I know, not everybody likes it and it can be a chore: Cooking. But at the same time I think the arduousness of it and level of difficulty is often overestimated by those who never cook. There are a lot of dishes you can rustle up very quickly, that only takes as long as it takes to thaw a frozen pizza in the oven.
So, what’s so good about cooking (by which I mean ‘preparing food from scratch’, even if it was ultimately eaten raw)?
The Obvious First
Of course it’s healthier. Food cooked from fresh ingredients doesn’t contain artificial flavouring, preservatives, emulsifiers, colouring, transfats and whatever else goes in, plus it’ll have much less salt and sugar.
Your food will be more interesting
If you rely on take-aways and ready meals, you’re restricted to what there is to be had, and - let’s face it - the selection is limited and boring: lasagne, Bolognese, Chicken Kiev, Maccaroni Cheese, burgers, Chicken Tikka Masala, … It’s always the same. If you cook your own food, the possibilities are endless and you may discover flavours you never knew existed.
You decide what goes in
If you don’t like or can’t tolerate something – say, garlic – your options are even more limited as garlic is in a lot of ready-made dishes. When you cook your own food, you’re the one who decides what goes in, and even if garlic is on most ingredients lists: So what? Don’t put it in. You’re in charge.
Yes, believe it or not. You get better quality food for less money. If you pick your ingredients according to season and special offers, reduce the meat and add some lentils and extra veg instead, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck. Don’t you sometimes think those ready-meal portions are a bit small? If you cook from scratch, a second helping won’t break the bank.
You can be creative
Sometimes you may not get around to shopping for food and just have to make do with what you’ve got. Most of us have enough food at home at all times to make a meal of it: tinned tomatoes, tinned beans, tinned tuna, some onions, a bit of cheese, eggs, sun-dried tomatoes and grilled peppers in jars, pasta, rice, or quinoa, dried herbs and spices … That’s plenty to come up with something. And then there’s still the freezer; who knows what lurks in there? Coming up with ideas of what to make with what you’ve got can yield surprisingly delicious results. And a sense of accomplishment.
You’ll learn a life skill
It’s not only extremely satisfying, but also very useful to know how to cook. The more you do it, the better you get. As you hone your chopping skills, you’ll get faster. With a little experience, you’ll know what will work, if you haven’t got all the ingredients in the recipe: You need red chillies, but only have green ones? Who cares, they’ll do. You have no chillies at all, but dried chilli flakes – that’ll be fine. You don’t like spicy food or have no form of chilli in your cupboard? It may be just as nice or even nicer without any chilli at all.
When I used to work in the City, I’d use that cooking time to unwind. As soon as I got home – at around 6:30 pm, if I was lucky – I’d change into jeans and T-shirt, put on my apron and start chopping while listening to a podcast. And yes, I did cook dinner every day. Commuting was no excuse. The time for a healthy meal is always there. It’ll just have to come off my TV or Facebook time.
If you cook with your kids, your partner or your friends, the time spent in the kitchen together adds to your quality time. At the same time, it speeds up the process and saves you some time. Bonus: Kids that have helped prepare food are much more likely to actually eat it.
It starts off your digestion
Thinking about what you’re going to have, preparing, stirring, tasting, smelling what you’re cooking gets stomach acid and digestive enzyme production going. Your body is getting ready for the meal that is about to arrive, and the more time to give it to do that, the better. If all your preparation is to open the door to the pizza delivery man and start eating, you’ll take your digestive system by surprise.
For more of this last and many other useful and practical tips on how to improve digestion, come and join me at my Happy Gut Workshop on 18 November 2017!