Cook Your Food. It Will Change Your Life.
Keep. It. Simple. Stupid. Or KISS. Such a fun acronym. I remember learning it from my middle school basketball coach. It didn’t mean much back in the heart of my awkward teenage years, but it has certainly taken on far more meaning through the years. When it comes to answering nutrition questions, I often like to start with the very simple: eat real food* and cook it yourself. It’s not exactly revolutionary advice. It’s definitely not very sexy but I bet you it will change your life if you let it. Here’s why:
*Because I’m sure smart aleck is thinking it – real food: yes, it’s all real food. By real food I mean choosing foods you can actually recognize by themselves (or you can recognize the ingredients in the product) and can say “I know (roughly) where that came from (i.e. potato -the earth, milk – a cow, oranges – a tree, etc.). Local and organic are great, but in a pinch, produce shipped to your area is not a bad choice either. Hope that clarifies it a bit.
Food Companies Don’t Cook Like We Cook
Reason with me for a second. If you were running a food business (not a restaurant – think General Mills, Nestle, etc.), and you were tasked with helping to keep America nourished, would you not do some of these following things:
- Maximize profits by managing the cost of goods.
- Try to generate repeat customers so you can keep your company going.
- Optimize shelf life so your products don’t spoil and the food supply is easier to manage.
I mention those three specifics for a reason. Food companies do not think like you or I. They don’t necessarily have your best interest at heart because of these business-minded thoughts (there are certainly more). Companies in the food industry pick ingredients that are inexpensive, easily supplied, and hit our buttons like crazy so that we eat more per meal and come back for more of their products (numbers 1 & 2). Not only that, they need to have reliable shelf life to minimize their losses from spoiled food so they use various additives (that may or may not contribute to obesity) to accomplish that (number 3).
Bottom-line, they don’t cook like we do and that leads to some interesting outcomes. Rather than ramble on, take a couple minutes to watch this short video from Michael Pollan, author of Cooked, a book all about how cooking for yourself can change your life.
What really hits home aside is the bit at the end about convenience and overall (over)consumption of less healthy foods. We live in a world moving faster than ever. Convenience is becoming more and more of a priority and cooking, is…well, it’s less convenient. There’s no denying that. It is far easier to throw something in the microwave, pound it and move on to the next task.
I will, however, go out on a limb and say that your health, wellness and longevity are very important. So much so, that it is worth considering a little extra time and inconvenience in the long run. You will end up consuming fewer calories, choosing healthier dishes and maintaining your bodyweight more easily.
Remember: you only have one life to live, and the quality of that life, is, in large part, determined by how well we consistently treat our bodies.
Further into the article we will discuss how to realistically make cooking much more convenient and manageable. For now, let’s look more closely at the two main benefits: simplified ingredients, and increased mindfulness of what you are putting into your body.
A lot of “shelf foods” include a ton of additives that make the ingredient list ridiculously long. Let’s look at bread as an example:
Woah! There are legitimately some ingredients in there that are just straight up hard to decipher. Some of them are downright frightening.
If you have ever flipped your bread over and found yourself scratching you head at what the heck these ingredients are, you are not alone. If you’re curious, take a stroll over to this link to see what some of those ingredients actually are.
All those extra ingredients in commercial products have to get processed somewhere along the line which just means more stress on your already taxed body. No thanks.
Way simpler! And technically you could make it simpler still with just flour, water, yeast, and salt. Four ingredients. Wowza!
Now that is assuming you use less processed ingredients, like naturally stone ground wheat flour, where flour is the only ingredient. If that is the case, your ingredient list really should stay that simple. Sometimes you can get into various products that will add to the mix (e.g. there are a myriad of differently processed flours out there with plenty of additives). That would certainly change the game a bit.
To make it hit home a little more, I remember a family gathering once where we were eating outside and we had both organic butter and margarine. As I sat and observed, a funny thing happened. The flies wouldn’t touch the margarine! They stayed far away, but were more than happy to get all up in the butter. I know it’s not a scientifically backed example, but it’s pretty bad if the flies won’t touch it, right?
Getting back to bread, I have also experienced (white bread) hot dog buns that have lasted for several months without molding or spoiling. And, no, I did not freeze them. While totally tasty during a cookout, that was downright disgusting.
It almost goes without saying, but when you start making your own food, you become much more conscious of what goes into it. You really have to slow down and consider what you need to have on hand, how much time it will take and how all the ingredients will come together. You begin to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. You will begin to choose better, simpler ingredients.
It may not be all that meaningful to some, but the real beauty of cooking is being able to dive into a recipe and continuously experiment with it until it is to your liking. You learn very quickly the power of different spices to provide mouth-watering flavor without all the extra additives. It becomes so much more fun and engaging!
Being more mindful in the cooking process is great, but it doesn’t just stop there. Oh no! Once you get over the speed bumps of your first few meals, you really begin to savor the experience of tasting your creations, often pausing to figure out how to better them. When you slow down to cook and eat you actually start to develop a bit of relationship with your food, and that is so very healthy for you. So much better than blowing through it to get back to your never-ending to-do list! Say no to food quickies, friends. Just say no.
On that note, I want you to try something this week.
When you eat, regardless of whether it is a bowl of cereal, a salad, or a thick, juicy steak, I want you to start by taking a nice healthy bite. Then I want you to put your fork (or spoon) down, resisting every urge in you to plow on to that next bite. I know, I know. It’s hard! You’re hungry and it’s super ingrained to shove that next bite into your mouth. Fight it!
Instead, take these moments to chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture, flavor, color, and aroma of your meal. Really experience your meal. Continue this way throughout the course of the meal, and you’ll experience the eye-opening pleasures and frustrations of experiencing food more deeply.
And remember, It takes approximately 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to send out signals of fullness. Eating mindfully allows ample time to trigger the signal from your brain that you are full. And feeling full translates into eating less.
There you have it. Eat slowly. All week. Can you do it? Tell us about it: #eatslowchallenge
How to Make Cooking as Convenient as Possible
Okay, as promised, how to make this all a little bit easier up front. Here are my go to tips in the kitchen and grocery store:
- Use canned and frozen veggies when possible to avoid all the cleaning and spoiling that goes with fresh produce. Be sure to rinse your canned goods as they are typically loaded with sodium. A strainer is an excellent tool to have on hand here.
- Make a food plan. This just makes shopping and batch cooking so much easier. Having a list of what you have, what you need and how it will turn into meals during your cooking time each week is a great way to form a lasting habit.
- Choose recipes with common ingredients. This makes food planning so much easier and will keep you from spoiling foods because you forgot about them.
- Get a chart of various substitutes. This can totally save your butt if you don’t have the right ingredient in a pinch.
- Use produce that’s in season. And use local if you can. It’s typically cheaper and it tastes better.
- Shop around the outside of the store to get the freshest, healthiest ingredients. Supermarkets almost always put the heavily processed stuff on the inside aisles.
- Process food in big batches. I’m a big fan of batch processing as it is. All this means is blocking out a specific chunk of time each week to only make food in large quantities. After doing it awhile you will get a great feel for what you can make and eat that week, what you can freeze for later, and what just plain doesn’t work for bigger batches.
- Leverage your cooking tools. This is a bachelor’s best friend right here. Use your kitchen tools to save time and accomplish other tasks while you’re waiting for them to finish up. For example, you can use a rice cooker to make perfect rice and keep it warm while you fix other dishes or tackle something else. You can set your bread machine and come back several hours later to an aroma-filled kitchen. You can use a crockpot to cook some of the best slow-cooked meat around, all while you’re at work.
- Mise en Place. A French phrase which means “putting in place.” It is a technique used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, pre-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook will require for the menu items that are expected to be prepared during a shift. This is so very helpful at home. Set everything out, in some sort of an order and watch how much more efficiently you whip through the preparations.
- Wash as you go. This one is subtle, but a huge time saver. If you have some spare moments in the cooking hustle and bustle, swing over to the sink and clean up some of the items you won’t be using any more. Less to do at the end. Cleaning up is the worst part, let’s be honest.
- Freeze your food. There are so many food items you can freeze or refrigerate. I love doing it with my oat flour pancakes and waffles just as much as I do for fish or chicken dishes.
There you have it, folks.
Start with the simple. Give the cooking habit a shot. I bet you it will be quite enjoyable if you give it the chance. It may even change your life.
Personally, I made my biggest leaps and bounds in cooking when I started working with Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Chef. It made cooking so much more intuitive, teaching me the art of slowing down to smell and taste various spices to learn how they would work together. It’s surprising how helpful something that simple is!
Jump in, slow down, and savor not only the flavor of better ingredients, and tastier meals, but also the joy of a healthier body and a clearer mind.
Any other tips out there for time-crunched cooks? Throw them in the comments sections. There’s always more to learn!
Salud y vida my friends,
*Full disclosure: all links to Amazon are affiliate links. I would not recommend them, though, unless I found them useful and relevant.