• Emily O'Brien

Cook More at Home! Here's where to Start

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Cooking at home is a really important component in my own health and holistic lifestyle journey. I’ve found that spending more time in the kitchen preparing my own meals from scratch has really enhanced my relationship with food. I’m more appreciative, enthusiastic, and mindful of meal time when I become a real contributor to the whole process. I love planning lunches and dinners, and getting the ingredients at the farmers markets or grocery stores. It’s really brought so much joy and creativity into my life.

I always start with food when I’m working with people on lifestyle changes because it’s something that we all take part in every single day, multiple times a day. It’s a great tangible, practical place to make shifts in your life toward more health, connection, sustainability, creativity, and awareness. That’s not to say it’s easy though. In fact, I think changing our diets is actually one of the hardest things we can do, pretty much for the same reasons I believe it’s a great place to start.

We have rituals surrounding our food. We have emotional connection to our food, whether we’re conscious about it or not. We all pretty much have used food at one time or another to feed our minds and our hearts more so than our bellies. Right? Sometimes we reach for food, not when we’re hungry, but when we’re bored or lonely or sad or celebrating. And one of the first things we need to do on our journey toward a more holistic, healthy, conscious life, I believe, is to address those routines and rituals and habits. To become aware of what we eat, how we eat, why we eat. Because food is medicine. Or at least, it can be if it’s used mindfully. If it’s not used mindfully, food can become a poison in our life.

So how do we make food medicine? How can we start eating in a way that nourishes our body, mind, and soul in a wholesome, pure way?

We have to become involved in the process. We need to start creating new rituals, new food routines that support our whole being. We have to go grocery shopping, spend the time to cook our food, maybe even grow our food or our herbs if that’s an option. But if all of that sounds like too much to start with, if you have no time to spare on shopping or prep work or cooking, then at least try sourcing your meals from restaurants that are cooking in a healthy, mindful, loving way.

If you want to start cooking more and getting more involved in your own kitchen, here are some of my tips:

  1. Get the tools. For a successful holistic kitchen, there are some things that are going to make your cooking life a whole lot easier. Especially if you want to start making more things from scratch, like sauces, dressings, salsas, dips, etc. you’ll need to invest in some equipment. I recommend keeping a blender, food processor, grinder, and stick blender on hand. Blenders are great for a simple, fast, and nutritious meal, like a smoothie for breakfast. *For smoothies, make sure you’re adding lots of leafy greens, a healthy fat, and some warming digestive spices. Food processors are great for making things like hummus, guacamole, chutneys, curry pastes, nut milks, and so on. Grinders are definitely necessary for ultimate freshness of spices. You can use a mortar and pestle too, but I’ve found a grinder is just a little more convenient. I use my grinder daily for my coffee, as well as my daily dose of flaxseeds (which should always be kept in the freezer and ground fresh right before use), and even whole seeds like coriander. It’s much better to have the whole seeds and grind them yourself before use. That being said, if you have a bunch of powdered spices right now, keep using them! It’s okay! Little steps at a time will gradually shift your whole kitchen experience. Plus, some pre-ground, powdered spices are great to use, like onion and turmeric for example. Stick blenders are amazing for pureed soups and pasta sauces. I also use my stick blender every morning to blend my coffee— I do grass fed butter, coconut oil, and some powdered adaptogens in my coffee and blenders really aren’t built to have hot things in them, so the stick blender is great for that too.

  2. Spices are another thing that need to be on hand. You need spices to make food yummy and fun. I always have salt, pepper, fresh ginger root, fresh garlic, turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel, cinnamon, cardamom on hand because I use those the most. I never let those run out! But I do have other spices on hand, too, so I can switch things up when I want or if I’m trying a new recipe that calls for something different. I also love cooking with fenugreek, chili flakes, and onion on occasion. The spices you’ll have on hand will depend on what you like the most, really. And if you’re really taking on the Ayurvedic approach, you’ll want to have spices to balance out each of the doshas, with your primary dosha influence being taken into account as well. There are several brands that offer seasoning blends for each dosha and you could go ahead and get those, or just make them yourself. That’s what I do. For pitta, cumin coriander and fennel is a go-to. For vata, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, black pepper are my go-tos. For kapha, garlic, red chili flakes, clove, and turmeric are great. I use all of those on a regular basis, because remember, you need all the doshas to be balanced, so you can’t ignore any of them. I spice things based on how I feel that day, which is another reason I love having them all on hand all the time. And then I also base them off of seasons. In many cases, I’ll add spices for each dosha within one meal, which is really nice.

  3. Keep the staples stocked. There are a couple other things I love to always have on hand besides spices. Beans and grains are a big one. I like to have dried beans and grains in my pantry at all times. This allows for easy, no-thought meals if I’m tired or in a pinch. If nothing else, I can just have beans and rice with veggies. And if you spice it up right and use yummy healthy fats to cook the food, it’s actually super satisfying and delicious! Plus, rice and beans makes a complete protein, so if you just add your veggies, you’ve pretty much got a whole meal. I also always have fermented food in my fridge. We all know how important it is to eat fermented vegetables every day for gut health. I basically add a couple spoonfuls of fermented veggies to every meal I eat. I love the Wild Brine brand, and then I also ferment my own veggies, which is really easy to do, too. I also always have healthy fats on hand! Avocado oil, ghee, olive oil, butter, and mixed nuts are constantly at arms reach.

  4. Cook with healthy, clean pans. I’ve built up a small collection of cast iron pans over the years and now that’s all I use to cook in. I love them. I recommend having a couple, but no more than you actually need to use regularly. I have a tiny small one that I use for sauces and things, like heating up my ghee with spices for kitchari and whatnot. Then I have a medium pan, a large pan, a medium pot, a large pot that has a lid, and a griddle. And that’s really all I use for stove top and oven cooking! (Plus baking sheets— and I highly recommend using silicone baking mats to cut back on waste.) You can also get 100% stainless steel (they should be kind of heavy if they’re real!), clay, or ceramic pots and pans. There are a ton of clean green pans on the market now, so they’re readily accessible. They’re more expensive, so there is an investment up front, but the great thing about buying quality pots and pans is that they last forever— I literally have cast iron pans that are generations old. If you’re using cast iron you need to season the pans on a regular basis, so there is some maintenance involved, but it’s totally worth it, especially because things don’t stick to them when they’re seasoned well. Sometimes all you have to do after cooking is just take a towel and give it one good wipe and then it’s still clean and oily and great. *And again, the things you’re going to need here will depend on the kinds of foods you cook the most. You might find you need a crock pot or a wok or something.

  5. Save your scraps. You can use your veggie scraps for homemade veggie broth! I highly recommend this in order to get the whole bang for your buck and get even more nutrients and meals from your food. So I just take my stems and stalks and skins of whatever veggies I’m using and throw them in the freezer. When I need to make broth, I pull out the scraps and cook them in purified water for a couple hours (and of course I add spices and whatnot too), and viola. Homemade veggie broth. Same goes for bone broth. If you eat meat, you can save the bones in your freezer and do the same thing. But with bone broth, you’ll need to let it cook for up to 24 hours, whereas veggie broth is only like two hours. So you’ll have to plan accordingly. You can also save stems, seeds, or stalks from your herbs and produce to propagate and start your own little garden!

  6. Look at the ingredients in your favorite foods from the grocery store and make it yourself. One of the best things about cooking your foods at home is you know exactly what is going in it. You can skip the weird natural flavors and gums and processed chemical junk and just use the real, whole food ingredients. You can switch out the cane sugar for monk fruit sweetener or maple syrup, you can use almond flour instead of white flour, and so on. You can do this with anything really. I’ve done this with pasta sauce, curry, crackers, cookies, energy bars, and more. It’s the yummy foods you know and love without the extra crap in it.

That’s all for today. Just to recap: if you want to start getting more involved in your kitchen, prepare your kitchen! Get the tools you’ll need for everyday ease, get quality pans for optimal health, keep your kitchen stocked on your favorite spices and staples like beans, rice, nuts, and healthy fats. Use your scraps for broths and propagation. And start being curious! Ask yourself if you can make a homemade version of your favorite snacks. They may seem totally out of reach until you read the back of the box and then you’ll realize you actually only need such-and-such ingredients.

I hope this helps and inspires you to get in the kitchen! It’s such a great way to connect to nature and yourself. Cheers!

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