How do you revamp the way you cook for your family with health in mind? Follow author Julia Turshen’s lead with a smartly stocked pantry and her arsenal of delicious, go-to recipes.
Two years ago, my wife, Grace, and I moved from Brooklyn to a tiny town in upstate New York. In trading the city for the country, one of the biggest changes is that we now cook 99 percent of everything we eat. There aren’t many restaurants in our quiet part of Ulster County, and takeout is no longer in our vocabulary. Luckily, we both love to cook; in fact, shortly after we moved in, I hunkered down to finish my cookbook, Small Victories, which is all about getting people excited to prepare meals and to help them feel calm and comfortable in their kitchens—just like Grace and I feel in our own.
But sometimes life throws you a curveball. Last year, just as we had settled into our new home, Grace was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 35, and this introduced a lot of changes into our lives. Nowhere were they more dramatically felt than in the kitchen, the place I had spent so much time perfecting the foods we both loved: chocolate cake, raspberry jam buns, lasagna, chicken skillet pie. Suddenly, these recipes could no longer be part of our routine. In order for Grace to feel her best—and, honestly, for me to feel mine—we had to say good-bye to anything that would spike her blood sugar and require extra shots of insulin.
As the resident worrier of our family, I figured it was easier to eliminate temptations rather than attempt to resist them. I did a sweep of our cabinets, refrigerator and freezer and brought bags of food to our local food pantry. Out went the pasta, white rice, jam, maple syrup, barbecue sauce, crackers, ice cream (in multiple flavors), organic chicken fingers, and any of the other refined carbohydrates and sugar we were used to having around.
When tasked with filling our newfound pantry space, our goal was to make it all but impossible to whip up anything besides a healthy dish. Into our cupboard went a variety of nuts and unsweetened dried coconut, my new breading for chicken tenders. Where I used to reach for honey and other sweeteners, I now use coconut sugar, which delivers the best bang for the glycemic index buck, to sweeten our rice vinegar pickles and roasted pears. We stocked up on high-quality canned tuna for quick lunches and tins of anchovies to make flavorful dressings. Our counters are always filled with lemons, limes, onions and garlic, and our refrigerator is never without local eggs, tons of vegetables and leftovers like extra roast chicken (which we reinvent into other meals instead of snacking). Our freezer has extra-lean meat like chicken breasts and ground turkey, and frozen vegetables for when we don’t have fresh or can’t be bothered to wash another bunch.
Once we had our healthy staples in place, the cooking came easy. When I look into our cabinets and pull open our kitchen drawers, instead of missing things we used to eat, I’m grateful for the healthy, happy life we have now. And I’d call that my biggest victory yet.