Throughout the last few weeks, we went from an on-the-go culture filled with work, appointments, errands, social activities, and fast meals to staying at home. During this drastic shift, one silver lining is that families are spending more time together. Why not spend it in the kitchen?
Many of my patients voice that they feel overwhelmed and intimidated by cooking. This is understandable given we rarely have the time in our normal schedules to study the lost art of cooking.
In addition to being a Medical Doctor, I am also very passionate about cooking. I grew up working in restaurants and worked my way through college waiting tables. I should also mention I love to eat good food. So, let’s take this downtime to revisit the lost art of cooking and I will share what makes a healthy meal and key skills you need in the kitchen.
What is a healthy meal?
Consuming nutrient-dense meals is the foundation we need to live our healthiest life. So what does that mean?
If I were to write a book on nutrition, it would be one paragraph:
Eat nutrient-dense whole foods with an emphasis on vegetables and some fruit. Buy organic. Eat quality protein, quality fats, nuts and seeds with the exception of peanuts. Grains (to the extent that you have grains in your diet) should be limited. A lot of people react to gluten-containing grains such as: wheat, rye, and barley. Caution should be exercised if you are a gluten-sensitive person. If you do grains or beans, preferably they should be sprouted.
Now that you know what makes up a healthy meal – I can hear you saying: that’s good information but I am not a chef. You don’t need to be!
I always say: if you can shop, wash, and chop then you can cook. We are talking about shopping, washing and chopping vegetables and fruit.
Advice for Shopping
Plan ahead before you get to the store. The first thing to do is to go through your pantry/ refrigerator and see what you already have. Reorganize and search for expiration dates on both perishable and non-perishable products. Note what you have that is fresh and set a goal to use it up before it goes bad. This will help you curb your spending and avoid food waste.
Then, go through your recipes, cookbooks, or use Pinterest to find meal ideas. You can save yourself money and multiple trips to the store by creating a meal plan and grocery list for 1-2 weeks. Here are meal plan templates you can use.
To save more money, search on your store’s website for coupons, buy what’s in season, and frequent farmer’s markets.
When bringing your food home, learn how to properly store your food to keep it fresh, so it lasts longer.
Advice for Washing
When I get home from the store, I take a large stock pot, fill it with water, and dump all of my fresh produce in it. Let it soak for a few minutes. Then pull out your produce by item (carrots, celery, etc.), give it another good rinse, let it drain, and then you’re ready for the cutting board.
Advice for Chopping
Knife skills are essential. If you never learned how to use a knife or could use a refresher, I recommend this video.
What about the cooking part? – Dr. G’s go-to meal
There’s a famous Cajun chef and comedian, Justin Wilson, who said “Cooking is a little common sense and a lot of imagination.” Once you learn basic cooking skills, this is a chance to let your creativity run wild. Since there are countless ways to steam, sauté, bake, roast, and broil (just ask YouTube) – I am going to run you through my go-to meal.
Almost every week, I roast a chicken. If you can master roasting a chicken then that’s a huge culinary accomplishment. While it’s not hard to do, there are a few techniques that help get it right every time.
What you need from the store to roast a chicken:
· Whole chicken
· Seasoning (salt, pepper, and garlic are my staples)
· Vegetables (onions, celery, carrots) *You can get creative with adding other veggies like cauliflower, potatoes, egg plant, etc.
Here is my process for roasting a chicken:
1. Preheat oven to 350 or 375
2. Coat roasting pan in light layer of olive oil
3. Remove chicken from package (current CDC recommendations are to not rinse chicken)
4. Cut lemon in half
5. Put lemon inside the chicken
6. Season the chicken (more details on seasoning below)
7. Place veggies in roasting pan with the seasoned chicken on top. Add a little seasoning to the veggies.
8. Cover roasting pan and bake chicken for about 1 hr and 30 mn (cooking time varies depending on the size of the chicken. One way to determine if the chicken is fully cooked is to see how easily you can remove the wing or drum stick. It should tear off fairly easily when it is done. Additionally, if you cut into the chicken and the juices run red or pink then it is not cooked fully. Some recommend using a meat thermometer to ensure chicken is cooked to 165 degrees F.)
9. Make sure you strain the juice from the roasting pan and save for soup or stock. You can make a delicious soup with any leftover chicken, veggies, and the stock. I am all about repurposing leftovers. Soup freezes well and can be eaten later when you don’t have time to cook.
The chicken adds wonderful flavor to the vegetables. Now you have a delicious home-cooked meal with protein and veggies to spare for the week.
Homemade Lemon and Herb Whole Chicken on a Cutting Board
What about seasoning?
As far as seasoning goes, just consider the basics: salt, pepper, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, clarified butter (ghee) to name a few. Become acquainted with a few herbs that will add character to your dish.
Another tip: I use a lot of Cook County Charcoal seasoning from Savory Spice to make a rub. I will use it when I want that grilled flavor without using the grille. Click here for safe grilling tips.
Why is this important to learn right now?
As you know, functional medicine is all about prevention. A healthy diet is the first form of defense against any kind of disease. As Hippocrates said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Over decades we’ve become reliant on eating fast food, pre-packaged meals, canned goods, and anything that requires minimal efforts, and throughout it all, we’ve lost the basic life skill of cooking. Now is the time to go back to the roots of our ancestors and learn how to prepare nutritious homemade meals.
In Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked” he describes cooking as the single most important thing to do as a family to improve your health and general well-being. He also explains that by cooking we can help reform the American food system by making it healthier and more sustainable. Do you know that food waste in the US is estimated at almost 40 percent of the food supply? That is approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food! A lot of the food that we toss can be used for quite a while longer than we think. With a little creativity, you can help to reduce food waste and save money through cooking. This is where menu planning, proper food storage, and preparing home-cooked meals comes into play.
Cooking can become a fun hobby that allows you to create something that you and your family can enjoy. You can pull up a new recipe, turn on some music, and get crafty in the kitchen by creating a healthy and delicious dish.