Transform Your Meals From Blah to Bold in Three Easy Steps

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Chicken and veggies again?!

Preparing meals in advance is a surefire way to keep on track with a healthy diet, but the secret to sticking with it long-term lies in variety. Trying to eat the same meal week after week will only have you calling in pizza more often that you’d care to admit.

That’s why it’s so important to keep things new and exciting in the kitchen, and it’s so easy to do! Below are my three favorite tips to transform any meal into one you’ll look forward to eating.

Tip #1: Keep it Fresh: with local and in-season ingredients

“Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.”
– Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

One of the easiest ways to take your food from humdrum to exciting is to focus on buying simple, fresh, and high-quality ingredients.

Let’s begin with a challenge.

The next time you walk by a farmers’ market, or visit a friend’s garden, bring home a couple of your favorite fruits and veggies: carrots, tomatoes, onions…

Now buy the same vegetables from your everyday grocery store.

Take a bite of each. Notice the difference? The sugary snap of the carrot, the bright bite of the tomato, and the pungent flavor of the onion are far superior to the somewhat bland flavors you’ve gotten used to from your grocery store vegetables.

A 2015 article on LiveStrong.com suggests that the “freshness” of home-grown fruits and vegetables may contribute to their exceptional taste, while additives and chemicals found on products from some grocery stores may actually take away from their taste.

When you buy from local farmers, or grow your own fruits and vegetables, you gain control over many of the factors that determine how high-quality, delicious, and safe your diet is:

You can reduce your risk of eating foods that contain harmful pesticides and other chemicals.

You may notice your fruits and vegetables taste better, brighter, and fresher. Local farmers are able to harvest and sell at the peak of ripeness, whereas those who sell to grocery stores often need to gather and ship food weeks before the items are truly ripe to ensure they arrive fresh on the produce aisle. Choosing locally grown foods often means better flavor for you!

You may be able to lower your overall monthly food bill by buying fruits and vegetables that are in-season from your local farmers. Today, it is easier than ever to find farms in your area that offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. For a small monthly (or yearly) price, you can have fresh seasonal produce supplied to you on a weekly basis.

Look online for great guides like this one to help you identify when fruits and vegetables are in season in your area. Keep these in mind the next time you go food shopping, and locate a farmer’s market near you.

Tip #2: Keep it Balanced: with sweet, salty, bitter, and sour flavors

 “Food is all about balance; it is all about taste.”
– Michael Mina

When you’re watching your food intake and looking to clean up your diet, it often easiest to eat the same meals for days (or weeks) at a time. But that same chicken, starch, and vegetable dish can start to get boring and bland after a while, leading you to fantasize about other not-so-waistline-friendly foods.

But before you ditch your healthy meal for pizza, pause and take a look at your plate. Does it have elements that are sweet, salty, bitter, and sour? You may find that your flavors are unbalanced, or there may even be some missing!

A balanced meal not only tastes better, but is so much more satisfying. The meal becomes interesting, complex, and deep. There are different layers to your dish that your taste buds can pick up, different scents for you to experience.

So what are these major flavor profiles and how can you easily manipulate that chicken dinner to make it exceptional? Let’s take a look:

Sweetness balances sour and bitter flavors and enhances salty ones.

Sugar is not the only way to add a sweet element to your dish. Swap out white potatoes for sweet potatoes, add a splash of balsamic vinegar to your vegetables as you sauté them, or mix some spicy brown mustard with a little honey to glaze your chicken.

Salt balances bitterness and enhances sweetness.

Shave some parmesan cheese over your chicken, swap your vegetables for pickled beets, or season your meat before searing over the stove to enhance and lock in flavor.

Sour flavors balance sweetness and bitterness and enhance saltiness.

Squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice over vegetables to brighten them up, or whip up a quick sauce by combining plain yogurt with garlic, salt, and dill to add just the right amount of zip and zing to your dish.

Bitterness balances sweet and salty flavors.

Opt for green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, or kale to add the perfect amount of bitterness to your dish. A light salad with small grapefruit sections, olive oil, and vinegar is also a great, balanced summertime side to brighten up an everyday meal.

Tip #3: Keep it Delicious: with Umami, the fifth flavor

“My cooking is simply ingredients plus umami.”

– Nobu Matsuhisa

Umami is the unsung hero of all outstanding dishes. But until fairly recently, most people had no idea that this Japanese word meaning “pleasant savory taste” referred to a fifth flavor that we experience every single day.

Real Simple magazine defines Umami as “a word describing an indescribable deliciousness; savory, rich, yum.” It is that appealing flavor of seared and grilled meat, aged cheese, and crispy bacon.

According to this 2014 Huffington Post article, “technically, umami refers to glutamate—a type of amino acid, which occurs naturally in many foods such as meat, fish, vegetables, and various dairy products. When glutamate breaks down—when it dies or ferments, which happens when you cook a piece of meat, or when cheese ages, or when a tomato ripens under the sun—it becomes L-glutamate, and that’s when things start to taste really good.”

You can find this umami flavor in myriad everyday foods, and adding them to your meals is a surefire way to make your dish more complex and, well, delicious. Try these:

Sauté mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes to serve with your chicken

Season your meat with salt and spices and sear over high heat

Sauté vegetables in anchovy paste or a few drops of fish sauce

Grate a small amount of a hard cheese like parmesan over your chicken before serving

You don’t have to cook gourmet meals every evening to stay on track, nor do you have to eat the same bland food day after day. Using the three tips above, you can begin to make small adjustments to your dishes that will add variety and complexity, keeping you satisfied and on track.

“Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor.”

– William Cowper

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