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28 Oct Adventures with Ami: Plant-Strong Kitchen 101

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We got our first microwave in 1980.  It had a dial instead of buttons.  I remember cooking in it as a kid – poorly I might add.  It changed the way things were done at our house.  We didn’t have to ‘cook’ any more, we could just heat stuff up.  If you are 45 or younger, you may have grown up eating TV dinners, frozen pizza, mac n’ cheese in a box, bologna sandwiches and other pre-fab food.  The hot pocket generation!  My Mom worked a lot and my sister and I often cooked dinner for ourselves. We’d make it fun by pretending to be on a cooking tv show.  The results were often disastrous! When I had home economics in the 8th grade, I barely passed the class.  I was supposed to cut up a whole chicken and I de-boned it instead.  I still remember my teacher shaking her head hopelessly at me. I have never been one for following instructions.

I was marveling the other day at how big the frozen food aisle was at the grocery. You can get everything pre-fabricated these days. From pizza rolls to pancakes – no one needs to know how to cook any more. Steam in bag vegetables, potatoes, and shelf stable rice have changed the way we approach cooking as a nation.  Home Economics classes have all but disappeared.  I get tons of emails each week regarding How-to’s in the kitchen and the number one thing my clients want to learn is how to cook plant-strong.  Some have never baked a potato or ever made rice from scratch.  There is no shame in this, it’s just how we grew up in the age of pre-fab food.

Going plant-strong doesn’t have to be stressful.  It doesn’t have to consume your life. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef.   Sure, there are things you need to learn, but not all in one day.  You don’t have to make recipes with giant lists of ingredients.  You can make things as simple or as complicated as you want them to be.  This series is all about the simple.  This blog in particular is going to focus on basic tools and preparing your kitchen/family to be plant-strong.


All you need: a good non-stick frying pan, a cookie sheet, a good non-stick pot with a lid for rice ( I recommend one that you can put a steamer insert inside), a colander, a can opener, a cutting board, a good knife.

That’s it.

You do not need an arsenal of fancy equipment.  You don’t need specialty small appliances like a blender.  You don’t need to worry about non-stick coatings, other things like oils will do far more damage to your health.  Non-stick pans have come a long way since their introduction decades ago.  A good non-stick pan will make your life a lot easier, making oil-free dishes much more successful.  A good knife will make all the difference in your life as well.  I was always a cheapskate when it came to knives. I’d buy the cheap set, so I’d have every variety. None of them working very well.  Now I operate my kitchen with one knife a majority of the time.  Pick a good brand that feels good in your hand, my favorite knife is a Santoku, Hollow Edge 5 inch knife. I use it for almost everything.

Next… Get a garbage can or a box.

Start going through your cabinets and refrigerator.  Get rid of anything with meat, dairy, oil of any kind, high fructose corn syrup, anything with sugar in the first three ingredients, and anything that is not 100% whole grain.  Donate unopened packages to a food pantry, give food to a neighbor or toss it. If you are in a household with others, this can be tricky.  I recommend a family meeting. Discuss what being plant-strong means to you, your health, your future as a family and the kind of support you need.  For some, this means having a separate cabinet where non-plant-strong foods live, for others it means asking a family to give it a try for awhile.  Simple statements like: Having peanut butter in the house is really tough for me, so we are not going to have it in the house for one month, I hope you can support me in this endeavor. Or… I know this sounds tough, but let’s think of it as a learning adventure that we can have fun with together!  The point is to share this with your family so they know you are going to try it for a little while, not necessarily forever.  Going through cookbooks together an help as well.   If family members get to help pick the menu or dishes to try, they may be more excited to eat them. Check out the ebook The College Greens wrote specifically for families and kids! If in the end, you find yourself in a household, going it alone, we are here to support you in that effort.

Next week we will discuss meal planning.

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Ami Mackey
Ami Mackey

Ami Mackey is the Communications Director at Engine 2. She is also a food coach at Engine 2 Extra and has been plant-strong since 2011. When she isn't attending to all things Engine 2, she is the Program Director at St Louis All City Boxing a nonprofit youth program. She has earned certificates from eCornell in Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness Nutrition from NASM.

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  • Retha Cheek

    The bigger issue is not having peanut butter in the house as it is plant strong and there are many organic and sugar-free options for this product available, so it was a poor example for the target audience who may not even have a firm grasp on what plant strong is. The harder task for new and learning families is usually giving up meat. If your example would have been “Let’s try whole foods vegetarian for a month and see how that goes. We can cook everything from scratch together and make it fun.” I would have said this was a five-star article … As it is three stars, but I do absolutely love the first two-thirds.

    • Ami Mackey

      Thanks for your comment Retha :) The example is actually from a mom who has been doing this alone in her household. The kids love peanut butter, but for her, it’s a huge issue having it in the house. So she sat down and talked to the kids and they actually came up with neat ideas for other sandwiches they could make. For everyone – it’s something different. The point is… talk to your family :)

  • Starla

    I’m looking forward to next week’s blog on meal planning. That is where I struggle the most. I think I have been trying to make meals that are too complicated, with “strange” ingredients, because I’m having a hard time getting my husband and kids to eat a more plant-based diet. I think I need to go back to the very basics and serve things like homemade baked french fries, baked potatoes, and simple salad.

    • laurie

      we did this about a month ago and so far everyone is happier. SIMPLE. The kids like it much better. we set a different type of meal for each night of the week: Monday lentils and rice stew, Tuesday fill your own tortillas, Weds pasta with pick your own toppings, Thursday rice and stir fry, Friday homeade veggie burgers and potatoes, Sat make your own topping pizzas and Sun soups/stews. Always with salads on the sides. It just works for us and the kids know what to expect and they LIKE simple.
      Good luck.

      • Starla

        Laurie, that is some GREAT advice, especially for families with smaller children that are trying to incorporate a plant-based lifestyle.

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  • sflood

    Great post. I couldn’t help but laugh, but believe it or not, those of us who are over 45 could have also grown up eating tv dinners, mac and cheese from a box, bologna sandwiches and pre-fab food. We had this thing called an oven where my Mom cooked tv dinners and a stove where she prepared the mac and cheese from the box. We even had bologna way back then. Thanks for the laugh! Except now I’m feeling pretty old.

  • FrankR

    Simplify! Foods, preparation, appliances.
    (also your first two paragraphs could go)

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