About 10 years ago, before we had kids, my husband and I would spend about an hour and $75 a week on grocery shopping. That included getting to the (one) store and back and the time spent planning our meals. Which was zero time. There was no planning and barely even a grocery list unless we had guests or it was Thanksgiving. We ate tons of boxed foods, and hardly any fresh veggies.
Well, there’s a lot that having kids can change, aside from just your youthful looks and TV show schedule. So, yes – we added more fresh veggies to our meals, and actually cooked meals, but were still pretty clueless, which resulted in often boring or flavorless dinners. We also either had to constantly run back to the store for things we didn’t have, and ended up throwing away a ton of food that didn’t get eaten. Sound familiar?
How did we bust out of this dull dinner rut?
Simple: we just started looking through our cookbooks and not just when it was time for dinner, but actually a week before! Out of this we started meal planning and list writing (nothing fancy, just scrap paper). Before we pick our meals for the week, we do a quick check through the fridge, freezer, and pantry to see what needs to be used up first, or stuff that expires soon. Next, we add the items we buy anyways (like milk, lunchmeat, eggs, etc.), and lastly we ask the kids for 1 or 2 requested dinners so they can’t say we never make what they want.
We try to pick the more time-consuming dishes for the weekends or those nights we don’t have any late work commitments. Other days get the simpler dishes, and this has worked great for us. And that’s how easy meal planning can be 🙂
But buying cookbooks can seem daunting to people, and I get it: there are soooo many! So to make things a little easier for you, I figured I’ll give you a peak onto my bookshelf for some tried and true examples.
These are in order of “beginner healthy cook” to “intermediate” to “pretty good homecook”. Nothing super fancy or complicated here. I may do a follow up post for some other books I love but just haven’t cooked much from yet to give a proper review. Anyways – enough rambling. Here we go:
The title says it all – this is a great beginners book as it tells you everything about all the basics and it has a TON of pictures to follow recipes step by step. If you’re the kind of person that burns or overcooks things constantly, start with this book.
It’s not paleo or any particular diet, but gets you on board with cooking from scratch, and leaving the processed foods on the store shelf. Furthermore it teaches you everything from how to build your pantry, how to build flavor, knife skills, and so much more.
Favorite recipe from this book:
Garlicky white bean soup. So, so good – I mean anything that uses a whole bulb of garlic must be good, no?
Best part? You can win a copy of this book to get you started on your journey to real foods. How to enter the giveaway: CONTEST CLOSED; winner has been notified.
100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake
This was one of the first books I bought when we started our journey away from crappy premade, processed foods. I don’t use it that often anymore now, but it was an invaluable companion in getting some real food ideas that the whole family could enjoy. Most recipes are totally kid friendly, although sometimes a bit too simple.
Just like the previous book, the recipes here are not all paleo friendly, often including dairy, and grains. Nevertheless it’s a great inspiration for starting healthier family meals, and has tons of ideas for packing school lunches that go way beyond a PB&J or ham sandwich.
Pumpkin muffins – I’ve made these so many times, and later put my own twist to them. They freeze well, and take very little time and effort.
Whole Wheat Biscuits: my husband knows this recipe by heart now. We started making these for weekend breakfasts, and while not the same as those out of the blue can, they’re simple and delicious, and don’t contain any nasty transfats, preservatives, or other weird ingredients.
Who doesn’t like to save some money on meals? This book has some great ideas on how to stretch your food dollars and make tasty meals out of inexpensive ingredients, in sometimes unexpected ways: it was from this book that we tried roasting radishes for the first time and we totally loved them.
Shrimp & White Bean Gratin – white beans, rosemary, and garlic make an insanely good flavor combination. It’s even kid approved!
Classic apple tart – many of the recipes are influenced by the time the author spent in France, but don’t be intimidated by French cooking. This apple tart recipe is easy and quick, and sooo good!
You don’t have to be a runner to enjoy this cookbook. Although it’s packed with nutritional information for athletes, your average Joe (or Jane) can totally make these recipes and benefit from them too.
This book is a perfect transition from the more basic ones into the next level of healthy cooking. You’ll get introduced to a bit more complex dishes all without the use of refined sugars, flours, or other empty calorie foods.
Curry lentil soup – the first time we made this I was worried whether the kids would eat it. Well, I wasn’t worried for long: they loved it! This soup packs a ton of veggies and so much flavor. It’s even better the next day, and freezes well, so make a big batch and be set for days.
Superhero muffins – these are a meal in a muffin. Packed with yummy oats, zucchini, carrots, and chocolate (yes!), these muffins keep you full for a while and don’t spike your blood sugar like most others do.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram for a while you know how much I love Danielle Walker’s recipes. This cookbook has quickly become our family favorite and we cook out of it almost every week. Rarely do I come across a cookbook where I actually make so many dishes and keep making them again and again. You can tell that the recipes have been tested before as they always come out perfect.
All of these recipes are paleo friendly and the majority is also kid-friendly 😊
Favorite recipes (too many to list):
Mexican Chicken Chowder – it’s made with a bit of roasted tomatillo salsa, which you should totally make a double batch of because it’s the bomb over tacos or eggs, or just with tortilla chips. The soup recipe makes enough for 6+ and freezes great for leftovers.
Lemon & Currant Scones – this is a great recipe for your leftover almond pulp when you make your almond milk. They are to die for and while they’re best fresh out of the oven, I also like to freeze the extra ones (make a double batch!) and just stick them in the toaster to warm up.
Yes, another one. This 2nd book of hers is just as good as the first one with even more easy, grainfree, dairy free, and refined sugar free recipes. If you’re starting your way towards a low carb, or paleo, or even just a low sugar diet, get this book. Just like her first book, it’s packed with tips on how to stock a healthy pantry, how to make your basic kitchen staples, and how to replace your once beloved grains and dairy with tasty alternatives.
California Chicken Wraps – the grainfree wraps are easy to make and can also be used as a substitute for crepes, or quesadillas. My son loves this dish because he gets to assemble his own meal. One tip: make extra dressing. This is the best tasting ranch dressing ever and it’s a perfect dip for your veggie snacks during the week or as a party appetizer.
Smoky roasted sweet potatoes – I made these on Christmas morning and they were a huge hit with everyone. The sweetness of the potatoes gets perfectly balanced with the smoky spices, and the salty, fatty goodness from the crisped up bacon. YUMM!
Speaking of holiday cooking: she has a 3rd cookbook out, called Celebrations, that gives holiday and special occasion themed recipes. That book has a cranberry sauce recipe that I could eat by the spoonful. I don’t even eat it with the turkey but use it more so to top my waffles, pancakes, or ice cream with it.
After drooling over the food pics of these 2 sisters on Instagram I finally just ordered their book (they actually have 2). This book is a bit more on the advanced side but not much. And the only reason I say that is because the recipes are with ounces of weight and not cups of volume. Some of them have a bit more ingredients but don’t let that scare you off. Just stick those to your days where you have a bit more time to prep and cook.
Their recipes are heavily influenced by their Filipino heritage, but that’s exactly what makes it fun and interesting. Think ad cook outside the box and get inspiration from all corners of the world.
Roasted chicken thighs with watercress salsa verde – the first time we made this, my husband admitted that he wasn’t so sure about it until after he had a bite. I love this dish because it actually comes with a veggie side which is often lacking with recipes.
Spinach & bacon tart with almond crust – I love quiche anyways, so when it has bacon in it and sweet little cherry tomatoes bursting with flavor, then it’s a win win. Bonus for the grainfree crust made of almond flour. Tip: put some parchment paper in the form first and it’ll be much easier to get out.
I picked this book up in a touristy bookstore in New Orleans and schlepped it around for half a day in my purse. It was worth the pain. This is not a dieter’s cookbook by any means. But this book teaches you what makes good food great, and that’s the quality of its ingredients and the time put into making things right. Like slow simmered stocks, and stocking up your spice cabinet.
I love the spice mixes we made for some of the dishes like the gumbo below – make extra and sprinkle it on your eggs. You’ll thank me later 😊
Gumbo with red beans & rice – here’s where you learn how to make creole seasoning so you can leave that MSG filled crap at the store. This recipe was amazing and makes even better leftovers!
Stewed Okra & Tomatoes – the ultimate Southern summer side dish. It may sound odd, but don’t knock it til you tried it. Perfect over some rice and sweet gulf shrimp. Even my kids ate it and they usually only like the crispy breaded okra we make.
So, what are your favorite cookooks and why? Let me know in the comments so I can load my amazon cart full of new goodies. (Dear husband: I’m just kidding! Well, just a little…)
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