Firstly, be clever about what meals you plan for when. We don’t have a strict meal plan for the week, but we always have the salads early on, when they are fresh from the market. Don’t leave your salad eating till the day before you shop again because chances are the salad will have begun to smell rather like the bottom of a manky river bed and some of it will be trying to become what I like to refer to as ‘liquid salad’. Seriously, it’s gross.
Third tip. Always, ALWAYS, keep potatoes in the pantry. If in doubt, a roast up based around either whole baked potatoes or potato wedges wins every time. Summer or winter. Autumn or spring. You can get away with it any time of year. Plus, any time you’re putting the oven on, have a think about what else you could cook ready for tomorrow. Roast some pumpkin and have roast pumpkin soup tomorrow, or perhaps some canned chickpeas with spices so you’ve got a snack for those peckish mid-afternoon moments. Or a mix of veggies for roast veggie salad (especially if you’ve got some yummy fresh greens in the fridge).
Fourth. Get familiar with the different components of a meal. You want colours, you want textures, you want proteins, carbs and veggies, but it’s really not that complicated. If it looks yum, and tastes yum, that’s great! If it’s balanced and healthy, that’s even more great!
Number five. Learn some healthy cheats. We all want that yummy, stodgy comfort food fix in the middle of winter and that’s when we slip in to bad habits. Have polenta with a veggie stew, some roast chestnuts, or a vegan cauliflower cheese and you’ll hit that craving on the head without heading down that slippery slope into adding winter kilos!
Six. Learn to make some yummy deserts that hit the sweet spot without costing you your entire caloric intake for the day (and the following week!). It’s pretty easy to chuck together some baked apples with a handful of crumble on top or a chestnut and chocolate pudding that is so rich you’ll only want a spoonful or two anyway!
Seven. Know how to fix (hide!) your mistakes. For example…if you make a soup or curry too salty, add a touch of sugar and something acidic or simply pop in some grated or finely chopped potatoes. Did you hand slip when you were adding the chillies? Sweetness and fats are great for offsetting the burning effects of a hot chilli so if you add some sugar or a little coconut milk/cream you’ll be able to rescue your meal without burning your oesophagus. Over fried the onions? Deglaze the pan with a little balsamic vinegar and you’ve got caramelised onions instead! Forgot the tofu and burned one side? Slice that bit off and keep frying! Made your soup too watery? Again it’s the grated potatoes to the rescue. The starches will help thicken your broth. There is always a solution (even to the most embarrassing of mistakes) and if you can’t think of one, Google will surely oblige.
Eight. Learn how to balance. No, not on a fit-ball or a wobble board. Balancing flavours helps you to create meals you want to eat again. You’re looking to balance saltiness, sweetness, sourness/acidity and if you like your meals spicy you’re also balancing the heat. You want to taste everything for these qualities, whether it be your salad dressing, you soup, or the broth in your stir-fry. If you think it lacks a bit of pzazz, add a little something and see what result you get. If you find yourself making it too salty by adding a little much soy sauce, you can always touch it up with some sugar or honey and a little ginger, tamarind or lemon juice to balance it back out and you’ll probably still have improved it by adding depth of flavour.
Nine. Always, always cook too much! Left overs are the best. And they are by far the best way to stay healthy. If you’ve got leftovers sitting there ready to be packed for your lunch, you’re way less likely to reach for the packaged food or buy something at a fast food chain.
Ten. Eat what is in season. Produce from the cold stores are never as nice and probably won’t ripen well or last once you get them home.
Eleven. Buy a rice cooker. Seriously, it takes away all the guess work and makes cooking rice the easiest thing in the world. And, whenever you cook rice for a meal, cook extra and have fried rice the next day or the day after.