Be Happy, Feel Beautiful
Pricey restaurants and dubious ingredients bringing you down? They should. As nutritional information becomes more and more common, even in restaurant menus, many of us are waking up to ponder exactly what it is we’re paying for. The food industry is waking up too: so many products claim to be “all-natural” while bursting with ingredients you wouldn’t dream of adding to your meal. Luckily, there is a simple remedy: home cooking.
If home-cooked food comes with so many benefits, why would anyone opt for processed meals? For many, the main reason is convenience. After a hard day, we are tired and hungry, and the last thing on our minds is dedicating another hour to cooking. Cooking might also be intimidating to those of us who haven’t done it in years, or maybe never. Others might be reluctant to try again after perceived failure: the recipes they tried led to bland, tasteless food, nothing like the delicious meals in their favorite restaurants. No matter what the reasons, those who opt to not cook consider the drawbacks of cooking to be greater than the benefits.
I confess: I used to hate cooking. Or so I told myself. In reality, I shied away from even trying, because I assumed cooking was time-consuming, difficult and expensive. And after all, TV dinners were palatable and quick, and there was always a fast-food restaurant nearby. But as food and health became increasingly important topics in the media, my mind began to change, and I started thinking about the possible benefits of cooking. So one day, I dug up a recipe online and headed for the nearest grocery store. Among the supplies was a shiny new muffin tin. Yes, the first recipe I ever attempted was for a batch of apple-cinnamon muffins. About half an hour after I got home, I was munching on soft, warm muffins, baked with simple, traditional ingredients and no preservatives. Sure, they were a little flat and lopsided, but no less delicious. Maybe making your own food wasn’t that terrible after all, I thought.
After the muffins came salads, casseroles, meat dishes and even an unfortunate attempt at dinner rolls. After a gradual start, I started cooking most of my meals at home. The initial investment in supplies (I began with little more than a single frying pan) is noticeable, but in the long run, the money saved by cooking at home rather than purchasing meals in grocery stores or restaurants more than makes up for it. Restaurant meals can cost double or more the price of cooking the same meal at home, even when not counting the tip. Although fast-food places boast low prices and convenience, the food quality in those places can be abysmally low. By cooking at home, you get wholesome meals at reasonable prices—and you know exactly what the ingredients are.
Processed food tends to be rife with unpronounceable, mystical ingredients, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives and boatloads of sodium. By cooking at home, you can choose healthier, more basic ingredients, and the added peace of mind makes the meal all the more delicious. Restaurant meals are often packed with salt and unhealthy fats to maximize flavor, but this can be harmful to your health and waistline. By cooking your own meals, you decide exactly how much salt and butter goes into your food. While cooking, you can modify the recipe to fit your needs, substituting ingredients to discover delicious alternatives that are good for you. Choosing organic foods and meat with no added hormones from humanely raised animals increases the cost of the meal, but also helps make it healthier, tastier and all the better for your conscience.
Restaurants and processed meals have a distinct advantage over home-cooked food: convenience. Having someone else cook for you lets you spend the time doing something more enjoyable or productive. But cooking at home doesn’t have to mean long hours spent laboring over elaborate ingredients or slaving in front of a hot stove. The Internet is chock full of cooking sites dedicated to quick, easy recipes, including “dinner in an instant” by Allrecipes.com, where you’ll find recipes that take as little as 15 minutes to prepare. If you hate the idea of cooking on weeknights and have a roomy freezer, consider preparing meals for the week over the weekend. Cook up a large batch on Sunday and freeze it, then heat up portions after work/school. If you make and freeze a variety of meals, your menu won’t get repetitive. If big-batch cooking doesn’t appeal to you, there are many meals that require little more than throwing some ingredients together, such as sandwiches or salads. Both can be wonderfully quick and easy to make, and the possibilities are absolutely endless. And during the blistering days of summer, salads are a cool alternative for the stove or oven. Finally, try a slow cooker for home-cooking convenience. Toss in some ingredients in the morning. You’ll come home to a house that smells delicious and a meal ready to eat. Slow cookers are great with chili, stews and more.
Although you could not have convinced me some years back, cooking can be incredibly fun, and it doesn’t have to mean standing sad and alone in the kitchen. Chopping up or grating ingredients can be surprisingly therapeutic, especially when done with quality tools. As your confidence grows, improvising and altering recipes can be fun and lead to some culinary revelations. If you are nervous about failure, recruit a friend who is confident in the kitchen and cook together. But even if you aren’t, cooking with others increases the fun-factor. Chances are you’ll end up with a delicious meal with great ingredients for much cheaper than if you went out to eat–and with a healthier, happier body and mind.
If your tummy is already grumbling for home-cooked goodness, check out Tastespotting or Foodgawker for scrumptious photographs and recipes. Also, don’t forget to read Anissa Stambouli’s interview with chef Ryan Ross and never face another TV dinner again!