Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins are the basis of a healthy diet. You can easily cook these foods at home from scratch, and get more nutrition by doing so. Cooking from scratch means taking basic foods in their natural form and making them into tasty dishes, without relying on processed, pre-made foods. Cooking healthy foods from scratch is the most economical choice, and it is good for the environment because natural foods do not need all the packaging that microwave dinners, frozen snacks and lunch kits require.
Keep lots of fresh fruit on hand for healthy snacking. Fruit takes very little preparation -- just wash it, cut it up and store it in plastic bags or containers. Slice apples and pears and mix with a few drops of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. Serve them with your favorite nut butter or add to a tossed salad. Mix three to five types of freshly cut fruit: bananas, grapes, kiwi, pineapple and mango, for example, to make a fruit salad --- no dressing required. Make smoothies by mixing fresh fruit such as berries and bananas in a blender with a few ice cubes and some yogurt or kefir for a quick, healthy meal from scratch.
Prepare vegetables by washing, trimming and peeling, if necessary. Keep chopped lettuce, carrots, celery, bell peppers, green onions and cucumbers on hand to throw together for a quick salad. For vegetable soup, add one pound of chopped vegetables to a small chopped onion or a tablespoon of chopped garlic, a can of beans or a cup of rice, potatoes or small pasta, and a quart of chicken broth or milk. Cook on medium heat until the vegetables are tender and the starch is done. For a delicious side dish, cube vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, asparagus, winter squash, green beans and onions, and toss in olive oil. Roast in the oven at 450 degrees. See the chart in the resource section below for roasting times.
To cook whole grains from scratch, rinse the grain, add at least two cups of water per cup of grain, a teaspoon of salt, and cook until tender. Whole grains take longer to cook than processed grains, so plan accordingly. See the chart in the resources section below for specific directions for each type of grain. Use whole grain oats, grits, or quinoa as a hot breakfast cereal --- just add a dab of honey, some fresh berries and a sprinkle of chopped nuts. Make a pilaf with cooked wheat berries, brown rice or buckwheat by adding chopped carrots, mushrooms and onions sauteed in olive oil to the hot grain. Barley and brown rice are good additions to soups, and you can add any cold leftover cooked grains to salad.
Add healthy fats to your cooked-from-scratch menu in the form of nuts, seeds, avocados, flaxseed oil and olive oil. Sprinkle chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds on your salad, hot breakfast cereal or cooked vegetables. Add flaxseed oil to a fruit smoothie or salad. Make your own salad dressing from scratch by blending one part vinegar to two parts olive oil. Add herbs, a dab of mustard, and salt and pepper.
Choose skinless chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef or pork loin for protein. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with fresh herbs, salt and pepper, and roast in the oven for an easy main dish. Beans are an economical and versatile source of protein as well. To cook dried beans from scratch, wash the beans and pick out any debris or broken beans. Cover with water and soak overnight. Rinse the beans and add fresh water. Cook until tender. Add cooked beans to soups, salads, chilies or casseroles, or serve as a side dish.