Cooking for a less-than-adventurous dieter
January 11, 2016 6:04 AM   Subscribe

How do I start cooking healthy for a family that isn't used to kale and quinoa?

I'm an at-home dad. I have two kids and the three of us are of a healthy weight and active lifestyle.
Unfortunately, over the years, the extreme stress of my wife's career has taken it's toll on her. Thankfully, she recently went through a career change and is now working in her near-stress-free dream job.
She has spent so many years dealing with everyone else's problems and fighting and stressing over her former employer that she doesn't know any other way. I would love for her to now take the time that she has available to her and start focusing on herself in any way she wants. She deserves it and I know she would be better off for it.
On top of that, I would like to be able to be able to cook healthier for her (and really, for all of us), but we're so used to run-of-the-mill foods that every time I Google healthy recipes I get stuff with quinoa and feta and bla bla bla. Seriously, that's unusual to us (sadly).

It would be very difficult to break right into things like that. I feel like I need to ease into this somehow so we don't fail at it.

I'd love some thoughts on how to start eating healthier. Where should I go for recipe options for beginners? I can't seem to find anything...
Thanks!!
posted by Thrillhouse to Food & Drink (45 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think quinoa should be the easier sell—just using it in place of rice when your family have chicken or something.

The only way I have ever enjoyed eating kale, was eating my friends dried kale chips with like a sprinkling of spice and maybe peanut dust...? I'll see if I can get the recipe.
posted by blueberry at 6:14 AM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


It would help to get a bit more information on what you consider run-of-the-mill. At a day-to-day level I like focusing on a combination of protein+veggie. This can also be protein+veggie+starch if you like/have room in your diet for it.

Baked chicken is really easy. We throw a few chicken breasts in a small pyrex, cover them with a seasoning mix or mustard or salsa and bake them until the internal temp is 165. Then either a side vegetable sauteed in a little olive oil or some bagged salad.

I really like recipes from Cooking Light - many of them are very accessible including lighter versions of traditional American dishes.

Feel free to memail me if you want more specific ideas. I can chat about cooking all day!
posted by brilliantine at 6:15 AM on January 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


Whatever you make that's brand new for your family, ask them to just eat a teaspoon.

Also, make it two or three times and ask them to just eat a teaspoon. If, after 3 tries, they still don't like it, well, they've given it a try.

Vegetables like kale and spinach can be blended into a pasta sauce or a soup (especially a bean soup!) and no one will even notice they're there.

I really recommend everything by Smitten Kitchen and One Green Planet. For healthy choices you can't beat One Green Planet.
posted by Amy NM at 6:18 AM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's not an all or nothing proposition. Just start adding things slowly. When you make spinach, use some kale in there too, see what happens (although if you're doing spinach, do you need kale?)

Don't make a whole new recipe for dinner, try just a side dish. If you do a new protein recipe, use regular side dishes.

I do this with Husbunny, sometimes it's a success, sometimes not.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:22 AM on January 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


What do you eat now? I think that might help people figure out some simple changes or substitutions for you.

An awful lot of the healthy food I cook and eat is sauteed or roasted vegetables, for which you just barely need a recipe. You can google "how to saute [vegetable]" for instructions on chopping and cooking times, but basically, you need to chop vegetables into even sized pieces and cook them over medium heat in enough oil to coat the pan, stirring so they don't burn. Zucchini, spinach, green beans, brussel sprouts, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, etc.

One thing you can do with these sauteed vegetables - toss them with a little grated parmesan and some toasted breadcrumbs. Before you start the vegetables, you can toast your breadcrumbs (panko from a box) in a hot, dry pan, stirring constantly as they will brown and then burn very quickly.

Serious Eats usually has some simple main-dish salads, especially warm ones. These winter salads are probably too complex for you (I'm not usually up for all the fiddly bits) but they illustrate the kinds of combinations possible. I had sauteed brussels sprouts with salt, pepper, lemon and ricotta for lunch yesterday, for instance, inspired by one of the more complicated recipes.

Roast cubed sweet potatoes and winter squash are also good and easy (kids tend to like these) - use enough oil, don't start "getting healthy" by trying to dry roast a lot of things because then they'll just be yucky and depressing. I find that roasting smallish cubes or rounds at high heat is better (425-ish). You can also toss these with greens, herbs or nuts or all three.

Something my parents do a lot that is very easy - baked fish. Children tend to like salmon, and it's fatty so it's hard to mess up. (Look up which kinds are sustainable - my inner city Cub carries one of the sustainable fishery options, so it's not like sustainable salmon is impossible to find.) You put your salmon skin side down in a heavy pan, rub it lightly with oil, salt and pepper it, and cook in a 425 degree oven - if it's a big filet, start checking at 15 minutes. Use a fork to test it - poke at it and when the middle parts start to be flakey, it's done.

You can (so I gather) bake almost any fish, although less fatty fish have different times and temperatures. This recipe is similar to something my parents make and is not too difficult.
posted by Frowner at 6:25 AM on January 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think my biggest problem is the sides. I can make the protein reasonably healthy. It's the sides that kill us...

Thank you all for your input!
posted by Thrillhouse at 6:25 AM on January 11, 2016


Don't make a whole new recipe for dinner, try just a side dish. If you do a new protein recipe, use regular side dishes.

Absolutely agreed--always make your regular meal as well as the new recipe. That way, in case things go sideways and everyone hates the new recipe, at least no one's hungry. Ask me how I learned this :)

Also, maybe make half batches of new recipes so that if it turns out to be a dud, there's not a lot of food wasted.
posted by Amy NM at 6:26 AM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, assuming it's financially viable for you, what about having a salad based on those pre-washed greens? I know there's drawbacks to that, but as a transitional eating thing it might help.

My family always basically ate protein/vegetable side/salad - the salad was an automatic part of dinner. It was iceberg lettuce and I loathed it (financial and food distribution reasons for the iceberg; parents would have liked other stuff). But now I go on salad kicks - boxed mixed greens from the grocery store and either a simple vinegar/oil/mustard dressing with parmesan or sometimes a storebought one.

Adding a salad to most dinners is quick and easy, and I have found that kids don't hate it (usually - your child may vary; rumor has it that some kids prefer iceberg lettuce, for that matter). For me, I usually make a salad with just the greens - I find that with tasty mixed greens I don't need much else. But you can also jazz it up with, for instance, walnuts, breadcrumbs, parmesan, chopped up bell peppers/carrot/tomato. Emphasize, maybe, your kids' favorite (or least hated?) raw vegetables?
posted by Frowner at 6:30 AM on January 11, 2016


When dressed and massaged, kale acts like other salad greens. The non-kale people in my world happily eat it that way. So look for massaged kale salads.

For dressing, plain greek yogurt/avocado/lime juice/salt/pepper makes a nutrient-packed salad dressing that behaves like ranch.

For quinoa, do it sweetened and creamed like oatmeal to introduce it to people. It can go sweet or savory and my non-quinoa people like it sweet. They mock me when I sub it for rice though.

Consider, though, that you may not need to add trendy superfoods. You may just need to banish bread and/or dairy. I'm a vegetarian, quite active, & eat mostly all healthy foods. But bread is my kryptonite, to the tune of 30-40 lbs. of non-kale weight.
posted by headnsouth at 6:38 AM on January 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


SkinnyTaste and Kalyn's Kitchen are good sites featuring low-fat and low-carb recipes (respectively).

Some habits I've tried to adopt are:
* Substitute an extra vegetable-based side dish for a carb-y dish like mashed potatoes. You won't miss the carbs as much if you're full of veggie fiber.
* Take things you would normally eat on a bun or in a pita or tortilla and put them on a bed of lettuce instead. There are lots of lovely, tender dark greens out there; you don't have to mess with a tough green like kale or a bitter green like arugula if you don't want to.
* If there are foods -- especially veggies -- that you or your family hates, consider giving them another try. There are foods I avoided for years because the only times I had them, they weren't well-prepared (overcooked peas, ugh). If you do a bit of research, you may find preparations that are both healthier and more delicious than what you've had in the past.
posted by neushoorn at 6:40 AM on January 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


Currently, we are a very 'meat & potatoes' type family. Too much bread. Too much starch. Not enough vegetables. I am a decent cook, and I do like to try new things, but I always worry that they won't like what I'm considering so I never end up making anything particularly exciting or different at all...

My kids are 8 and 14. The 14 year old will try anything and probably like it. The 8 year old hates everything. My wife.... She probably needs to most babying of all of them when it comes to introducing new foods. :)
posted by Thrillhouse at 6:48 AM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't like cooking with quinoa and I don't really get the fascination with kale.

Some general principles I apply:

- Cook with fresh ingredients. Like actual vegetables from the produce aisle, and unprocessed meats. This will go a long way towards cooking healthier.

- But, it's ok to use shortcuts! I use canned tomatoes, mixed salad bags, pre-chopped butternut squash, etc. all the time. I regularly stock frozen veg in the freezer to sneak into dishes.

- On preview I see you mention side dishes specifically. Get comfortable with different cooking methods and what method you prefer for different vegetables. For example, you get completely different results when you take a combination of broccoli, garlic and olive oil and sautee it vs. roast it. The internet abounds for these kinds of tips.

- Try and go through a variety of proteins during the week, add a vegetarian day to your week. Limit pasta dishes to once a week. Definitely add a seafood day (if you think seafood, and not just fish, it really opens up possibilities).

- Sauces "from scratch" are easier than you think and you will have the advantage of being in full control over how much fats and salts you apply. For example, I don't normally buy spaghetti sauce and instead use canned tomatoes, veg and herbs - chorizo or beef stock cubes go a long way in adding depth.

- I buy little individual snack packets of seed/dried fruit mixtures and keep them on hand to jazz up salads. Quickly roasted pine nuts also do the trick for me, or slivered almonds. I try to bring in a variety of textures and flavors to a salad (crunchy, soft, chewy, sweet, bitter). We're usually happy with a simple dressing of lime, olive oil, ground pepper to let the veg provide the real flavour rather than store bought dressing.

- Speaking of lime, which we buy in bottles and store in the fridge, I think having a well stocked pantry of seasonings can also help flavour foods without added fat and helps you be creative.
We regularly stock and use: canned tomatoes, stock cubes, oregano, chilli flakes, herbs de provence, thyme, lemon pepper (my favorite for everything from chicken to fish to soups to sandwiches), mustard seeds, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, harissa paste, tomato paste, lime juice, cous cous (I find this easier to prepare than quinoa, which I find kind of slimey), coconut milk (used only once a week at most), tuna fish (great in a tomato based pasta sauces or in salads).

- Check out some asian inspired recipes, specifically Korean and Japanese. Lots of flavor without potatoes and fat (although sometimes a lot of salt but you can regulate that easily).
posted by like_neon at 6:52 AM on January 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


Mashed cauliflower or cauliflower rice (grated sauteed cauliflower) usually go over well as starch replacements. Cauliflower rice sauteed in coconut oil is particularly good - coarsely grate either one small or half a large cauliflower (I use an old hand grater) while you let a heavy-bottomed pan heat (medium to medium-high) on the stove. Add about 1 T oil. I lightly salt the cauliflower as it cooks. Stir regularly but not constantly - ie, you can make a salad or something next to the stove and stir every couple of minutes. Taste it and when it starts to taste nutty instead of raw, it's done.

You can add parmesan, salt/pepper/butter, a little bit of sriracha or hot sauce, etc.

While it is still cooking, you can add 1 or 2 T curry paste diluted in a little water - the butter chicken paste from Kitchens of India is mild, IIRC. If you make the curried kind, you can add chopped unsalted cashews (and chopped cilantro if your family eats cilantro). You can also finish it with a spoonful of yogurt - this tends to mute the curry flavor if curry makes people uneasy.

Now, the following will sound absolutely mad, but: grated sauteed cabbage, red or green. Half a small head of cabbage coarsely grated and cooked in about 1.5 T butter until it tastes nutty and not raw. Salt and pepper to finish. You may be surprised by how good this is, even if you are not a fan of cabbage in general. Because it's grated, it's very soft.

You can also start this dish by sauteeing a very thinly slice onion (large or small) for five minutes before you add the cabbage. There's a sorta-Ethiopian version of this where you saute the onion, then add 2 cloves minced garlic and about 1 T grated ginger, then add cumin and turmeric to finish. This is actually a very mild and sweet dish unless you add a lot of spices at the end.

But seriously - I was not especially a fan of cabbage, ever, and I eat cabbage all the time now.
posted by Frowner at 7:02 AM on January 11, 2016 [17 favorites]


Soups can be really tasty and healthy, because you can fill them with ALL THE VEGETABLES. (And even if you don't make homemade stock, using store-bought stock base will still be much less sodium than canned soups.) You can also freeze them for later. Here are some of my personal favorites:

I'm making Dorie Greenspan's Provencal Vegetable Soup tonight, it's a favorite (I'm leaving out the corn).
Dorie Greenspan's Orange-Scented Lentil Soup
Moroccan Carrot Soup (quick to make)

Also my go-to carrot salad: Peel 4 medium carrots, shred/grate them in a food processor, stir in 1/3 c salted peanuts, 2tb red wine vinegar, 2tb peanut oil. Toss.
posted by Hypatia at 7:04 AM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ahh! Overload! I haven't posted here in a while and I thought people stopped using it. Turns out I was wrong. You guys are the tops! I've got a lot to digest (rimshot) and have so much to work with already. Thank you!
posted by Thrillhouse at 7:06 AM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


One of my aunt's is a very fussy eater who dislikes almost all veggies. She recently found she can consume - and get her kids to also eat - smoothies with veggies very well blended in. She makes a smoothie with spinach, blueberries and water, juice or almond milk. The spinach has to be very well puréed but when it is, she is able to drink it and consumes a lot of greens this way. She also makes a veggie soup where she purees the carrots, onions, celery, etc. The aversion to veggies must be a texture issue because she'll eat them when they're blended to a pulp. With my kids, I've found that when they help wash and prepare the veggies, they're much more likely to eat them. My daughter will say she doesn't like sweet potatoes, but when she helps wash, peel and season/oil oven fries, she usually loved them! I've also found many kids like frozen veggies - I think they're soft and easier to eat.
Finally, can you try skipping the starch at an occasional dinner? Salmon with two side veggies is a decent meal.
posted by areaperson at 7:13 AM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


I really like 101cookbooks for healthy recipes. Other tips:

1. Vegetables (kale, brussels sprouts, etc) are typically better roasted (better flavor/texture/etc)
2. If you want to ease your family into it, add cheese.
posted by aaanastasia at 7:15 AM on January 11, 2016


nthing that you don't need to start cooking quinoa and kale just because you're trying to eat a little healthier, I bet a lot of the things you already make can be made healthier with some minor adjustments, but, in the spirit of your question, you could try this:

http://ifoodreal.com/turkey-spinach-quinoa-casserole/

This feels richer and starchier than it is, and is quite healthy...just remember to rinse the quinoa first!
posted by cakelite at 7:16 AM on January 11, 2016


Lots of good suggestions in here. I note that "Healthy" foods don't have to have the "superfood!" aura to it, so don't feel like you have to start introducing unfamiliar foods like quinoa and kale overnight in order to eat healthily; t's easier to go with familiar foods that are still healthy.

I think a good transition point is to go from "meat and potatoes" to "meat and greens and beans" - in our house we eat far less bread/rice/plain white/yellow potatoes than we did before by simply making a lot the same familiar foods you like but subbing out for veg where able.

As mentioned earlier, Cauliflower makes a great rice substitute, and can also be used to knock out a mac and cheese craving. Instead of tacos and burritos we have taco salad (minus the tortilla). We regularly eat spiralized zucchini "noodles" with pasta sauces.

In circumstances where we absolutely want rice or bread, we still have it - we just go with brown rice and also have much less of it. And once a week, we still eat "unhealthy" things like pizza and hamburgers.
posted by Karaage at 7:18 AM on January 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


This was pretty much the first way I ate kale and enjoyed it. In fact, I'm a fan of that website. The focus in on budget so there are still many pasta/bread recipes but she's great at cooking so many international flavours and I end up trying new things this way. I always tell myself when I try something new that if I hate it, I can always make a grilled cheese. Takes the fear of trying something new away.
posted by GilvearSt at 7:20 AM on January 11, 2016


Potatos and bread are healthy. There is no reason to cut them out of your diet. It's all about ratios... keep eating what you're eating, just make sure you get(more) vegetables. So that means: replace part of your meat and potatoes with them. You can do it bit by bit. Your meals won't be radically different, so it's not likely that anyone will revolt.
It's fine to go with vegetables that you're already familiar with. Make the vegetables at least a third of your main meal (which is easy if you're having a vegetable + a salad) and you're already going to be doing pretty well. Add some to your other meals as well.

It would also help to replace bread and pasta by their wholewheat versions, and white rice by brown rice. They're better for you and more satisfying. That's a really easy change to make.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:32 AM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


When you plan a meal, think about what is the most unhealthy part of it. You say your main dishes are okay, so maybe it's the mashed potatoes, or the creamed corn, or the tater tots, or the iceberg and carrot salad with heavy ranch dressing. Your healthy paths are:
- cut that dish out entirely, come up with a different side you know they like
- pinpoint the danger ingredient (sour cream, ranch dressing, half-stick of butter, extra sugar, etc) and substitute just that (eg plain yogurt is basically indistinguishable from sour cream or mayo in a lot of recipes, and there are yogurt based ranch-dressing substitutes).
- come up with a recipe that is somewhat similar (eg cauliflower puree instead of mashed potatoes, baked sweet potato "fries" instead of tater tots, cut-corn and lima bean sautee instead of creamed corn)
- this is a dish that everyone loves, so don't mess with it, just give everyone a smaller serving of it. So if you're serving mac and cheese, you're not making a 9x13 casserole as the main event, make a half pan and there's also a salad and baked chicken, etc.

There's not one path that is always the answer, but there's often a least-objectionable option.
posted by aimedwander at 7:35 AM on January 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


every time I Google healthy recipes I get stuff with quinoa and feta and bla bla bla

What? We eat a healthy diet and never in my life have I eaten kale or quinoa. So at first I thought there was something wrong with the way you were Googling, but then I realised the problem is probably the definition of healthy as it's been co-opted by "27 SUPERFOODS THAT TASTE LIKE SHIT AND WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!" Buzzfeed headlines.

"Healthy food" when stacked against the default American diet is actually pretty simple. Start with "no more prepared foods" and cook from fresh, whole foods. If you want mac & cheese, fine; make it from scratch and not from a box of preservatives. If you want mashed potatoes, super; mash some potatoes with a fork instead of making them from a box of shit.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:35 AM on January 11, 2016 [7 favorites]


Your family might have fun with "theme nights" -- Chinese food one night, Mexican another, etc -- so that the new food will seem like a treat instead of a chore. Corn tortillas are actually pretty good for you (just make sure you serve them warm, they're kind of gross cold) -- you could have assemble-your-own tacos, with grilled meats and vegetables, black beans, and fresh salsa.
posted by ostro at 7:43 AM on January 11, 2016


Kale and quinoa are not requirements for healthy eating. How about broccoli, green beans, sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes. The trick is preparing them so that they are approachable and tasty. I was lukewarm towards a lot of veggies as a kid, because my mom's cooking technique was mostly boil, salt and butter. Sautéing, roasting, lemon juice etc opened me up to a wider range of flavor and texture. Also there's nothing wrong with raw veg and dip / hummus if that's what makes them approachable.

There was an ask.me a while back about making veggies delicious .. Might be worth looking for.
posted by bunderful at 8:22 AM on January 11, 2016


Areaperson's pureed vegetable soup recommendation above works very well here. I like to make at least one pureed veggie soup per week and everyone has serving either with dinner or as a after-school/work snack. The routine is steam/boil one type of veggie* with a couple inches of water in a pot with a slice of onion and a small spoonful of bouillon (I like Better Than Bouillon). When veggies are soft, puree in a good blender (without burning self) and add liquid until thin enough. I suggest starting with cream or whole milk - about 1 cup per roughly 7 cups of soup and transitioning over time to less cream or even just water if you want. A chunk of butter doesn't hurt and that can be added at the table to stir in.

* Veggies can include fresh or frozen cauliflower (our current favorite), broccoli (optional grated cheddar), canned tomatoes, carrots (optional slice of ginger), fresh baby spinach. Each of these is a different soup so every week try another soup. It is no big deal to drink down a cup of veggie soup.

There are so many ways to get fancier but this is a good way to introduce more veggies. Another option is a plate of raw veggies out before dinner with a yogurt dip.
posted by RoadScholar at 8:25 AM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Swap out the grain or other carb once a week for a baked sweet potato or mashed sweet potatoes (without butter or other dairy added).

Kids also tend to like carrots more than other foods, so google carrot recipes and do a different one once a week. The cooking techniques you learn from carrots will also translate to other veggies as you explore more.

Let the kids pick out a new veggie to try at the supermarket. Then try roasting or sauteing it. Here's how to roast any vegetable. By letting them select, you get their buy-in.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:29 AM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just a few ideas along the lines of "more vegetables" that are pretty easy to make:

- It takes just minutes to saute spinach in a bit of olive oil and minced garlic. (For four, you'll need a whole big bag and a tall pot to handle the initial volume)

- Artichokes are delicious and fun to eat. Trim the head and tuck in slivers of garlic, then steam about 40 minutes. Serve with little individual bowls of lemon-butter for dipping. Have a communal bowl for tossing discarded leaves.

- If I could eat only one vegetable for the rest of my life, it would be steamed brocolli served with a pat of butter melting on top, along with a sprinkled pinch of coarse sea salt

- For a change of pace, braise vegetables with a bit of olive oil and a splash of good balsamic (asparagus, green beans and Brussels sprouts especially)
posted by Short Attention Sp at 8:31 AM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Someone on here recommended the Meat Lite series to me once. I've found some great recipes on there that are healthy and tasty.
posted by monologish at 8:58 AM on January 11, 2016


I don't know if this would work with your schedule, but I often slide the veggies into my kids before dinner. They're usually starving while waiting for my partner to come home so I'll give them a plate of the veggies they like to snack on while they wait. Often they're playing, running around or playing a video game while this happens so they eat them all without really noticing. One kid is fussier but reliably eats cucumber, baby carrots and broccoli so that's what he gets. Sometimes apple slices too. The other will eat whatever I give her.

At dinner time I generally serve protein and starch (often rice, oven roasted or boiled potatoes, sometime fries. Neither of my kids will do quinoa sadly) and a cooked veg or salad. If the kids eat more veg, great, but if they don't I don't really care because they've already had a goodly amount.
posted by Cuke at 8:58 AM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


More info!

Do simple starches, brown rice, sweet potatoes, roasted potatoes. Be sure to add some healthy fats!

I toss my potatoes in olive oil and seasoning and roast them in the oven.

My sweet potatoes are yummy and super easy. Cut them into wedges, with the skins. Toss in olive oil, dust with salt, pepper, garlic powder, cinnamon and a bit of brown sugar. There is something about the sweet and savory with these, plus sweet potatoes are SO fibery and good for you!

Cauliflower is milder than broccoli and simple roasting makes it sweet. A squeeze of lemon and salt and pepper and BOOM! Side dish.

You can do a big crudité plate with lots of different veggies, and have a dip of hummus or Tzatziki, healthy and fun!

Another trick is to start everyone off with a bowl of soup. Then try some different veggie based soups. Tomato bisque, minestrone, mushroom. Soups are easy and delicious, and nice and warming this time of year.

Then make a salad to serve with dinner. Simple greens and vinaigrette, lettuce wedges with blue cheese or thousand island dressing,

Another trick is to incorporate veggies into your meat mains. Meatloaf can hold a lot of shredded carrot or zucchini. Chicken Cacciatore feels sinful, and is chock full of veggies, Pot Roast. You get the idea.

Basically, just offer a new side, along your regulars, and see what your family likes.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:17 AM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I really love the website cookieandkate.com for great healthy (easy) meals and sides.
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 9:30 AM on January 11, 2016


I definitely recommend Cooking Light for recipes. They have a wide range, but definitely quite a few in the category of easy weeknight recipes + riffs on "traditional" foods.

For healthy sides, there's no reason to do kale and quinoa if you don't want to. Almost all vegetables are AWESOME roasted in a little olive oil and seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper. Just cut into bite sized pieces and pop into a 400 degree oven until tender. Salads are also an easy way to get in extra veggies. I also really like doing raw veggies with healthy dips -- so, cut up carrots, bell pepper, cucumber (really whatever the kids will eat), and serve with a yogurt-based creamy dressing, hummus, salsa, or a homemade guacamole (I say homemade on the guac, because some purchased ones have mayo -- if you make it at home you can do avoacdo, lime juice, salt, and anything else you want to add, for a super easy and healthy dip).

For starches, try reducing portions and making more of them whole grain. This doesn't have to be quinoa -- you could try doing big batches of brown rice -- I think it's much tastier if you cook it in a little chicken broth or coconut milk. Or you could try whole wheat couscous -- I can't tell much of a difference from the white version, and it's just as quick. And try getting whole wheat dinner rolls instead of the white if you want to do bread.

A blog I will suggest is Budget Bytes -- she does a wide variety of things, but most of them are pretty straightforward and healthy/veggie-focused, and not a whole lot of super exotic flavors or ingredients.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:30 AM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't have strong feelings on healthy eating. I do, however, really like kale salad, as do my kids (especially the 10 year old). As in, I significantly prefer it to lettuce salad.

My favorite approach is:

--slice up the kale (chiffonade) as thin as you can (cut out the center ribs, stack a bunch of leaves together, roll them up tight as best you can, and then cut across the roll)

--toss with a little salt and some oil of your choice; I like a couple of tablespoons total, mixture of sesame and olive (more olive than sesame). Squish together really well with your hands (this is the "massaged" part of one of the posters above)

--Let it sit for a couple of hours at room temp. It should get wilty and when you eat some of the kale, it will not be super-tough. (This does require that you're starting with kale that's not super-old; when I used end-of-the-season kale from the garden, it was still pretty tough.)

--toss with your favorite vinegar, nuts (I like toasted pecans), dried fruit (cranberries are good), beans, etc.

So good!

(You can also do ok by chopping up a bunch of kale into a plastic tub in the morning and tossing on the dressing stuff and mixing it together, then tossing it in your book bag and eating it for lunch.)
posted by leahwrenn at 9:48 AM on January 11, 2016


Damn, Frowner! I just made the cauliflower with curry dish and it's incredible! I added pine nuts for more of a snap and since I didn't have a coarse grater (my grater is too fine) I just diced the heck out of it. Excellent recommendation!

I'll be auditioning more of your suggestions over the next several days. Thank you all again!
Tonight will be sous vide sirloin with sautéed green beans (with the toasted panko, love that idea) and ^^^ THAT!
posted by Thrillhouse at 10:07 AM on January 11, 2016


Have you tried stir frying? I don't have a wok, so it's basically pan frying.

The way I do it:

Chop meat into thin small slices (, like, the length and width of your little finger, but a thin slice). Marinate for half an hour in soy sauce and white wine/oyster sauce/whatever (I like whiskey!). Or don't marinate it, if you're in a hurry.
Slice vegetables into small pieces. Any vegetables you like. Carrots, green beans, broccoli...
Boil veggies for a couple of minutes until done but still al dente (they shouldn't be soft and tasteless).

Cook onions in vegetable oil, add meat. Cook until brown, add soy sauce, maybe salt and pepper and grated nutmeg. Maybe more water. Add vegetables. You should see some sauce, but not like a soup.

Eat with rice.

I'm not saying this is the best stir fry ever or something, but it's super easy, versatile, lets you add lots of veggies and I've never met anyone who didn't like soy sauce!
posted by Omnomnom at 11:10 AM on January 11, 2016


I'm going to contradict some of the advice above --- to me, it seems like the solution to your problem isn't so much introducing new healthy foods as it is eliminating the unhealthy ones. But you can make easy changes there: if you usually have steak, green beans and a baked potato, maybe do steak, green beans and some sautéed mushroom or caramelised onions and peppers or whatever your family likes. Basically, swap out your starch side for another vegetable. Cutting back on the amount of pasta and adding more veggies (or doing zucchini noodles). Stuff like that. Maybe keep a little basket of rolls on the table if you have to have something.

I gradually started trying to make some healthier changes to my own diet a while back, and one of the most important things I've learned is that protein and veggies are much more filling than simple starches. I can eat a bowl of buttered noodles and be hungry again an hour later; the same amount of calories in the form of steak or chicken or something and I'm full until my next meal.

The other things I'd say I've learned are that you don't need as much fat to cook things with as you think -- before if I was going to sautée some veg I'd probably chuck a couple tablespoon of olive oil or butter in, but I've found that with a nonstick you can use a teaspoon or two and get the same results.

What I'm trying to say is basically, take heart: finding new recipes you dig is awesome, but eating healthier doesn't mean you have to force your family into eating a bunch of weird new foods they don't like. You can make small, meaningful changes that add up to something a lot healthier. Use less fat when you cook, use herbs and spices to add flavour to sides instead of cheese and butter, eat less bread, potatoes, and pasta and other simple starches. Those are the biggies.
posted by Diablevert at 12:08 PM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


You don't have to eat special "healthy" foods in order to eat a balanced diet.

In general, vegetables are good for you. It doesn't have to be kale specifically or whatever other "healthy" flavor of the month. Spinach, broccoli, carrots, celery, peas, whatever your family already knows and is OK with are all a great place to start.

Regular grains like rice or potatoes or whatever carbs you guys are used to are also fine. The key is just to use less of them (definitely reduce from two to one carb item per meal if you haven't already). Frankly I think a lot of people go for fancy obscure grains like farro or quinoa or whatever precisely because they are unfamiliar and thus not as "tasty" and thus they will hopefully eat less quantity. That said, you're going to want to look into healthier ways of preparing the carbs you're used to, like wheat bread instead of white, roast new potatoes rather than mashed with butter, etc.

Same for proteins. You can 100% keep eating chicken or steak or chili or whatever you were already making, you just need to find recipes that get you preparing it in leaner ways. Roast rather than fry. Pick leaner cuts. Consider things like ground turkey or incorporating more fish into your diet. I love tofu and weird Asian pulses and stuff but there's no reason you have to eat that or it's "not healthy".

The reason googling "healthy" recipes is giving you kale and quinoa is threefold. Firstly, a lot of people think that there really is magic in a particular ingredient, and that eating kale is going to make the weight fall off where eating broccoli wouldn't. This is bullshit.

Secondly, most recipes come from cookbooks, food magazines, and food blogs, and these have to constantly be putting out new content. Since there are only so many recipes for peas out there, this means that recipe writers are always coming up with the latest new thing. (I find this especially true for grains and carbs, since, y'know, rice is rice, but most people have never cooked with buckwheat before.) Sometimes, here, there's even a marketing or advertiser push behind what ingredients are used. I'm not entirely willing to say that there's some kind of Kale Cartel, but yes, those types of groups exist and do push "new" food trends on the public via the media.

Thirdly, as you start eating more whole foods and get more accomplished with cooking, you likely will want to try new things. A lot of people searching for healthy recipes have already had spinach every way they can think of to make it, so they're looking for new foods to try or recipes to use an unfamiliar ingredient they just brought home from the market. In a few months or a year, you might find yourself wanting to try kale and quinoa, because you simply can't look at another chicken breast with a side of roast potatoes and green beans.

Anyway, yeah, just cook ingredients you are already familiar with and know your family will eat, but in a healthier way and with more emphasis on fresh vegetables and lean proteins.
posted by Sara C. at 2:04 PM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


At-home Chinese cooking can be very healthy, and you can totally adapt these cooking techniques for other vegetables too. It is so delicious with blanched green vegetables with fried shallots or garlic on top (ready-bought at the Asian supermarket in a tub!), or it is gently stewed with chicken broth. I like the "Better than Boullion" if you needed instant chicken broth.

My mom and I also make an informal coleslaw with thinly sliced round green cabbage and Kewpie mayo. I also like to make cabbage salad with lemon juice, salt, and garlic. Or just cabbage salad with salt. Also, making your 7 or 9-inch plate (can't remember which size is the one that people recommend) half vegetables goes a long way.
posted by yueliang at 2:18 PM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


- Stick to foods that aren't super processed, e.g. whole grains!

- make your own sauces etc. them things are loaded with sugar and unnecessary junk

- eat color (red peppers, white mushrooms..) -variety means you're getting all kinds of nutrients and vitamins and powa!!!

- try things that are in season (they're tastier)

- try swapping some things to organic (such as oranges. mind blowing.)

..wouldn't demonize bread and cereals. I find that making your own granola/baking (even hummus) is quite exciting for kiddos (well my niece thinks so) and they're more willing to try new stuff 'cause they made em!

Also, if you want to steer a little away from dairy you can make killer yummy smoothies with almond or coconut milk, some berries and banana and they're awesome for you too. makes a good dessert/breakfast/snack alternative.

Good luck!!!
posted by speakeasy at 2:45 PM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Mmmm... carrot fries.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 4:07 PM on January 11, 2016


I'm working on a similar track. I subscribe to Cooking Light. Sunday night dinner (roommate cooked) pot roast, potatoes and carrots. Meat was a little dry. I shredded the meat and added barbecue sauce. Tonight's dinner: baked sweet potatoes, applesauce, a little leftover roast potato and a small serving of barbecue. We'll get 5 meals out of that roast.
posted by MichelleinMD at 6:02 PM on January 11, 2016


I wanted to second Skinny Taste. It's one the #1 cookbooks on Amazon for a reason. I bought it about a month ago to get me out of a cooking rut and I've either liked or loved every recipe I've made, and I have pretty high standards when it comes to recipes. I've already made two of the dishes twice.
posted by whoaali at 6:56 PM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


This NPR article on three ways to make Korean banchan (side dishes) in one pot is totally up your alley. I mean, eggplant and spinach can't be new, and bean sprouts are pleasant and crunchy. Potato and soy sauce side dish is totally delicious as well, the sesame seeds and oil make it so fragrant and it's a little sweet.

Once you try making these, and pairing it with rice and noodles (you can even stir it all together with gochujang to make bibimbap), look up 'banchan recipes' on the internet and try to make some more, and make them in bulk if you'd like.
posted by yueliang at 7:47 PM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just made a stir fry and added kale. Sauteed on pretty high heat with oil - onion, kale, yellow summer squash, broccoli, a little bit of sliced pork. I made a sauce of a tablespoon or 3 or corn starch, some soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sherry, added it to the cooked veg & meat and simmered a few minutes. Served over brown rice & bulgar pilaf, which is where you could start to add some quinoa. Very tasty, and you can mix up the veg - spinach, carrots, celery, cabbage, mushrooms, etc. A large quantity of veg will cook down a fair amount.

Kale is the universal soup ingredient. Easy soup - brown some Italian sausage (chicken Ital. sausage is nice) and some onions. Add chicken broth, kale and potatoes(optional). Simmer at least until the kale is done.

When you plan meals, plan the vegetables 1st, it helps me prioritize having tasty veggies that I'll enjoy, not required veggies that are an afterthought.
posted by theora55 at 5:28 PM on January 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


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