One of the best things you can do when transitioning to healthier eating habits is get to know your spice cupboard. Like, sit it down, talk to it, get to know it on a personal level. Fourth date level stuff. Sniff the jars, figure out what you like and don't like. It will make all the difference as you start to swap our your regular fast food or convenience foods for home cooked meals.
You've heard it before, most things packaged, bottled, or wrapped up are going to add a ton of extra stuff to your meal that you probably don't want if you're trying to feel and look your best. Salad dressings are often packed with unnecessary amounts of fat (and not always good fats), barbecue sauce is jammed with sugar, teriyaki sauce or the like typically have tons of sugar and sodium, and even the good old ketchup we love to slather on every summer is high in sugar. As with anything, a little of any of these isn't a bad thing, but if you're really trying to make a conscious effort to eat healthier these items are best left off the grocery list. Enjoy them when you find yourself at a BBQ, or out for dinner, or Stampede, but for the everyday, try and swap them out for healthier options. Like spices!
Great, so now my burger is dry, my salad may as well be a bowl of chalk for all the taste it has, and my chicken tastes like rubber. No! It doesn't have to be this way.
Starting point - Tap into what you (and whomever lives with you) likes
- Do you love spicy? Salty? Sweet? Tart? Richer heavier meals? Or lighter meals?
- Think about the restaurants you frequent the most - are you a guac and taco person all the way? Or burger and fries? Maybe you head out only for dessert? Or brunch all the way?
You can modify recipes at home and still enjoy the things you love, but for much higher nutritional value and less calories per bite.
Next up - Stock up your cupboard
I love the Spice Merchant in Inglewood because they literally have everything you can think of, plus the rustic setting is amazing to just wander as you sniff jars and flip through colourful recipe books. Their jars range from around $4-$8 each, so it's not like the Shoppers Drug Mart trips that turn into $80 when you go in for toothpaste. Today all my jars came to $36 - pretty good for that much spice, that will last me months and months!
For newbies: The staff are super helpful and will guide you to where you want to be, don't be afraid to ask!
For newbies & spice veterans alike: The combo jars are awesome if you're new as it takes any guess work out. "Taco seasoning" - well that pretty much says it! But even if you're a spice expert, those pre-mixed jars are fantastic for rushed weeknight meals. I've used their Tex-Mex seasoning on an entire dish before - all over the chicken, sweet potatoes, and peppers, all in one pan, and in to the oven she goes. Not only that, the combo jars mean you need to buy way less if your spice cupboard is currently pretty bare.
Last step - Experiment
Often if I'm stuck for an idea for dinner, I'll decide what flavour I feel like, look at what meat I've got for dinner, and will google those two things. For example: "pork tenderloin + dill". Instead of just a plain pork tenderloin with dill on it, google will give me ample ideas on what to pair with the dill so it's much more interesting.
I also use Google sometimes as confirmation that I'm not crazy when I think of adding two things together that seem odd. Search: "salmon + cinnamon" - okay, cool, there's like 1,340 recipes that include that, I knew it'd be good, but just had to check;)
Below are just a few of the combos that are regular in our house, due to their simplicity and the ingredients are pretty basic ones that I always have on hand. Pair these items with your new spice purchases and you're all set.
Vinegars: Balsamic & apple cider are my two favourite and most commonly used. Balsamic is awesome on vegetables like broccoli or asparagus. Apple cider is amazing as a salad dressing with some olive oil, unsweetened apple sauce, ginger, lemon juice and cinnamon.
Mustard: Regular yellow, dijon, grain. Mustard is great for cuts of meat that are a little on the drier side, but avoids adding tons of sugar and sodium the way you would with other sauces. One of my favourite ways to use it is to mix grainy mustard and dijon mustard, spread it on pork tenderloin, and then season the crap out of the top until it's pretty much covered! My spices are random and vary, but black pepper, salt, dill (lots of dill), and parsley are great together.
Lemons: Sounds weird, and so simple, but lemon juice is amazing at adding flavour and moisture. Once in a while we'll have linguine with our Sunday steaks, but rather than douse the pasta in cream and cheese, saute up some fresh minced garlic, chopped onions, salt, pepper, and the juice of 1-2 lemons. At this point I'll usually toss in some chopped vegetables like mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, and the last step is to toss in the pasta. We'll still grate on a little bit of a sharp cheese like parmesean or feta, but it's just a sprinkle for flavour versus an overwhelming plate of cream and cheese (which is delicious, but again, everything in moderation!). If you're not a cheese fan or can't eat it, sprinkle some nutritional yeast on top instead. Which leads me to...
Nutritional Yeast: It sounds weird, and my husband makes fun of me when I cook with it, "how did you know I just really wanted nutritional yeast tonight?". BUT! It offers protein and fibre, and gives a great cheesy taste. As above, it's great sprinkled on pasta, but it also helps those transitioning from broccoli and melted cheese whiz. Roast either cauliflower or broccoli in the oven with a bit of oil and salt and pepper, and once it's done, remove from the oven and sprinkle some nutritional yeast on top. Most health food stores carry it, I pick mine up from Light Cellar in Bowness.
Ummm, you mentioned tacos. When are you getting to the tacos and guac?
Making your own tacos means you get to control what goes in them, and what gets left out. Loads of cheese and dollops of sour cream are delicious, but can add up pretty quick on taco night. Instead opt for flavourful chicken or fish - I always buy chicken thighs, the extra fat content isn't over the top and makes the meat so much more enjoyable than dry chicken breasts. Personal preference, but thighs are worth a shot if you always have chicken breast. Make a flavourful salsa with chopped tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, lime juice, and diced mango. Mix your own guac with ripe avocado, lime juice, chili flakes, and salt and pepper.
Fries: The worst part about fries is the deep-fryer, so make your own in the oven and there is no reason you can't have fries every night. I always opt for sweet potato, to help my sweet tooth. A couple of my favourite pairings on them are either cinnamon + (a very light sprinkling) of maple syrup, or lime juice + paprika.
What are your favourite quick & easy flavour combinations? Would love to hear yours in the comments below.