In the United States, there are more and more instances of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer that seem like they are running rampant. The truth behind most of these chronic (long-term) issues is diet (what you eat). It’s a very simple yet elusive truth that many people don’t understand fully: “what you eat directly affects your health”. So if all you eat is hyper-processed foods (chips, crackers, store-bought pastries and bread, frozen meals, Ramen and similar products, artificial sweeteners like aspartame, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), MSG, etc), your health is at a major risk.
The more “whole” a food is, the better. An apple > apple sauce > apple juice. In fact, juice should be avoided because it causes a spike in blood sugar similar to drinking a soda and offers no fiber (like you’d find in a real apple) and minimal nutritional value. The new motto for healthy living should be “Eat anything you want, but cook it yourself.” If you want French Toast, then make it homemade (don’t buy the pre-packaged stuff). It’s super easy and can use the remaining “egg batter” to make scrambled eggs- just add some cheese. I made homemeade French Toast when I was 10 years old and it’s so much better than anything commercially-made!
There is no food that is necessarily “bad” unless it’s a fake food and/or loaded with chemicals and fake ingredients (read: margarine, artificial sweeteners, MSG, HFCS, chemicals used to mimic flavorings like in flavored syrups for coffee drinks). If you want a hamburger, make it yourself at home! Buy some ground beef, chop up an onion, add some seasoning (Worcestershire is always tasty) and either grill em, use a George Foreman, or pan-fry them. Add cheese if you’d like after you take them off the cooking source. Homemade buns are pretty easy, but if you must, the store-bought brand from the deli section is ok in a pinch.
Since the 1970s there has been a drastic reduction in the amount of cooking done in the home. In fact, it’s been a decrease of 50% and most people equate cooking with “having no life” or being “boring” but in reality, these things are great because it allows a freedom of expression on a daily basis. The average American spends 34 minutes cooking and 4 minutes cleaning up (I don’t know about you, but when I cook, I make a mess of the kitchen and it definitely takes me way longer than 4 minutes to clean up! Just doing a load of dishes is 5-10 minutes, depending on the “dirty” factor.) Also, depending on the meal I’m making, it usually takes me 20 minutes of just prep time alone, plus cooking time, and some inactive time in there as well (waiting for water to boil, hard eggs to cook, etc). This information, essentially, means that people aren’t even really cooking, they are preparing some sort of a pre-made or partially made meal, like Hamburger Helper or similar. I can’t even eat these things because I’m so “spoiled” and so used to real food that I take one bite and I’m done! Yuck!
Our culture makes it seem so stressful and boring to cook. Makes it seem like we don’t have “time” to cook or to make a great meal ourselves. This couldn’t be further from the truth! There are 6 tips I’d like to give to ensure you can create great, simple, home-cooked meals on a consistent basis without breaking the bank:
- Invest in good equipment and tools (check Ebay, Amazon, and local Salvation Army or Goodwill for great products at inexpensive prices! I got a 8-10 piece Farberware pots and pans set with lids off Ebay for $80, shipped to my door.)
This is probably the main reason why so many people don’t cook- they have flimsy pans, they burn things because of said pans, and/or they don’t use the correct knives or prep tools for the job. The most basic tools that will give you the most use and benefit are: saucepans and mixing bowls (multiple sizes), 1 stock pot, 1 frying pan/skillet (10” or 12”), rubber spatula (get 2-3), spatula (rubber/non-stick safe and metal), whisk, good oven mitts, jelly roll pan/cookie sheet, chef’s knife (1-2), different sized cutting boards (3-4 minimum), serrated bread knife, garlic press, can opener, digital cooking scale ($10), blender/food processor/immersion blender, KitchenAid Mixer (this is pricy but SO worth it!). You don’t need all these at once, but get supplies as you need them. Start with the pots, pans, and utensils.
- If you don’t know how to do a certain task, look up a video about it
Don’t know how to cut up an onion, peel garlic, or properly chop up a bell pepper, zucchini, or squash? Look up a video on YouTube or similar. Even I’ve looked up how to do things (different types of cuts for carrots) from time to time. Don’t be shy or embarrassed- be confident that you’re taking the reins on cooking for your health!
- Ask for help
Not everyone can do everything, and if you know someone who is a great cook or who is a great tutor/teacher and cooks a lot, this person would be a great reference tool. Ask them to come over for an afternoon of teaching you “the basics” on cooking.Or look to Julia Child’s Book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” which tells you how to do EVERYTHING in cooking and also includes the assumptions that recipes don’t always state (like trimming off fat of meat, sifting flour and other dry ingredients for baking, and how to properly chop an onion). I own this book and love it. It also has recipes that I’m dying to try!
- Don’t be intimidated by others who are better cooks than you
The best thing you can do if you know someone who is a great cook is to have them advise you on your own cooking. They can help you learn how to mix cake batter properly, how to know when cookies are done, how to check the temperature of meat to see if it’s fully cooked (vs opening it up to check the color), etc. This person started out simply and basic one day, so don’t think they’re a goddess or a god just because they are a gourmet chef now. (I started with Kraft Mac n Cheese!)
- Strive to learn and to try new recipes A LOT and accept that there will be flops from time to time
Even I have my share of recipes that didn’t turn out well. I’m usually bummed but for the most part, I take it in stride. Now I know what NOT to make! But maybe it was a technique issue, too much flour, the recipe wasn’t properly tested, etc. It’s best to get your recipes from actual cookbooks or online searches after viewing 10 reviews (versus magazines) because you can see what other people think (online) and generally published cookbooks have tested the recipes (but not always).
- Have fun
Cooking isn’t meant to be a race, be stressful, or be anxiety-producing! It’s a form of self-expression that gives the cook the ultimate opportunity to be creative and enjoy slowing down the pace each day and to enjoy a great meal afterwards. If you’re not having fun, pour yourself a small glass of wine to drink while cooking and turn on some Jazz music on Pandora and slow down. Tell anyone nagging you while in the kitchen to buzz off. The kitchen should be your sanctuary and a place where you can relax. If it’s not, try to think of ways you can make it so.