The single most important lifestyle change you can make today, if vibrance and longevity are your goals, is to learn how to cook. Eating healthy can be a dramatic shift for a lot of people, and I’ve found that the newly health conscious abandon their quest for nutrient density because of a surprisingly simple obstacle.
Their food tastes terrible.
Who wants to eat dry chicken breast with plain broccoli? Who wants to eat a piece of grapefruit for breakfast? The most effective tool for maintaining a healthy diet is deliciousness. But deliciousness doesn’t happen over night. You have to work for it. You have to get your reps in. You have to burn some dinners and fail. Cooking, like strength, is a skill game. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
If you’re living alone, the prospect of learning how to cook should be less complicated than if you’re preparing meals for a family. Find a cookbook, find a night when you have some time, and turn your kitchen into a gastronomy laboratory.
But if you’re cooking for more than just yourself, you need to think carefully in a realistic world about when and how to begin your learning to cook journey.
Newbies in the kitchen probably don’t want to risk trying out that three-course French meal on a Tuesday night when they’re just getting home from work, the kids have school the next day, and the spouse has an early morning meeting. A burned dinner under these circumstances can mean disaster—stress, hurt feelings, resentment, and ultimately hunger.
My suggestion? Saturdays.
Turn it into a weekly event. Include your children in the entire process, from choosing the menu, to shopping at the grocery, to basic preparation like washing the produce. Your goal with all of this is twofold: first, you want to change the conversation around food in your house. You want your children and the other members of your household to fall in love with food and ingredients in a healthy way. Second, you want to make the process of cooking simultaneously fun and educational. You’ll be looking up ingredients as a family, shopping as a family, and acquiring a new skill as a family.
Saturdays are good for this sort of thing because there’s less stress and more time generally speaking. And if you burn the dinner, forget to add a crucial ingredient, or quite simply choose a terrible recipe (I’ve done all of these things), you can always resort to whatever it was you were already doing. I won’t be mad at you if you order carryout after putting in a good effort.
When it’s time to choose a recipe, there are a wealth of options for learning the basics. My list below includes (but is not limited to) both poles of the nutrition Cold War: Paleo and vegetarian. I’m not interested in diet orthodoxy, but in fresh, delicious ingredients. Most importantly, I advocate finding what tastes best to you and your family–because that’s what will keep you coming back to the kitchen.
Mark Bittman — I really like his approach to cooking. He has various cookbooks and apps available, including “quick options” and vegetarian options.
NY Times Cooking — I’ve been using this app/page most often lately. With an account you can log in, save recipes, and search for recipes based on ingredients. It also works well if you’re a vegetarian.
The Domestic Man — Technically this is a Paleo resource, but don’t think of it that way. It’s just a good, healthy mix of recipes based on a variety of real food ingredients.
Nom Nom Paleo — Another Paleo resource featuring fresh ingredients and creative recipes. Again, I’m not pushing a Paleo diet (or a vegetarian one), but good, healthy cooking.