Make the effort to cook healthy food

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One of the top reasons for unhealthy eating patterns that I hear from community members is, “I know what to do; I just have a hard time actually doing it.” Or, “I’m too busy to eat healthy” and “It’s too expensive.” My favorite is,  “I know I shouldn’t eat out so much, but I don’t know how to cook healthy.”

If you fit into any of these categories, today is your day! 

We all know that physical activity is important for overall health; eating more calories than you burn leads to weight gain, sugar adds lots of unwanted pounds and health risks, and fiber helps manage blood pressure, blood sugar, weight and cholesterol as well as lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease. The problem arises when it is time to apply that information. Suppose you find a recipe that aligns with all of the current, research-based dietary information, but it appears the recipe is too time-consuming or you don’t have all of the ingredients. Don’t count out that recipe without considering the following.

Consider this recipe for sweet potato turkey shepherd’s pie: https://www.skinnytaste.com/sweet-potato-turkey-shepards-pie/. Taking care of the prep work beforehand is the key to saving time. If buying pre-chopped vegetables is in your food budget, they can be huge time savers. If not, do the work ahead of time. 

For this recipe, cut and boil the sweet potatoes, brown and drain the turkey, and cut the vegetables ahead of time. In order to save even more time, go ahead and prepare the mashed sweet potato topping in full, keeping it in the fridge for the following night when you plan to put the recipe together. If you already have leftover mashed potatoes, use them as an “ingredient swap” or as a “pre-prepared ingredient” instead of thinking of them as boring leftovers.

Yes, swapping the sweet potato topping for leftover mashed potatoes would alter the nutritional information shown in the recipe, as well as the taste, but you are swapping potatoes for potatoes. It is also possible that your family does not like everything in the recipe or you could not find everything included in the recipe. Don’t fret!

I made this recipe last night, and my greatest tip to you (aside from prepping some parts ahead of time) is to use recipes as a guide. It can be easy to pass up a great recipe because you do not have all of the ingredients, but recipes aren’t rules! There is more than one way to do things, right? Recipes are no different. 

This recipe suggests that you peel the sweet potatoes, however, I chose not to peel the potatoes because I knew I was planning to throw them into a blender and essentially make a puree. Leaving the skin on is extra fiber! My blender is smaller than average so I had to split my potatoes up into groups and blend them a little at a time. During this, I later realized that I never added the sour cream — oops! They still tasted great!

Rather than using the vegetables suggested in the recipe, I used half a bag of mixed peppers and onions sautéed up and mixed with a can of drained mixed vegetables (corn, potatoes, carrots, lima beans and green beans). While preparing the meat mixture for the pie, I realized I did not buy tomato paste, so I used ketchup. Finally, I didn’t have rosemary or fresh garlic on hand. I substituted Italian seasoning for the rosemary and garlic powder for the cloves of garlic. 

My shepherd’s pie turned out great, and I was able to use the recipe as a guide to make it my own. If you are looking a vegetarian option, use vegetable stock rather than chicken stock. Mushrooms, beans or lentils make for a great turkey swap. The point is, recipes aren’t rules, and recipes can be prepared in stages to save time. Just because the recipe calls for “fresh” does not mean you have to use fresh items if they aren’t available or in season. Frozen or canned options are great ways to save money as well as shopping at farmer’s markets. Reuse leftovers as “pre-prepared ingredients.” 

For more information, contact Cassidy Hobbs at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Wilson County Center by calling 252-237-0111 or emailing cdhobbs3@ncsu.edu.

Sweet Potato Turkey Shepherds Pie

Make adaptations as needed to suit your family’s tastes.

For the potatoes

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, diced

3 cloves garlic

1/2 cup 1 percent milk

1/4 cup fat free chicken broth*

2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste

For the filling

1 pound 93 percent lean ground turkey

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 parsnip, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

8 ounces mushrooms, diced

10 ounces frozen mixed vegetables 

2 tablespoons flour (leave out to make gluten-free)

1 cup fat-free low-sodium chicken broth*

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon freshly chopped rosemary

Salt and pepper


Boil sweet potatoes and garlic in a pot of salted water until cooked and soft. Drain and mash with chicken broth, sour cream, salt and pepper. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large saute pan brown turkey; season with salt and pepper. When cooked, set aside on a plate. Add olive oil to the pan, then add the onion and sauté one minute. Add the celery, parsnip, salt and pepper to taste; cook about 12 minutes, until celery is soft.

Add garlic and mushrooms; sauté another 3-4 minutes. Add flour, salt and pepper and mix well. Add frozen vegetables, chicken broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, cooked turkey and mix well. Simmer on low about 5 to 10 minutes. 

In six oven-safe individual dishes spread 1 cup of the meat mixture on the bottom of each dish. Top each with 1/2 cup mashed sweet potatoes. Use a fork to scrape the top of the potatoes to make ridges; sprinkle with paprika. Bake 20 minutes or until potatoes turn golden. Remove from oven and let it cool 10 minutes before serving.

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