Food is a source of joy. I love food: it’s that simple. Fortunately, most of the foods I enjoy eating are healthy. But it wasn’t always like this.
When I was learning to cook, I was also learning about nutrition. At that time, food was fuel. I balanced my ingredients to ensure that I ate enough protein, fibre and vitamins, with a minimum of fat, oil, sugar and salt. Looking back, it was a rather miserable diet, even though the nutritional principles were sound. I didn’t enjoy my meals very much, which led me to binge on junk food every once in a while. Now, my diet is much less rigid and, as a result, much healthier.
Cook from scratch
I have met many health-conscious people who seem scared of food. This is understandable. There are many stories in the news about the dangers of high sugar, high cholesterol and chemicals in food. Worse than that, the articles are confusing. Which is better: butter or margarine? What’s the difference between good and bad cholesterol?
After spending ages in the grocery store reading the fine print on nutrition labels, you might want to just throw up your hands in frustration and pick up a pizza for dinner. One solution: buy food without nutrition labels: fruit, vegetables, meat, beans, seafood. If you can’t find these fresh, try frozen or dried. When you buy canned goods, try to get products with as few ingredients as possible (e.g., canned beans that only contain beans and water, rather than ones with sugar, fat and preservatives; canned tomatoes with only tomatoes and herbs, rather than spaghetti sauce with lots of sugar, oil and salt).
Preparing home-cooked meals is a good step towards healthy eating. By cooking your own meals, you can control what goes into the food. Years ago, when the issue of trans fats came up in the news, I thought about the food in my fridge and cupboards. I realized that trans fats are not part of my diet, simply because I don’t buy much prepared food. This is one benefit of home cooking: you can avoid preservatives, hydrogenated fats, excessive salt, sugar and many other undesirable ingredients in processed food.
When you’re busy, you can find a middle ground rather than avoiding all processed foods. For example, you can make soup or chili using canned beans and tomatoes. I buy organic foods whenever possible. Prepared organic foods do not contain genetically modified ingredients, trans fats or harmful preservatives. By simply buying food that is certified organic, you know that the food is free from such substances.
Another advantage of home cooking is the low cost. By working from scratch, you can greatly reduce your grocery bill. Also, you can make a gourmet meal at home for less than the cost of take-out. Your meal can be healthier, tastier and more satisfying.
It’s easy to rush meals by seeing them as interruptions in your day. But if, instead, you view meals as enjoyable events, you will be more likely to invest time into preparing nutritious meals. You will likely feel more satisfied afterwards and less likely to indulge in unhealthy snacks and desserts.
I once had a terrible habit of eating breakfast while driving and eating lunch at my desk. I don’t think I tasted anything. Likewise, many kids regularly eat dinner in front of the television. By eating while doing something else, it’s difficult to appreciate the food. Also, perhaps more importantly, it is easy to overeat because you will eat quickly and be less likely to notice that you are full. Research has shown that kids who regularly eat in front of the TV are more likely to become obese than other kids. If you recognize that cooking and eating aren’t chores but rather fun family activities, it will be easier to rationalize putting the time into meals.
I no longer view eating just as a way to keep my body going; rather, I view meals as celebrations. When I sit down for a meal, I try to savour the food, enjoying not only the taste and texture, but also the energy invested in the food. My meals reflect the work that my partner and I put into growing and cooking the food, along with the energy invested by neighbouring farmers and other food producers. Knowing the link between the land and the food makes it easier to appreciate every bite. Even if you haven’t met the farmers, keep in mind someone laboured to grow what’s on your plate.
One way to celebrate meals is to establish rituals before eating, such as lighting a candle, making a toast, saying grace, or pausing to be thankful for the food. This can be as simple as thanking the cook or acknowledging the farmer who grew some of the vegetables. Or, if eating alone, take a moment to sit and reflect on the food before starting to eat.
At the home of one of my farming friends, the kids take turns expressing gratitude for the food. They say thanks for everything on their plate, starting with the person who cooked it, thanking the cow and hens by name, and thanking Mother Nature for the vegetables. When I had a farm, I was grateful to the goats that provided the milk for the cheese I made and the hens that gave me eggs. But before I grew my own food, I bought organic vegetables at the farmers’ market. When I had dinner, I would point out we were eating Martin’s carrots or Joan’s potatoes, and we would all appreciate the food a little bit more. Bon appetit.