If you're trying to eat healthier, keeping your core list of staples small(ish) and putting your effort into low-maintenance but flavorful dressings, sauces, and toppings can help you add variety without wasting a ton of time, money, and food
If you've ever tried to eat healthier, you probably know what it's like to find yourself in a “When was the last time I ate something that didn’t involve eggs and sweet potatoes??? Am *I* a sweet potato now?” spiral. Healthy eating can get super repetitive and sadly boring, particularly if you don’t have a ton of time, energy, and money to devote to meal planning and preparation. It's hard! But today we're here to share our best advice for avoiding burnout while still cooking wholesome foodstuffs for yourself: sauces. (And also dressings and other toppings.)
Why do we believe sauces are The Way, The Truth, and The Light? Well, your mileage may vary, but personally, we don’t want to spend a lot of time stressing about whether we’re going to mess up the chipotle rubbed grilled skirt steak that a food blogger swears is easy to make, even though it requires you to go to the back alley of a Whole Foods and tell a stranger named Amethyst, “Brittany from Leeks, Laugh, Love sent me” before handing over $17 for a sack of obscure peas. Yeah, sometimes we feel up for trying the skirt steak...but most weeks, we’d rather just make our favorite dish feel different with the help of a simple but elevated sauce we can actually handle, y'know?
The thing is, when you find something that works on your ~health journey~ it's totally reasonable to want to stick with that thing...but that means that once you discover some great frozen turkey burgers that are affordable and easy to cook, you may quickly find yourself eating a lot of frozen turkey burgers. But turkey burgers topped with salsa and some black beans can taste pretty damn different from turkey burgers and green beans slathered with a spicy chipotle mayo.
Also, sauces, dressing, and toppings are amazing! Would it be dramatic to say condiments are our lifeblood? GOOD. It’s because of sauce that we’re drawn to all of those bougie, healthy takeout lunches that inexplicably cost $13 (PLUS TAX). And it’s often the dressing that separates an OK restaurant from the one that makes you think “I live here now” whenever you eat there. A great store-bought dressing will definitely do in a pinch (and upgrading your store-bought dressings/toppings is a fantastic starting point if you aren’t ready to go all-in) but homemade dressings and creative toppings are where it’s at. Honestly, they don’t even have to be that creative. Pickled onions and garlic croutons aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but they go a long way. There’s a reason Beyoncé has hot sauce in her bag, y’all.
Plus, sauces and dressings are typically super easy to make and involve super basic ingredients (many of which you already own!), especially if they are the only new thing you’re making in a given week. We're going to go ahead and say that making eggplant and basil poached eggs with spicy buffalo garlic bacon (h/t Brittany at Leeks, Laugh, Love) is probably going to take more mental energy than making a garlic and basil aioli to put on your go-to scrambled egg recipe. (And that same aioli can easily go on a grain bowl and a turkey burger too, too!)
Sauces, dressings, and toppings are also typically very diet agnostic — or, at least, you can pretty easily find (or adapt) recipes to fit your diet, and use them to elevate vegetables, grains, and proteins, while staying dairy-free, low-fat, vegetarian, vegan, or whatever. And dressing and toppings are also so often fresh — think of an herby buttermilk ranch, or a handful of crunchy green onions — which can really breathe life into a food that’s healthy but bland (or that you’re beginning to resent in a way that vaguely concerns you).
Are dressings, spices, and toppings revolutionary? They are not. But given the deep history of white people not seasoning their food, it sort of feels worth reminding everyone, especially people trying to eat healthier, not to sleep on ‘em.
We would love to hear some of your go-to dressings, sauces, dips, and toppings in the comments, but if you're ready to embrace Sauce Theory, here's a list of some of our (and our friends') faves to get you started:
• Melissa Joulwan's sunshine sauce
• Melissa Coleman's sun-dried tomato vinaigrette
• Lindsay Ostrom's peanut sauce
• Michael Solomonov's hummus
• Jessica Merchant's whipped feta
• Amanda Areias' roasted bell peppers
• Fresh Direct's Rosemary Pecans, Walnuts, and Almonds salad topper
• Annie's salad dressings (for store-bought dressing)
• Any dressings/toppings/sauces from Alison Roman's cookbook Dining In and also her lemon-tahini dressing
• Ben's Cream Cheese (NY-specific, but so good, we had to include it)