I truly believe one of the best things we can do for our health is increase the number of home-cooked meals we eat and decrease the number of meals we eat out at restaurants, bring home in the form of take out, and that come from a box (entirely or partially).
Why? A number of reasons actually. First and foremost, is quality. Unfortunately, there are many ingredients used to enhance flavor that still make their way into restaurant food and packaged food. Ingredients such as MSG, trans fats, added sugar, artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners - just to name a few. And the more we learn about these ingredients, the more we understand that they are detrimental to our health. When you prepare your food yourself, you have total and complete control over the ingredients that you use and the quality of food that you consume.
Another reason is portion size. It's not new news that restaurant portions are huge. Often way larger than what our bodies need. And often times we will eat a large portion if it is sitting in front of us. Especially when you consider that many of the aforementioned ingredients often turn off our natural appetite regulators and trick our brains into wanting more.
Cooking at home also helps get the family around the dinner table. So many of us are incredibly busy and our days are so full. Eating a family meal is a nice way to bring everyone together at meal time.
I believe that our current food system is broken and reforming it starts with what we choose to buy. Cooking at home empowers us to vote with our food dollar. Michael Pollan, a food activist and one of my favorite authors and speakers, says:
"I’ve come to think that cooking is a political act, with large consequences not only for ourselves but for the environment and agriculture as well. The decline of everyday home cooking doesn’t only damage the health of our bodies and our land but also our families, our communities, and our sense of how our eating connects us to the world."
Now to clarify - I don't want you to misunderstand - this isn't to say never go out to eat at a restaurant! But perhaps try to move toward using it precisely as that - a night out. A treat. A time to connect with family and friends. A once a week occurrence versus a 5 or 6 time a week thing. The 90/10 philosophy works really well here - cook your meals at home 90% of the time and enjoy take out or restaurant food 10% of the time.
But what are you to do when you don't really like to cook, find it overwhelming to meal plan, and don't find joy in doing dishes? Well, my friend, I've gotcha covered.
Here are 5 things that have helped me increase the number of home-cooked meals I eat and decrease my reliance on the quick and the easy.
1) Build Your Recipe Arsenal With Easy Healthy Recipes
The average person typically rotates through 10-15 recipes. Stop and think about it. What are your go-tos? Which meals do you prepare over and over again? It's probably only a handful. So what if you could find 10-15 solid recipes that:
- you feel really freakin' good about?
- are easy to prepare?
- AND that you can rattle off the ingredients at the drop of a hat (ie don't need a recipe card to remember and can pick up on the fly)?
Do you see where I'm going with this?! Try to switch your focus to finding 10-15 rockin' recipes that you know like the back of your hand. How do-able is that?! Totally and completely. Let this target decrease the overwhelm and build your confidence that you really can get into the kitchen.
And it is my full intention to help you build your recipe arsenal with simple and delicious meals. Be sure to check out my FREE Resource Library - it contains over 20 quick and easy healthy recipes to help you move toward hitting that target!
2) Make Friends With Your Crockpot. Like Become Besties!
I love my crockpot. This fabulous little kitchen appliance totally changed my relationship with cooking. Learning to make space in my morning to put together a crockpot meal has been an absolute lifesaver come dinner time. It can be a busy mom's solution to the 5:00 dinner frenzy - especially on those really busy days and evenings. Chuck it full of some awesome ingredients and walk away!! And we are so fortunate now because, thanks to the internet, we have access to loads of great recipes that contain amazing ingredients. So dust off your crockpot and get ready to make this thing start working for you!
3) Cook Once. Eat Twice. Or Three Times!
If you are going to go the effort to cook, why not intentionally double (or even triple!) the recipe to make enough for more than one meal? This will really help you decrease the amount of time you put into cooking and help on those really busy days and nights that are full of activities and other commitments. I know some people resist making extra because they don't like eating the same thing two nights in a row. If this is the case for you, consider freezing the leftovers or simply alternate the evenings you eat them.
4) Get Organized in the Kitchen.
I am not a naturally organized person. In fact, my natural tendency is quite the opposite. However, organizing my kitchen space has helped me immensely in the cooking department. I did some serious decluttering and got rid of all the kitchen gadgets and gizmos that I didn't use. Thank you KonMari method. I now realize that having 5 spatulas and 20 plastic cups did NOT bring me joy. It brought me more dishes.
I developed an organization system for my recipes. If you find a lot of your recipes online like I do, I highly recommend the service called Plan to Eat. You can import practically any recipe from the internet and save it to an online recipe box. It will even generate a meal plan and shopping list if that kind of thing strikes your fancy. You can also share recipes among your friends and it only costs $39 for the entire year. Personally, I have found that this service combined with a trusty three-ring binder works remarkably well. I import the recipes that I find online into my Plan to Eat account and from there I print and store them in my binder. I use sheet protectors so that I don’t have to use a hole punch and my recipe stays dry if I happen to drip food on it (highly likely). How many times have you printed a recipe from the internet and it leaves out the photo (crucial), uses excess paper and/or wonky formatting, you lose it, or get dinner all over it? All. The. Time. Plan to Eat + Three Ring Binder = Problem Solved.
I also revamped my refrigerator. I try to use a lot of fresh vegetables in my cooking but storing them in the refrigerator drawers was just not cutting it. Enter Rubbermaid bin. This thing has been awesome. I store my vegetables in a huge plastic container on the bottom shelf of my fridge. Each time I go to prepare a meal, I pull out the entire bin and instantly feel inspired by all the beautiful colors. I realize this might not be the most effective storage technique - I'm sure my veggies are not receiving the proper amount of humidity. But do you know what?! I haven't tossed a single vegetable since I started doing this. The old saying "out of sight, out of mind" completely applies here. Things get lost in those drawers. Don't lose your vegetables.
5) Drop Any "Betty Crocker" Judgement That You May Have.
Do you consciously or unconsciously compare yourself to your friend who is super creative in the kitchen? Or who makes a different meal for her family each night? Cooking is probably her thing. It's not mine. And I'm guessing if you are reading this post, it might not be your thing either. So don't let your Inner Critic try to convince you that it needs to be OR that you need to prepare gourmet meals every single night.
We often judge ourselves on what we feel like we "should" do to be a good mom. I did. And, honestly, I still sometimes do. But it's important to realize that this kind of judgment does not serve you at all. The only thing it does is make you feel bad about yourself. It was incredibly liberating for me to decide that instead of measuring myself against some standard in my mind that I was going to expend my energy elsewhere. We all have different strengths. Own yours. And admire all the mamas out there who are creative in the kitchen.
Remember a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. One thing that you can do to take control of your health and well-being is get into the kitchen. And I'm here to help you on your journey! Be sure to check out my FREE Resources - designed especially to help you take that first step!