Ask the Dietitian: Home Cooking

April 13, 2017

Q: I know home cooking is cheaper and healthier than restaurant food, but cooking for myself is intimidating. What should I make?

A: I have a confession to make: It took me nearly 20 years to be a confident cook. I didn’t find my healthy meal planning groove until fairly recently. And I’m still learning!

image of healthy plateNow, I use one ridiculously simple tool to guide my meals at home. It goes by different names but I call it the Plate Method. It’s simply a matter of filling 50% of your plate with fruits and vegetables, 25% with a grain or starchy vegetable, and the remaining 25% with protein. Add a bit of fat such as a drizzle of oil, a sprinkle of nuts, or some sliced avocado - and voila! A balanced meal is served.

What I love most about Plate Method is that it’s flexible; it doesn’t present “rules” to follow. (I am not a fan of food rules, which usually impede mindful eating and can lead to disordered eating.) While it’s a great stand-alone tool, you can earn nutritional extra credit by choosing

  • a wide variety of richly colored fruits and vegetables, with emphasis on dark green leafies,

  • starchy foods that are high in fiber, like whole grains, legumes, or root vegetables with skins on,

  • and lean or plant-based proteins like tofu, beans, fish, or poultry.

You can use this tool to choose a few meals to make for the week. Be realistic. Start with only one or two meals if you’re new to this. Get your creative cooking juices flowing with Plate Method-inspired recipes here, here, and here. For me, following a new recipe takes a lot of effort, especially at the end of the day when I’m tired. Depending on your skill level and schedule, you can start with foods that are simple to make (scrambled eggs for protein or steam in the bag broccoli as the vegetable, for example) and try one or two new recipes when you’re ready for a challenge.

Once you have your plan, make your grocery list to make sure you have all the ingredients you need. When you get home with groceries, do some basic prep work like rinsing and chopping vegetables, roasting vegetables, and marinating or cooking protein. When you cook the meal, consider making extra so you have leftovers for lunches or maybe another dinner.

Remember that being a skillful home cook takes lots of practice, and there will be plenty of trial and error involved. I hope you’ll find that the rewards - financial savings, better nutrition, impressing your friends? - will keep you cooking for years to come.

Learn More

Revisit Ask the Dietitian: How can I eat well on a tight budget? for affordable eating tips.  

For more in depth meal prep practice, consider enrolling in new 2-unit course NUSCTX 20 Personal Food Security and Wellness.

Related Services

You can meet with a UHS dietitian for one-on-one meal planning help during Drop-in Nutrition Education, every Wednesday, 2:30-5pm, Social Services.

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for more Ask the Dietitian articles in future issues of The Monthly BuzzFind out more about Toby’s services here.