"I don't have time to cook."
"It's too much hassle to make my own food."
"I'm too busy to slave in the kitchen."
No time to cook. This is one of the most common reasons people give for not being able to eat healthily. But is this really true? Many a ready-meal has to be defrosted, and if you order in you'll have to wait or even drive somewhere to pick up your take-away. Is that so much quicker? During the time it takes to organise fast food from somewhere, you could have quickly rustled up a home cooked meal.
How come that we do not have time anymore to execute one of the most basic tasks of human existence, something we have done for thousands of years, every day? There's always been time, but now there isn't, despite all the ‘time-saving’ devices we now have. Somehow, however, we always find the time to do for other things that need to be done:
Do we have time to brush your teeth in the morning? To shower? Do we have time to pay our bills? To wash our clothes? Fill in our tax return? Clean our house? Entertain our children? Walk the dog? Of course we do! After all, these are essential tasks, not all of which we enjoy, but they still get done, because needs must. To find the time to cook your own food, more than anything you need to understand that it is not optional, but just as essential as the tax return and tooth brushing.
We also seem to always find the time for what we want to do: We’ve got time to watch television, chat on the phone, play computer games, read books, hand around on social media, exercise (provided we want to, if we don’t there’s no time for that either) … Where do we find that time? It seems to just appear.
Over the last few decades the food industry has made a great and successful – effort to convince us that cooking is arduous, time consuming, boring, old-fashioned and most of all: unnecessary. Thanks to the industry’s efforts, we can just go to a supermarket or take-away and get something ready made. They will do all the work for us. Brilliant! Over that very same time span, however, we as a population got sicker and sicker. Chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, and auto-immune diseases are on the rise. Despite this, we are living longer. “Well, there you go then,” you might think. “We’re doing something right then.” Yes, we are living longer. But this is due to better medical care, not better health. Modern medicine helps us extend life … but in poor health. What good does it do, to see your 90s when you spend the last 25 years of your life on drugs, in pain, or incapacitated? If you want to live a long and healthy life, you are going to have to find the time to exercise and to make your own food. (For more on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, click here and here.)
If we leave the job of nourishing our bodies to the food industry, what can we expect? Our interest is to sustain ourselves, to eat well, to enjoy our food, to be healthy. The interest of the food industry is to make money, and those two are not compatible. Processed food is made with the cheapest ingredients, sourced wherever. It is treated for a long shelf life, cooked in vats rather than pots and pans, made with additives that give it an appetising colour and texture, stop components from separating, enhance flavour that isn’t naturally there, kill bacteria (ultimately including your own gut flora). You have no control over the amount of sugar, salt, and damaged fats that are in that ‘food’. Does that sound desirable?
Since we have time for what needs doing and time for what we want to do, maybe there is a way to carve out time for proper food.
1. Know your WHY
Do you want to live a long and healthy life? You can make changes to your diet and lifestyle at any age, and it’ll always be worth doing. Think about your reasons to want to age healthily. I am sure you will come up with many. Make a list and put it in a prominent place.
2. Change your perspective
Many of us today believe that in this day and age, cooking food from scratch is old fashioned and unnecessary. It’s not. It is as crucial as ever. If you need convincing, why not have a look around this blog to find lots of good reasons. Knowing that food preparation at home is as essential as brushing your teeth may help you find the time.
3. Keep a time journal for a week
I know it’s tiresome, but it’s just a week. Maybe three days will be enough for you to see where your time goes. If you have time to watch television or go on social media, there’s an opportunity right there. And don’t worry: Cooking your own food doesn’t mean that you won’t have time for those things anymore. You will.
4. Keep doing it
If you are not used to cooking, it may take a little longer to begin with, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it and the quicker it’ll be.
5. Keep your kitchen well stocked
If there’s nothing in your cupboards but a few bottles of condiments, a dusty jar of Chinese-5-spice and some soggy old taco shells then, yes, maybe there’s not a lot you can do with that. But keep some wholegrain pasta or soba noodles, tins of tuna and salmon, beans, and a tube of tomato paste and you’d have enough to actually make something to eat. Always have some eggs around. Nothing makes a quicker meal than eggs.
Dedicate an hour at the weekend to food preparation: chop and roast some vegetables, pre-cook your grains, beans and lentils and put in them in the fridge in airtight containers or freeze in portions, wash and dry your salad leaves. Make a batch of your ‘dip of the week’ to take to work with you so it makes a quick snack with crudités or oatcakes.
7. Keep your meals super simple
Develop an easy pattern, you could make ‘bowls’ for example: a grain (cooked barley, quinoa, or brown rice), some veg (pre-steamed or pre-roasted), some protein (cooked fish, halloumi, feta, lentils, beans, tofu), a dressing. Done. You could make quick salads: leaves, veg (e. g. tomatoes, spring onions, cucumber, sun-dried tomatoes, olives), some protein (see above), a dressing. Done. Stir-fries and curries are quick, too. Wraps, stuffed pita, quick pasta dishes. Search the net and you won’t be stuck for quick recipe suggestions.
8. Cook more than you need
Once you’re at it, you may as well cook double the recipe. If you’re on your own, cook for two. If there are two of you, cook for four. Leftovers can either be frozen for a day when you’re really stuck for time or be your lunch for tomorrow.
9. “Have all the fast food you want …
… as long as you cook it yourself.” (Michael Pollan) There’s nothing wrong with pizzas, burgers, curries and fish and chips. As long as you cook them yourself.