Moms are wonderful. But as Mother’s Day approaches, I am reminded once again that my parents’ generation didn’t do the greatest job of equipping us to feed ourselves healthy foods.
Of course this isn’t exactly their fault. The food industry tried their best to ensure that we all became dependent on frozen foods and ready-made meals. Fortunately we now know enough to reverse a lot of these trends, but developing new habits can be more difficult as we get older.
The good news is that it isn’t too late for Mom. This year let one of your Mother’s Day gifts be to help make her life easier and improve her nutrition by sharing some of these kitchen upgrades. And if you’re really serious about this stuff, a copy of Foodist makes a wonderful Mother’s Day gift as well (wink, wink).
12 Ways to Upgrade Mom’s Kitchen Skills
1. Sautée instead of steam
Probably the most common way vegetables are ruined in the kitchen is the steam basket. Almost everything tastes better and is healthier when cooked in a little olive oil. Don’t forget to sprinkle your veggies with a little sea salt and toss some minced garlic in toward the end. It’s not much more work and it tastes way better, so you’ll happily eat those veggies.
2. Spring greens instead of ice burg or romaine lettuces
While I have nothing against either of the latter two greens from a flavor perspective (particularly when they are organically grown and fresh picked), the industrial varieties you typically find at the grocery store are rather uninspiring. For an easy upgrade, recommend that your parents grab the box of mixed spring greens instead. These have become easier to find, and if nothing else you’ll be getting a wider range of nutrients from a mixed greens bag rather than a single lettuce varietal.
3. Olive oil instead of margarine
At some point we all became convinced that butter was bad and we should use margarine instead, and many people still do. We eventually learned that margarine was made from highly processed hydrogenated oils that drastically increase the risk of heart disease, and that butter was actually better. However, I avoid common industrial butters because of the hormones and antibiotics used in the livestock (I actually get breakouts if I eat industrial dairy). Grass-fed butter is a nice alternative, but can be expensive and difficult to find. Olive oil is a great option and my go-to choice for most cooking.
4. Tongs instead of a spatula
This discovery revolutionized my experience in the kitchen. Get your mom a pair of 12-inch silicone tipped tongs and you’ll stop having to watch as carrots and zucchini slices fly out of the pan. Cooking vegetables has never been easier.
5. Quinoa instead of rice
I like rice, but it’s easy to forget there are other grains out there. Quinoa is very nutrient dense, and cooks up much faster than traditional rice. Just boil for 15-20 minutes and strain. Easy peasy.
6. Dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate
I think chocolate makes an excellent gift for anyone, especially Mom. Make this year’s gift even more luxurious by springing for the fancy dark chocolate varieties instead of the more common milk chocolates. Dark chocolate has far more of the healthy polyphenols and other antioxidants that improve health, and also has less sugar. If you get the good stuff it shouldn’t be bitter at all, it should be divine.
7. Look at ingredients instead of fat grams
For the longest time dietary fat was the boogeyman and many people still check labels religiously to see how much fat a food contains. This is pointless. Fat itself is not innately bad for you. To determine the healthfulness of a packaged food you and your mom are better off looking at the list of ingredients. The more the ingredients sound like real foods instead of chemicals, and the fewer of them that are added sugars, the better. Here’s more on how to decipher food labels.
8. Plain yogurt instead of frooty yogurt
Fruit yogurt sounds healthy, but it usually isn’t. Check the ingredients. If the yogurt contains more than milk, live bacterial cultures and fruit, something is amiss. You’re probably better off buying plain yogurt and adding fruit yourself.
9. Homemade salad dressing instead of bottled
Salad dressing is one of the easiest things to make. Just mix olive oil and some vinegar with a little salt and pepper. Feel free to get fancy by adding chives or stirring in a little Dijon mustard or miso paste, but those aren’t necessary. Check the ingredients, pre-made salad dressings tend to be some of the most egregious offenders.
10. Kale chips instead of potato chips
People love their chips. If mom just can’t give up the crunch of her afternoon snack, see if she’ll replace her potato or tortilla chips with kale chips. She may need to experiment with different brands (I’m a fan of Alive & Radiant Foods), but in my experience kale chips are some of the best tasting items in the “health foods” aisle.
11. Sparkling water instead of soda
If water seems too boring to have with a meal or as a mid-afternoon refresher, try getting in the habit of having some sparkling water and adding a lemon wedge or a splash of real fruit juice. You can save money by purchasing a SodaStream and making it yourself. Mom might like one too.
12. Almond butter instead of peanut butter
I LOVE me some peanut butter. The problem is that most of the supermarket varieties are highly processed and filled with hydrogenated oils. Try almond butter instead, as it is usually more natural. If you can find natural peanut butter (hint: the ingredients should be just peanuts and salt), that is a healthier option as well.
What are your simplest healthstyle upgrades?