So, let’s talk about making time to cook for this part of our Healthy Eating Series – why, how, and what our current culture thinks about it. Of course, since a basic glance around AOC’s home page reveals my passion for real, simple, homemade food that is nourishing and healthy (most of the time – I’m also about balance!), it’s no surprise that I think taking the time to cook is important. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say:
Taking – and valuing – the time to cook homemade foods is one of THE most important things you can do for you and your family.
Why is making time to cook important?
- We will eat healthier, no doubt about it.
- When we’re healthy, life is just easier to live, right?
- The act of preparing food builds togetherness – and a connection with our past.
- Food can create complicated emotions, especially when bad habits are started young – we want to encourage and build a good relationship with food.
- Preparing food is an essential life skill and passing this on to our children is just as important as math, reading, and science (and actually helps in all these areas, putting that knowledge to work in a real, hands-on way!).
A few months ago I read an article complaining about “quick & easy cooking” not actually being easy that had me so exasperated I had to take some time before talking about it, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to let it go without adding my two cents. It was published in the Atlantic Monthly and written by a freelance writer who states that she “writes about food for a living.”
I put that in quotes, because I wonder if she makes a living writing about food, how can she not be able to look at a recipe and know if it will take her longer than the time listed (I usually can…)? Why doesn’t she have a go-to arsenal of recipes for quick weeknight meals like so many others do? And she doesn’t plan for weeknights or have a stocked pantry? Sheesh.
Okay, I get it: we are tired at the end of the day. When we have kids needing to be fed it adds stress. But leaving 5 minutes to prepare a meal and eat before putting your kid to bed? Seriously? I don’t think the issue is easy meals here. It’s more an issue of priorities, it seems to me. And there’s the heart of it for me:
Our culture as a whole has devalued the time it takes – and has always taken – to make quality food for our families and ourselves.
It’s “not important.” “I don’t have time.” “I’m too tired.” “I don’t cook” said with pride (i.e., “don’t” not “can’t”). It breaks my heart, especially since I see so much trouble caused by food that could be avoided with better choices and relationship to food.
The food education that comes from a household where meals are cooked from scratch and the family all helps in the preparation, from actually helping to cook to dealing with dishes and clean-up, is invaluable and shouldn’t be underestimated. Knowing we can feed ourselves in a good way fulfills a basic human need and is empowering- we can provide for ourselves and be proactive about our health.
Yes it takes time to plan, shop, and prepare and some nights it feels like a chore. But there are plenty of go-to dishes I can put together in about a half hour – and they’re delicious and wholesome, even if they’re simple like curries, lettuce wraps, or simple tacos. Obviously this involves more of my time and effort than ordering out, but that should not be what we compare ‘easy’ cooking to, anyway.
So, let’s agree to value cooking and the time it takes to make good food, okay? As long as there’s time to binge-watch the latest Netflix or Hulu offering, there’s time to nourish our bodies. Note: there’s no judging here – we love nights watching a good show – just as a comparison to evaluate the time we do have, if we’re honest.
Let’s also agree that sometimes it’s got to be quick and easy and may not look as good, or be quite as healthy as other nights. It’s about balance and having goals (learning to cook, trying new foods, eating more vegetables, or whatever it may be).
And here’s the key to making it happen:
You’ve Got To Have A Plan
If, like the writer of the Atlantic Monthly article, you come home after a day’s work and then start thinking about what’s for dinner, it’s too late. Because then you’re willing to do whatever is fast, which almost always comes at a cost of your health and your budget.
When we plan in advance based on what our family likes, it is easy to make a variety of simple weeknight meals, whether stir fries, pasta, or sausages with peppers & onions. But even simple meals require planning and preparation, like any job you want to do well.
So, how are we going to make this work for our real-life, busy lives?
Here are some tips for making time to cook and keep weeknight meals do-able:
- Plan a dinner menu. Assign themes to each night to make it easy (Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday, Seafood Thursday, etc.).
- Keep a list of your family’s favorite easy go-to recipes and rotate them through the month. There’s nothing wrong with repeating recipes we love. Some of our easy favs are soft tacos, haystacks, vegetable-egg scrambles or a fried egg breakfast-for-dinner, pasta with meat sauce or pesto-chicken sauce, chef’s salads, and toasted cheese-type sandwiches (or paninni’s if you’re into that) with cut vegetables.
- Shop on the weekend or day off (Shopping on the way home? Always a really bad idea: hangry).
- Keep your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry stocked with foods you like (ie, if you make a lot of Thai dishes, fish sauce may be a staple, but for others, maybe not).
- Save new or longer-cooking recipes for weekends.
- Be flexible with recipes – if you don’t have shallots, use onions (one of my favorite substitutions, as I rarely have shallots), and so on.
- Use weekends to make batches soups, stews, and casseroles and re-heat the for a quick meal.
What tips would you add to this list?
Other articles in our Healthy Eating Series:
- What is Healthy Eating?
- 19 Healthy Soups, Stews & Slow Cooker Dinners
- 25 Healthy Family Favorite Main Dishes
- Healthy Grocery Shopping Tips: Shop Smart & Stay on Budget
- 22 Healthy Bread & Breakfast Recipes