There is an age-old saying “never trust a skinny chef”, and I can say that I became a chef because I love food and eating, but when you cook your meals, your perspective about food changes.
“Cooking links us to our bodies” — Michael Pollan
By cooking your food, you will understand more about how your food gets to your plate, from purchasing the raw ingredients to the effort and time to cook the food. This understanding will naturally make you appreciate your time and energy that it takes to prepare, and you will be more mindful about eating it.
Sometimes the food doesn’t seem so appealing after looking at it for a while.
The process of planning, preparing, and cooking makes you appreciate the food differently than if it presents itself to you as if by magic from the kitchen.
I realized this on Thanksgiving, I usually host the meal, which I enjoy doing, so that I don’t have to go anywhere and can enjoy the day watching football. My mom will help with a few side dishes, but I have the skill and experience to throw together dinner for 10 with a few hours of prep work. By the time we sit down to eat, I have little interest in eating most courses. I will admit that taste everything as I go, but my time spent with the meal and the excitement that it brings has long subsided. I never fill my plate with any enthusiasm.
On my first day cooking in the Cafeteria at Sun Microsystems in Menlo Park, pre dot com bust, I got to serve the Indian food. We had an Indian Chef that rotated through the kitchens, and I enjoyed three days a week to learn as much as I wanted about cooking this cuisine. After spending two hours at this popular food station, I must have served about three to four hundred plates of food. I distinctly remember thinking that I would love to have this for lunch when I started, but as the lunch service started to slow down, the last thing that I wanted to eat was Indian food. Luckily, I got many other days to enjoy this cuisine when I didn’t have to dish it up for the entire lunch service.
Understand the work involved and an appropriate portion size
Michael Pollan has said that if you had to cook your own French fries, you wouldn’t eat so many. Cooking French fries is a pain in the butt without a fryer, and even if you have a home fryer, the cleanup sucks, and you will have grease coating your kitchen ceiling until you climb up on a ladder and degrease it.
Cooking for yourself makes you aware of the time and energy you spend on this chore that is so important to your physical and mental wellbeing.
When I was further on in my restaurant career, I would sit down after my employees had left, and I would only eat food that we didn’t have to cook in the kitchen. I couldn’t waste the time my employees spent working, so I would eat a bag of chips or an ice cream bar. A prepared product wasn’t necessarily the best for the bottom line, but I wasn’t eating our time. Chips and ice cream are not healthy choices.
You will lean towards meals that are simple to prepare and cleanup. The health conscious dinner of chicken, rice and broccoli is both easy to make and good for you.
You will learn to utilize leftovers, whether you make a dish that is tasty even when reheated or you transform your leftover into a new creation. When you look at the leftover items in your fridge, you will see not just food, but the time and energy that it took you to prepare them. I know that some foods are not as tasty as leftovers, but that will teach you to make less of them the next time.
You will only make food that you and your family love
I won’t go through the trouble of cooking something that isn’t my favorite because I don’t want to waste time and energy that it takes to make it.
When I decide what to cook each day, my preferences rule my decision. You are not going to make something that you don’t like to eat. And therefore, you won’t eat something that you don’t love.
I have chosen to prioritize my time so that it involves spending about an hour a day cooking and about hopefully just 20 minutes a day cleaning up after. The 80 minutes gets myself, and my son fed for breakfast and lunch, and my family fed at dinner. I know that time is hard to come by, but the work is therapeutic, and an investment in my health.
By cooking your own food, you will understand more about how your food gets to your plate from the raw ingredients to cooked food. This understanding will naturally make you appreciate your time and energy that it takes to prepare and you will become more mindful about eating it.
Julie Moreno is a chef and writer, now trying to get more people to cook their own food and understand where it comes from. She lives in the middle of California, where she’s learning to landscape with fruits and vegetables. Find her blog at The Wooden Cutting Board on Twitter @juliehouse and Facebook @thewoodencuttingboard