While the novel pandemic has shaken up our lives, there could be some positive outcomes. On a grander scale, our environment is getting a well-deserved break from the overwhelming amount of pollution. On a smaller scale, many of us are cooking more from home. I know this can be stressful, especially if we are not used to constantly being in the kitchen. I wanted to provide some guidance in the kitchen and hopefully drive the adoption of some new healthy habits to nurture after the stay-at-home orders have been lifted. 

Today I’m going to share with you the concept of cooking with flexibility. What does this mean? Well, it can mean a few things: using what you can easily source or what you already have, cooking for more than one meal, or cooking one aspect of a meal to be used throughout the week. In this article, I’ll cover the overall concept of cooking with flexibility and provide some recipes so you can get started right away!

Supermarkets and grocers throughout the United States are having trouble keeping up with demand. What this means for many is that some protein staples are not regularly available, and if they are, there is likely a limit on how much you can purchase. The first aspect of cooking with flexibility is choosing a protein that you haven’t used before or that is readily available. Let’s take ground lamb for example! It’s extremely versatile in its use, incredibly delicious and nutrient-dense. Two of my favorite ways to use lamb is either as a burger or atop veggies in a rice bowl. Don’t like lamb? No worries, this concept extends to any other animal protein, and even beans and legumes.  

When cooking with flexibility and limited grocery store options, check out your local farmer’s market or farmer. Many farmers are delivering directly to homes these days and have an over abundance of food due to restaurant closures where they normally sell their bounty. For protein sources, purchasing directly from a farm will give you higher quality, more nutrient dense meat. In addition meat selections might be different than a conventional grocery store and encourage a little more creativity in the kitchen: ie, cooking with flexibility! Never used oxtail before? Now is the chance to experiment and try it out. 

Beans and legumes are inexpensive and easy to cook in bulk. They can be used as the main star in a dish (just like you would use the chicken, beef, or lamb), as a side, as a dip, or even incorporated as they are into a soup, salad, or omelet. Remember beans and legumes have anti-nutrients in them (phytic acid, lectins, tannins) which bind to minerals in our bodies and block absorption. They are also more difficult for the body to digest and their protein is not as bioavailable as animal protein nor are they a complete source of protein. All that to say, they make affordable meal options when prepared properly. Dried beans and legumes are less expensive and carry greater nutrient-density, but require soaking and cooking. From a health perspective, dried is the superior choice.

One final note on cooking with flexibility involves sourcing seasonal produce. When searching for recipes online, become familiar with your seasonal produce and accustomed to switching out recipe ingredients according to the seasons. For the spinach and rice recipe below, change it up with swiss chard—a spring green as opposed to spinach which is a winter green. 

Now that we’ve covered utilizing what you can easily source or what you already have, let’s discuss how to cook for more than one meal. To demonstrate, here are three recipes you can use as a loose guide for one meal or a few different meals throughout the week! Lamb burgers with a side of yogurt sauce and a Greek-inspired spinach and rice mixture:

Recipe Options

Lamb Burgers by Fork Knife Swoon

Yogurt Sauce  by The Lemon Bowl 

Spinach and Rice by Olive Tomato 

For starters, this is an incredibly delicious dinner as it stands. But you can most definitely substitute anything you don’t have, can’t source, or don’t like. You’ll also find that each recipe recommends a variety of ways in which it can be used!

Here are some examples of how to cook with flexibility: 

– You can sub the lamb burger for any type of burger: turkey, chicken, venison, beef, bean, lentil, etc. 

– You can sub the yogurt sauce for hummus or guacamole.

– You can sub the spinach-rice mix for a salad, quinoa, or any other vegetable.

Want to know how to use these recipes throughout the week?

– Make extra burgers for lunch or breakfast the next day or to freeze for later use

– Use the yogurt sauce as a base in a chicken salad or as a stand-alone dressing for a salad

– Use the spinach-rice mixture as a side or base for an entirely different dinner with ground meat, or even stew meat like: oxtail, beef shanks, chicken drumstick

As you can see with this example, one kitchen session inspired a few different meals! I encourage you to see what you already have in your house and use the concept of cooking with flexibility to cook smarter, not harder. If you’re new to the kitchen or simply looking for a recipe to spark inspiration, you can find many healthy options online or on Pinterest. Stay safe and happy cooking!