If there is one small silver lining from this pandemic year, it’s been the growing interest in home cooking. In Australia, Google searches for ‘healthy recipes’ more than doubled during the first lockdown in April1, as our favourite restaurants and cafes were forced to shut down. Whilst the initial dusting off of old recipe books may have been born out of necessity, many Australians have discovered long lasting passions for transforming the humble meat-and-three-veg dinner into something a bit more special.
Even though the initial rush of pandemic-induced kitchen enthusiasm may have died down and the sourdough starter has been neglected, a lot of families would like to keep the innovative home cooked meals going. As life hopefully starts to return to a new normal and daily schedules get busier, there are simple ways to avoid getting stuck in a cooking rut and keep dishing up healthy family meals. Dietitian Teri Lichtenstein, shares her tips below for the best recipe hacks to make your healthy #coronacooking a permanent feature for years to come.
Canned beans and other legumes should be a regular feature on your weekly shopping list. Not only are they a nutrient dense source of plant protein that can be enjoyed on their own, but they are one of most versatile ingredients to spruce up a meal and provide essential nutrients for growing kids. Beans can be added to almost any meal from curries to soups, salads, burgers, stews and even baked sweets.
If a recipe calls for cream in soup, replace it with pureed butter beans for a lower kilojoule, lower fat option. Increase your intake of plant foods by swapping half the mince in your bolognaise for canned lentils. And give google a go and try one of the many recipes for black bean chocolate brownies – a great school lunch box snack item that provides an extra fibre and protein boost, but still with the delicious chocolate flavour.
Getting your kids to eat their veggies doesn’t have to involve elaborate games of hide-and-don’t-seek, such as disguising them in a bolognaise sauce. In fact, your child is more likely to enjoy vegetables in the long run if you incorporate as a regular feature in as many meals as possible, and accept that rejection is a normal part of the process. Why not try making a freshly squeezed veggie juice as a fun kid-friendly activity and add in beetroot or carrot together with different fruits. Bulk up a quick fried rice meal with mixed frozen veg. Make a family frittata with any leftover veggies that are starting to go a bit limp. And with summer around the corner, keep a few cans of corn and beetroot on hand to add to your salads.
Many recipes include small amounts of fresh herbs. It can be quite frustrating when you don’t have these on hand or if you do, a lot of wastage occurs from buying a whole packet of herbs and only using a tiny amount. This is where ice cube trays come in very handy. Finely chop leftover herbs and spread across the tray. Cover each cube with a small amount of olive oil and freeze. Next time a recipe requires a specific herb, simply pop out a cube and add it to whatever you are cooking. Fresh lemon and lime juice can be frozen in the same way and don’t forget to grate the skin of the lemons and freeze, as lemon zest will take your corona cooking and baking to a new level.
There is nothing worse when you’re all set to make a recipe and suddenly discover you are missing a key ingredient. The reality is that almost all ingredients can be substituted for something else. The list below provides some basic swaps for common flavours and ingredients but when in doubt simply use Google and in the search function type in the recipe ingredient followed by the word “substitute” and you will be amazed how many alternatives are available.
As much as many of us have found a new love for cooking, it can be easy to get into a rut and be found staring at the pantry shelves at 5pm with zero idea on what to make for dinner. It’s times like these that you need to pull out the bag of tricks and jazz up good ‘ol staples with some simple tweaks.
Whilst 2020 will forever be known as the year of the pandemic, let it also be known as the year of recipe inspiration, shared family meals and a new found love for cooking. We all need good things to look forward to, and food is on the top of the list for many of us.
This article has been written by the team of Accredited Practising Dietitians at www.foodbytes.com.au