“Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food.” – Hippocrates
“Abs are made in the kitchen.”
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” – Brillat-Savarin
Good health starts with cooking your own food. It’s near impossible to achieve lasting health, weight, and strength building goals without a little blood sweat and tears in the kitchen (unless you are one of the lucky few who can pay someone to cook for you, and that’s not many of us).
I smile every New Year, as the number one resolution on everyone’s list is to improve their health in some way – eating better, exercising more, smoking and drinking less, etc. Each New Year, we pick out a diet plan that seems to fit our lifestyle, and we go for it whole hog starting January 1. Most people last a few weeks, but the majority of us seem to lose our dedication by the end of the month. Life is just too hectic to stick to a strict plan, a plan that most likely involves more time spent in the kitchen preparing healthy food.
Even without starting a new healthy eating plan, most of us know that to be healthy, we need to eat more fruits and vegetables and eat less sugar, bad fats, and refined and processed foods. But what we don’t always know how to do is COOK those healthy fruits and veggies, good fats, and healthy meats into fabulous meals three times a day. Rather than a new diet plan, what most of us really need is to a) come to the realization that we need to cook for ourselves most of the time and then b) find a strategy to do it while the rest of our life is going on.
Here’s the deal – life will ALWAYS be hectic, everyone is busy and no one wants to spend extra time in the kitchen (unless you are one of those who find it a creative and therapeutic outlet). The bottom line is that it is near impossible to achieve your health goals without cooking your own food. There is simply no other failsafe way to control what goes in your body.
I think it’s interesting how much time we all spend taking care of our exterior bodies – workouts, manicures, pedicures, facials, wraps, eyelashes, hair color, hair cuts, veins zapped, hair removed, botox, injections, and the list goes on. Why don’t we have the same awareness and desire to take care of the inside of our bodies? After all isn’t that what our bodies use for fuel, rebuilding, and repairing, eventually reflected in our outward appearance and also how our bodies function – our energy level, ability to focus, mood stabilization, sleep quality, etc.
While eating fast food and restaurant food might taste good and be convenient, it typically adds excess salt, seasonings, sugar, and unhealthy fats to your diet that you cannot control. And all those packaged convenience foods are also a substandard choice, as the ingredients are not fresh and usually include more salt, sugar, additives, colorings, and preservatives that are not present in a home cooked meal. Even the packages labeled “all natural” or “organic” are a step in the right direction but still include a healthier form of additives, sugar, salt, and still lack the nutrients in fresh food.
Your best bet to improve your overall health for the long term is to start cooking at home. In fact, if you choose one thing to do for yourself to be healthier, let it be preparing your own fresh food. If you are new to cooking or in general just really don’t like it, here are 10 tips that got me started:
1. Be prepared. Set aside time each week to grocery shop. Stock your fridge with fresh fruits, veggies, eggs, and meats, and line your pantry shelves with spices, condiments, oils, and healthy staples like canned coconut milk, canned pumpkin, and frozen berries. I find I do best when I plan to grocery shop at the same time each week. It becomes built into my weekly routine, and I always have healthy food ready to make into meals.
2. Make cooking a priority. Schedule time each day to prepare your meals. Your life will always be busy. Your life will always be hectic. You will always be going through something difficult or distracting. So do not use that as an excuse. In fact, when we are the busiest or having the most difficult time with life is when we need to feed our bodies with the best quality food. It is at those times that we especially need nutrients, so we can stay healthy and strong physically and emotionally.
3. Keep a clean kitchen. Remove the clutter from your counters, and wipe them down morning and night. A clean, uncluttered environment not only gives you the space you need, but it also creates a place of calm and order, which is inviting for cooking.
4. Buy high quality, fresh foods to use in your cooking. Why spend the time in the kitchen if you’re going to cook with a bunch of packages and poor quality ingredients. If you’re looking for shortcuts, buy pre-chopped fruits and veggies in the produce section. Check out the spice section for familiar spice blends to use like curry, chile powder, taco seasoning, Cajun seasoning, etc. Condiments like infused vinegars, mustards, and coconut aminos are an excellent way to make your healthy food taste good. Just remember to look at the label and choose pure spices and condiments without additives.
5. Keep it simple. To begin with, choose recipes with few ingredients and fewer steps that include plenty of vegetables and a little meat and healthy fat. I love easy one-pot meals that combine veggies, a healthy meat, a little healthy fat, and lots of spices to make the meal taste good. If you don’t own a slow cooker or a steamer, invest in one. I use mine daily. I also have super sharp knives so I can prep produce efficiently.
6. Give yourself the freedom to be creative with your meals and the permission to fail. You don’t always have to rely on a recipe with numerous steps. Some of your originals will turn into family favorites while others will not. But taking the pressure off yourself to serve gourmet masterpieces every meal will increase your confidence and enjoyment in the process.
7. Record your favorite recipes as you go. Slowly build weekly meal plans with grocery lists of all the recipes that are hits with your family.
8. Cook in bulk, doubling a recipe so you can eat the leftovers throughout the week or freeze them for next week. I love to look in my fridge and see all the containers of fresh home-cooked food.
9. Have a positive attitude in the kitchen. Be thankful for your food, your kitchen in which to prepare it, and your loved ones with whom you share it. Just like everything else in life, your attitude in approaching it greatly impacts how much you enjoy the experience.
10. Create an atmosphere in the kitchen that inspires you. If you are one who isn’t fond of cooking, make the experience enjoyable. If you are one who has worked all day and just wants to relax, make the experience relaxing. Turn on music, light candles or adjust the lighting, focus on your breathing, use the time to be quiet and think, make yourself a pretty drink in a pretty glass. It doesn’t always have to be wine or a cocktail. My favorite is sparkling water with a couple of raspberries and lime in a stemmed glass. Or use your cooking time to catch up with your loved ones. Get your kids or your spouse in the kitchen with you to help or even just to visit. Put your phone on speaker and catch up with a friend while you prepare your food. Whatever makes the experience a good one for you and helps meet your needs at that moment – do it.
This spaghetti squash with sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples is one example of a simple meal that I came up with using a variety of fruits, veggies, spices, and a healthy meat option. It has been a repeat meal at our house many times this winter.
Spaghetti squash is a delicious and nutritious alternative to traditional pasta. Roasting a spaghetti squash is almost as easy as baking a potato. Almost. To roast a spaghetti squash, I first need to soften the tough outer exterior by placing it in the oven while the oven is preheating to 400 degrees. Once the oven is preheated, I take out the squash and using a sharp knife, cut through the hard shell to halve the squash. Once cut in half, I scoop out the seeds, rub the insides of each half with a little olive oil, and place both halves cut side up on a parchment lined baking sheet. I roast the squash for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. I make sure not to over-bake, so the squash doesn’t become mushy.
Next, I prepare the sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples. I start by quartering the Brussels sprouts, and blanching them in boiling water for about two minutes.
I transfer the Brussels sprouts to an ice bath and let them sit while I chop the onion and apples.
I buy turkey or chicken breakfast sausage from the meat counter at Whole Foods. It’s fresh, and I trust that it is high quality meat. I brown the ground turkey sausage with the onion in a little coconut oil in a large sauté pan until it is no longer pink.
After the turkey sausage is no longer pink, I add the blanched Brussels sprouts and sauté over medium heat for about 7 minutes.
Next, I add the apples, sea salt, and thyme and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes more before lowering the heat to low.
It’s time to remove the spaghetti squash from the oven and fluff the squash “noodles” away from the shell using a fork. I place the squash “noodles” in a bowl and toss with a little olive oil and sea salt. Sometimes I add a little garlic or chile powder for additional flavor.
To serve, I layer the sausage, Brussels sprouts, and apples over the spaghetti squash on each plate. This recipe takes a bit longer and has a few more steps, so I choose a to make this one when I can look forward to spending some time in the kitchen.