Healthy cooking decisions begin by successfully incorporating natural ingredients into your everyday, easy recipes. These tips help you focus on healthy, local, and organic ingredients when shopping for, preparing, and storing food.

1. Make from scratch. Whenever possible, make ingredients from scratch with organic and local ingredients. One really easy item to start with is salad dressing. A few simple, fresh, local or organic ingredients can be put together to make a delicious dressing free of chemicals and preservatives. Combine oil, acid (such as lemon), salt, pepper, and herbs – and you are good to go!

2. Buy from your local farmer’s market. While not possible for every family, this is a great way to inspire you to cook healthy and locally. You can see what is fresh that day and develop a relationship with the farmers in your community.

3. Use seasonal items. Eating in-season local produce is better for the environment and guarantees that your fruits and veggies are at the peak of freshness when you buy and cook them. By researching what is about to be in season, you can plan meals, search for easy recipes, and allocate specific cooking time. If rhubarb is in season, research ways to incorporate rhubarb into other recipes, and always set aside a few hours to make a strawberry-rhubarb pie!

4. Buy in bulk & keep a stocked pantry. Cooking healthy and with organic or local produce may also require you to change shopping habits. When at a large grocery store, buy in bulk and buy items to stock your pantry. Instead of one can of beans, grab four or five. This will help reduce the number of trips to the store, and leave more time for you to stop by farmers markets, farm stands, or smaller food retailers. Having organic ingredients on hand makes trying new recipes, and cooking each night easier. Some key organic products to always have on hand: organic flours, sugars, pastas, grains such as quinoa, brown rice and beans.

5. Research recipes. Researching recipes can help inspire your healthy cooking. With so many databases and websites, it’s easy to find new, creative ways to cook. If you are unsure of how to cook something, try watching videos or reading the comments on recipes to see how other cooks solved a problem. Cooking should not be overwhelming—-it should be a fun, learning, experience.

6. Don’t overcook! When using fresh, local, or organic produce, the flavor should be stronger than conventional produce. Overcooking vegetables reduces the nutrients, flavor, and changes both the taste and the texture. A quick steam or a simple sauté is the best way to highlight the natural flavors, retain nutrients, and respect the ingredient.

7. Add vegetables. Try adding extra vegetables to recipes – throwing in some arugula or spinach to your go-to pasta recipe is a great way to start.

8. Use your freezer. When produce is in season, take advantage and make dishes that can be easily frozen.

9. Share with friends. Cook and share your healthy dishes with friends. If you’re uncomfortable with cooking, getting a friend into the kitchen can reduce the stress. Try going with a friend to a farmers market: buy the same ingredients, then see how different the dishes you each create are!

10. Quality over quantity. If you use high-quality ingredients, you can reduce the number of ingredients in recipes. When using primarily local produce or organic ingredients, try to find recipes that highlight one specific item. Look for recipes with only a few ingredients. Not only is it cheaper, but often you really only need salt and pepper to bring out the flavors of fresh, natural foods.


Image: flickr user ReneS, licensed by Creative Commons