How to cook healthy, home made meals and snacks your kids will love.
We all know by now that the best way to ensure healthy eating is to get in the kitchen and cook. Cooking your own food allows you to know and control what’s in it, and to source the best quality ingredients. But for many there is a gulf between knowing they should be cooking more and actually figuring out how to put home cooked healthy meals on their family’s table and in their kids’ lunch boxes day after day. That’s when clean food bloggers like Jacquelyn of Marin Mamma Cooks come to save the day.
Jacquelyn is a self-taught cook who offers not just recipes, but inspiration and the kind of practical advice you’d expect from someone who is figuring out how to balance modern life, raising two kids and cooking. On her blog you’ll find pragmatic tips for ways to close the gap between the ideal of cooking healthy meals for your family and the practice of doing so.
You don’t need to have children, or a family, for that matter, to appreciate her recipes. The food she cooks is healthy, hearty and sophisticated, without being fussy or overly complicated. Her blog is filled with step-by-step instructions and gorgeous photos that will make even die hard kale-phobics want to run out and buy a bunch.
Jaquelyn just began the Natural Chef Program at Bauman College in Berkeley, California, where she is learning all kinds of techniques for healthy whole food cooking. You can look forward to her sharing what she’s learning about sourcing, prepping, cooking and storing food on her blog as she goes through the course.
She talked with Ethical Foods about her shopping habits, food philosophy and cooking for children.
Your blog focuses on creating healthy and delicious meals for yourself and your kids. What does healthy food mean to you? What is your food philosophy?
Healthy to me is all about balance. I try and serve and eat healthy whole foods for the most part, but I also enjoy food, and when I’m craving something, I eat it (in moderation). I do try and eat seasonally, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Seasonal produce not only tastes better, but is way more economical and also helps local farmers. Our ancestors only ate what they grew in their crops that season, so I think we should do the same. Eating seasonally feels healthy to me because the earth is providing us with what our bodies need during that time. Cold fresh produce that tastes great raw in the summer months when it’s too hot to cook, and produce that tastes great cooked or heated in the colder months.
I like using real ingredients in my cooking. It may take a bit longer to prepare a meal, but if you plan it out ahead of time then it’s a fairly easy task to accomplish. I always prep my ingredients ahead of time so when the real cooking starts I have everything on hand ready to go.
Where do you source ingredients and how do you decide which foods to buy?
I usually do most of my shopping at Whole Foods or Good Earth. I love both of those stores, and I feel like their produce is pretty local (especially when it’s seasonal) and I trust their organics. I try and hit the famers market when I can, but life is busy, so I find myself hitting the grocery store more often, as I can get all of my groceries in one stop.
I’m super picky when it comes to selecting produce though. I will sort through bunches of kale until I find a bunch or two that feels good to me. I’m not one of those people that just grabs any random apple off the display. I think the produce guys get a kick out of me at times. Ninety-five percent of the produce I buy is organic, especially when it comes to the dirty dozen, but I will buy non-organic bananas and avocados.
I always purchase local extra-large organic free range brown eggs (wow, that was a mouthful). I love the way the eggs taste and they always work perfectly in any baking recipe that I have. When it comes to meat, I only purchase meat from local farms, where the animals are grass fed and free of any hormones and antibiotics. I like supporting local farms and farmers that are taking care of their animals (raising them humanely) and thus taking care of us.
I know organic produce and meats are expensive, but that’s where I choose to put my money. I may skimp/cut back on other things and items, but when it comes to food, I want to feed my family the best that I can. I believe if we eat healthy and nourish our insides, we feel great, look great and thus save money on medical and dental costs.
You’re not a vegetarian, but you do have a recipe section that is dedicated to meatless meals. What is the significance of eating meatless meals to you?
It all goes back to balance. If we all ate a meatless meal once or twice a week, it not only improves our health, but it helps maintain the earth and environment, and helps to save a few animals as well. Meat is also expensive, so it saves me a few dollars each week with the grocery budget by going meatless. I can apply that savings to buying more organics. In my house we eat at least 3-4 meatless dinners a week. It just happens that way! I’ve found a way to make meatless meals taste as good as any meat-based meal, and my kids don’t crave or miss the meat. I’m still learning new ways to get more protein and fewer carbs in my meatless meals.
How do you reduce food waste in your kitchen?
I try and plan out a weekly dinner and lunch menu, so I’m only buying fresh ingredients that we will be using that week, and we eat lots of leftovers, so that helps reduce waste. I organize my weekly menu so that there are leftovers for the kids’ lunches. It really saves me not only time, but money because I’m buying and making something once that gives me 2-3 meals. I also don’t shop for a week’s worth of groceries. I tend to make smaller more frequent trips to the grocery store, so if our plans change one night, I’m not stuck with a refrigerator full of fresh produce. I compost and recycle everything! I really believe in composting and recycling. We only have one small garbage bag that contains non-compostable items and non-recycled items.
Some parents resort to eating pretty dull dinners because their kids refuse to eat more varied and sophisticated fare. Or, they end up cooking two separate meals, which not only takes a lot more time, but can also lead to food waste. How do you work this out in your family?
When it comes to kids and food, I believe that kids eat what their parents are eating, so if you only eat junk, then your child will only eat junk, and if you enjoy vegetables, then they will as well. I started feeding my kids whole foods at a young age and introduced them to a healthier way of eating, and thus they’re not picky eaters and will eat just about anything. I also try to introduce new foods to them on a weekly basis. They may turn up their noses at first, but if I serve it up again a few times, they end up acquiring a taste for it. It’s pretty amazing actually. I also stock our pantry with healthy choices and make most of our snacks from scratch, such as homemade granola bars and crackers.
When it comes to dinner, there is only one meal that is served. I don’t believe in cooking up 2-3 different meals for everyone, that’s where kids get picky and parents get frazzled. If you all start out by eating the same meal at the dinner table, then the kids get used to that, and don’t request something else. Like I said earlier, if kids see you eating and enjoying something, then they will most likely do the same. Good food habits start with the parent.
You make a lot of incredibly delicious foods from scratch. That might be daunting for some home cooks, but your recipes and pictures look pretty straight forward. How much time do you spend cooking? What are some methods you use to make cooking from scratch easier and faster?
I have to admit that I spend a lot of time puttering around the kitchen, but it’s my happy place, so I don’t mind in the least. I’m a planner though, and what helps me get through a busy week is to plan a weekly dinner and lunch menu. Planning meals in advance takes away that agonizing question of ‘what’s for dinner?’ Also, if I know what I’m serving up ahead of time, I can prep certain parts of the meal in advance. For instance I always wash and de-stem my kale when I get home from the store, so when I want to make a kale salad for dinner, the kale is ready to go, and all I have to do is assemble the salad. I also have an arsenal of salad dressings that I either make in advance, or can in less than 5 minutes. Salads can be an easy weeknight side or meal.
If I know I’m going to be running the kids around all afternoon and evening, I will serve up something that can be made ahead and then re-heated quickly on the stove, like a soup. I also roast and shred up chicken breasts ahead of time, so I can quickly add them to a salad, burrito or sandwich, making an easy on-the-go dinner. Roasting your own chicken breasts tastes way better than the store bought rotisserie chickens, and is cheaper and less wasteful if your family are not fans of the dark meat, like mine!
I always have a well-stocked pantry of staples as well, so if plans change, I can quickly assemble something. Also, if I’m home in-between running the kids around, I may start prepping parts the meal, so when we get home at dinner, I pretty much have everything ready to go and it becomes a 20-30 minute meal. I tend to chop up my veggies in-between the kid chauffeuring, so they’re ready to go.
Did you know that chopping and roasting veggies is just as easy as cooking up frozen, and can actually be faster? I can have fresh roasted Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli on the table in under 8 minutes, and my kids and their friends go crazy for them! Cooking with whole foods can be easy and tasty!
I always prep my ingredients ahead of time when cooking, so when I’m ready to cook, everything is ready to go and I know I have everything on hand. There’s nothing more frustrating than to get in the middle of cooking a meal and find that you’re missing a key ingredient.
I do find that having an arsenal of easy, weeknight, family-approved recipes that you can make over and over again is helpful, and much needed when life gets busy. I may serve up refried bean tacos 3 weeks in a row because they’re easy, cheap, kid-approved and can be made in 20 minutes. I’ve found that it’s ok to serve up the same foods, as long as your family is happy eating them. We don’t have to feel the pressure to recreate the wheel each week, because simple food is good food. The reason I can cook often is because most of my recipes are fairly easy to make and they use fresh and simple ingredients.
What’s a from scratch skill that you’d love to learn, what’s on your radar?
I would love to make my own from scratch bread, as well as pizza dough and possibly pasta. I’m a bit intimidated by yeast, so that’s why I haven’t attempted to make any of the above.
Chicken Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce
- 2 decent sized chicken breasts, bone in, skin on or 1/2 of a rotisserie chicken
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 scallions, thinly sliced
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 jalapeno chile, quartered, ribs and seeds removed
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 8 corn tortillas (6-inch)
- 3 tablespoons grape seed oil – or another high smoke-point oil such as peanut or canola oil
- 1 1/2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese (6 ounces)
Visit Jackie’s website: MarinMammaCooks.com
Learn how to include more dark leafy greens in your diet
Ethical Foods Guide: How to choose the best produce
photo credits: MarinMammaCooks.com