Elemental to the process of reclaiming your health is eating clean. My goal is to cook a healthy, balanced, easy meal that totals about 600 calories. That meal needs to be nutritionally balanced, and not take a great deal of preparation time. Hitting those benchmarks gives you a greater chance to stick to a general health or weight loss system.

I refer to meal development as much like working with tools in a tool box. I have a few steady “go-to” items, and often develop around that. To start, let me give you the fundamental guideline I use:

Each meal should include protein the size of your palm, carbohydrate the size of your cupped hand, and vegetables the size of your fist.

Here is a handy table of example items that fit into each category:

Chicken BreastBaked PotatoBroccoli
Turkey BreastSweet PotatoAsparagus
Lean Ground TurkeyYamsLettuce
Swordfish, Orange RoughySquashCarrots
Haddock, SalmonPumpkinCauiflower
TroutSteamed Brown RiceGreen Beans
TunaSteamed Wild RiceGreen Peppers
Top Round SteakQuinoaPeas
Top Sirloin SteakBeansBrussel Sprouts
Lean Ground BeefCornArtichoke
Lean PorkStrawberriesCabbage
Pork TenderloinMelonZucchini
Buffalo, BisonAppleCucumber
Lean Ham or Turkey HamOrangeOnion
Egg Whites or SubstitutesFat-free Yogurt 
Low Fat Cottage CheeseWhole Wheat Bread 
Wild GameHigh-Fiber Cereal 
TempehRice Cake 
Soy foodsTortilla 
Veggie BurgersWhole Grains 

This guideline will help you in a couple ways – first, you can use it as a guide to build meals daily. Just pick something from each column, in the quantities specified above and you are set to go! Second, it can help you if you absolutely do not want to count calories. Counting calories also helps with portion control because you see the actual number of calories you are putting in your body. However, if you just follow the above portion guide, then you will be pretty close to your caloric goal.

The Tool Box

As I mentioned earlier, I have a tool box of items I like to use to build meals around. Here’s what it contains:

• So first off, I am a big fan of chicken. I make a LOT of chicken. You can’t get anything that tastes more like chicken than chicken. I cook it several different ways, but perhaps most often I simply sautée it in a pan with a bit of olive oil and seasoning. It is always available in the upper Midwest, and it can be molded into many styles of cooking.

Green Giant Vegetables

• Next, speaking of the upper Midwest, our vegetable growing season is limited! It’s important to have access to vegetables year-round, and the best way I have found to do that is Green Giant’s vegetable steamers. These are small boxes of frozen vegetables that usually contain two servings. So it’s perfect if you are cooking for yourself and another. I can hear some of you already … “Frozen vegetables!? ..oh NO!” Relax. These are some of the best I have found. They are often prepared in a low cal but delightful base – such as an herbal sauce or some such. It makes them a one-stop, easy-prep vegetable when you don’t have summer fresh options.

The local Farmer’s Market. I have a small, local farmer’s market that, seasonally, provides me with a local-grown fresh vegetable source. It is close and handy. As a result, once a week I grab my trusty bike and make for the market! That little trip has become a staple to how I cook in the summer.


Spices. Let’s get real for a moment. Cooking chicken as often as I do would get REALLY old if I didn’t have GOOD spices to work with! Penzey’s is my source for great spices. They make wonderful combos and individual spices that make cooking exciting, fresh and easy. McCormicks spices also make wonderful spice combos called “Grill Mates”. I use them all the time. That same piece of chicken can instantly become a smoky north woods cabin style, a Cajun dish, a light and flavorful herb sprinkled delight from Paris, an Asian bombshell with spicy vegetables, or just a classic piece of grilled chicken with a hearty pepper base. Spices bring variety and can completely change the character of a meal. It keeps your routine from becoming too routine.

A good deep skillet or saute pan. I tend to prefer an aluminum/stainless tri-ply. Currently, I have a 5 ½ quart Cuisinart (model FCT33-28H). While All Clad and Tramontina also make very nice cookware, this pan is large and lets me cook a good variety of dishes. I use it for almost everything. The aluminum bottom layer with stainless cook surface allows for a very even heat distribution, and it cleans right up with minimal effort. While Calphalon and Circulon each make great cookware, I have been avoiding the non-stick variety as eventually it wears off, or chips and ends up becoming a mess. Buy a good pan, you won’t be sorry.

Good knives. I know this might not be what you expected, but good knives make cooking much easier. Wusthof is a good brand with high quality steel, but so is Henckels, Messermeister, Global, and Shun. Get a paring knife, a chef knife and a 5- 6 inch serrated. With those, you can do nearly anything and it takes a lot of work out of the prep. I also recommend a sharpening steel to re-true the blades. Give your knives a quick going-over every week and they will remain sharp for a long time.

Knife Skills

You can fund an in-depth review of kitchen knives HERE and a a review of basic kitchen cutting techniques HERE.

So that’s my tool box. It includes some simple essentials. With that, I’m able to construct tasty meals that fall within my caloric guidelines and yet they are tasty and satisfying. To help provide additional ideas and inspiration on cooking healthy I will be posting recipes and photos for some of the dishes I make. The best part of cooking is the ability to be creative for yourself and those you care about. There are few things as satisfying as delivering new culinary experiences to your loved ones, and knowing you are filling them with healthy fare.

One last thing…

Obtaining this knowledge didn’t happen overnight for me. I grew up with a meat & potatoes diet in a meat & potatoes family. I was fortunate in that my friend, Lani, painstakingly worked to educate me on nutrition and brought me to the point where I am today. It’s through her careful tutelage that I was able to evolve my diet into something that works for weight loss and is still delicious and visually appealing.

I also need to put in a plug here for Lani’s whole clan: sister Ann, daughter Laura and son Jim are ALL amazing and talented cooks. It was Lani and Ann who helped me come up with the title for this section. 

The Kukri

British Army No. 1 Kukri. Or …Ann’s Chef Knife on occasion.

What is a Kukri and why is this section named “Cooking with a Kukri?” It is a large curved knife that is a cultural icon and everyday tool of the Nepalese people. Many years ago I purchased Kukris for Lani’s husband and myself.  On one occasion, the two sisters were cooking and needed a sharp knife.  Tragically, all of Lani’s knives were dull…except for the Kukri.  As a result, they were actually cooking with a full sized Kukri issued to soldiers of the Royal Ghurka Rifles of the British Army.  Furthermore, their culinary endeavors are not just limited to mixing battlefield implements in with tomato slicers. I am constantly impressed and inspired by what comes out of their kitchens. Color me lucky, folks.

2 Responses

  • Ann

    I remember cooking with the kukri, Ethan – it was like using a sword to chop onions! Harder than you think!

    Great guidelines for anyone to use, and I am a huge fan of Penney’s as well.

    • Thanks Ann!! I can well imagine! That British Service No. 1 was not intended for cooking …there are others with much thinner and straighter blades which can be used in the kitchen. Although I would think that Kukri would work great with the rock chopping method – or fan chop it is sometimes called. If Lani can be persuaded to surrender the pic of you actually using that knife in the kitchen, I will do a whole article on the history of the Kukri! lol


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *