What Should I Eat At Home? Handling your cooking and eating at home requires considerable thought, planning, and the right tools — ingredients. So you need to know, how do you get started? What should you eat at home? You should start with a shopping list. Planning is essential for any type of meal planning and cooking. for those who want to spend less time thinking about what you should eat at home and more time enjoying the food itself, these suggestions will provide many healthy meals that are easy to prepare.
Here are six ways you can eat healthier without spending your entire paycheck at the grocery store.
When we are hungry, we tend to make decisions that might not line up with our wellness or financial goals. So when you take the time to prepare multiple meals for the week, you are giving yourself a safety net to fall back on when you’re in a hurry and hunger strikes.
Meal prepping can sound intimidating, no thanks in part to the countless social media feeds boasting balanced and aesthetically pleasing meals by the dozen, but it can be really simple. Some Instagram accounts that might help motivate you to break out the cutting board and meal prep containers for food storage are @meowmeix (food facts and meal inspiration), @keto_adapted (keto, or high-fat, low-carb meals) and @dailyveganmealprep (plant-based recipes).
Grain bowls are a great place to start. Grab 8 ounces of chicken breast (which will make about five to seven meals depending on how much you eat), an easy-to-chop vegetable like zucchini or asparagus, and some quinoa or rice. Or choose your own favorites; any protein, vegetable or grain will do — the key is balance. Your best friends here will be a chicken shredder and vegetable slicer, easily available online, that will save you a lot of chopping time.
Transform pre-chopped vegetables into a quick and easy meal.
You can keep these prepped grain bowls interesting — and varied — by using different sauces, dressings and condiments throughout the week, Rosen said.
And whether with meal prep or just a single dinner, simple cooking at home can also save you the thousands of calories’ worth of oil and butter that restaurants tend to sneak into their dishes, Rosen said.
Build a freezer stash
Stocking your freezer with nutritious foods will be sure to save you from the oh-so-tempting late-night take-out splurge. For example, you can buy frozen broccoli, shrimp and precooked rice separately to combine in a pan with some oil and seasoning for a healthy, 10-minute dinner.
While you won’t see significant savings when buying frozen foods like chicken and vegetables as opposed to fresh, you will save money by having nutritious staples on hand, with the added benefit of a food with a longer shelf life.
Consider plant-based proteins
If you’re trying to cook a well-balanced meal without splurging on meat or fish, try a vegetarian protein like tofu, tempeh, beans or legumes, said nutritionist and CNN health contributor Lisa Drayer. These foods are healthful and much more affordable than animal proteins.
A homemade tofu stir-fry with rice and green vegetables is a crowd pleaser.
Tofu, which is high in protein and contains all the essential amino acids your body needs, is also very simple to cook. Cut into cubes, sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic and paprika (or seasonings of your choice) and toss into the air fryer or oven until golden brown. If you want them even crispier, add some corn starch to the mix. Combine with a vegetable and grain or stir into a simmering curry for a hearty and satisfying meal.
Some other plant-based meal staples include faux-meat pasta bolognese, chickpea “tuna” salad, and quinoa and lentil burgers.
Get creative in the kitchen
Some of the most affordable foods can also contain the most nutrients. For example, 1 pound of sweet potatoes costs around a dollar, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, and is filled with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. A quick online search will give you dozens of ways to get creative with these nutritious gold mines. Bake them whole, slice into strips and season with salt, pepper and paprika for sweet potato fries, or simply cut into medallions or cubes and bake in the oven or air fryer.
Other healthy, low-cost food options include beans, rice, eggs, oats and lentils — which can become the base for any number of healthy, tasty dishes. And if you don’t feel like cooking, carrots and hummus, protein bars (make sure to check the ingredients first, as many have high amounts of sugar and additives), and fruit and yogurt all come ready to eat.
Another way to save money in the kitchen is by repurposing food waste and scraps, Rosen said. For example, use bones from meat or poultry to make a broth, pour leftover pasta sauce or soup into large ice cube trays to have on hand for smaller recipes, and freeze fruit and veggies that are about to go bad to use in a smoothie later. (The general rule is one week post-purchase for using fresh fruit and vegetables, but just look to make sure there is no mold growth before freezing.)
One of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to get a nutrient-packed and delicious snack or meal into your diet is with smoothies. Using the right ingredients, you can create a well-rounded meal in minutes. Plus, most of the components can also be stored in your pantry or freezer.
A green smoothie made from spinach, berries, bananas and almond milk kick-starts your morning.
A simple go-to smoothie can include frozen banana slices (for texture and natural sweetener), frozen or fresh spinach, frozen cauliflower rice (for added nutrients and texture), and then your choice of fresh or frozen berries, protein powder, and nut butter (for healthy fats).
Think of smoothies as a vehicle for your daily vegetable intake, as leafy greens like kale and spinach are easy to mask among sweeter ingredients like blueberries, strawberries and bananas. The mistake most people make with smoothies, Rosen said, is focusing on fruit and skimping on protein and healthy fats, which can cause a blood sugar spike and crash. If you find that you are slurping your smoothies too quickly, sprinkle some chopped nuts or low-added-sugar granola on top to encourage you to slow down and chew.
Try these swaps at the grocery store
Often you don’t have to completely give up what you love in order to eat healthier and save cash — it’s just about making the right choices. Keeping these swaps that Rosen recommended in mind while you grocery shop will give your body a nutritional boost and save you some money at checkout:
- Switch out the bananas in your basket for apples, for more fiber.
- Instead of white potatoes, try sweet potatoes for more vitamin A.
- Leave the lettuce, and pick up some spinach for more folate.
- Swap your regular yogurt for Greek yogurt for more protein.
- Save by swapping shredded cheese packs for blocked cheese.
- Put back packaged nuts/seeds and try to buy in bulk instead — this is a saving that goes for most foods, as you pay a premium for individual packaging.
- In the same vein, swap your canned beans for bagged dry beans.
- Substitute fresh seafood for tinned fish. The latter can be an acquired taste, but is still nutrient dense.
6 Benefits of Homemade Meals
For the first week of the March Culinary Countdown, we looked into the benefits of cooking at home with dietitian Ben Atkinson, who manages Harborview Medical Center’s outpatient nutrition, informatics, and wellness programs in the Nutrition and Foodservices department.
1. Saves money
Eating homemade foods is usually much cheaper than eating at a restaurant or buying processed foods from the market.
Ben’s advice: “When we eat at a restaurant, we pay for not only the food, but also the costs of running that business. The lights, the water, the building, and the staff — in addition to the meal we are eating. The same goes for the pre-made or frozen meals at grocery stores.”
Here are some additional ways Ben suggests to save money:
- Plan several days of meals. We’ll be less likely be tempted to eat something else if we have a plan or something already made.
- Make a grocery list and stick to it to avoid buying extra food.
- Save leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer. Once you get a stock of leftovers stored, you can reheat them at a later date when you don’t have time to cook.
2. Saves time
It might seem like grabbing something to eat at the local supermarket or driving to get take-out at the closest restaurant might be a quick solution when you’re in a hurry. In reality, many times it can be much faster to cook something at home, especially when you plan ahead. There are so many meals that can be made in less than 30 minutes. And if you choose a more complex recipe, you can always cook in bulk and eat the surplus later in the week or freeze it.
3. Healthier ingredients
Many commercially prepared foods are high in fat, salt, and sugar. When we prepare our own food, we know exactly which ingredients and how much of each are going into our food.
Ben’s advice: “When we cook at home, we are in control. McDonald’s fries have 19 ingredients. We can make them at home with far less — and they will taste just as good. A favorite at my house is potatoes cut into wedges, olive oil, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Put these in a Ziploc bag to mix together. Then place in the oven on a pan for about 30 minutes at 400 F. It’s only five ingredients, and tastes fabulous.”
4. Avoid food allergies and sensitivities
Preparing your food at home can be especially beneficial if you or a family member has a food allergy. Because you are in control in your own kitchen, you can reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.
5. Portion control
Many restaurants and fast food joints offer portions that are much larger than necessary. And the problem is, when food is in front of you, chances are you’ll eat it. When you dine in, you can regulate the amount of food served for dinner, eliminating unnecessary temptation.
6. Brings family together
Eating at home gives the entire family time to talk about their day.
Ben’s advice: “Studies show that when we eat together, our kids and family are much healthier. Eating together is linked to less obesity, kids doing better in school, and less substance abuse within the family.”
Involving your children in food preparation (maybe by asking them to read the recipe out loud or mix ingredients) is not only a fun thing to do, but also a great way to teach them healthy eating habits.
Recipies of Homemade Meals
Mini Frittatas with Spinach and Cheese
In Italy we normally eat frittata for lunch or dinner, but these would be equally delicious for breakfast. The great thing about these frittatas is that they can be made in advance; just reheat in the microwave or eat at room temperature for a quick and healthy go-to meal.
Ben’s advice: “You probably saw the recent scientific advice for the upcoming Dietary Guidelines 2015 revision—the one that said eggs weren’t bad for your health. Well, it’s true. Besides their great amount of protein, eggs have healthy omega-3 fats. They are also a nice source of Vitamin B12 for people who don’t eat meat. These frittatas are the rare breakfast menu item that contains large amounts of vegetables, too. Pair them with a slice of whole-grain toast or a piece of fresh fruit, and you’ve got a delicious and balanced meal.
Ingredients for 4 people:
Nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large leek, whites and tender green parts halved, thinly sliced, and washed well
1 lb. spinach, tough stems removed and rinsed well
1 cup ricotta
1/3 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Heat oven to 425°F.
- Coat 4 small baking dishes with cooking spray. Set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Cook leek until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Add spinach and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Drain in a colander and squeeze out excess water.
- Lightly whisk eggs in a bowl. Stir in ricotta, Swiss cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, spinach mixture, salt and pepper.
- Spoon into baking dishes; bake about 20 minutes, or until eggs fluff up and top is lightly browned.
I love spinach, but feel free to experiment with your favorite ingredients.
Spaghetti al Pesto
This is my family’s pesto recipe. Why buy store-bought pesto when you can have superior results by making it yourself? Make a bigger batch during summer months when basil is in season and freeze it in small containers to have pesto year-round. It’s delicious on pasta, pizza, and sandwiches.
Ben’s advice: “Pasta often gets a bad rep, which is a shame. It’s relatively inexpensive and really versatile. It’s also a great source of energy for athletes. The problem that most of us have is making pasta our entire meal. Pair it with seasonal vegetables and a few slices of fruit, and you have an excellent and complete meal. Pesto has a lot of good nutrients. The combination of pine nuts and olive oil provide healthy fats to help you live a long and healthy life.”
Ingredients for 4 people:
1 lb. spaghetti
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 cups basil leaves, packed
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 Tbsp. freshly grated Pecorino cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Combine basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times until finely chopped.
- Add cheese and process until combined.
- While the food processor is on, add the olive oil in a stream, until fully incorporated and smooth.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Once the water is boiling, add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of water.
- Place pasta in a large bowl and incorporate pesto. If the consistency of the pesto is too thick, add some of the reserved cooking water. Toss well and serve immediately.
Gnocchi with Fresh Tomato Sauce
Homemade tomato sauce is so much tastier and healthier than its store-bought counterpart. Make a big batch of fresh tomato sauce — especially July through October when tomatoes are in season — and freeze. Gnocchi takes literally two minutes to cook and is perfect for days when you’re pressed for time.
Ben’s advice: “Homemade tomato sauce and freshly cooked pasta is an unbeatable combination. It’s also great for your health. Gnocchi is made from potatoes, which are a fantastic source of potassium, and one of the few ways to get Vitamin C in the winter from local produce. And many observational studies link reductions in cancer and heart disease occurrence with eating more tomatoes. When you cook tomatoes, you soften the cell walls inside the tomato, which allows you to get more of the beneficial nutrients into your body. Tomatoes and potatoes FTW (that’s ‘for the win’, for you kids out there!).”
Ingredients for 4 people:
2 lb. gnocchi
2 lb. fresh tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
5 or 6 basil leaves
Parmigiano Reggiano to taste
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.
- With a knife, cut a shallow ‘x’ on the bottom of the tomatoes and once the water is boiling, plunge them in the hot water and let sit for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until the skin starts peeling. Remove the tomatoes and rinse them quickly under running cold water. With a knife, peel away the skin. Cut the tomatoes in half, then cut around the crowns and remove them. Squeeze out the seeds and excess water. Chop the tomatoes.
- Heat the oil in a pot. Add garlic and brown. Add the tomatoes and a big pinch of salt. Cook for about 15 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated, turning with a wooden spoon a few times.
- In the meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add gnocchi. They are ready when they start floating on the surface, about 2 minutes.
- Drain gnocchi well and toss with tomato sauce. Add basil leaves, torn roughly with your hands. Sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano and serve.
Tuna with Beans Salad
This salad takes under 10 minutes to make and uses ingredients I usually keep in my pantry, so it’s perfect for those days when you have no time to plan! (Make sure you use tuna canned in olive oil instead of water.)
Ben’s advice: “We all know that tuna is great for our health, with its healthful omega-3 fats. But the beans in this recipe are also terrific for our bodies. They contain carbohydrates, fiber, and protein — so they’ll give you energy, improve your digestion, and help maintain your muscles. Plus, at about $1 per 16-ounce can, they are easy on your budget.”
Ingredients for 4 people:
2 cups canned cannellini beans, washed and drained
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, finely sliced
2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
3 5-oz. cans of tuna in olive oil, drained
- Mix beans, onions, and olive oil in a shallow serving dish. Season with salt and pepper and toss well.
- Break the tuna into bite-sized pieces and add to beans. Add parsley, mix well, and serve.
Spinach Salad with Pears, Walnuts, and Gorgonzola
In Italy, we eat this salad as a side dish but it can very easily become a main dish when you add a couple slices of grilled bread or grilled chicken breast.
Ben’s advice: “Did you know that spinach is grown almost the entire year in Washington, and that our state produces most of the nation’s spinach seeds? That means that you’re regularly eating local spinach, fresh from the farm. Add some local pears from this salad, and you’ve got a great tasting, fresh salad waiting for you and your family.”
Ingredients for 4 people:
crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- To make the vinaigrette, pour olive oil and vinegar in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste and mix well with a fork or whisk.
- Peel the pears and cut them into small cubes.
- Place spinach in big bowl and add cubed pears, walnuts, and crumbled Gorgonzola.
- Pour vinaigrette over the salad. Toss well and transfer to small individual plates.
Beef Strips over Arugula with cherry tomatoes and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
This is one of my favorite meat dishes. It is extremely easy to make, tastes great, and looks beautiful.
Ben’s advice: “This can be great as a lunch salad if you have leftovers, too. It’s visually appealing with the bright green arugula, brown and red steak, and deep red tomatoes. The great colors in this salad mean that it is a complete meal, containing many of the nutrients our bodies need to work and be active all day.”
Ingredients for 4 people:
1 lb. boneless top sirloin steak, cut crosswise into very thin slices
5 oz. arugula
shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to taste
12 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 large shallots
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Arrange arugula on a platter.
- Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat and cook garlic until golden. Discard garlic and add meat to the pan at once. Add salt and pepper and toss with tongs to color evenly, for about 1 minute. Arrange steak over arugula. Add shallots and vinegar to the pan and cook for 1 minute on medium heat. Add the tomatoes and cook for another minute, until the sauce has slightly thickened. Add salt and pepper.
- Pour dressing over steak, cover with shaved Parmigiano and serve immediately.