Nutritional Cooking or ‘healthy cooking‘ is essentially based on the concept of Culinary Nutrition. If you’re not familiar with the name, don’t worry. I explain the concept below in as much detail as possible and in a way that I feel would be most valuable to you, and give you only what you need to know.
It’s impossible to know everything about a topic so here I’ve outlined the essential techniques and skills you need to get started with this practice.
It is based on my training as a Culinary Nutrition Expert and cooking experience in my home kitchen.
What is Culinary Nutrition?
The word Culinary refers to the ability to cook using a set of cooking skills plus food (ingredients) to create an edible meal. The term Nutrition refers to how we eat, what we eat, and what we need to eat, ie. the nutrients and constituents required to sustain and build physical and mental health.
So, it is the symbiotic relationship between the two because you are using cooking skills with nutritional foods to create meals that promote optimal and sustainable health.
This concept guides you in choosing healthy foods and ingredients for yourself, and the techniques for cooking with them.
It also encourages a healthy eating practice that does not promote poor health or aggravate existing ailments or health conditions.
Based on all that…
Nutritional Cooking is about:
Knowing ‘what’s in it – What is in your meals? What ingredients are used to bind them, give them flavor, and determine their longevity?
Knowing ‘how nutritional it is’ – How does that food operate, what does it do for you (your physical and mental health)?
Knowing ‘how to use it’ – How can you use a certain ingredient in meal preparation? How can you swap it out for a healthier version?
This introduction to nutritional cooking (which is essentially ‘healthy cooking for beginners’) explains how to do all of this and how can you use it in your recipe development.
How is nutritional cooking relevant to you now?
Firstly, do any of the below apply to you?
- You’re looking to change your eating style or habits
- You’re constantly switching diets
- You have a newly diagnosed health condition or an existing one
- You’ve heard about too many miracle cures that you’re too nervous to try
- You’re confused by fancy health terminology
- You’re overwhelmed by trendy eating styles
- You want to gain confidence in sourcing foods with specific nutritional benefits
If you recognize any of the above, then you need to start cooking with nutrition in mind.
It’s a back-to-basics, easy-to-understand practice for eating healthfully by cooking from scratch with whole foods and ingredients.
The formula for nutritional cooking is simple
- It is about thoughtfully incorporating or swapping out foods and ingredients that build health and immunity
- It follows the basic principles of conscious eating where you focus on what is in your whole foods and ingredients, where it comes and why it’s good for you
- Your food choices must also be based on meeting your daily nutritional requirements.
The foods you choose to eat should also enhance your body’s immune-building functions – functions that promote an absence of disease.
More importantly, this is about healthy eating that aligns with healing. Perhaps alleviating an allergy, ailment, or the symptoms of an existing or recently diagnosed disease.
Your food preparation, cooking, and eating practice should heal and build health. What you eat should not fuel inflammation or aggravate it.
Cooking – from scratch- with health-building foods and ingredients can alleviate symptoms you’re experiencing from certain conditions and sometimes even completely eradicate them*.
The myths of healthy eating
There are some myths and general misinformation out there in the zeitgeist relating to nutrition, cooking, dieting, and health treatments.
Truth: Food can be expensive when we eat based on convenience
Below are three myths I’ve experienced on my journey with healthy eating that I find most relevant.
- Deprivation – “You need to deprive yourself of certain foods or ingredients to be healthy.”
Truth: You don’t need to deprive yourself of foods to achieve optimal health unless you are eliminating them based on evidence that it is causing discomfort or disease
- Privilege – “All healthy foods are expensive.“
Truth: Not all fresh unprocessed ingredients are expensive. It is possible to be 100% well if you are living on a budget
- Fear – “You need to include or exclude certain foods or ingredients or you’ll get sick.“
Truth: Including or excluding certain foods or ingredients does not guarantee perfect health. Healthy eating is based on making informed choices about your foods and ingredients and how they could be beneficial to building health
Encourage and make informed choices
You need the right knowledge and know-how to make good food choices.
So, having the right nutritional information at your disposal combined with good cooking techniques and skills will set you on the right path.
- Have you lost interest in trending diets?
- Do you desire a sustainable eating style?
Nutritional cooking is not just an eating style but a culinary practice that promotes a healthy and wealthy (read: enriched) mindset in all aspects of your daily life
Most people grew up along similar lines of conditioning about food choices and eating habits. And we’ve ended up with mostly the same stress and weaknesses in terms of how we choose what we eat and how we consume it.
What to do with Cravings?
Most of us want to eat efficiently and with minimal cooking effort.
Unfortunately, some people have to live with ailments and/or diseases.
Alongside those affecting factors, one thing most of us have in common is that we also give in to cravings.
You see, our taste buds and palate have adapted over time to certain flavors and ingredients, the good and the bad. I struggle with cravings often, even though I try to cook all my meals with nutrition in mind.
So, I like to apply my cooking philosophy here. When it comes to working with my cravings I try to adapt those recipes to include healthier ingredients so that it mimics the flavors and textures of those foods.
If you do this often enough, you can train your mind, your taste buds, and your body to adapt to more healthful flavors and ingredients.
The practice of nutritional cooking can apply to anyone, irrespective of age, gender identification, race, cultural identity, income, education, and fitness level.
It is about a desire for a quality of life with the primary focus not being on money, stress, or illness. Nor is it about forcing, fixing, and controlling things in your daily life. It is about slowing down.
Practicing conscious choices requires patience because you are taking the time to do it thoughtfully.
Patience promotes slowing down
With slowing down comes clarity and the ability to keep an open mind about your food choices. With that comes wisdom.
Wisdom is needed to make better decisions. Good decision-making will always yield a good outcome, for your eating habits and your overall well-being.
Remember, permit yourself to slow down, think about it, and appreciate it.
How to apply nutritional cooking in your kitchen today
Incorporating nutritional knowledge into the meals you cook for yourself, your family, and your friends starts at home in your kitchen, using the tools and equipment you’re already working with.
Doing something at home using your utensils for chopping, slicing, sautéing, steaming, and meal-prepping your food makes the practice resonate with you.
It becomes second nature and makes choosing what to eat outside of your home easy. When was the last time you ordered ‘healthy take-out’?
Restocking your pantry and fridge
As part of my Culinary Nutrition training, I had to take an inventory of my fridge and pantry.
My first task was to separate my healthy foods and ingredients from the rest. So, I reorganized and styled my basic 2-door, 2-shelf kitchen cabinet as a pantry and optimized it for this practice. Super compact and efficient, it had all the glass jars clearly labeled, names facing forward, and always fully stocked.
I applied this organisation to my fridge as well.
- Set aside some masking tape or blank stickers and a marker. Decant all your spices into glass mason jars (reduce plastic) and label them per their name and expiry date.:
- Now move on to your flours, grains, herbal teas, nuts, seeds, etc. The idea is that you can start visually separating the non-gluten and non-allergen-containing ingredients from the rest.
- Now move on to your fridge and freezer and apply the same principles. Where it’s not feasible to label containers for your fridge or freezer, it’s best to separate those containers into groups.
For example, you can group low-sodium soy sauce, vegan mayonnaise, ginger, garlic, and raw coconut into a section of Antimicrobials or Non-Allergens.
Let go of perfection. Forget the swoon-worthy, hyper-pristine pantries on Instagram for now.
After adapting your cooking repertoire to include beautiful, fresh, whole foods and ingredients, your recipes and cooking skills will be perfect.
Relax and have fun with it, knowing this will only have a positive outcome for your well-being.
Healthy cooking for beginners
The inspiration behind this blog is the topic of ‘cravings’. It’s a dietary theme that often dictates our eating patterns. It was, in fact, the perfect springboard for me on my journey to nutritional cooking and culinary nutrition school.
In the past, every eating plan I committed to was upended by pizza cravings, milkshake cravings, coffee cravings, and many more.
As part of my training, I learned to swap some of these ingredients for healthier versions. So, I developed recipes that mimicked the flavors and textures of some of my favorite comfort foods.
While I was training, I made smoothies that mimic my favorite strawberry milkshake and a chickpea flour pizza dough with vegan toppings reminiscent of my favorite ‘franchise‘ gluten-heavy veggie pizza.
My advice is to start with what you know. It’s the only culinary aspect you won’t do from scratch. Work with foods that are familiar to you and then it will be easier to adapt them into something healthier.
Below is a brief list of easy-to-relate-to foods for getting started with nutritional cooking. There is no need to overhaul your pantry. Just take inventory of what you already have, label it clearly and work with it.
Good pantry and fridge organisation will make it easy for you to see and reach for all your healthy ingredients while you’re prepping or cooking.
A list of Healthy swaps
White Bread / Cake Flour
Gluten-free; Chickpea; Coconut; Quinoa; Rice; Whole Grain flours
Flax egg (recipe); Chia paste (recipe); Free-range, pasture-fed eggs
Crispy Fried Potato chips
Vegetable chips; Roasted coconut chips (recipe); Kale chips (recipe)
Free-range, Grass-fed; Organic Tofu; Tempeh (fermented soy)
Nut Milk; Seed Milk; Coconut Milk
Quinoa; Zucchini pasta; Rice noodles; Butternut Squash pasta; Soba noodles
Raw honey; Maple syrup; Coconut syrup; Molasses
Pink salt; Himalayan rock salt; Celtic salt; Rock Sea salt
Seed bread; GF (Gluten-free blend) bread; Vegetable bread (Zucchini)
Soda water + natural fruit flavorings; Lemon water
Cashew cream; Red lentils (blended in soups to mimic a creamy texture)
Coffee (coffee beans or instant)
Chicory replacement; Herbal tea; Green tea; Ginger (whole) tea; Lemon (slice) tea; Dandelion Root; Hibiscus tea
Candy (with refined sugar) / Milk Chocolate
Dark chocolate (70% or more); Flavored nuts & seeds; Fruit-flavored Gelatine
Nut cheese (Cashew); Goat cheese; Ricotta
Margarine & Butter (dairy)
Ghee; Coconut oil; Vegan butter
Coconut sugar; Cinnamon; Xylitol; Stevia; Dates
Vegetable & Canola Oil
Olive; Avocado; Flaxseed; Grape; Coconut oil
Beer, wine, alcohol
Once you’ve separated, swapped out, and clearly labeled all your pantry items it’s time to move on to the next step and take inventory of all your cooking pots and pans.
Equipment, utensils and your cooking skills
There’s no need to enroll in culinary school, take an expensive cooking class, or an online course.
All you need are basic knife skills and an understanding of the flavors and nutritional benefits of certain whole foods and ingredients.
As for utensils and equipment, you can use what you have to start with.
Your basic prepping and cooking tools will be:
A food processor; blender; juicer (if you have one); box grater; vegetable peeler; chef’s knife; paring knife; bamboo cutting board; glass containers for storing; large and medium size glass mixing bowls; stainless steel spoons; pyrex or baking dish
There are so many more expert tools and equipment you can add to your repertoire, but to start with these will suffice.
Scale your nutritional intake
Here are three ways to integrate nutritional cooking recipes into your existing meal plans.
Single meal prep:
- Swap the foods you crave for alternatives that contain a nutritional benefit. See the list above
- Mimic packaged salads by making your own. For example, you can copy a salad base and swap out the other ingredients for a more nutritious topping or a Superfood.
You can turn your beverage craving into a form of liquid nutrition by replacing your sugary craving or alcoholic drink with one that contains a healing ingredient. See the list above.
Structured meal plans:
- Pick out a snack like an energy bar that uses processed ingredients.
- Swap that out for an unprocessed alternative like your own homemade protein ball.
- Replace a pre-packaged salad with the one you made at home.
- Then add a therapeutic superfood like Mushroom or Kale.
- If you are on a weight-loss meal plan you can substitute a processed fat-free meal for your homemade soup that doesn’t contain processed ingredients or preservatives. Top that with a therapeutic and metabolism-boosting food like Turmeric or Wakami (Seaweed).
Incorporate wholesome constituents into your pantry staples. Making them ahead will take the fuss out of your Mise-en-place
Download my FREE Mise-en-Place or Recipe Workflow (as it’s also called). This is a helpful tool for scaling a recipe.
While in culinary school, it was the first thing I learned to do and the most valuable paper tool I had in the kitchen. It’s much easier to pre-calculate portions ahead, instead of trying to do it during cooking.
Once you have the hang of it, it helps in scaling your recipes during meal planning because you can work out the exact amount of each ingredient, and see how you’re using it and how you are prepping it, etc.
- Choose a recipe theme based on your flavor craving eg. Chocolate.
- Replace the dairy chocolate with Raw Cacao, Cacao Butter, and Cinnamon.
- Develop a Soup recipe and incorporate ingredients that add extra flavor and have therapeutic benefits eg. Miso paste and Mushrooms.
9 Ways nutritional cooking will add value to your life
Cultivating knowledge about what is in your food and ingredients empowers you in the kitchen and boosts your confidence. I guarantee it will create a feeling of abundance that will infuse every aspect of your life.
- You will gain the confidence to cook with fresh, unprocessed ingredients
- You will become confident in sourcing healthy nutritional ingredients
- You will be self-assured with your cooking technique and knife skills
- You will be knowledgeable enough to talk to your family and friends, and coaching clients about nutrition
- You will feel comfortable with health terminology
- You will gain knowledge of nutritional constituents and its functions
- You will know how to incorporate healthy ingredients accurately into your recipes
- You will feel empowered to create dishes that are healthy and delectable
- You will be proud of creating healthy meals that do not compromise on taste appeal
Cooking whole, fresh, and unprocessed foods and choosing them thoughtfully (consciously) will positively affect all aspects of your life.
You will develop a set of culinary skills geared toward healthy meal creation and overall well-being.
Be mindful of the following:
- It’s not the clinical study of dietetics combined with food
- It is not a diet nor an eating plan or program
- It is the practice of understanding basic scientific information related to the nutritional benefits of unprocessed food and learning how to incorporate them as an aspect of your meals or the hero of your cooking repertoire
- What you consume and how you prepare it is the main focus
- It will encourage you to slow down and embrace patience as you take the time to contemplate food choices
- It focusses on foods that bring your physical and (often overlooked) mental health needs back into alignment
Conscious eating will affect your sense of being ‘wealthy’. You will feel enriched in every aspect of your life.
Prepping and cooking your meals with nutritional benefits in mind
How often do you swap out food and ingredients for unprocessed alternatives?
Feel free to comment below.
I value feedback as it gives me insight into what you value most about healthy cooking and eating.
*cravenutritionalcooking.com does not give medical advice. Where there is reference to it, it is used to illustrate a point or give context to food and cooking for nutrition. It is not related to a specific condition or to any specific individual. Always consult your healthcare professional for medical and dietetic advice before embarking on any type of eating plan or ingesting nutritional supplements.
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