go. Having spoons within easy reach makes grabbing one for a taste so much easier. The easier something is, the more likely you are to do it. Plus, if you’re cooking for others who don’t want you reusing the same tasting spoon, it’s easy to grab a clean one next time you need it.
Second, if you want your food to taste good, it needs to be seasoned well. Cooking healthy food involves plenty of sauces, pastes, spices, and other things that come in jars. Having spoons at the ready makes it much faster and easier to spoon some flavorful goodness into whatever you’re cooking.
It’s a very small change, but for someone who cooks a lot, a convenient jar of spoons is a game-changer.
Like the bottles and the spoon jar, a salt well is all about convenience. When you’re cooking, you should be adding a little bit of salt into every element of a dish. Making the salt as convenient to access as possible can end up saving you quite a lot of time.
If you’re not sure what a salt well is, it’s one of these little dudes.* It lives on the counter and holds your salt for you so that you can grab a pinch whenever you need it.
Storing our knives in a place that’s easy to reach makes cooking so much faster and easier. It’s rare that you’ll prepare a meal without needing to cut anything and who wants to dig through a drawer (unsafe!) or pull knives out of a knife block until you find the one that you’re looking for.
By storing our knives on a knife magnet, I can see at a glance what options I have and quickly choose the best knife for the job.
Are you starting to see how making all of these small adjustments in your kitchen can end up saving you quite a lot of time?
A nice, big cutting board
First of all, your cutting board should be made of wood. If you have glass cutting boards, throw them away.
Our cutting board lives on the counter beside the stove. It’s in a convenient place to prep ingredients and have them ready to throw in food as it’s cooking. Having a big cutting board means that there’s plenty of space to work, and prepped ingredients can be stored at the back of the board until you’re ready to use them.
One small adjustment we’ve made that has made life so much easier is putting a little rubbery mat underneath our cutting board. This keeps it from sliding around the counter, making it both safer and easier to use.
Having to clean off your hands to mess with a timer or a podcast or look up a conversion from ounces to grams is a major time sink when it comes to cooking. Having a Google home (or some other form of lil smart assistant) means that I don’t have to worry if my hands are covered in flour and I need to know how much time is left on the timer.