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Everyone’s Starving, Do You Know What You Are Cooking for Dinner?

for Lauri David's Cookbook, "Family Cooks."

If you are like most people, you don’t. At four o’clock, you’ll have good intentions and a vague idea. You’ll just call Jack for his amazing chicken recipe, so you call Jack and you forget what you were going to ask and it doesn’t really matter because something goes amuck and then its 6.30 and your kids, your partner… even the cat are “hangry,” and everyone wants dinner now (except for your little one, who just ate a pink crayon).

And what could you cook with limp celery, cottage cheese and whatever is in that jar? (What is that — squash?)

So, you either go out, get takeout or open the freezer for microwavable dinners. You basically invite a bunch of strangers to cook you dinner.

But, should we trust these strange cooks? They have not met our beautiful families, so they are not “cooking” for us with love and good intentions. Their goal is to make money, so they often whip up phony baloney food with cheap ingredients and strange chemicals and then, to make it all tasty (tasty?) and get us craving more, they toss in a bunch of salt, fat and sugar.

Is this stuff we should be serving the people we love? We wouldn’t let these people tuck our children into bed, yet we do let them fill their bellies with the food that keeps their hearts beating, their minds going and their cells growing.

Convenience food, the stuff commercials are telling us is the fast, easy solution to our busy lives, can make us sick — processed foods have been linked to diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even cancer. That is a very high price to pay for a “convenient” meal.

The cure is pure and simple: We need to get back into the kitchen with a grocery bag of real good, old-fashioned food, and start cooking again.

Well, maybe not so simple. There are so many reasons, both bad and good, that we have stopped cooking, but it has gotten to the point where we have to stop giving the reasons why we can’t cook and start finding the ways we can.

1. We are waaaay too busy to cook!

So busy! And a gazillion TV ads are agreeing with us and want to help. (Now, what motive could they possibly have for that?) There are bills to be paid, homework to be made, tubs to be scrubbed. But cooking is the most important step we can take to keep our families healthy. So, it’s time to look for time.

First of all, check out our “Home Cooked Sundays” section. We found it helpful to have some things ready to go in the fridge, so we have a bunch of tips on how to get a jump start on your week by planning, shopping, prepping and doubling a dinner recipe so you have enough for two nights (like making Quinoa Crusted Chicken for Sunday and making easy Chicken Parmesan with the leftovers for Tuesday.) Spending a few hours in the kitchen when you do have the time will make weeknights much easier.

Throw anything with a screen into a lake (or deep drawer). We are spending hours staring at those devices, put them away and use some of that social media time to make salads (much happier and healthier).

It is so helpful to learn a few favorite weeknight recipes by heart, like tomato sauce, a bean dish or a simple stir-fry. Not having to look at the recipe (and then look again) saves time and raises confidence.

Get your kids to help. Yeah, that doesn’t seem like much of a timesaver. But getting kids reconnected with where food comes from (the fields, farms, and sea — not factories) and letting them be part of the cooking process, is not only teaching them life skills and helping them develop their palate for real food, but (here is the time-saving tip) they will be less picky at the dinner table because they helped make it and eventually they will be cooking dinners for you (I saw that eye roll, but it’s true).

Once you have lit a candle and turned on some music, cooking can be a relaxing, meditative, and fun. If cooking is enjoyable, finding time might be much easier.

2. My brain is drained and so is my fridge.

Sundays to the rescue again!

On Sunday (or a day you have time), sit down with a notebook and plan for three dinners. Write a shopping list, with the everyday staples you need and include the ingredients for your three recipes. Shop so your fridge will be filled with healthy choices during the week.

Knowing what you are going to cook, and that the ingredients are waiting for you in the fridge, is a huge relief on busy weeknights. (Do you know what you are going to cook for dinner? Yes you do!)

3. It’s been a loooong day.

There are days that are exhausting and complicated… so be kind to your future self. On days you do have the energy, double up on what you are making and pop half in the freezer. Then, on days you need it, defrost your treasure.

Dinner is not meat and three sides anymore, it can be a bowl of soup with a scoop of quinoa or scrambled eggs with a few vegetables. Simple, satisfying and real.

Of course, sometimes, you just don’t want to see a pot or do a dish, but if you can, find restaurants and companies that have your welfare in mind.

4. It’s cheaper to get takeout.

That’s just those crazy fast-food places talking! Sure, you can find some cheap, flappy burger out there, but is it really good? Nah. Is it good for you? In the long run, eating bad food can lead to some expensive medical care.

A delicious meal with wholesome, affordable ingredients like legumes, brown rice and vegetables is inexpensive, fresh and tasty. It will keep you healthy (and happy), and that’s money in the bank.

Another easy way to save money is by not buying more food than you can eat. Forty percent of the food we buy we end up throwing out…(ark!). Use the money you save by buying less food on good quality ingredients like organic meat and produce.

5. I can’t cook.

You can! You really can! Start with some very simple recipes with just a few ingredients and follow the recipes step by step.

With good ingredients, like ripe tomatoes, fresh herbs and organic chicken, your food needs very little done to it… nature is on your side, it already tastes good. You are just cooking good food for your family, do it with ingredients you like, in your style, you can’t do it wrong.

Ask you mom, grandmother or friend for your favorite childhood recipes. You remember how they taste so they are easier to recreate.

You probably have a friend who is a good cook. Ask him/her to cook with you a few times or give a group of friends informal cooking lessons.

Bookstores and libraries are stocked with easy cookbooks, just be sure they focus on healthy real food and not a bunch of processed convenience foods thrown together.

Great recipes and inspiration can also be found in the many healthy food blogs that are out there.

6. No one appreciates my cooking.

This is actually a biggy. It is so important both for you and for the people you cook for, that gratitude is expressed.

Saying thank you, expressing gratitude should be taught to your kids (or gently requested from your partner).

Whether for the cook who prepared the meal, the farmers who grew the food or the rain that fell on the fields, gratitude is an important path to the awareness of what’s good and beautiful in our lives.

So, go out and get inspired, perhaps by an old family recipe, or by a cookbook that has recipes that are simple, tasty and incredibly good for you, a cookbook that’s filled with cooking tips, a cookbook like… The Family Cooks. (Yep, I just made a shameless, yet proud, plug for Laurie David’s and my new book, but it’s the last paragraph and I had to fit it in). Then write a shopping list, go out and buy some delicious fresh ingredients, toss, cook, taste, sit down and be grateful for a dinner as healthy and vibrant as you feel.


Join the Discussion

One Response

  1. Michelle says:

    I love how you described “cooking with love and good intentions.” I will be posting that in my kitchen as a reminder for those harried days.

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