We all have to eat. And the higher the quality of food we put in our bodies, the better we will feel. In response to our very busy lives, meal subscription services have taken off in popularity. Despite the criticisms that they are expensive, have too much packaging and don’t quite give you the choices you’d like, they are still a great way to get reasonably healthy meals without the planning. Grocery stores are beginning to carry instant, complete meals as well.

But, instead of paying high prices for ready-to-cook meals, how about making your own? They will be fresher and certainly taste better. It just takes planning, and even if you don’t consider yourself a cook, you can learn to prepare fresh wholesome meals without a lot of prep time or a lengthy list of ingredients. Cooking can become an interesting part of your life instead of a chore.

Planning is always the hardest part, but if you get in the habit of going to the market once or even twice a week, whether farmers market or grocery, it’s not so hard. Simply purchase whatever vegetables look freshest for the week. Or grow your own. Maybe you take a day on the weekend and prep everything. And most of all, keep it simple. Save the elaborate meals for when you have time on the weekend to spend more time in the kitchen.

First, make sure to stock your pantry with basics so you don’t have to purchase herbs, spices and seasonings every week. Here are some staples to start with:

Balsamic and cider vinegar, rice vinegar and mirin if you like to cook Asian

Good quality olive oil

Sea salt

Black pepper for grinding

Onions

Maple syrup — try to find grade B. Deeper flavor, less expensive

Fresh garlic

Grains: rice, quinoa, other grains you love

Pastas: couscous, orzo

Broth — chicken, vegetable, beef, bone

Canned beans of your choice — garbanzos, pintos, black, navy

Seasonings: chili powder, cumin, dried basil, smoked paprika, garlic powder

For perishables, keep basics on hand such as ricotta, plain yogurt, cheeses of your choice.

Let’s get started with this chopped salad. Shop and prepare it on the weekend, and use it through the week for a quick healthy lunch or dinner side.

CHOPPED SALAD

The key to this salad is to make the base of any vegetables that will hold up for a few days after being chopped.

1 cup finely chopped broccoli

1 cup finely chopped cauliflower

1/2 cup slivered brussels sprouts

1/2 cup chopped sweet peppers

1/2 cup grated carrot

Mix and put in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When ready to eat, take out a half cup of the chopped salad and add onion, cucumber, nuts, dried fruits, seeds, cheese or any other ingredient that you have in the fridge. You can add cooked chicken, rice or even leftover pasta. Different ingredients can make it a totally new salad every day.

Dress with your favorite vinaigrette or creamy dressing. Or, simply brighten with a splash of lemon, lime or orange juice.

Kate Jerome, a Kenosha writer and teacher, holds a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and is the former Urban Farm director at Gateway Technical College. She is the owner of the consulting business Kate Jerome’s Garden to Kitchen. Her website is www.kjerome.com.

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