healthy greens for cooking at home

Swap these foods to make cooking easier and healthier.

Swap these foods to make cooking easier and healthier. 729 729 fortheindoorsy

Cooking at home is a big task. And to be honest, before I met Zach, I never, ever did it. I was always fast food or bust. But I think we’re all in agreement that eating out is really not that great for you. Sure there are exceptions (Zoe’s Kitchen, ily), but when I go to Texas Roadhouse with the purest intentions of ordering a salad, I can’t resist that freshly baked bread and cinnamon butter, and when that basket hits my table, all bets are off.

But the alternative of cooking at home is really not very appealing to me. First of all, lol cooking. Second of all, it can easily be just as expensive as going out to eat. And at that point, if it’s expensive and more difficult, I’m not doing it. Even if it is healthier.

So I’m all about simplifying and working with what you have. TBH though, I learned how to cook from Zach’s mom and Bon Appetit. But when I first started cooking, I was cooking v impressive meals that were v expensive (“2 saffron threads are $20 and I need 4 of them?!”). But as I watched Zach’s mom, I watched her adapt recipes to make the process of cooking way simpler and much more approachable.

easy ways to add vegetables to make your dinners healthier

The more I cooked and followed recipes, the more I realized all ingredients fall into categories. I’m not talking categories like proteins, carbs, and vegetables — I’m talking categories of flavors and textures. And the more I got used to the layouts of recipes, the more I became okay with substituting ingredients. And as that happened, I realized I could make recipes healthier.

And if I really didn’t feel like cooking and dealing with the complexity of a recipe (which is pretty much me all the time now), I could go rogue and cook without a recipe.

Now, for those of you who grew up with a chef like my mother-in-law, that last sentence is probably funny for you.

“Of course you can cook at home without a recipe LOL” *hair flip in slow motion* *laughs and rolls eyes while looking at friends (also laughing) crowded around you in a circle as you casually stroll away with your hair blowing in the wind and leave me by myself with a cracked egg I dropped on the floor*

BUT *LOL* NO I COULDN’T DON’T BE RUDE, REGINA GEORGE. My pantry is bare and cooking with what I had on hand was pretty much impossible.

So for all the people who don’t do things like Painting with a Twist and decorate cupcakes for fun, this is for you. Here is how you can cook things that aren’t pretentious, just healthy and good, with what you have in your pantry. And when you follow recipes that call for things you def don’t have (lol @ the fact all my food magazines seem to think I have whole green cardamom pods on hand), here are the things you can substitute that won’t mess up what you’re cooking.

replacing unhealthy ingredients (on the cheap!)

So if you stumble across a recipe online that has one of the ingredients on the list below, try to swap it for something in the same category. If you don’t have a recipe, I’ve outlined some base recipes that you can experiment with at the bottom of this post!

Before we even start though, here is one key principle for slacking off when it comes to recipes and still achieving a good result:

Ingredients with adjectives are a turnoff.

When I’m cooking preserved lemon is just as good as lemon, Aleppo-style pepper turns into any type of pepper, smoked paprika is paprika, bow-tie pasta = spaghetti. Yes, you might lose one element of flavor or texture, but you can add it in with something else (like salt for preserved lemon). Or you can just ignore it. Unlike the Cup Song, you’re not gonna miss it when it’s gone and it’s definitely not a reason to ignore a recipe.

And in the spirit of channeling every top reviewer on AllRecipes (“I made it exactly as the recipe stated except I replaced 100% of the ingredients. Def will make again!”), here are the things I substitute most frequently.

Herbs –

the easiest swaps ever. If you’re going from fresh to dried, use a little less and add a tiny bit of an acid (see below) to make it feel even fresher.

  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Bay leaves

Indian Spices –

mixing & matching is great here. I have a bunch of these and while it may not necessarily be authentic, the flavors are $$$$. Plus, it turns out a lot of Indian and Moroccan spice blends are actually just combinations of other spices. Mix whatever, but keep the amounts the same. And Google to search for substitutes if you aren’t feeling too adventurous.

  • Tandoori spice
  • Garam Masala
  • Turmeric
  • Vadouvan
  • Cumin
  • Cinnamon
  • Curry
  • Cardamom pods

Crunchy stuff

some discretion required. I wouldn’t ever try to crust a chicken in water chestnuts for example, but if you’re just looking for some bite on a salad or in a lettuce wrap, it would work.

  • Hazelnuts
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Fried Onions
  • Croutons
  • Water Chestnuts
  • Panko breadcrumbs
  • Rice cakes

cook what's in your pantry

Sugar –

basically the enemy. This swap is always one-way.

  • Raisins
  • Cranberries
  • Dried apricots
  • Dates
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Balsamic vinegar

Butters & Oils

this is actually pretty complex; I could honestly do a whole post on this, but for now I’ll just put these in order of highest to lowest smoke point (AKA the temp when an oil starts smoking and releasing carcinogens). Lighter-colored oils are generally more refined and thus, have a higher smoke point but might be less nutritionally dense than others. Because most unrefined oils are complete shit for you (unless they’re naturally refined), I’m just leaving those out.

  • Clarified butter (ghee)
  • Virgin Olive Oil
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Vegetable oil*
    *this is refined but I’m adding it to the list because it’s in so many recipes. Don’t even bother using this; anything is better for you — even refined canola oil!
  • Coconut oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Hempseed oil
  • Peanut/Soybean/Walnut oils
  • Canola oil
  • Butter

Carbs & grains –

probably the second easiest things to swap besides herbs. Check cooking times because they may vary, but most grains (except for quick-cooking) have a 2:1 water:grain ratio.

  • Barley
  • Farro
  • Couscous*
    *not very good for you; it’s actually just a pasta, so swap this out for sure
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Amaranth
  • Lentils
  • Millet
  • Quinoa

Sour cream & mayonnaise

just use greek yogurt.

Earthy vegetables

most of these are root vegetables or grow in the same season, so that’s one way to identify good vegetables to swap!

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Turnips
  • Butternut squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Brown/red potatoes


this is actually a fun one because the different textures of the vegetables in this list doesn’t really throw things off as much as you might think, especially in pastas or side dishes.

  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Asparagus
  • Green beans
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Spinach
  • Rainbow or Swiss chard

healthy greens for cooking at home

Pops of Color

think salad bar toppings. These are usually vegetables added to pastas or other dishes to add variety and nutritional value.

  • Celery
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Red/yellow/orange bell peppers
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber

An onion’s an onion

any color really because all of the things listed below are expensive, hard to come by, or never in my fridge.

  • Leeks
  • Chives
  • Shallots
  • Green onions


not the drug. This list has both foods that can make a dish interesting and some liquids that sauces call for because who knows what life will throw at you.

  • Lemon juice or zest
  • Lime juice or zest
  • Grapefruit
  • Artichokes*
    *honestly, just use canned because steaming these things is so not worth it
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Red Wine vinegar
  • White Wine vinegar
  • Balsamic Vinegar*
    *this is generally sweeter, but if you want to minimize the sweetness, avoid cooking it down AKA heating it too long that it becomes a syrup.


deserving of its own category. You’d be surprised how much a little bit of bacon can bring to a dish, but if you’re just not into saturated fat or if you’re vegetarian/vegan you’d be surprised how many things can go in its place.

  • Pancetta
  • Deli meat
  • Salted, shelled, roasted sunflower seeds
  • Olives
  • Corn nuts*
    *no, not a joke. Throw it in your potato soup, then who’s laughing?

adapting recipes to eat healthier

Now, put this new knowledge to work and try out some of these recipes. I’ve included what I do with them based on everything listed above; don’t be afraid to play — you won’t mess them up!

Bacon and Scallion Farroto

  • Use regular onions, any whole grain, and sub out the bacon. Add more chicken broth instead of white wine if you aren’t into getting a little drunk while cooking (I cannot relate)

Roasted Salmon with Celery and Bulgur

  • Swap out the bulgur for another grain, add cucumber or another vegetable for a pop of color and change out the root vegetable. For that bite of sweetness, swap the raisins for another dried fruit (see the “Sugar” section below)

Mascarpone Pasta with Artichokes and Hazelnuts

  • This is a tried and true for me. I sub out the milk, keep the mascarpone, use any kind of nut I have, use dried pasta, and add lots of vegetable for Pops of Color. This is one where ignoring adjectives is key. Basically the only thing I keep here is the sauce.

Baked Salmon with Lemon and Herbs

  • So simple — just sub out the herbs and the grain!

Cauliflower Ragu

  • I use any kind of onion, chicken broth if I drank all the wine, any type of herb, any type of pepper instead of the chili flakes, oil instead of butter, and this is one of my very favorite dishes.

Tandoori Carrots with Vadouvan Spice and Yogurt

  • I still don’t know what Vadouvan is, so I just mix a bunch of Indian spices together in the same amount and this. is. so. good.

If you have any suggestions, thoughts or things you’ve tried when cooking at home, leave me a comment to let me know!




Faster than Fast Food // quick + healthy baked salmon (in less than 20 mins)

Faster than Fast Food (seriously): Baked Salmon

Faster than Fast Food (seriously): Baked Salmon 2767 3754 fortheindoorsy

So let’s talk about dinner.

When you’re working 8-5 and sometimes longer than you’d like to admit, the worst thing in the world seems like cooking. Cooking for parties, sure. Cooking for a date, great. But cooking for yourself can be a major bummer, mostly because you’re tired AF and when it comes to prioritizing sleeping or eating, sometimes you’d rather just sleep (and do not sit there with your judgement and tell me I’m the only one who has wished I could do both simultaneously). But as soon as I think that, I catch my brain flipping through goals I’ve filed away like an old rolodex from the 80s: saving money, not eating food that is horrible for me, eating less red meat, etc. etc.

Now, let’s set the record straight: it took me a very, very long time to be convinced that cooking took just as long as picking up food. I grew up in a household where fast food was a staple, so 10-minute trips to Whataburger were a-ok because it was either Whataburger or bust. When I met Zach in college, he cooked, and that was very weird to me. We’d come home from the bars, I’d stumble into my room to change into pajamas and by the time I got back, I’d find Zach in a half-buttoned t-shirt and boxers heating up some potatoes in a cast-iron skillet. And when we got a little bit older, I’d call him after work lamenting about my day, asking him if we could just snag some fast food really quick instead of cooking. But he always insisted it would take just as long to cook.

Now, let’s be real: cooking for one isn’t the cheapest thing in the world, and the time required to cook vs. pick up food isn’t vastly different, but I think we can all agree there is a huge difference in the nutritional value between the two.

In the summer of 2012, I worked at a place chock-full of general athletes and health nuts and ex-Olympians (note: not an exaggeration) who lived incredibly healthy lives. At the same time, I was living in a spare bedroom at my friend’s parents’ house, and out of courtesy, I never wanted to occupy their kitchen for too long. Feeling the pressures of each environment, I got really damn good at the 15-minute dinner.

These recipes have become our staples, but they all have one thing in common: they are truly fast. For me, the advantage of take-out is the time savings, so I’ve designed these recipes so that they require approximately the same amount of time as driving to the nearest fast-food chain (about 7 minutes), waiting in line (about 5 minutes), and driving back home (about 20 minutes total time). They also are healthier and approximately as cost-effective (though TBH I am willing to pay a bit more for the added nutritional benefit).

Ultimately, I’ve created these recipes to be so mindless that not making them puts me in a whole other category of stubbornness that I am just not willing to admit to. They have multiple options for one ingredient in case you don’t have something on hand and are almost endlessly modifiable. Let the record show that I’m fully aware the techniques I outline break well-established rules. I’m sure Chef Gordon Ramsay would roast me for advising anyone to let the steam escape from the rice and I’m sure Betty Crocker is reeling from me not mentioning it should be fluffed with a fork. But these recipes are made for real life, not tv characters or advertisers, and I hope you find them helpful in breaking your raccoon-like eating habits of rummaging through the pantry and deciding to eat Triscuits for dinner (because we’ve all been there).

healthy salmon rice dinner recipe


*Indicates potential substitutes available, see notes below recipe

  • 6 oz. fresh salmon filet
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 handful fresh basil, thyme, sage, or some other herb you like*
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, minced**
  • 1/2 Tbsp Olive Oil or Nonstick Cooking Spray***
  • Uncle Ben’s Fast Cook Long Grain & Wild Rice
  • Parchment Paper
  • Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 425°.

Cook rice on stovetop according to package instructions. For faster cooking, keep water boiling with lid on, shaking pot to ensure rice doesn’t stick to bottom of the pan.

Remove peel and chop garlic. Set aside in a little pile. (Garlic sucks to peel. To speed this up, put garlic on its side, lay knife or something flat on top of it, and bang down on flat side of knife. This should smash the garlic and allow you to remove the peel easily; 10-second high-quality video clip here)

Chop/cut herbs into small pieces about the same size as garlic pieces. Sprinkle over salmon.

Grab a grater and zest the lemon directly over the salmon until salmon is lightly covered. If you don’t have a grater, hang on to your lemon until after the salmon is cooked.

Meanwhile, tear off parchment paper the length of a cookie sheet (roughly 3-4x the width of your salmon). Fold in half (hamburger half, not hotdog half) to crease. Unfold and place on cookie sheet.

Once rice has absorbed all the liquid, remove it from the stove and scoop it onto one side of the parchment paper. Put salmon directly on top of rice, skin side down.

Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper over salmon. Sprinkle garlic over salmon.

Spray top of salmon with nonstick cooking spray, ensuring salmon is covered. Alternatively, pour the oil on the salmon and rub in with the toppings.

Flip the 2nd half of the parchment paper over the top of the salmon and fold matching edges together to create a loose seal.

Cook for 12-15 minutes until salmon is opaque and flakes off easily with a fork.

Slide food off parchment paper onto a plate and squeeze lemon on top.


* 1/2 tsp dried herbs will work too

** if you’ve only got garlic powder, 1/4 tsp of that’ll do, and fun fact: minced garlic in a jar is even better for you!

*** I recommend Coconut Oil Cooking Spray because it’s easiest and it’s near impossible to mess up; totally okay if you have canola oil, avocado oil, etc. instead