One of the fastest health fixes and the best habit you can start developing this evening is… yes, cooking! But, let’s say you’re anything but a natural in the kitchen, are intimidated by the prospect of boiling water, or simply lack the time and energy. The solution is just keep it simple, keep a few staple items on hand, and hit the produce aisle regularly. Anyone can cook, not just those chefs on the cooking shows.
I always encourage my patients to cook. Home-made meals are an often overlooked fountain of health, wellness, and anti-aging benefits — and it’s a massive missed opportunity if you’re ordering in or taking out most of your meals. DIY-ing two or three meals a day will immediately take all the dietary nasties like sugar, chemicals, preservatives, and ‘Frankenfoods’ right off the table — and deliver loads of vitamins, nutrients, and fiber into your body. Studies show that cooking from scratch helps boost resilience and a number of essential physiological functions — so no matter what your culinary skill level, cooking for yourself is the way to go.
“But Doc, who’s got time to cook?” I hear it every day, as do my health coaches, and it’s probably the number one reason most people throw in the towel and dial up an overpriced, sub-par, nutrient-free meal from the local take-out joint. So, to help you turn it around, we’ve compiled a few of Team Be Well’s battle-tested, health coach-inspired strategies to help you become the master of your cooking domain quickly, easily, and as frequently as possible. Here’s where to start.
Just dump it.
One of the easiest meals to make at home, and one that will start your day off right, is a nourishing smoothie. The only skill you need is the ability to dump ingredients into a blender and press a button. Got eggs? Crack, stir, cook in the oven, microwave or stovetop, set ’em atop a bed of veggies, and breakfast is served. Like to lunch? Skip the corner deli and make your own. All you need are some good storage containers or glass jars and a few minutes to assemble components quickly in the morning (or before you go to bed.) Add veggies, canned wild salmon, organic turkey or chicken, hard-boiled eggs, and dressing for a lunch that will help you stay healthy (and maybe make your co-workers a little jealous).
Lower the bar.
If you barely or rarely cook, set a goal of just one to two homemade dinners a week. Start with a basic meal you know you like — the simpler the better — and make it a few times. Practice makes perfect. Once you’ve got that one down pat, add another to your repertoire. Add another each week and within two months, you’ll have eight meals in your rotation and that may be all you need.
Throw out the recipe book.
Or, just push it off to the side. For simple weeknight dinners, you don’t need a recipe; you need the essentials. A grilled protein, roasted or raw veggies, plus a side — like a simple pureed veggie soup — is fine for a weeknight, intimidation-free. Gussy it all up with some quality EVOO, salt, garlic, lemon and spices, and your recipe-less, veggie-rich dinner can hit the table in 30 minutes or less.
Always cook a little more than you need.
Leftovers make a great lunch to take to the office the following day. Or, freeze the leftovers and enjoy your meal again a little later in the week — just heat and eat.
Identify your culinary obstacles.
Forgot to shop? Too tired to prep in the evening? Or does the cleanup get you down? Know where you tend to trip up and do a time audit. Where can you win back blocks of time to perform these tasks without stress? Try setting aside a weekend afternoon or weeknight to cook meals ahead for the week — or tap into the ‘meal prep’ movement to help pare weekday cook time down to little more than heat and serve. If shopping is where your system tends to fall apart, order groceries from a delivery service, or hit the supermarket on the way home from work. One of our patients swears by food shopping late in the evening when stores are empty and lines are short.
Go for bowls.
Eating a little lighter at dinner is easier on your digestive system, and suppertime soups are a great way to fill up without weighing you down. Just add some cooked protein and roasted vegetables to a bowl of organic veggie or bone broth and you’ve got an (almost) instant, satisfying soup supper with all the components of a truly balanced, healthy meal.
Be the boss of your belly.
When you don’t cook, you’re handing control of your ingredients, your health, and your money over to somebody else. Prepared and restaurant foods too often use low-grade ingredients — it’s about their profits, not your health. Making meals with your own high-quality ingredients can save thousands of dollars a year and your health, so we say, get cookin’!
Consider the meal kit.
If time and/or kitchen skills are an issue, meal delivery services that offer boxes packed with high-quality pre-prepped ingredients are a great shortcut that still enables you to actually cook your meal at home, usually for less than the cost of ordering in. There are plenty to choose from, including sunbasket.com, greenchef.com and more. If you live in New York or the tristate area, check out our new meal delivery service, BeWell Eats, that I created with celebrity chef Tricia Williams. These delicious, nutrient-dense meals and smoothies offer the many advantages of a paleo diet, and are enhanced with the benefits of fermented foods and adaptogenic herbs.
Make kitchen time fun.
While prepping and cooking, put on some music or a great podcast. To make cooking a more social activity, and to add a few laughs into the mix, team up with friends or family to cook together.
Get your gear in order.
To save time, and your energy, we recommend investing in a few of our favorite kitchen time-savers:
- Slow cooker: Great for soups, stews, slow-cooked meats and meat sauces, black beans, and daal.
- Pressure cooker: A high-speed cooking instrument that can do everything the slow cooker does, and is especially quick for beans and legumes. It’s even said to reduce the amount of “anti-nutrient” lectins in these foods, making them more digestible.
- The Instant Pot: A multifunction cooker that offers both pressure and slow options, making it a handy choice for those without a lot of extra counter space.
- Immersion stick blender: Purées soups right in the pot, saving you time when you wash dishes.
- Spiralizer: Quickly makes vegetable noodles for steaming, sautéing, or using raw in salads.
- Steamer pot: Essential for quick-cooked vegetables and reheating cooked proteins.
- Knives: A chef’s knife and a paring knife are all you need.
- Chopping boards: Use separate ones for meats and vegetables.
- Cast iron or stainless steel pan: For safely sautéing and cooking proteins and vegetables.
- Veggie Bullet: Treat yourself to this multifunction gadget if you want automated slicing, spiralizing, shredding, and blending.
Remember, your mission is to make your meals, and your kitchen, your go-to source for sustainable health!