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Why It’s Finally Time to Learn A Crucial Food Lesson

Blogger Pooja Mottl made a pointed observation about our collective health recently in the Huffington Post. Mottl says that despite supermarket recipe cards and countless blogs and articles about food and food preparation, “it’s not happening — we aren’t getting this ‘healthy food’ into our mouths.” Why? Simple, she says. We don’t know how to cook.

It seems like a bizarre assertion that with the last decade’s renaissance of food TV and food-themed media, Americans would still not be cooking. Could it be that many of us are involved in a grand food delusion in which we know the names of all the celebrity chefs but don’t ever pick up a spatula? Could it be that all of this food information is sliding right past us like the egg off of a McMuffin?

It could. The decline in cooking for ourselves continues despite rumblings that the recession has brought some families back to the kitchen. The fact is, everyone is working, and food companies are selling the antidote to our time-crunched lives. And it seems those food shows may be doing very little to actually help our skills – they just serve as more passive entertainment. Restaurant food sales continue to soar and packaged food companies thrive, and no one is donning an apron to pass down those valuable cooking skills to the next generation.

As Mottl points out, the consequence of not knowing basic cooking skills is relying on others to do our cooking for us. When our meals come from restaurants, prepared food shelves, and grocery store buffets, it heightens our intake of fat, salt and calories. The bottom line is that we can read this blog or any other blog, we can read articles or magazine tip lists about the benefits of wild blueberries and leafy greens, or the disease preventing properties of fruits and vegetables, or how to incorporate omega-3s into our diet. We can watch top chefs battle it out using fresh, exotic ingredients. None of this will help our health if we aren’t cooking for ourselves.

It’s Time: Learn How to Cook

Yes, Chef, cooking is power, and it’s time we rouse ourselves from the learned helplessness that is nurtured by the prepared food options that orbit around us. It’s time to learn the fundamentals of cooking our own food. Here’s why:

  • Cooking is an expression of creativity.
  • Cooking will give you a feeling of satisfaction.
  • Cooking will save you money.
  • If you cook, your kids will learn good habits.
  • Cooking means you’ll have control over what your kids eat.
  • If you cook, you and your family will be healthier, have fewer diseases, and live longer.

Here’s how to begin.

Buy some tools.
Stock up on some staples. Do you have a good knife? A saucepan? Getting the tools of the trade is an inspiring and necessary first step. Go on a culinary shopping spree, or collect them little at a time. If you are still using your grandmother’s rusty old baking pan, replace it for something new. You can always keep the old one – for posterity. 

Make space in the kitchen.
Tell the microwave to shove over and find your go-to space to set up your mise en place. If you’re struggling space-wise, consider investing in a moveable cooking counter. Or install shelves to move some of what’s on the counter up.

Stock the basics.
If there are no new edibles making their way into your house tonight, you’ll need to make something out of nothing, and that requires having the basics. Stock up on necessary spices. Keep rice and stock in the cupboard. Store frozen wild blueberries in the fridge. Can you make a family-sized frittata with nothing but eggs and a few random leftovers? Then you’ve arrived.

Learn the moves.
There is alchemy to food, and having the basic cooking techniques under your belt is a skill that will serve you beyond the recipe card. Know how to sauté, bake, braise, brown, chop, and mince. Learn from a friend, a book, a video or a class. Call your mom, or call your co-worker who’s a whiz with a spatula—they’ll be charmed by the compliment.

Save time to shop.
Cooking begins with groceries. Buying fresh daily may become an enjoyable new habit, but you know your schedule—if evenings disappear in a puff of Ramen noodle smoke, planning ahead is crucial.

Make cooking a ritual.
It’s not always possible to spend hours cooking a meal every night, and chopping onions may be Martha Stewart’s idea of relaxing, not yours. But if cooking is part of your life, the preparation that precedes it is part of the ritual of eating. Talk to the kids, catch up on the news…this is your life, and cooking is part of it. Enjoy.

Buy a book, subscribe to a magazine, or take a class.
You don’t have to cook your way though Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. If you love pasta, start with a book about pasta. Stir fry sound like fun? Start with a book about Asian cooking. Or, subscribe to a real cooking periodical so the new ideas keep coming to your doorstep. If classes sound like too much of a time investment, cooking classes are available online.

Share the love.
It’s a brand new day—and everyone can share in the glories of cooking. Take the burden off you and put it on another family member at least once a week, kids included.

Take it on the road.
Put your cooking to the test with a cooking group. Invite a family, some neighbors, or your yoga buddies over once a month and put your skills to work. Then, reciprocate by heading to their house the next month, where all you have to do is taste.

Create your own cooking “Couch to 5K”.
Call it the McChicken to Chicken Stew—give yourself six weeks to become someone who cooks. Create a schedule, walk before you run, and meet your goals. Your family and your body will thank you.

You will thank you.


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