Despite farmers markets, celebrity chefs, the Food Network, and best-selling cookbooks, many people don't -- and even worse, can't -- cook. The old ideal of families gathered around the dinner table for a wholesome, home-cooked meal seems to have gone by the wayside, as people lead busier lives and no longer relish the art of cooking.
"I have the diet for you. It's short and it's simple. Here's my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That's it. Eat anything you want,just as long as you're willing to cook it yourself." -Michael Pollan, The New York Times, August 2, 2009
According to a 2010 Harris Interactive poll of 2,503 adults, 14% said they don't enjoy cooking and 7% said they don't cook at all; only 41% said they prepare meals at home five or more times per week. Older adults aged 65 and older said they cook more often than younger adults, indicating that the prospects for cooking may only get worse in the future. Moreover, researchers from North Carolina found that the proportion of women cooking has declined from 92% in 1965 - 1966 to 68% in 2007 - 2008, and those who do cook spend less time doing so (112.8 min/day in 1965 - 1966 to 65.6 min/day in 2007 - 2008).
To make matters worse, many people who cook meals at home aren't really cooking, per se; they're merely heating up convenience foods and calling it cooking. About 90% of Americans purchase convenience foods, and nearly 25% use more time-saving convenience foods today than in 2001.
But make no mistake, you can improve your health, quality of life, and bank account by getting back into the kitchen!
If you're inspired to master healthful cooking techniques, practice these strategies in your own kitchen:
- Start small. Take baby steps towards cooking, such as making a simple vinaigrette, cooking whole grains, and making a vegetable soup.
- Discover local cooking resources. Research free cooking classes in your community at various organizations, supermarkets, and community centers, and attend a few each year. You may be surprised at how much you learn!
- Develop a top 10 recipes list. Create a list of your best recipes divided into food categories, such as salads, side dishes, entrées, and desserts. Use it as a resource for go-to recipes when you're strapped for time and ideas.
- Teach others. Teach your family members and friends your favorite simple cooking tips and recipes, such as how to prepare basic whole grain pasta tossed with tomatoes and olive oil, for example. You'll help everyone learn how to cook!
- Spice it up. Some of the best ingredients to have in any kitchen are various herbs and spices that can add flavor and health benefits to foods. Experiment with these seasonings and incorporate them into your meals every day.
- Host an ingredient tasting at your home. Invite people over so you can sample and compare foods, such as varieties of olive oils or leafy greens.
- Experiment with produce. Don't be afraid to learn how to prepare fruits and vegetables, especially those that may be a little complicated, such as artichokes, mangos, and avocados, or those that are unfamiliar, such as kohlrabi, bok choy, and kumquats.
- Plan a menu. This is a fundamental tool that can help you get dinner on the table quickly after a hectic day. Set some time aside one day a week to plan your weekly menu and shopping list.
- Nurture intuitive cooking. When your grandmother cooked meals three times a day, she certainly didn't have an iPad, or perhaps even a supermarket around the corner. She simply looked in her pantry or kitchen garden and made something from what was available. Challenge yourself to make one meal out of the ingredients in your pantry and refrigerator without a recipe.
- Explore healthful cooking on a budget. Dispel the myth that healthful cooking is expensive. Compare your grocery expenses for a week's worth of meals to a week of dining out. This will certainly motivate you to continue cooking.
Read this complete article in the August 2013 issue of Today's Dietitian Magazine.
From my (plant-powered) plate to yours,