Question: How can I be my own personal chef? Some of us can’t really afford a personal chef, but we like to open our fridges to ready-made goodness. May seem obvious to the pros how to do this, but it’s not to me. All I know is that I eat healthier when my fridge isn’t empty.
Answer: Yes, you can easily be your own personal chef. It’s a matter of only one thing: planning ahead. Here’s a step-by-step guide to stocking your fridge for the week.
1. Pick a day of the week where you have a few hours to shop, prep, and cook. Sunday afternoon works well for many people.
2. Take inventory of your pantry and make sure you have some staples on hand. Staples include: extra virgin olive oil, canola or vegetable oil, 1-2 types of vinegar, honey or maple syrup, salt, pepper, dried thyme, dried oregano, ground cumin, ground chili powder, sugar, a couple cans of beans and diced tomatoes, 1-2 boxes of broth, 1-2 types of nuts, a couple types of grains like whole wheat couscous/pasta/rice/quinoa/barley/bulgur, Dijon mustard, and a jar of marinara sauce. You should also have some staples in the freezer: rustic bread like Ciabatta or baguette (slice/tear into chunks before freezing), bags of corn/peas/Edamame/spinach/bell pepper strips or other veggies you like, and meats like chicken, chicken sausage, lean ground beef or turkey.
3. Look through the grocery store circular ads (which are also online), think about what’s in season, set a budget to aim for, pull out any recipes you’ve been wanting to try (2 is plenty), and make a shopping list. The list should include 3-4 veggies, 2-3 fruits, 1-2 (max!) fresh herbs, a couple lemons or limes (many great uses), 1-2 dairy products, 1-2 meats/tofu/beans/eggs, a couple of healthy snack items, hummus/low-fat dressing/plain yogurt for making a dip, a breakfast item like cereal, any staples you’re out of, and anything else you need for your recipes. I personally like to make a big batch of soup or stew every week, which lasts for at least 7 days in the fridge and if you get tired of eating it, can be easily frozen. So perhaps plan for 1 soup, 1 other entree, a few healthy snack products (like whole grain crackers and Laughing Cow Light cheese), and the fruits & veggies you’ll have for grabbing in a hurry.
4. Head to the grocery store, after you’ve had a meal or snack. Shopping while hungry leads to impulse-buys, which are rarely healthy. Stick to your list, unless there’s a great sale on something that you frequently eat, or a type of produce you really love and want to snack on all week.
5. Right when you get home from the store, wash and cut your produce. I like to keep 3 types of cut-up veggies and 2-3 types of cut-up fruit in big containers in the fridge, along with a dip of some sort, so I reach for those when I’m hungry and not something else. I also like to wash and cut lettuce and some other veggies for salads, so that all week long I can just throw some things into a bowl with dressing and be done. It’s also a good time to make your soup and/or other entree you’ve chosen, or boil some eggs/grill some meat to have for salads or snacking. This is all a little time-consuming, yes, but if eating healthy is a priority for you, it’s worth it. (And think about how much more motivated you are at this point, than after a long day at work when you’re tired and starving).
6. Store what you make in single-serving containers, so you can just pop them in the microwave to heat up for a quick lunch at work or dinner at home.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
- It’s easy to get overzealous at the grocery store. But if you stick to your list and limit what you buy, you won’t waste food, which is good for your wallet and the earth. Whatever you don’t buy this week, you can get the next week.
- Try something new each week. We all get in ruts, and ruts make eating healthy kind of boring. If you try at least one new thing every week, you won’t get bored.
- Pay attention to what’s in season. If you eat seasonally, over the course of the year you’ll have eaten a very balanced diet. Plus, in-season produce tastes light years better than imported stuff.
- Don’t worry if you don’t have every single ingredient in a recipe — it often doesn’t matter. Some recipes call for 1 tablespoon of 3 or 4 chopped fresh herbs. Translation = the rest of each herb will rot in your fridge. So just add what you have, and it will still taste great.
Keep an eye out for another post in the coming days about recipes to try as you start your career as your own Personal Chef.