This article first appeared in print in the March 2019 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

As nutrition awareness grows, our spare time seems to shrink. With family members, friends, and lovers discovering food sensitivities to dairy or gluten, or simply a desire to change their diet and eat less processed foods or meats, more time is required for cooking and the learning curve new habits require. The economics of home cooking are extremely positive. Not only do home-cooked meals greatly lower money spent in restaurants or on processed foods at the grocery store, but the resulting increase in health, energy levels, and stable moods can lower money spent on sick days and illness, even improving earning power and quality of life. Yet a delicate balance seems to develop; could the stress of fitting it all in be worth it? Developing a system that works for you and your family, learning time-saving tricks, harnessing the ability to make healthy food delicious, and batch-cooking are all key to creating your own meals day after day while still having time to play.

Zen kitchen

Organizing your kitchen is an important step toward wanting to be in it. Sort out where to source the food your need, acquire it, and then organize your kitchen so it’s user-friendly. Clean and organize your fridge and cupboards, putting bulk food in jars with labels, and donate unused utensils and doodads. Invest in the essentials you do need and set up your kitchen in a way that works for you and your cooking style. Avoid putting spices above your range, as they are heat-sensitive.

Your friendly freezer

When it comes to kitchen efficiency and easy meals in a pinch, the freezer is your friend. Make extra when preparing soup, stews, hearty meals, bars, and balls, then freeze for future use. Mason jars work well for this, but to avoid cracked glass, make sure to let food cool and leave headspace before freezing.

Simple swap-outs

Getting to know some easy swap outs can make eliminating gluten, dairy, or processed foods a lot easier. Instead of toast, try slicing a large sweet potato. Toast or roast a bunch at once, and top with your favorite toppings, or fill with goods as a sandwich standby, saving extra to re-heat throughout the week. Instead of wheat-based wraps, use large romaine lettuce leaves. Nutritional yeast sprinkled on food provides a cheesy taste (as well as stress-busting B vitamins), sans dairy. When making pesto, replace the Parmesan with hemp hearts for similar creaminess. Blend 1 tablespoon nut butter with 1 cup of water for a creamy nut mylk and great alternative to cow’s milk. Blender crepes couldn’t be easier: blend 2 eggs with 1 banana and fry as usual.

Get saucy

Having quick, go-to sauces that elevate flavor, inspiration, and the ability to throw together a meal is a big win. Make one or two dressings weekly so you can pour over dark leafy greens for salad, over roasted vegetables, or added to grains and greens for a quick meal. Dressing could be as easy as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, and sea salt. Tahini sauce tastes good on most savory food, and can be made by mixing tahini, lemon juice, minced garlic, sea salt, and water to taste/consistency. Dip can be as simple as simmering dehydrated bean flakes in water, adding some cumin and sea salt, and squeezing in some lime juice.

Balancing act

Remember that balancing salt, sugar, acid, and fat are the keys to making your taste buds sing. Any salad, for example, can be made delicious by combining vegetables and/or grains with sea salt, olive oil, and lemon juice. Salt options include miso, (gluten-free) tamari, and sea salt. Add sweetness to meals with honey, maple syrup, dates, balsamic vinegar, root vegetables, fresh fruit, or coconut sugar. Acid sources can include apple cider vinegar or citrus juice. If a meal tastes off or bland, check in with those, asking yourself which one is missing or imbalanced, and counter-balance accordingly.

Batch cooking

Reserving 2–3 hours once a week to batch cook pays off all week long. Try starting with roasting a whole chicken. Once cooked, remove chicken, using the carcass to make bone broth. Bone broth can be used throughout the week for quick soups, miso, or ramen noodle bowls. (Vegetarians can make a pot of grains and beans instead.) Roast a bunch of root vegetables as well as a pan of cauliflower and broccoli. Meanwhile, chop up some dark leafy greens and boil a carton of eggs. You’re ready for the week!

Fast food, slow cooked

Getting machines working for you almost always increases efficiency. When I’ve got a house clean-up ahead of me, I always start with running the dishwasher and washing machine. Cooking can be the same; if you’re feeling uninspired or simply tired, load up your slow cooker or instant pot in the morning and come home to a hearty, fragrant stew after work.

Top it off

Easily take simple, bland food to the next level by finishing it off with fresh herbs, toasted nuts or seeds, citrus zest, olive oil, ground black pepper, sea salt or all of the above!

Shannon MacLean is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist with a BA in International Relations. Open for bookings at Balu Yoga and Wellness, she is currently studying Functional Medicine and is passionate about wild foraging, recipe creation, and all things health and wellness.