10 Hacks for Creating a Healthier Kitchen

[Image Credit: 123RF.com #82516319]

It’s a scene that plays out in kitchens across the country (heck, probably across the world) every day. Someone opens up the fridge, pantry, or cupboard with the intention of pulling together a healthy meal for their family, but chaos stares back at them. They either don’t have the time or the heart to wade through the disorganized stacks of bottles, boxes, bags, cans, and jars, so they grab a box of mac & cheese and call it a day.

What if there were a better way?

What if there were a way to clear the clutter and the chaos in the kitchen and create a mealtime haven that made pulling together healthy dishes for your family a no-brainer?

Well, the great news is that with some simple tweaks and the will to do it, an organized kitchen can be yours!

Having just gone through this particular exercise in my own home, I present to you my Top 10 Hacks for Creating a Healthier Kitchen!

Hack #1: Pull It All Out and PURGE!

Look, I get it! When I first attempted to organize my kitchen I was sure I could just move things around and I’d be all good. It didn’t work! The only way to clear the chaos is to remove EVERYTHING and touch each and every item, deciding what stays and what goes. Check expiration dates. Toss whatever has expired. Be ruthless about each item. Are you really ever going to eat that jar of artichoke hearts you bought 3 years ago for some recipe you never ended up making? Do you have 3 open bags of chia seeds like I did? Consolidate them into one container and toss the empties. Don’t get overwhelmed!  You can do this a cupboard/pantry/fridge/freezer at a time. Heck, you can even do it a shelf at a time if you want. Just start. I found that just breaking the inertia made me want to keep going. Then, once you have made the big purge and either trashed or donated all the stuff you’re never going to use, it’s time to get busy!

Hack #2: Alphabetize Your Spices

I know it sounds incredibly OCD, but I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to just reach for the spices I need instead of taking out every single jar until I find the cumin! Try it!  I promise you’ll like it!

Hack #3: Use Mason Jars

Hey, I grew up in the South and honestly, I thought the only use for mason jars was to can green beans and tomatoes from my Gramma’s garden and make jellies and jams. Boy, have I been missing out. I’ll tell you a secret… I have actually successfully completed TWO projects that I saw on Pinterest.  The first was Minion cupcakes for my son’s 11th birthday. The other was to use mason jars to store my grains and bulk items. Talk about a tidy pantry! Chia seeds, rice, dried beans, bulk spices, coconut flakes, goji berries, cacao nibs, etc. They look so pretty in their jars! Plus they are airtight so things stay fresh and bug-free! 😮

Hack #4: Use a Fruit Bowl

Pull out one of the large, pretty bowls that lives in the recesses of your dining room buffet or go buy a nice bowl (mine is aqua and has sea turtles on it) and fill it with fruit and display it on your counter. Not only is fruit beautiful but if you can see it you are more likely to actually EAT it!

Hack #5: Hide the Free Day Food

Ideally, I like to buy just enough free day food so that I run out at the end of the day, but sometimes that doesn’t happen and there are leftovers. So, I hide them. We have a basket in our pantry that we hide all the junk food in, but you could also put it up in a high cabinet (preferably one that you need a step stool to reach). Out of sight, out of mind!

Hack #6: Consolidate Like A Boss

Go through your plasticware and your pots and pans and get rid of the stuff that is all scratched up, stained, lidless, etc. Keep the items that you use often, but get rid of the extra stuff you either never use or that is past its prime.

Hack #7: Get (and Use) An Instant Pot – STAT!

For the love of all that is good and holy, I resisted the Instant Pot craze forever. I’m not a fan of uni-taskers in my kitchen and I thought the Instant Pot was just that. However, I inherited a brand new one from my mom when she passed away earlier this year. Honestly, I was scared of it. I remembered all too well the pressure cooker explosions in my Gramma’s kitchen when I was a kid and feared that maybe I had a little PTSD from the experiences. But let me tell you, this ain’t your Gramma’s pressure cooker! It took me a few weeks to actually try the slow cooker setting and a few more weeks before I worked up the courage and used the pressure cooker setting. But dang y’all, shredded chicken from freezer to table in less than 30 minutes?  I was sold! If you’re a busy mom who is running in 10 different directions at any given time, go get one!  You won’t regret it!

Hack #8: Use a Garbage Bowl

I learned this trick from Rachael Ray. When you’re preparing your meals have a large bowl on hand to collect the trash – the bags, the ends of the carrots, the twigs that are leftover after you pull the rosemary off, the potato peels, etc. Then, you only have to make one trip to the trash can and the counter stays so much cleaner and more organized!

Hack #9: Keep a Go To Meal On Hand

Keep all the ingredients on hand for an emergency meal – you know, the times when you come home from work and everyone is screaming that they are STARVING and you need to whip something up in a jiffy. For us it’s a box of pasta, a jar of Rao’s Marinara Sauce, ground beef, and chopped veggies. I can have dinner on the table in 20 minutes.

Hack #10: Plan Your Menu and Prep in Advance

I plan my menu on Thursday, shop on Friday, and do meal prep on Sunday. This has become even more important while Deb is on a consulting assignment across the state. I fix her meals in advance so that all she has to do is heat and eat. It works really well for Josh and me too. It’s so great to know exactly what we’re eating in advance. Cooking everything in advance has given me a ton of time back in my days. I really love it!

What are your favorite kitchen hacks to save time, eat healthier, and stay organized? I’m always learning and evolving so I’d love to hear what works for you!

Recipe Share: Crack Slaw

Have you ever had “crack slaw?” Oh my! It is so amazingly delicious and addictive (hence it’s name, I suppose) and EASY. I’ve tried a number of different recipes and some are better than others. I’ve tried versions that incorporate brown rice and others that just use plain old shredded cole slaw mix. This recipe is my own and it has been crowned by my teenage son as his new favorite meal, surpassing his previous fave, honey-soy salmon. I left out the brown rice and replaced the cole slaw mix with broccoli slaw. I’ll warn you though, if you make this, whip up a double batch! 😉

Angie’s Crack Slaw

Ingredients

4 Tbsp sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 tsp. ginger root, grated
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1-2 lbs. organic, pastured ground beef
2 12-oz bags of shredded broccoli slaw
4 Tbsp soy sauce (or coconut aminos)
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
4 green onions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
salt/pepper to taste
black sesame seeds
chili oil (optional to add some heat)

Instructions

Heat sesame oil in a large wok or skillet. Stirfry garlic, onion, and ginger root for 2-3 minutes until onion is translucent being attentive so that the garlic doesn’t burn.

Add ground beef and break apart with a spatula or wooden spoon. Add cilantro and brown ground beef for 5-10 minutes until no pink remains.

Add broccoli slaw and stirfry with beef mixture for another 5 minutes.

Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, and green onions. Stir to combine.

Turn heat to low, cover, and simmer for another 3-5 minutes – broccoli slaw should be cooked to the desired tenderness.

Season with salt and pepper.

Serve in bowls, sprinkle with sesame seeds and drizzle with a small amount of chili oil (a little goes a long way) if you want it a little spicier.

Makes 4-6 servings. Enjoy!

Habit Stacking

I’ve really been trying to get my stuff together from an organizational perspective this year. Here’s a post I wrote for our business blog that discusses what I’ve been doing. It’s called “Habit Stacking” and it’s terrific!

Hello Everyone! Angie Flynn here. I wanted to share a concept I’ve discovered recently that has really helped me get my s&*t together. Deb and I joke about it a lot, but I can get a little squirrelly and scatterbrained at times (I know, SHOCKING, right?). 1,008 more words

via A Behind The Scenes Look At Habit Stacking — Cheslow Achievement Group

I’m Not Eating THAT!

Back in October Deb started seeing a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine for some digestive issues she had been experiencing for a while that we couldn’t seem to nail down the cause of. The doctor, FeiFei Liu, came highly recommended by some trusted friends and Deb has always been curious about the TCM arts. Deb had actually been waiting for the better part of a year to get an appointment with her because FeiFei had been in China for 10 months studying with an aging herbal master.

FeiFei described the healing process (a combination of acupuncture and herbal remedies) as a puzzle of bringing the body into balance – one organ or issue at a time. Of course, Deb and I are not incredibly patient people, but our way wasn’t working, so perhaps it was time to broaden our minds and embrace something new (or OLD to be more precise). When Deb came home from her first appointment with FeiFei she had a short list of dos and don’t – nothing crazy or extreme – and a recommendation to eat something called “Congee” for breakfast.

Now, I am always up for a new culinary experience, but when I consulted the Google and saw what Congee was, I was less than excited. Essentially, congee is rice porridge – rice cooked in water or broth until the grains essentially disintegrate and it looks something like the bowls of gruel served to the orphan children in “Oliver Twist.” It really looked terrible.

Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT a picky eater. I’ll pretty much try anything. However, I have never been a big “porridge” person. I like oatmeal, but it’s always on the sweet side. I never liked Cream of Wheat or Cream of Rice when I was growing up. To be quite honest, the texture of them activated my gag reflex. And to make matters worse, most of the recipes I was finding for Congee were savory. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it and I found myself in full on resistance mode. I wanted NOTHING to do with this Congee stuff.

Deb was amused by how deep I was digging in my heels on the issue, but the very thought of rice gruel made me sick to my stomach. So, I did what I do when faced with something I don’t want to deal with. I didn’t deal with it. I ignored it. When Deb would bring it up, I quickly changed the subject. This went on for weeks before I finally relented and went on a quest for a Congee recipe that I thought I might be able to stomach. This is the recipe I found and I tell you now, before God and the entire blogosphere:

I was WRONG!

This Garlic Beef and Onion Congee from Food & Wine is AMAZING and has become a staple in our breakfast rotation. Don’t be as resistant as I was. Give it a try!

  • 1 cup raw long-grain white rice, rinsed
  • 7 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • One-inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium red onion, diced
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

How to Make It

In large pot add stock, rice, salt and ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Stir occasionally so that the rice doesn’t clump or stick at the bottom. Simmer the congee for about 1 hour or until the congee is thickened and creamy.(NOTE: I used a slow cooker – just dump the stock, rice, salt, and ginger in the crockpot and cook on Low for ~8-10 hours – and it worked great).

While the congee is cooking, heat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the oil, and then stir in the onion and garlic. (NOTE: I also added about 2 tsp. of sesame oil) Cook for about 1 minute or until soft, and then stir in the beef.

Cook the beef for about 10 minutes or until browned and cooked through. Stir in the soy sauce, and then remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in the chopped cilantro.

Pour the congee in serving bowls and top with the beef mixture. Serve the congee hot.

This recipe makes 6 hearty portions. It thickens substantially when cooled (think cold oatmeal), so I added more vegetable stock to a saucepan when reheating.

 

Really, this is now one of my new favorite recipes! Today I am making a 3-bean version (substituting a can each of red kidney beans, black beans, and great northern beans for the ground beef). I’ll let you know how it turns out!

My New Favorite Breakfast

For the past several months, I’ve been eating the same breakfast – not because it’s on some diet plan or because I HAVE to, but because I want to.  It’s freaking delicious!  I got the basic method from Swim Bike Mom’s blog and then tweaked it based on my own tastes.  It’s a great pre-long workout meal or just a terrific, “sticks with you” breakfast in general.

Protein Quinoa Bowl

1 cup cooked quinoa
1 banana, smooshed up (technical culinary term)
1 Tbsp almond butter
1 scoop vanilla protein powder (I like Vega Protein & Greens)
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
dash nutmeg
1/2-3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Sliced almonds, optional

Mix everything but the blueberries together in a saucepan and heat until boiling (careful not to let it scorch).  If using frozen blueberries, pour the hot porridge over the berries in a bowl.  If using fresh berries, just sprinkle them on top.  Sliced almonds are a nice finishing touch too.  🙂

NOTE:  This is really just a method more than a recipe.  I’ve used brown rice, steel-cut oats, and millet and the results are just as good.  Use whatever berries you like.  Drizzle with honey if it’s not sweet enough for you.  Use peanut butter (or other nut butter) instead of almond butter.  Play with it and see what you like best!  And it’s super quick if you make a big batch of quinoa in advance and then you just have to scoop it into the pan.

Hope you love it as much as I do!

Photo Credit: DamnDelicious.com

Photo Credit: DamnDelicious.com

My Biggest Time Saver Ever

keep-calm-and-speed-up-33I keep thinking that life is going to calm down and I’ll be able to coast for a while, but you know, it just never seems to happen.  As soon as one project is completed, there is another one right on its heels.  As soon as one race is done, I register for another one so that I keep a goal out in front of me, and so on.  Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I truly function 100% better in life when I am busy and when I have big, scary goals out in front of me that keep me moving forward when I’d rather stay in bed with the covers pulled up over my head!

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20151007_0824532015 has been no exception.  Triathlon-wise, this has been the year of the 70.3.  I completed two half-iron distance races, as well as 6 running races, and a sprint distance triathlon.  It was a fun year.  Work-wise, it’s been the year of the big events!  We hosted a 4 day retreat here in Florida in June, and we’re getting ready to take our show on the road for a weekend event up in Albany, NY next month.  Our non-profit company, Building Remarkable Communities, organized and hosted a 3-race running series – The Remarkable River Racing Series.  Meanwhile, we’re putting the final touches on a new business development program that has been more rigorous than any book we’ve written.

DVD-walmartTo say that spare time is at a premium is an understatement and the ONLY way I can get everything that needs doing in a day done is to be super organized.  And let’s just say that organization is NOT my strong suit.  :/

So, I looked to successful people who are just as busy as I am to see what they do… Success Leaves Clues, you know.  One of the things that I am responsible for is preparing meals.  I love to cook, so it is no hardship, but I was finding it increasingly difficult to get a home-cooked meal on the table for dinner each night without cutting my workday short – this got even harder when Josh started swimming on a team that practices after school 5 days per week until 5:45pm.

I discovered that many people prep their meals in advance and then either assemble them each night or just reheat.

meal-prepSo, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 3-4 months and I’m pleased to report that it’s working great.  I get up early on Sunday morning (my rest day from working out) and prepare 3 lunches and 3 dinners before anyone in the house even wakes up.  Then, during the week, all I have to do is reheat one of the meals I’ve prepped and – voila – (nearly) instant food!!

It has saved me SO much time and taken a whole lot of stress off my shoulders when the inevitable “What’s for dinner?” question comes.

Other super timesavers:  grocery shopping only once per week (I used to pop into the food store at least 3 times per week), shopping with a list (if I don’t have a list, I don’t go to the store), shopping alone (shopping with kids or a partner inevitably leads to “squirreling” and to things going in the cart that don’t need to be there), and shopping at the same store each week (I know the layout of my beachside Publix, I know what they have there and what they don’t), online shopping (eating a whole foods, plant-based diet, there are a lot of things that I might need to detour to a health food market in order to find.  I place a monthly order with ThriveMarket.com to get these special items and to stock up on things that they sell much cheaper – check them out!).

Anyhow, these are some things that have worked for me.  I hope they help you too!