Monday, September 26, 2011

DIY Food Adventure: Cook/Prepare Your Own Food

Results Thus Far

This food challenge has been amazing for me.  I am cooking and preparing all of my own food while pregnant and dealing with the stress of moving, trying to find renters for my previous home, stressing over my husband's job and happiness, coaching and editing, etc.

I am not going to lie.  It is NOT easy at times--especially at 8pm at night trying to roast chickens needed for dinner and eating after 9pm after a long day and evening full of loading and unloading the car with stuff from our move and running errands.  Some days the best I can do is grab a brick of cheese and an apple or carrots for a lunch or snack on the go.  But if I am making the majority of my meals in my own kitchen, there is definitely a sense of satisfaction and the bottom-line: I just feel better.

How can I tell?  Well, when I splurge and have something packaged like corn chips or ice cream, take out like a burrito bowl at Chipotle, or something with a little sugar or refined carb at a restaurant, I just feel crappy.  The next day, I am cranky and exhausted.  Part of it is having sugar or too high density carbs before bedtime and that screws up my sleep--I toss and turn and wake up constantly.  And anyone who has been pregnant knows that you are already going to the bathroom multiple times a night and finding comfortable positions is a never-ending battle, so adding the tossing and turning and trouble sleeping just compounds the fallout the next day.  I hate feeling that way.

Realizing what food does to you is empowering.  Although we all stifle our screaming brains sometimes to over-indulge, knowing what that does to you is humbling.  Food is a drug, make no mistake.  For good or for not.

But cooking has made my life SO much better.  I just feel better and perform better in all aspects from computer work and home productivity, to the gym and my workouts and coaching, to just being in a cheerful, upbeat mood.

Change is Hard

But why didn't I cook more before--why has it always felt like a chore?

Some answers are in an article I just read on the subject from the NY Times: Is Junk Food Really Cheaper? by Mark Bittman.  
The core problem is that cooking is defined as work, and fast food is both a pleasure and a crutch. “People really are stressed out with all that they have to do, and they don’t want to cook,” says Julie Guthman, associate professor of community studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of the forthcoming “Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice and the Limits of Capitalism.” “Their reaction is, ‘Let me enjoy what I want to eat, and stop telling me what to do.’ And it’s one of the few things that less well-off people have: they don’t have to cook.”
The gist of the issue is that junk food is NOT cheaper, but since cooking is equated with work and eating out as a privilege we feel we have earned/deserve, it's less desirable to cook than to go out to eat.  It's not about the price--cooking your own food is less expensive than eating even fast food.  At least that is true with standard groceries and might get more stretched when you add in quality ingredients like organic, grass-fed or pastured meats and their dairy products and farmers market sourced organic produce.  For instance, I once burned through $40 buying fruit at a farmers market.  Easy.

Baby Steps to Real Food

But you don't have to go straight from Subway sandwiches, Ritz crackers, Golden Grahams, Fruit Roll-ups, and Ben and Jerry's to home-cooked.  Take it in baby steps:

  • Figure out what's in the your food. Start looking at the labels and if you can't pronounce an ingredient or an ingredient doesn't look like a food (meat/dairy product/vegetable/fruit/nut/seed/spice), put it back on the shelf. 
  • Cut back on eating food that comes in packages, pre-made, or from restaurants.  
    • Try making the simple stuff like roasted chicken (takes literally salt, pepper, and 10min or less of your fussing and an hour of roasting) and cutting your own veggies (or buy a food processor for ease).  

    • Buy a slow cooker and make your meals for days at one time.  You're already saving money and getting more for your money--plus, you're already eating healthier because your home-cooked food doesn't need chemical preservatives and you can control everything you put in it. 

  • Take it to the next level and start cooking and preparing more of your meals at home.  
    • Start with breakfast: eggs, veggies, and fruit takes 15min or less, is cheaper than that box of cereal and milk, and gives you longer lasting fullness and energy than that sugar bomb (yes, that even goes for Grape Nuts, check them on the glycemic index--the more processed, the more it burns through your body like pure sugar).  

    • Making your lunch is cheaper than buying it.  Lunch is a great time for leftovers.
    • And dinners you cook will be more rewarding and taste better than those you can grab on the go.  Plus, if you use a slow cooker or make your meal ahead of time, your end of day prep and cooking is much more manageable. 

  • Take a moment to assess the effects of your changes.  How do you feel after eating real food you make yourself?  How do you feel after having packaged, pre-made, or restaurant food?  I'm betting you'll notice a difference!
  • Finally, once you've mastered the basic meals, try getting creative and branching out with more complex recipes if you feel like it.  There is nothing wrong with simplicity, but variety is also a good thing :)

Now do you feel like Bill Murray in What About Bob screaming, "I'm sailing!" only yours is "I'm Cooking!"?

Hope you can make these changes in your life too! :)


  1. hey very nice post thanks for sharing it with us friend

  2. Wow, that NYT quote was very interesting! I came to love cooking when I thought of it as a craft. I always need a project, and this one doesn't clutter up the house!