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One key to making healthy foods at home is having a great pantry—and better yet, a green pantry. It's a simple concept. Switch out the junk food and refined processed items containing unhealthy ingredients—like white sugar and corn syrup—with natural, whole-food staples.
A pantry full of whole grains and flours, nuts and seeds, dried beans and peas, teas and oils, is a critical tool to make healthy cooking super convenient. These foods are also excellent sources of nutrition, providing fiber, complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, crucial minerals such as zinc and iron, and more.
The other key is a kitchen garden or local market to obtain fresh ingredients such as tomatoes, greens, herbs—and if you eat dairy, choosing organic dairy products. Combined with a great pantry, you now have all you need to enter a fun and healthy culinary adventure for all meals of the day.
You'll also make home-cooked meals that are better for your health, your wallet—as well as animals and the planet. Always look for organic, local and cruelty-free. And if you can grow any of the ingredients in your own garden—even indoor gardens can grow several key vegetables—even better.
Sometimes it takes a village, so we have aggregated key tips from around the web to gather together many well chosen and functional recipes to make your cooking from scratch a success out of the gate.
A basket of warm muffins wrapped in a cotton napkin on the table is a communal offering—a special gift to all. There are a wide array of delicious and easy-to-make breakfast muffin recipes on the web, from egg-free vegan muffins to low-car and sugar-free paleo muffins.
- Vegan Heaven has aggregated 25 vegan muffin recipes from around the web.
- Eggless Cooking offers 19 in-house tested egg-free vegan muffin recipes from the web, with comments.
- Paleo Hacks aggregates 31 paleo muffins that use only natural sweeteners.
2. Breakfast Bowls
Breakfast bowls are now trending almost as much as popular dinner bowls. The morning bowls have evolved way beyond a bowl of cereal from a box and include a variety of superfoods and high fiber additions. You can mix and match as desired. It is easy to substitute gluten-free when oats are called for, if desired.
- Eating Well puts together a sophisticated array of 18 breakfast bowls from smoothies to cereals to egg-based hashes.
- Daily Burn offers 11 superfood breakfast bowls.
- Greatist suggests 7 unexpected breakfast bowl ideas.
It can be a revelation that you can make your own granola. Choose your own natural sweeteners and dried fruit and nut additions and gluten-free oats if you desire. Granola is as good as a snack as for a breakfast. You can also add your granola to breakfast bowls, above.
- Greatist offers granola recipes that are focused on health.
- Health gives 17 recipes that slash sugar and fat.
4. Baking Mixes (including high-fiber, whole-grain, gluten-free)
Anyone who has been on a gluten-free diet for long has despaired at the high glycemic index of most commercial gluten-free baking mixes. The first ingredients on the label are usually tapioca, potato, and/or corn starch. Add refined sugar and the mix is a recipe for blood sugar challenges.
- Allrecipes offers a classic Bisquick substitute.
- Budget101 offers 44 baking mix recipes, just make sure to substitute whole ingredients for sugar and white flour.
5. Salad Dressing
Learn about high quality olive oils in Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil. and relish the flavor of it combined with lemon juice or high quality vinegar and even Dijon mustard and garlic. Salads will never be the same once you start making your own dressing and you’ll never look back.
- Food and Wine offerings include creamy, exotic, healthy, yogurt salad dressings.
- Bon Appetit’s vinaigrette recipes includes classic and many more.
Homemade soups are the most versatile way to use produce that is in abundance at local farms or your refrigerator. A big batch can last much of a week, giving sustenance to lunches and dinners. Here is a good overview about how to make soup from scratch with what you have on hand (choose your fat, your base, your protein if adding, your veggies, your spices).
- All Recipes offers dozens of vegetarian soup recipes.
- 101Cookbooks offers the author’s list of the best soups she’s made over the years.
- Food and Wine provides inspiration for 20 vegetarian soups.
7. Infused and Flavored Water
While the Rethink Your Drink educational program designed by the Health Education Council is not now active and most of the materials have been removed from the web, it was designed to help teens drink less soda by asking them to take a 30-day pledge to “rethink their drink,” reminding students that one teaspoon of granulated sugar is equivalent to 4 grams of sugar. The replacements recommended were water, 4-6 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice, or low/non-fat milk. Just because the program is gone doesn’t mean we can’t "rethink the drink."
Making infused and flavored water and drinks is far preferable to the chemically-laden commercial versions. Serve them in a Ball jar with a lot of ice and chunks of fruit and herbs making the drink festive and colorful.
- Food Network offers 12 infused water recipes.
- Readers Digest offers 10 infused waters and why each benefits health.
- Nancy Creative provides specific fruit water recipes along with a lot of other inspiring infused water recipes.
The value of the entire meal is in the art of the sauce. Learning to cook from a good pantry often means deciding to choose an ethnic cuisine for the meal, buying (or harvesting) the fresh ingredients needed, and then pulling the rest of the needed items from the pantry. If the meal is Mexican, for example, the focus will be on the salsa as the sauce, and one will want to acquire tomatoes and peppers, the spices will be in the pantry.
- Vegetarian Times provides a large archive of dressings and sauces.
- Savvy Vegetarian also a large archive of plant-based sauces, dips, spreads and dressings.
- The Veggie Table provides about 50 vegan and vegetarian sauces.
It is getting harder all the time to find ketchup without corn syrup, mustard and pickles without yellow dye #5, and condiments with acidic vinegar not stored in plastic. None of these common condiments are made of secret formulas and can easily be made at home, so protect yourself and your family by making these staples easily from scratch, and store them in glass to avoid plastic contamination.
- One Green Planet offers an assortment of vegan condiments.
- Whole Foods Market offers eggless mayo and other vegan condiments.
- Food specializes in quick and easy vegetarian condiment recipes.
If you buy a few good pizza pans and pizza cutter you are all set to perfect your own pizza crust and toppings just how you like them. You can easily make vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free versions to meet the needs of every friend or family member. Freeze pizza crust, too, to have ready on the spur of the moment.
- Bon Appetit mixes and matches different crusts to tops
- KitchenStewarship gives a high-protein grain-free pizza crust recipe alternative.
- Food & Wine presents a guide to making exceptional vegetarian pizzas.
Once you get into the mindset that you can easily create basic, healthy, animal- and eco-friendly alternatives to the highly-processed junk that is produced by Big Ag and Big Food, you'll never go back. And when your friends taste your new cooking, they'll want all your secrets, too.
Do you have any recommendations of healthy, green, DIY alternatives to processed foods? Share them in the comments.
Annie B. Bond is the author of five healthy/green living books, including >Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press, 1999). She is the co-author of >True Food: Eight Simple Steps to a Healthier You, winner of the Gourmand Awards Best Health and Nutrition Cookbook in the World.