Creating a Healthy Kitchen on a Budget

“When we develop relationships with the people who grow the food, or grow it ourselves, spend time preparing and cooking each ingredient, and mindfully eat a meal with all our senses, we can restore the kitchen to its rightful place of honor in our homes and reap the rewards of a deeper level of wellness that can’t be found elsewhere.” (NTA Culinary Wellness Guide 2020)

Connecting with our food is not only good for our physical body and nutrients, but also good for our soul. If you are just beginning to get into the kitchen, it can be a little overwhelming to know where to start. It all begins in the kitchen, with properly prepared and sourced whole foods.

Whenever possible, you should aim to buy food that is locally produced, organic, and sustainable. This is particularly important when it comes to meat, dairy, eggs and what we call the “dirty dozen.” Conventionally raised animals are often treated in inhumane ways, fed unnatural diets to fatten them up and make them sick and often dependent on antibiotics to live (NTA Culinary Wellness Guide pg 4). Conventionally grown plants are often grown as mono crops which depletes the soil and the nutrient density of the plants, and are sprayed with harmful pesticides.

But let’s be honest, it is not always possible for us to do this 100%. We might have geographic or budget constraints that stand in our way. So before you start panicking about switching over to an entirely organic budget, understand that there are ways we can optimize our best bang for our buck.

Buy the best possible meats you can afford.
It is important to buy organic, pasture-raised, grass finished meats whenever possible. Not only are these organic meats free of harmful chemicals and antibiotics, but they are also higher in nutrients. Make use of organ meats which are the most nutrient dense and can be used to stretch out other meats to provide more nutrients and feed more mouths. Take advantage of cheaper cuts that can be delicious when slow cooked, and use the whole animal. Make sure to use the bones to make delicious gut-healthy bone broths!

Become aware of the “Dirty Dozen”
The “Dirty Dozen” are the Environmental Working Group’s list of produce that has the highest levels of pesticides of non organic produce. Since these have the highest rates of pesticides, it is most important to buy these organic. Begin by focus on buying these produce items organic and build on that as your budget allows. You can find the list of Dirty Dozen, here.

Get to know your local farmer!
If possible, one of the best things to do is to get to know your local farmers. When we buy local, we not only support and connect to our local community, but also increase the nutrient density in our food as plants don’t need to travel as far from farm to our mouths.

Farmers markets are often on weekends and can be a great place to wander around, chat directly with the producers and find new, fun and fresh ingredients to play with in the kitchen. When you build a relationship directly with the farmers you can get an idea of what practices they use on their farms. Often times, small local farms use organic methods to farm, but the actual organic certification maybe be in process, or may be too expensive for them to obtain.

Grow your own food
A wonderful way to connect with your food is to grow your own. You don’t need to have a ton of space to grow your own food. A great place to start is growing a few herbs in a windowsill pot. Fresh herbs add wonderful brightness, flavor and nutrients to dishes. If you have more space, or are feeling more ambitious, you can start your own vegetable garden with whatever floats your boat! You can start with things that are more notoriously easy to grow like lettuces, tomatoes, and zucchinis, and begin adding in whatever you love that is seasonal in your area.

Keep your eyes open for deals at bulk stores like Costco
You can sometimes find great deals on frozen organic meats, vegetables, or fruits at bulk stores like Costco. It can be a great option to have these on hand in your freezer when fresh organic produce is not as easy to come by. Also organic frozen fruits and vegetables can often be much more affordable than their fresh counter parts and are great to use in soups and smoothies.

So now you know how to find your beautiful ingredients, but how do you build out your kitchen? Some common cooking tools and receptacles can leak toxins and heavy metals into our foods so choosing the right cooking tools is important to properly prepare your food. It can be fun to play with all sorts of kitchen toys, but to be honest, you really don’t need much to get started and can build upon this as a strong foundation:

Cast Iron Skillet
Cast Iron pans become naturally non-stick the more you use them. The more you use a cast iron pan, the more the fat “seasons” the pan, creating a naturally non-stick pan. Non-stick/ Teflon pans and stainless steal pans might seem convenient, but they can actually can leach metals and toxins into your food during normal cooking, especially if they are not the highest quality. Season your cast iron pan well and only clean with very hot water and a scrubbing brush- never use soap as this will ruin the non-stick seasoning.

Good Knives
Dull knives can be dangerous and can make chopping and food prep frustrating so make sure you keep them nice and sharp, and always hand wash, dry and store properly.
– Find a sharp chef’s knife with a blade that goes through the handle ideally 8 in
– A serrated knife for cutting bread and things with a skin like eggplant and tomato, and small pairing knife for smaller more detailed cuts.
– While you can peel vegetables, etc with a pairing knife, I find it much easier to have a vegetable peeler on hand.

Ceramic Dutch Oven
A ceramic coated dutch oven is a great, versatile and often beautiful kitchen tool to have on hand. It can double for soups and roasts and won’t leach harmful chemicals into your food. Pricing can vary greatly, but a great Dutch oven can last a lifetime. I also recommend having at least 1 smaller pot on hand.

2 wooden cutting boards
Wooden cutting boards will be gentle on your knives. Apply a thin coat of coconut oil to seal the board and maintain its quality. Always wash both sides of the wooden cutting board to prevent the wood from warping and splitting.

Blenders are great for making smoothies, soups and sauces which are some of my absolute favorites! You can also buy high quality blenders second hand to save money. A great bonus tool that I love is a food processor or even a mini food processor to make homemade dips, sauces, and make larger food prep easier.

Limit plastics and aluminum
Limit plastics and aluminum to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals like BPA and Heavy metals like Aluminum.
– Use mason jars, glass or stone containers for storage/meal prep.
– Opt for unbleached parchment paper when baking instead of aluminum foil
– Replace plastic wrap, or cling film with bees wax wraps (Check out my sister’s company, Beautiful Buzz Wraps!)

Now you have these delicious ingredients and fun cooking tools, but how do you best prepare them?

There are numerous ways to prepare food, but below are some of the most accessible to start with.
Baking and roasting
Cover your meats and vegetables in appropriate fat, scatter them on a cookie sheet or a roasting pan and roast at 350-450 degrees. This is a great technique for batch cooking or cooking for many people. Note that different vegetables have different cook times, and root vegetables like carrots, beets, potatoes, etc will take longer than vegetables like broccoli , etc.

Sautéing and stir-frying
This is one of the fastest and easiest ways to make a one pan meal. Throw some appropriate fat in your cast iron pan, sauté some aromatics like onions, garlic, or ginger and then add your meat and vegetables and cook at a fairly high heat.

When done properly, this can optimize nutrition and flavor. Place food in a steaming basket over a few inches of water in a pan. Cover and steam for desired doneness. You can also boil vegetables, but the nutrients can often disperse into the water, so I prefer to reserve this technique for making soups.

Braising and stewing
This is a great technique to soften tough, inexpensive cuts of meat so they fall off the bone and is perfect for a chilly night. Sauté aromatic vegetables such as onions and garlic fat, brown meat on all sides to seal in juices, then add vegetables and enough liquid to cover one-third of the contents. Bring it to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low or low to cook it long and slow.

And there you have it! There are loads more cooking techniques, tools, and ways to optimize the preparation of your ingredients, but this is great start making a healthy kitchen

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