Want to eat healthier but hate to cook? We know the feeling. That's why we reached out to healthy living educator and vegan chef Leslie Durso. Whether you eat (local, grass-fed) meat or not, everyone can benefit from putting more veggies on their plates. Below, Leslie shares her advice for making healthier meals that are also quick and easy.
What is the hardest part about eating healthy? Most people will answer: the amount of time it takes to cook or they can’t cook. My answer for the latter is that everyone can cook! If you want to be a good cook then you will! You just need some instruction, patience, and a little guidance. Most of that can come from following some good recipes at the beginning. The answer to the first is a little more complicated. Yes, cooking healthy food from scratch takes longer than heating up nutrient-less microwavable meals or eating out. My answer for you is: find a couple hours one day a week to cook. In those few hours, make things that can live in your refrigerator for a week or can easily be frozen and stored longer. This way when you get home from a long day, or have 2 minutes to make breakfast a healthy option will be sitting right in your refrigerator. Not to mention, you will save a lot of that hard-earned money!
Here are a list of things to keep in your fridge and freezer:
Freezer: Veggie Burgers—You can pack so much more protein and vitamins in these when you make them from scratch. They are super easy to make and kids can help, too.
Sauces—Most sauces freeze really well. I recommend freezing them in single serving amounts so you don’t have to defrost a gallon of tomato sauce for one person.
Cooked Rice—Need a cup of rice for a recipe or rice to go with a quick veggie sauté? Boom.
Soup—Freeze in plastic freezer bags; reheating is a cinch!
Cookie Dough—First of all, who doesn’t want cookie dough ready in their freezers at all times?? My tip is to roll the dough in balls, then freeze in a bag so you can make individual cookies without having to chop from a cookie dough block.
Smoothies—You are probably saying, “What?” but yes, portion out a homemade smoothie into freezer bags in individual portions. When you are in a rush in the morning and don’t have too much time, throw a block of frozen smoothie in your blender with a little bit of liquid and there you have a super way to start your day.
Refrigerator: Salad Dressing—When you make salad dressing from scratch you are cutting out all the preservatives and sugars they put in the packaged stuff.
Salad—Love salad, but think it takes forever to chop everything up? Pre chop loads of ingredients that you might like in your salad and store them in the fridge (this includes washing, drying and tearing the lettuce). When you need a quick lunch you won’t have to head to the vending machine.
Quinoa—Having precooked quinoa in your fridge (or freezer) is great because you can top your salad with it, you can put some sautéed veggies on top of it or mid week you can make a quick quinoa salad with the veggies you have chopped for your green salad along with some dressing. Quinoa is loaded with protein and can help you stay full when you are on-the-go.
Fruit Salad—It makes a great healthy snack and when it starts to get soft mid week, make a smoothie out of them!
Iced Tea—Don’t reach for a soda! Have a nice pitcher of green iced tea handy to give you a caffeine boost, but also deliver a cupful of super vitamin rich nutrients. Please note that all items listed above should be kept in air tight containers to maximize their freshness.
Being an Italian vegan, there are certain dishes and sauces that I had to recreate. Here are what I call the “Italian Mother Sauces”: Lemon & Spinach Pesto, Cauliflower Alfredo, and Traditional Marinara. All three sauces freeze beautifully and you can pop them out and have them defrosted before you pasta has even boiled.
Lemon & Spinach Pesto Serves 4 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted 2 cloves of garlic about 2 cups of basil leaves about 2 cups of spinach 1 lemon 1/4- 1/2 cup olive oil salt and pepper to taste What you'll do: You'll place the basil and spinach in the food processor topped with the garlic and nuts. Pulse a few times to break them down a bit. Add in the zest from the lemon and all the lemon juice. Pulse again and then drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto is smooth. Cook your pasta to al dente, drain and return to the pot. Add the pesto right on top and stir to coat the noodles. Serve immediately.
Cauliflower Fettuccine Alfredo Serves 4 1 large head of cauliflower 3 cups vegetable broth 2 tbsp. vegan butter (I use Earth Balance) 1 tbsp. olive oil 1/2 onion, sliced 6 cloves of garlic, sliced 1/4 tsp. nutmeg 1/2 tsp. salt fresh ground pepper to taste Cut off any bottom leaves of the cauliflower and cut out the toughest part of the core. Then break the cauliflower down into florets. Boil them with the vegetable broth uncovered until the cauliflower is very soft and tender. About 15 minutes. While the cauliflower is cooking, heat a large frying pan and sauté the onion and garlic with the Earth Balance and olive oil until soft. When both are done, using a slotted spoon, remove all the cauliflower from the broth and place in a blender or food processor. Add 1 cup of the cooking broth, all the contents of the frying pan, the nutmeg and salt. Puree on high until very smooth, 3-4 minutes. Add a little more broth at a time if it needs to be thinned. Add pepper to taste. Serve with fettuccine and serve warm.
OPTIONS: Drizzle the finished fettuccine Alfredo with some truffle oil for something really special! Add red chili flakes to kick up the heat on your pasta! Or sauté asparagus, mushrooms, squash, tomatoes, broccoli, or any other veggies you like and add on top!
Tomato Sauce Serves 6 What you'll need: 1 medium onion, diced olive oil 2 28oz. can of whole san marzano tomatoes 5 cloves of garlic, chopped 5 leaves of fresh basil, chopped salt and pepper to taste What you'll do: In a large frying pan over medium heat, sauté the onion in some olive oil and a pinch of salt until soft. Add in the can of tomatoes, stir and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon break up the tomatoes. Add the garlic and simmer another few minutes. Stir in the basil and serve over pasta, polenta, quinoa, etc. —
Leslie Durso has walked the plant-based talk since the age of eight. After establishing herself as a private chef in NYC and Hollywood, Leslie began hosting cooking segments on television and healthy-living content online. Determined to inspire beneficial life-long eating habits for everyone, she has appeared on The Food Network, The Discovery Channel, The Hallmark Channel, Everyday Health, and Mother Nature Network, and has written for MindBodyGreen, VegNews, CNN.com, Redbook, Glamour, Maxim, and dozens more, evangelizing the benefits of a mindful lifestyle, delivered with her trademark blend of sunshiney sophistication and girl-next-door relatability. She currently broadcasts her farm-fresh recipes and warmhearted sensibilities to an extensive audience spanning more than 130 countries via LeslieDurso.com.