I used to be a perfectionist both in and out of the kitchen. I followed strict diets and recipes so that I shaped my body and life ‘just right.’ Over the last 25 years, I’ve experimented with every fad diet in the world — from the carrot diet to the cracker diet, and everything in between. In those days I was either saying no to the heaping mounds of treats that were set in front of me or, when my willpower became exhausted, I would go crazy over them.
I know what it’s like to bounce between extremes of deprivation and excess; from self-loathing to self-loving. I’ve been there. Once I married my husband and birthed four children, though, I realized my life needed a makeover – and it was going to start in the kitchen.
I’ve come to realize that cooking (and life in general) is about flexibility. It’s about zigging and zagging in and out of extremes in an attempt to find happiness, health, and freedom. Today, I don’t deny myself. Rather, I make craveable meals fit into my lifestyle.
That’s what being a Flexible Chef is all about.
Here are some rules I live by. They have enhanced my life and will hopefully do the same for you.
1) Customize and healthify every dish
To become a flexible chef, start to look at recipes as springboards. You will begin to understand the essentials (or ‘rules’) of a recipe. While some rules must be followed, others are meant to be broken. The key is knowing where you have the freedom to experiment! Turn your kitchen into a laboratory and experiment until a recipe suits your tastes and your dietary choices.
Many comfort foods can be healthified and taste just as amazing as their original. Take pizza — rather than heavy, greasy, and gluten-filled pizza, I make cauliflower pizza. You can also make zucchini or eggplant pizza. As long as you have a base, sauce, and some cheese you can turn just about anything into pizza.
It’s the same with muffins and cakes. While they need flour, you don’t have to use bleached all-purpose flour. Experiment with coconut, almond, and brown rice flours. Also, ditch the refined sugar and use a different sweetener like coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, or dates.
2) Fix your flops and make them successes
One day, when my oldest son was just a baby, I decided to bake a loaf of bread. When my bread didn’t rise like it was supposed to, I got so mad that I threw the whole thing in the garbage. Today, I think back to that time and laugh. Now if my bread doesn’t come out the way I want it to, I just make breadcrumbs!
Sometimes flops can turn into your biggest successes. Some of my go-to dishes these days have come from experimenting with things that didn’t go my way. Rather than throwing things out or getting frustrated, just stop for a second and figure out other ways you can use it.
3) Be creative with using up leftovers and pantry staples
If you know me then you know I don’t like wasting food. So if I have leftovers, I don’t throw them out. Instead, I turn leftovers into something new. For example, if I make my beef lettuce cups and have some leftover ground beef then I save it and make my Paleo-friendly beef bolognese and spaghetti squash. If I have leftover cookie dough then I turn it into a pie crust. Get creative and stretch your ingredients! In my new video series, I show you how – come check it out.
4) Know the difference between “treat” food and “real” food
As far as I’m concerned there are only two categories of foods: Real Food and Treat Food. Focus on filling your plate with vegetables, lean proteins, gluten-free grains, and fruit most of the time, and indulge in a treat once in a while. I would say I eat real food about 90 percent of the time and splurge on treat food the other 10 percent. If you exhaust your willpower too much by consistently denying yourself the things you crave, you’re likely to cave and binge. If you eat too many treats, well, we’ve all been there and know how that turns out.
5) Learn to get flexible outside of the kitchen
Life throws us challenges every day. Most of us freak out and stress over them. I speak from experience. For your own sanity, learn to adapt to change. It will allow for freedom in all aspects of your life. How? Let some things go and give yourself a break (so that when the going gets tough you don’t break). Practice yoga or meditate when you can. Get grateful because gratitude is the secret ingredient to letting sh-t go.