Nutrition, health and wellbeing are intrinsically linked. When we’re conscious of our food choices and aware of our personal needs, we’re choosing the most responsible, liberating way of eating and living. Being mindful while food shopping, cooking and eating can greatly enhance this everyday experience.
What Is a Mindful Kitchen?
My kitchen is the heart of my home and my health. It’s also where I create the recipes for our online wellbeing retreats. Having worked as a nutritionist and holistic chef on various retreats around the world, I understand the importance of a calm kitchen environment.
Most people understand the benefits of eating balanced, nourishing foods, but the prospect of creating a healthy meal can feel overwhelming when you’re tired, busy or stressed. A well-stocked, mindful kitchen makes cooking easier and more enjoyable. As well as saving money and producing less waste, you’ll be less likely to snack on processed convenience foods.
The Basic Principles
Here are a few simple steps to help you create a mindful kitchen that’s calm and inspiring:
Prepare and Plan
Our mindset is important when forming new habits, especially if they’re to be fully integrated into everyday life. Setting clear intentions about what you’d like to achieve in your kitchen will help you stay on track. Ask yourself how you’d like to feel after cooking and eating. What do you want each meal to look like? What changes do you need to make so this can become your reality?
Clean and Clear
If the kitchen is full of stuff and feels cluttered, it’s not going to be an inspiring place to cook. Clean kitchen surfaces and make space for cooking. Only store the equipment and kitchen paraphernalia you use regularly.
Clear out any old, out of date food along with any items you know you won’t eat. Having too much food, especially stuff you aren’t eating, can cause overwhelm. Take unopened food to your local food bank or if the packet is already open, offer it to a friend. Don’t feel you have to completely clear your shelves and start again. The process of cleaning, clearing, and slowly refining your ingredients can take time. Enjoy the process.
Keep it Simple
It can be hard to feel inspired and find the energy to cook when you’re tired and need to eat instantly. Try learning a couple of staple meals you can adapt depending on the fresh fruit and veg you have in. If you start with a basic recipe, you can easily add different herbs or spices, nuts, seeds or dried fruit to satisfy your taste-buds. Keep it simple and you can’t go wrong!
Sometimes the most delicious meals are cooked when there’s not much left in the fridge. A cauliflower or cabbage might be the last thing you fancy eating, but quickly chopped, seasoned and sautéed with coconut oil, garlic and spices, the humble vegetable is transformed into something special.
I like to refresh and stock up on spices at the beginning of a new season, store cupboard essentials every 3-4 weeks, and fresh produce on a weekly basis. This minimises the mental load each week when I’m food shopping and reduces impulse purchases. Buying spices, tea and dried goods in bulk will save money and reduce packaging waste.
Food shopping can be a great way to connect with like-minded people. Seek out farmer’s markets and try supporting local independent shops and growers. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive if you plan your meals so you only buy what you know you will use. Fresh produce is generally cheaper when it’s in season and you can also keep costs to a minimum by prioritising the items you’d like to be organic.
Before you start cooking, take a moment to stop and breathe. This will help you feel more present and focused, especially if you’re in a rush and hungry.
Prepare your ingredients mindfully, taking time to notice their smell, texture and taste. This will help you feel connected to your food and make it easier to successfully combine ingredients and flavours.
Use recipes as a guide for timings and quantities, taking note of the sounds and smells while cooking. Over time, and as you grow in confidence, you’ll be able to rely on your senses to gauge when food needs stirring or when to add a little extra spice.
Clear and wash up as you go, to save you from feeling overwhelmed when faced with a pile of dirty dishes.
The best thing you can do to aid digestion and ensure you absorb all the nutrients from the food you’ve lovingly sourced and cooked is sit down and enjoy your meal in a peaceful atmosphere. If you’re feeling emotional, anxious or stressed before eating, again take a moment to stop and breathe. Lay the table, light a candle and add a vase of flowers. These objects serve as visual reminders for you to slow down and relax while eating.
Store Cupboard Essentials
I love a well-stocked store cupboard! Below is a list of basic, essential ingredients designed to help you create simple, nourishing home cooked meals. Although this is what I personally keep in the larder, the list can easily be adapted to suit your dietary needs and tastes.
Spices are an integral part of our daily diet that have healing properties to prevent or cure many ailments. Here is a link to a natural immune booster called Liquid Gold.
- Mustard seeds
- Cayenne pepper
- Star anise
Oils, Fats and Vinegar
It’s worth investing in high quality oils and fats. Unrefined and cold pressed oils are processed at a lower temperature, so they retain nutrients and flavour.
- Coconut oil should be used for cooking as it has a higher smoking point than many other oils which means less nutrients are damaged during heating. It’s good for sautéing, frying and oven roasting.
- Extra virgin olive oil is best for dressings. Light destroys the delicate nutrients, so it’s important this oil is stored in a dark glass bottle.
- Apple Cider Vinegar is rich in enzymes, aids digestion, alkalises the body and supports a healthy immune system. Buy raw, unfiltered and organic.
- Sea salt and rock salt are rich in trace minerals which are bio-available, meaning our bodies can easily absorb them.
- Black peppercorns (ground in a pepper mill for a fresh taste) have powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. They helps the body’s ability to absorb beta carotenes, selenium and B-vitamins.
- Tamari is a soy-based, gluten-free sauce that’s great for adding extra flavour to soups and stews.
- Miso is another soya product and an ingredient I would invest in for quality. It’s a fermented food that provides the gut with beneficial bacteria. Delicious on its own and great for adding flavour to soups, stews and sauces.
Flours and Oats
- Dove’s Farm gluten-free self-raising flour can be used for everything from thickening sauces to baking cakes and biscuits.
- Buckwheat flour is gluten-free and made from a seed. It has a stronger taste than most flours and makes delicious flatbreads and pizza bases.
- Chickpea flour or gram flour is a must for making falafels, Indian bhajis or vegetable fritters.
- Oats are ideal for porridge if you can easily digest them. For a grain-free alternative, stock up on ground almonds and desiccated coconut.
- Organic short-grain brown rice is a slow-burning carbohydrate that’s great for balancing blood sugar. It contains a huge list of beneficial vitamins and minerals.
- Black rice isn’t easy to find. I buy mine from Organico who source their grains from growers with high ethical standards and package them in a completely gluten-free environment. Black rice and coconut milk make a delicious porridge.
Nuts and Seeds
It’s a good idea to get into the habit of soaking your nuts before eating. I’d recommend choosing three types of nuts and seeds to snack on or to sprinkle on porridge and salads. The seeds listed below are also delicious toasted with a splash of tamari and maple syrup.
- Cashews (essential for making cashew nut cream which can be both sweet and savoury and is a great dairy-free alternative)
- Sesame seeds
Sweet Treats and Dried Fruit
Processed sugar depletes the body of essential minerals and can cause blood sugar spikes, so choose something natural instead. Maple syrup and raw honey are my top picks.
Medjool dates and apricots are delicious as a snack, added to smoothies or cooked in stews. Raisins are ideal for making treats, cakes and biscuits. Good quality dark chocolate is also an essential store cupboard ingredient as it’s rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Beans and Lentils
To be honest, for ease, I usually buy beans in tins rather than dried for soaking. As well as those listed below, I always have mung beans on hand for making sprouts in spring/summer or warming bowls of kichadi in autumn/winter.
- Baked beans
- Red kidney beans
I like to stock one type of lentil at a time for stews and soups. Red lentils are my go-to for quick cooking. They don’t need soaking, but it’s always good if you have time as it will improve their digestive qualities.
Ideally, if you have space, grow them at home and keep them close to where you cook. A windowsill or doorstep is ideal. If not, choose 2-3 different kinds for your weekly shop. Be generous with the herbs you use as they will be rich in polyphenols, plant compounds that are highly valuable to your immune and digestive systems. Combine with plenty of beneficial fats and oils to help to bring out the flavours and a wealth of protective benefits.
Discover more inspiration and ideas to help you create a mindful kitchen and prepare nutritious, seasonal food all year round here.
Love Lizzie and the SOL team xx