Spoiler alert: It isn’t a new supplement or fad diet, or even any specific eating pattern at all….It’s cooking.
Still with me? Great! I hope you aren’t disappointed to find out that there is still no magic bullet for good health. There is no single pill, shake, or even food that can prevent the myriad of lifestyle diseases that we hear so much about (sorry to burst your bubble). If you want to read more about the supplement and diet industry’s shortcomings you can click here. And really, even if there was some magical supplement that would make us healthier, a diet full of highly processed foods would probably negate the effects anyway!
Anyway, back to cooking! Back in ‘the day’, before the time of processed or packaged foods, meals had to be made from scratch because if you didn’t cook, you didn’t eat. There were no frozen dinners, heat and serve soups, or even instant pudding. You had to make that from scratch on the stove. Ice cream was only a once in a while treat because you certainly couldn’t get a 4 litre pail of the stuff at the grocery store. Historically, hours per day might be spent preparing meals. Even when I was a kid in the 90’s, you still had to boil water to make Kraft Dinner, today even that comes in a microwaveable cup!
Can you guess how long on average we spend making a meal today? Keep reading to find out!
A lot has certainly changed since then. When ready-made meals were first invented, they actually were met with scrutiny by the home cooks of the time. They did not feel that these frozen and canned products were nearly as good or nutritious as the ones they could make and serve to their families (DUH!). But, at that same time more and more women were joining the workforce, meaning a shift was taking place in how these homes operated. I’m no historian, but to me this is a bit of a chicken vs egg story. The processed food companies worked extremely hard to convince women that their food products were better than the homemade versions (and with the truck loads of salt and sugar that they used to enhance the taste of their products who could disagree? This was before the days of nutrition labels). They convinced us that cooking is drudgery, a chore, and that we’re much better off letting someone else take care of that for us, while we spend our precious time doing other things, like going to work or spending time with family (talk about a guilt trip!). It makes me wonder, had these frozen foods never been invented, would the majority of us ladies still be home makers, spending hours each day preparing meals from scratch? Obviously some of us think that would be pretty great, and an equal amount are probably horrified at the idea. That’s cool! To each their own BUT, if you’re in the camp that thinks cooking sucks as much as folding laundry (my most hated chore) I’m going to try and change your mind…at least just a bit. Here are a few of the benefits of cooking more at home (and generally eating less processed foods)
You’re going to eat more fruits and vegetables…probably
Research has shown that people who spend more time cooking (and eat more meals as a family) eat more servings of fruits and vegetables per day than those who do less. Makes sense, because fruits and vegetables can be tough to find in the realm of fast food takeout or ready to eat frozen foods. Let’s face it, drive-throughs aren’t serving up fresh fruit with that breakfast sandwich in the morning. Maybe there’s a little bit of green something in that frozen fettuccini alfredo at lunch but let’s be real, it’s not even the equivalent of a half serving of vegetables. On the other hand, if you were to make your own breakfast sandwich, perhaps you’d have an orange or some berries on the side. If you whipped up some fettuccini alfredo for dinner one night with broccoli, you’re much more likely to serve yourself at least one half-cup serving of vegetables (but maybe more!)
You’re going to eat less salt…probably
If you eat highly processed foods you can be certain you’re getting a whack of salt along with it. Yes, even the ‘healthy’ processed foods like the low-fat frozen meals that claim to be made with simple ingredients are chock full of salt. You see, salt acts as both a preservative and flavouring agent in these foods, and it also happens to be a naturally-occurring mineral. So, it makes a food taste good, AND a company can still get away with marketing their stuff as ‘natural’, despite using truck loads of the stuff. Because salt has no calories, it’s the best option for food companies to use as a replacement for high sugar or high fat alternatives while keeping their nutrition facts attractive to consumers. Cooking from scratch at home means you can add just a pinch of salt to things for flavour, or none at all if you don’t need it.
You’re going to eat less added sugar…probably
You’d be amazed at the foods that can be sources of added sugar in our diets. Did you know many pre-made pasta sauces use sugar as a flavouring agent? It’s true! It’s cheaper than using real tomatoes. Would you add sugar to the tomato sauce you make at home? Probably not! A muffin to go with your morning coffee from the drive-though? More than a day’s worth of added sugar (not to mention the fat content). Home-baked muffins however, can be made with way less sugar, or even a fibre-rich substitute like applesauce or bananas. I like to bake a big batch of muffins and freeze them for a few week’s worth of quick breakfasts, so there’s no pretending I have no time in the morning to eat something wholesome.
You’re going to eat less saturated fat…probably
Fat tastes good, it’s a well-known fact. But there are plenty of other spices, herbs, and seasonings that taste really good too. The trouble is they aren’t cheap, and people have personal preferences for some over others so processed food companies don’t bother to use them. Combinations of fat and salt or fat and sugar (or hell, fat, sugar, AND salt!) are cheap, and are universal crowd pleasers. Major sources of saturated fats in the processed food world are items we rarely eat as part of a home cooked meal- french fries, processed meats and cheese, deep fried foods, etc. The saturated fats we do get from less-processed foods like dairy or meat we should be eating in moderation and in balance with other whole foods.
When it comes to highly processed foods- food scientists have found that people eat the most of items that aren’t TOO flavourful. Why? Because our taste buds don’t get fatigued as quickly, so we are inclined to eat more. Think about a food item you’ve had that is really rich in flavour. You feel satisfied more quickly because your taste buds become overwhelmed with the intensity of the flavour of the food. Food companies definitely don’t want people eating less of their products, so they keep the flavour at just the right amount to encourage us to eat with abandon.
You’re going to eat more fibre…probably
When you cook your own meals it is easier to include not just more fruits and vegetables in your diet, but to use more whole grains as well. It is starting to become more popular for restaurants to offer whole grain breads and pastas as an option, but usually these dishes include more than a reasonable share of sugar, salt, and fat. If you’re cooking a meal, it is also likely that you’ll include more high fibre foods in your meals like quinoa or pulses. It’s pretty rare that you’ll come across these types of food in the fast food world, and if you do, guess what? They’re probably going to come along with a hefty side of unwanted additives of the salt and sugar variety.
You’re going to save money…probably
We hear this all the time “It’s expensive to eat healthy!” And I agree, if we’re talking about buying healthy convenience foods like pre-chopped salad, the pre-peeled and diced squash, or prepared fruit trays. But, I would also argue that eating pre-made convenience foods is still a money saver over going for fast food or ordering takeout 3 times a day. Trust me when I say there is nothing less expensive than buying the least processed food ingredients. That means whole rolled oats in a big bag rather than packages of instant oatmeal, or whole broccoli crowns that you have to chop up instead of the ones that come in the ready-to-microwave bag. I often hear people complain about how they started eating a healthier diet, but they find they’re spending way more on food. It makes me wonder- do you mean you’re spending more money now at the grocery store? Did you take into account how much money previously was going to fast food and takeout? Perhaps your weekly grocery bill was smaller back then, but did you think about how much money was being spent on meals and snacks on the go?
For me, the issue really comes down to the fact that a lot of us have no idea what to do with the unprocessed foods once we buy them. Growing up we we never learned the food skills needed to take a bunch of ingredients and turn them into a tasty, interesting meal. Getting comfortable in the kitchen and learning what to do with all that fresh food from the store is the key to saving money and not having to throw all those fruits and vegetables away. Do we need to spend hours in the kitchen every day to eat healthy? HELL NO! For a lot of us, that just isn’t possible while juggling work and other obligations. But in today’s world, we spend an average of only FOUR MINUTES cooking a meal (including clean up!). Four pitiful minutes. Compare that to the ten hours of screen time (time spent watching TV, on social media, or playing video games) the average adult has in a day and you can see why I truly believe that each of us has time to dedicate to cooking if we make it a priority. Planning ahead, getting organized, and creating a weekly meal plan is key for success if you’re short on time. (Click here for my step by step guide for meal planning). It might be chopping some vegetables and throwing them in the slow cooker for the day with some chicken or beef, making a quick stir-fry on a Tuesday night, or cooking a large batch of something that can be eaten as leftovers for a few days. If you plan it, you can do it!
My advice? Start small! If you’re new to cooking and don’t really know a teaspoon from a tablespoon, start by seeking out some simple recipes that only require a few ingredients and only have a few steps to them. Simply dedicate more time throughout the week to preparing meals and including more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet. Each meal you prepare yourself vs relying on a packaged food or takeout food is a win!
Need more help with meal planning, cooking, or eating less processed foods? Contact me today!