Chef Ellen


The 101 on More Healthy Meals at Home

Great idea, right?

Now, let’s discuss expectations and realistic outcomes.

If you intend to create more meals at home, apply practical meal planning and prep strategies. You have come to the right place! I am here to help demystify the process. Easier and more accessible come with planning around the staples in your home, reducing food waste, what inspires you, stepping outside your comfort zone on occasion, and ultimately diversifying your go-to and favorite nourishment.

Where do we start?
Let’s start with your favorite meals and recipes you’d like to try. 
  • Keep your favorite recipes and anything new you want to try in a folder on your computer or phone. Whatever works best for you produces the best outcome.

Optimal planning and preparation come with a game plan. When we outline the strategy, we can gain a better grip on the execution. A new habit takes time to expedite, so don’t become discouraged if it doesn’t happen overnight.
In my chef career, cooking in a new environment took time and patience. Having the most efficient inventory and keeping track of pantry staples, including what was fresh or frozen, was a must. Eventually, I was so prepared there was seldom a time when a meal couldn’t be whipped up in a pinch.
What’s in your pantry?
Taking inventory, cleaning out, and restocking creates a manageable atmosphere. Remember that feeling when you clean out your closet! After the initial work, the struggle of mealtime, which most fear, is made more accessible.
Plan a weekly menu.
Remember, trial and error are crucial here. Planning a menu for the week has perks, like readiness at the top of the list, eliminating food waste, and a game plan you can follow. Let your menu guide you, and you will likely follow that intention. In most instances, this method will work out beautifully; sometimes, it won’t. Don’t get discouraged on those occasions; remember, this is a favored process, and perfection is out the window.
Buy fresh produce (and seasonal when available) and use staples in a meal planning rotation that benefits the consumer by using ingredients efficiently. For example, one night of veggie enchiladas (pg. 267) and another meal, quesadillas (pg. 252), using refried beans from your pantry will reduce waste. I like to also use refried beans for a Mexican stuffed sweet potato skin (pg.262). I can also use leftover, chopped, steamed veggies or vegetables from the freezer to add nutrients to the base of refried beans. Any leftovers (of your base) can also be frozen for another menu. You can find these recipes in Gut Driven with more tips and tricks for healthful productive meal prep and planning (pg. 61).
  • Progress over perfection supports sustainability with overall health and making positive change.

  • Cook once, eat twice. Make a meal that you can turn into leftovers for lunch the next day.

  • Many recipes in my book encourage batch cooking and utilizing leftovers.

  • Plan your menu based on your favorite and new recipes to try, but also base the menu around staples in your pantry.

Budget tips?
Great question and we should all be mindful of overspending, as grocery items have skyrocketed recently.
I encourage bulk shopping when available, especially with staple items like rice, quinoa, nuts, seeds, and flour. Big box stores are great places to find things like this. Some are even becoming great places to find organic produce and convenient items like Siete chickpea tortillas in bulk. Plus, freezing what you don’t need that week helps prevent waste and become more prepared for the future.
Use your imagination – Don’t toss leftovers. Turn them into lunch with a salad the next day, a soup or Buddha bowl-type dish. Search recipes and key in your leftover ingredients. 

When buying perishables, purchase what you need for the week.

Don’t shop when you are hungry.
Enjoy the process, find what works best for you, and practice your prep routine. You will find your groove in no time.
What are my staples?
In my pantry: white beans (dips, a quick pasta dish or soup), red lentils (soups and curries), rice & quinoa (soups, bowls, veggie meatballs or stir-fry) vegetable broth (soups, mashed potatoes) Frozen: peas, peas and carrots, riced vegetables, fruits for smoothies and nice creams. Go to every day fresh: Greens and lots of herbs for smoothies, salads or sides, potatoes for baked fries, mashed potatoes, or soups—fresh fruit.
What are your pantry favorites and a tip you would like to share?