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What Does “Eating Healthy” Really Mean? Pearls of Wisdom from The Intentional Kitchen

by Chef Joan Cunningham

Here at The Intentional Kitchen, it is all about healthy, delicious food. Food that sustains and nourishes you from the inside out. Food that is satisfying and never boring. The focus is on plant-based eating - choosing to eat and cook primarily with foods that come from healthy soil and are raised using organic and sustainable farming practices. I call these foods “intact foods” - foods that come to your kitchen pretty much as they were when they left the farm. It can also include minimally processed foods that are made from intact ingredients. The key is minimally processed with few, if any, added
flavorings, stabilizers, or preservatives. These are foods as nature intended, foods that provide nutrients in balance with one another; nothing has been added synthetically or disproportionately.

Let me be more specific. Minimally processed foods that find their way into my pantry include olive oil pressed from olives, tomatoes canned whole or crushed into tomato sauce, and occasionally, legumes cooked and ready to add to chili or a salad when I haven't planned ahead. Personally, I also avoid any genetically modified organisms (GMO's), industrially-raised food crops, anything treated with chemical fertilizers, and dairy that has been treated with growth hormones. In my freezer, I keep frozen berries during the winter, along with vegetables that I cannot find fresh. No sugar or flavors added. I am also biased against “fresh” food that comes from another hemisphere; by the time it arrives, it has no flavor and nutritional value. 

Your pantry is the backbone of your kitchen. The quality of the staples in your pantry are reflected in the meals that you prepare and serve. My goal is to get you to transition away from pre-packaged and/or processed food-like substances, commercially raised fruits and vegetables of suspect origin, industrially produced oils, highly refined sugars, and grains and flours with little or no nutritional value. Many of these foods have been treated with agricultural chemicals and industrial solvents, and they have been stripped of any nutritive value, including vitamins and minerals, fiber and flavor. These foods do not contribute to your health and well-being, and they are bad for the planet.

Think of this as a journey, and by this I mean that it does not have to happen overnight. A terrific first step is to get rid of anything "white" - white sugar, white flour. Force your self to move on. Stock your pantry with delicious and nutritious alternatives - fill your shelves with intact grains (quinoa, millet, buckwheat, farro) and rices, new flours, heirloom legumes, nuts, and seeds. Once you're in the groove, it doesn't take any more effort to shop and cook with these ingredients. They are more and more readily available, and if you have to scour a bit to find something unique, it's all part of your new
culinary adventure!

Are you ready to dive in with both feet? Here we go!
1. Cook at home as much as possible using fresh, local, seasonal, and sustainably grown ingredients. When you invest your time and energy in preparing your meals, you are almost always going to choose better ingredients than a commercial enterprise will use. You'll soon realize what really good, fresh food tastes like and then you'll realize how much better you feel!

2. Try out a new, seasonal ingredient every week or two to broaden your culinary expertise and your palate!

3. Get to know the bulk aisle at your local market - you will find foods like intact grains and legumes or pulses that are nutritionally superior and much more affordable!

4. Drink filtered water throughout your day in place of sodas, "juices," or prepared/ sweetened teas.

5. Break out of the My Plate mold and rethink your meals. Explore new frontiers and create exciting, flavorful plant-forward meals one or two evenings a week. I promise you'll discover how glorious and diverse plant-based eating can be! 

6. Find a farmers' market near you, or sign up for a CSA share to get great seasonal, fresh produce, and support your local farmers

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