I fell in love with cooking since I was young. In my family, there is a habit of preparing food every day and taking the time to enjoy it during lunch or dinner or, if possible, both. I am lucky here, the habit of eating homemade food came to me since I was a kid, and this helped for me to fall in love with cooking later on.
The smell in the kitchen, while the crushed garlic was dancing in a profound rhythm with butter and onions, was mesmerizing. The “food tester’s job,” while my mom was cooking, was my favorite. I was there for every ready-to-try bite and nod as if the chef at the hottest “5 Star-Michelin” restaurant was giving the “OK” for a newly prepared dish. Looking at the whole variety of spices without knowing what they were, their names or where they came from, just smelling them and trying to understand the close relationship between senses of taste, look, and smell.
Don’t let the excuse box to be filled with your cooking time… your health will pay the consequences.
Well, we all get older, and things change. Changed for me too! I got into the comfort zone of just preparing breakfast once in a while, most of the time consisting of a cereal bowl and milk or, if the stars were aligned in the proper way, an egg was placed in an oiled pan to be fried and eaten with two toasted slices of bread. I bought everything else: pizzas for dinner, sandwiches for lunch, and I tried every food delivery near the office. There was no time for complications; the routine was hard enough between my job, exercises (big fat lie!), business trips, getting home exhausted, and social life on weekends. We favor the simple things and put away in “the excuse box” everything else that will make us “get up and do!”
Cooking was in “the excuse box” for me, and my health was beginning to pay the toll of my habits. How? Well, my body was changing very fast, I was gaining weight and feeling tired while doing simple tasks, allergies were more frequents and, for some reason, I felt like if I were becoming a great magnet for diseases. I was getting sick easily, my trips to the restroom were very inconsistent, and I started noticing that food was giving me extreme heartburns, and thus really bad nights. I used to wake up in the middle of the night with such massive reflux that antacids were like candies on Halloween.
First of all, what is cooking?
Merriam – Webster dictionary defines cooking as “the art or style of preparing food…” Our digestive system is in charge of processing what we eat, separating the nutrients and absorbing them, but our body needs help. It wouldn’t be as efficient if we ate raw cereals, raw grains or generally, uncooked food. Most of the nutrients would be wasted or not digested properly, so we need to pre-process the food to help our system digest it. Also, cooking contributes to killing many of the microorganisms that are present in raw food (especially meats), responsible for foodborne illnesses.
Cooking is essentially done through heating. In the beginning, Fire was the primary source of heating, but nowadays we use microwaves, electricity, propane and other sources to heat up the food and cook it. There are other ways to help pre-process what we eat, like fermentation (chocolate is one of them and cheese), but this will be a good material for a future post.
Why is important to cook at home?
It’s about taking control! Cooking at home is better for your health. At least it is in my experience and probably for many of you too. Considering we all need to eat to function as organic forms of life properly, it is important to control not only how much we eat, but the type and quality of the food we put in our mouths. If we cook, we will be more conscious of the process, from the beginning (buying ingredients) to the end (eating the food). My health improved once I took control of my eating habits, and that mainly included cooking at home.
When cooking at home, you take control of what ingredients are being used to prepare the meal. There are differences in the type of ingredients you can use at home compared to a restaurant, which might place profit as a priority over quality.
Once we start controlling what we eat and how much of it, we can also help our body to monitor the excesses of food that could make us feel ill. Not only the quantity of fat is important, but also the quality of it. It’s not the same to cook with reused trans fats (as many fast food restaurants do) than using mono or polyunsaturated fats like olive oils, that are loaded with Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids which, if consumed in the right amount, are good for our heart(1).
When buying food, consider spending more on quality over quantity…
Another important reason for cooking is economics. We spend more money going out for a dinner or lunch than if we go to the grocery to buy the ingredients and cook the same meal ourselves. Groceries prices have been declining in the past year, while restaurants’ prices soared (2), and if we compare one to another, a homemade meal cost less than half than the same cooked in a restaurant. With time, our wallets will be thankful for the choice to cook instead of buying food or going out to eat, especially if we have to do it for a family of three or more.
Don’t get me wrong! I don’t mean to change your social lifestyle habits, and if going out is a thing you do, it is great; but if you could balance the time of going out with bringing people home and cook, I believe that will be even better.
Farmers Markets are a great source for fresh and healthy ingredients… Go hunting there, you won’t get it wrong
It all begins with the selection of the ingredients, and like many friend chefs say, if the ingredients are good and fresh, cooking is easier. Going out “hunting” for fresh ingredients is the first step before cooking. We should consider spending a little more on “quality” than “quantity,” and this is important because after all, we tend to overeat when we have more in our home. So, just to try out and see what happens! I started to walk around the raw ingredients’ section at the supermarket and started avoiding all the ready-to-eat processed food, usually located on the middle isles.
Consider going to the farmers market; you will not go wrong! Food is fresh, usually of high quality, and you can buy real raw ingredients for your next masterpiece. Farmers Markets are an incredible source of great food, and when you buy there, you are supporting local business and encouraging the local growth of produce, so “fresh” keeps taking a significant place at everybody’s table.
I must confess it wasn’t easy at the beginning, but I started working on simple meals. Salads for dinner, pasta or roasted chicken for lunch; this food that was very easy to make but still gave me the satisfaction of doing my own creation, and eating it warm and just cooked. This feeling is unique; be able to create something on your own and enjoy it after all.
But, what about cooking for your family or friends? This act is even bigger than you; it is one of the most social binding acts anyone can do. Food brings us together as friends, as a family, and as a community. Cooking for others creates memories that last forever.
We all know that homemade food is good for us, as much as we are all aware that doing exercises are good for our health. However, it is so hard for many of us to get up and do it. We all need to adopt the habits for a healthy lifestyle; our everyday choices will get us closer to a better life.
Let’s get our kids into cooking. I see many friends having a hard time while trying to feed nutritious food to their children, but everything started many years ago when buying a Happy Meal was easier and faster than cooking at home. The chance for a child to love healthy food or to have a strong health after getting used to an easy-to-buy fast food diet is very slim. Children are curious about life; they tend to do what parents do. If possible, get them to help you in the kitchen, let them wash the lettuce, sprinkle the salt on the meat or crack the eggs; buy a step stool so they can reach out to see what you’re cooking! They will feel the importance of their acts on what they will eat, and it will cultivate, from very early, the good habit of cooking.
If possible, grow your own veggies… there is no fresher than this!
Buy vegetables! This is not one of those “yeah, right” tips. Carbohydrates and fats are essential, and usually delicious for our taste, but fibers are as important to our body as any other macronutrient, and we tend to forget about it just because they are not as popular as the tasty bread, the fries or the juicy chicken nuggets. It is important to widen our spectrum of ingredients towards leafy greens, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, and all those ready-to-eat ingredients that need minimal preparation for a fast and healthy meal.
I wish everyone could have a small veggie garden at home. It will be like a ”there is no fresher than this” experience. It is so great to be able to pick from our garden one of the ingredients we will be using in the next 5 minutes to cook and eat. Sustainability is a significant step we all need to take towards a better future; we need to give back to earth what it has been giving to us for so long. When we care about our garden of vegetables, we tend to appreciate much more the food we are about to eat. Another remarkable experience!
Give it a try! Go ahead, set a goal to start cooking at least three times a week, plan ahead for it, and buy what you need. Try to buy fresh raw ingredients, always follow safety rules on how to wash your veggies and cook your meats and, above all, try to enjoy it. Don’t let the “excuse box” be filled with your cooking time and start doing it today.
Remember, life is short and knowledge helps us make choices to live a better life. Eat better, feel better!