When I went off to college my culinary skills consisted of operating a manual can opener, a hot plate, and a microwave. Everything I ate was pre-packaged, processed food. I was big on the beef stew in a can. That was a special treat. I also ate a lot of macaroni and cheese in a box, but I got creative with that and I would add a can of peas or corn to make it really fancy. There was a lot of pasta and rice in my life – particularly those that came in envelopes and you just had to add water and butter and boil. My vegetable repertoire included canned peas, canned corn, and occasionally canned string beans. I rarely ate anything that was fresh and prided myself on being able to go food shopping once per month. I also suffered from migraine headaches, lack of energy, and allergies.
Years later, when I decided that I wanted to be healthy and have all the energy I needed to do the things I wanted to do in life, I realized that my nutrition needed some serious attention. The first thing I realized was that the processed food was not going to work. I needed to eat healthy foods, and the more labels I read, the more I realized that I was going to have to start to cook. Uh oh! Cook? I didn’t really cook; I just heated food up. Sometimes I had to add water or brown some ground beef or “roni” in a pan, but I didn’t actually “cook” anything. This was going to be a challenge.
Luckily, as I learned, cooking is actually easy. I started to read cookbooks to get some ideas about what I could make that didn’t sound overwhelming. I didn’t understand some cooking terms like “blanche” so I avoided those recipes. I started simple with salads and baked potatoes. I got creative with the toppings and started adding hummus, sun-dried tomatoes, black beans, or salsa. I learned to cook vegetables on the grill (low and slow is the way to go!). Since I was used to my food being loaded with artificial flavors, salt, and MSG (monosodium glutamate), I felt like my veggies were kind of boring. To add flavor, I created a marinade/glaze that consisted of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey or maple syrup, and brown mustard; whisked together and poured over (& tossed) every type of veggie I put in the oven or on the grill.
As time passed and my palate got used to the true flavors of food, I started to notice how amazing everything tasted. You see, when you eat a diet full of processed food and fast food, your taste buds get used to 3 flavors – salt, fat, and sweet – and just about everything else tastes gross. It probably took 2-3 months of eating a whole-foods diet for me to really start to taste my food. That’s when I really started to cook. I paid more attention to the flavors in what I was eating. Oooh, was that a little garlic? Hey, adding a can of tomatoes to that really gave it some zing! Lemon juice on the green beans – yum!
Once you really start to taste food, it is amazing! You start to experiment with herbs, spices, sauces, and food combinations. You want to make sure you are including not only the flavors of salt and sweet but also bitter, pungent, astringent, and sour. You start to realize how combining these flavors, together in a meal, create a symphony in your mouth! For more than a year after transitioning to a whole-foods lifestyle, I would be enjoying a delicious meal with my husband and be absolutely amazed that I made something so incredible. At nearly every meal I would exclaim “I didn’t know I could cook!”
The moral of the story: Food is delicious. Cooking is easy. People make it out to be complicated but it doesn’t need to be. Here’s the reality: if you want to be healthy, you have to cook – period. There are a few things you can do to start to enjoy cooking.
- A really nice, sharp, high-quality chef’s knife. Spend the money. It’ll be worth it!
- An easy to clean, plastic (type) cutting board
- One good pot, pan, and casserole dish with covers
- Aim to have all the colors of nature’s rainbow each day
- Aim to have all flavors each day: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, astringent
- Pay attention to foods you enjoy at restaurants and other people’s houses and ask about them.
- When in doubt, cook at a lower temperature for a longer period of time.