Mary Alice Shreve, RD, LD is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian with a background in food marketing and the grocery industry. She attended The University of Alabama where she completed the Coordinated Program in Dietetics and graduated with a B.S. in Food & Nutrition. Mary Alice lives in Atlanta where she is working on her Masters in Health Science with a concentration in Nutrition at Georgia State University. She enjoys celebrating food through sharing her love for home cooking and wholesome, local ingredients.

Disclosure: CROPP Cooperative did not compensate nor sponsor me to write this post.

With the New Year approaching, resolutions tend to lay dormant in the back of our minds as we frequent holiday parties (and the dessert table). But don’t you think we should look forward to our resolutions rather than dread them? Do away with sweets? No way. Cut out carbs? No thanks! Rather than “eliminate,” I advise folks to “add” value and nourishment to their daily routines. And what better way to do that than through home cooking?

Last December I had the opportunity to road trip to several different towns across the Southeast. The different regions and personalities I’ve come across while enjoying everything from New Orleans Red Beans & Rice to Texas Red Chili to Alabama Biscuit Company Spelt Biscuits have reinvigorated my love for good food. This exposure to different cuisines has served as a reminder that some of the best ways to make New Year’s resolutions and improve health are to start in your very own kitchen.

Divine Spelt Biscuit from Alabama Biscuit Company/photo by Mary Alice Shreve

A recurring theme I’ve honed in on is that of a solid, homemade meal. It’s personal. It’s rewarding. It’s a great way to kick start 2017. So let’s get back in the kitchen and cook! What ingredients inspire you? What dishes make you excited? Begin there. And have fun.

Before I share with you some inspiration and ideas, I want to get one thing out in the open: Being realistic is key. Working a full-time job, having kids, or having a large family to feed on a budget are realities that may make it difficult to provide a from-scratch meal around the dinner table every night. My advice? Start where you are and make small changes. Every bit counts. Semi-homemade meals are perfectly wonderful.

First, the Foundation

When choosing your meals to prepare, focus on a wholesome balance of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Watch the salt (according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we should consume less than 2,300 mg per day – that’s less than one teaspoon). Watch the portion sizes – a good guide is found at USDA MyPlate.

Kick Things Off Right

Hosting or attending a New Year’s Eve party? Prep a snack board with nuts, cheese, veggies, hard-boiled eggs, whole grain breads, kimchi and dried and fresh fruits. Spice things up from your standard crudité platter – the key is in the artfulness. When making your artist’s palette, focus on lots of color (radishes, edamame, pomegranate seeds, persimmons, and kumquats), fresh herbs like basil and rosemary, and whole grain breads or crackers.

Fresh veggies from my dad’s garden/photo by Mary Alice Shreve

The Perfect 2017 Breakfast

I will forever stand by classic avocado toast as a way to start your day with protein and healthy fat. I recently tried adding a few drops of truffle oil to mine for a more gourmet twist. Regardless of how you top yours, go with a whole grain bread to complete a balanced, satisfying breakfast that can be whipped up in seconds.

It’s Been a Long Day

Batch cooking is always a savior if you have limited time (and an appetite) on your hands. Choose one day a week when you have an extra 30 minutes in the kitchen, and cook a large batch of whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, you know the mix). Keep some frozen chicken breasts and greens on hand, and you’ll be ready to toss together a balanced, easy dinner in no time.

Another easy hack? Buy whole grains in microwaveable bags from the freezer section – several groceries carry them. Sauté some fresh veggies, toast some of your favorite nuts and add an egg on top for a healthful protein bowl. We’re talking dinner in less than ten minutes, people.

Back to the “adding” concept- anywhere you can add veggies, beans, or whole grains to your dish, do! Craving pasta? Try a whole grain or protein pasta variety (there are lots of fun versions on the market today including quinoa and red lentil pastas), make a tomato sauce from scratch (It’s easy! Do a quick search online to find lots of simple and quick recipes), and toss in some greens and canned cannellini beans. Voila – an easy, delish, extremely satisfying meal.

Bottega Bowl from Bottega Café in Birmingham/photo by Mary Alice Shreve

Spice Up Your Life

How to keep your fridge and pantry stocked with the right flavoring agents? Focus on simple, flavorful ingredients. Shallots, garlic, carrot, onion, and celery are all winners. Have your favorite herbs – fresh or dried – on hand. Freshly cracked pepper can work wonders. Low sodium bouillon cubes (I use Edwards & Sons) are great to have around for seasoning soups and stews.

Save a Dollar

Save a little by purchasing whole grains and dried beans and legumes from the bulk section of your grocery. Keep these or low-sodium canned beans on hand in your pantry. Buying vegetables and fruits frozen is generally less expensive than buying them fresh. Stock up on some packs for when you can’t make it by the store for fresh produce.

The best part of home cooking? You don’t  have to be afraid to throw together your own concoctions! I give you full permission. You just may discover a new dish that becomes a classic in your kitchen. Now get in there and have fun. Happy 2017 cooking, y’all.