Are we that disconnected from food that we don’t use our kitchens anymore? There seems to be multitudes of cooking shows on television but when I ask people if they cook after watching these shows, they give me this look like I’m crazy. Who has time to cook these days? Parents are busy commuting to and from work, driving their children to soccer practice or piano lessons and picking up fast food seems to be the only choice. Or is it? It’s so convenient for people to shop for processed food at the grocery store or visit the nearest drive-thru to pick up food to save time but are you really saving time?
Since I’ve adapted a whole and plant-based lifestyle, I’ve noticed that when I go grocery shopping I’m very cognizant of what other people buy. I’m not judging them, but rather curious as to why they are filling up their grocery carts with processed microwave dinners or oven meals. I get it that there is very little time to cook and prepare meals for themselves let alone an entire family. Who am I to judge when I have no children myself? But is the real reason that people don’t cook anymore because of lack of time or is it the corrupting influence of the food industry that makes us dependent on purchasing their products? Or is it simply that people just can’t be bothered to cook anymore?
I remember as a child I always would watch my mom and dad cook. When they asked me to help them in the kitchen, I always did. I loved food! It was a treat to go out for dinner but I always seemed to love the home cooked meal instead. I grew up appreciating food and where it came from and I never lost that feeling thanks to my parents. I didn’t always love eating my vegetables, but what child does, and today I can’t get enough of them, even the brussel sprouts! My dad worked two jobs, my mom worked inside the home and raised five children of her own but the two of them always found time to prepare and cook food.
So has convenience taken over our lives of eating foods in their natural form or are we just addicted to the taste of processed foods that have overtaken our grocery stores along with the endless availability of fast food restaurants? When did we lose our ability to cook? Doesn’t food bring people together? Have you ever noticed if you host a party that you will always find the majority of people in your kitchen? Your kitchen is the place that brings people together. People love food. They love the taste of it, how it makes them feel, but do they ever wonder what’s in their food or where it comes from?
Our grocery stores are lined with so many varieties of produce but people are drawn to the other aisles to get their processed and comfort foods. I hear from so many of my clients that they don’t have time to cook but after digging deeper and asking questions, it’s really not about the time. Time is one of the biggest excuses I hear from so many people when it comes to their health. If something is important to you, you FIND THE TIME instead of making excuses. We find time to watch TV, go on social media, talk on our phones, but our health always takes a back seat. We make up this story in our head that eating healthy is too expensive or it takes too long to prepare the food. I help people find time in their busy days to prepare and cook food. This is how I do it.
1.Understand the Basics of Food
Most people have no idea what is good and bad for them. Consumers are becoming more aware of what they put into their bodies, but they also need to have a better understanding of what they are placing into their bodies and how it effects it. For instance, people give up pop to consume fruit juice thinking it’s a healthier choice for them. The reason being is that they are consuming fruit and they are getting their daily recommended dosage of fiber or close to it. However, they don’t realize that they are taking in the same amount of sugar that a soda would have but the real kicker is that the fiber is removed when it goes through the refinement process. You’re simply left with sugar and water. You may as well be drinking a soda. Instead eat a few pieces of fruit in your day to get the fiber your body needs. Fruit is filled with water so not only are you hydrating, you are getting fiber and lots of essential nutrients that your body needs to survive.
We are obsessed with the term ‘protein’. Do you know why we need protein? I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago, ‘Do We Have an Obsession With Protein, which talks about protein and why our bodies need it.
2. Reading Food Labels
Many food companies are in the business of making money, and not to make us healthy. This is not to say that there are reputable companies out there who offer healthy plant-based products because there is but they are not the ones I’m referring to. Consumers assume because a package says ‘fat-free’ or ‘low in fat’ that it is automatically the right choice. This is one of the biggest problems today. We as a society are very misguided by what we see on food labels. For many foods, to make them less in fat, refined sugar is added to make up for the loss in taste. Sugar is so high in calories and people actually end up consuming more calories thinking that they are consuming less. Although I would like to see many people reduce their intake of processed foods or eliminate them altogether, it’s an impossible task to ask at first. When I take a client through a grocery store, I guide them on the reading labels on the side of the box, the nutritional content, and what the numbers mean.
3. Time Saving Approaches to Plant-Based Cooking
How much time do you spend driving to a restaurant, picking up fast food, or sitting in the drive-thru? If you are spending anywhere between 15-30 minutes, you have lots of time to prepare and cook for not only one meal but multiple ones. The key to cooking more at home is being organized. If you read my blog post, ‘Time Saving Shortcuts in the Kitchen’ it will not only help you save time in the kitchen but also save on money.
4. Saving Money
The biggest excuse I hear from people is that they don’t have enough time to cook. The second reason, eating healthy is too expensive. I can’t remember the last time I stepped into a fast food restaurant so I’m just estimating here of how much a meal costs for a family of 4 at a fast food restaurant vs. a home cooked meal.
Dinner for 4 – fast food (value meals)
-4 burgers, 4 french fries, 4 soft drinks
Total = $32.00
Dinner for 4 – home cooked meal (recipe at the end of the blog)
-Baked Beans with Smashed Sweet Baked Potatoes with whole wheat bread (beans, carrots, ketchup, onions, bread, BBQ sauce, spices)
Total – $11.00
I won’t even get into the nutritional value of both of these meals, but you can actually make 3 meals out of the home cooked recipe which is whole and plant-based.
Another tip is to shop for produce that is half priced. A lot of pressure has been put on grocery store chains to not through out food. I see food that is placed on these half-priced shelves that is not even ripe yet. It just seems so wasteful that this food is not being used. This is actually one of the first places that I go to now when I grocery shop. I generally know exactly what I’m having for dinner and if I see product that I need for that meal on the shelf, I buy it. There seems to be an abundance of bananas on these half-priced shelves and they are very cheap to buy and are high in nutrients. Buying them at 50% off, I’m able to freeze them to use for future use in baking and smoothies. In fact, I have to let them ripen a few days longer before I can freeze them.
5. Menu Planner
Are you one of those people who is always trying to figure out what to have for dinner every night? The biggest time saver for myself is using my menu planner. Getting a menu planner has helped organize my recipes, organize my meal plan for the month ahead, and prepare a grocery list, all in one app. Having one place where all your recipes could be stored and having the ability to pull up the recipe at a moments notice, can save you enormous amounts of time. There’s no searching through cook books or the internet to try and find a recipe, and then searching your pantry and fridge to see if you have all the ingredients. If you plan your meals for the upcoming week, some apps will pull all the ingredients from that recipe and create a grocery list for you. How convenient is that. It’s done in seconds. It’s right there for you on your phone.
I use ‘Plant to Eat’ for my menu planner. There is a cost associated with it, but for myself, the time I have saved from the endless trips to the grocery store to pick up another ingredient that I forget, pays for itself. Try using it for a 30 day free trial to see if it works for your menu and shopping needs. Do an internet search on meal planners to see what app works best for you.
6. Cooking or Working Out
This has become a sore spot for me. It seems to be an endless battle trying to educate people on a message sold to them by some food companies that calories in equals calories out. It simply doesn’t work. This message contradicts science and food companies confuse consumers by putting the spin on exercise to make them feel less guilty about consuming their product. The message they send is that it’s ok to consume their products as long as you exercise, you can burn off the calories. Unfortunately, we are not going to exercise our way out of this obesity problem.
Many people work out so they can indulge in the very foods that have caused their weight gain. It only takes minutes to consume a 1000 calories but several hours to burn it off. Most people don’t have time in their day to work out this much. We need to change the way we think about food and how it makes our bodies feel. I tell most people to cut down on their workout time and use that time to prepare and cook food instead. If you are doing 2 hours of cardiovascular activity for the sole purpose of weight loss, cut it down to 30-45 minutes and add some weight training. The extra hour of cardio is being wasted. This is the extra time they’ve been looking for. It’s very hard to convey this message as people want to believe they can burn off the calories they consumed. Once people start to change the way they eat, they see the weight come off, and realize they are not only healthier but they have more energy and time in their day to do the things they love.
7. Re-Connect – The Art of Conversation
We live in a such a fast-paced society that we never take time to really connect anymore. I see people sitting across from one another and having a conversation through texting. Are we hiding behind technology now? What happened to the art of conversation where couples would cook together, families would grocery shop together, and friends would get together for a night of cooking. Food is what brings people together. Cooking shouldn’t be just about the holidays or special celebrations but creating a masterful piece called a recipe and getting to enjoy it together. Getting back to the basics of food by going to the farmer’s market, bringing home the food to smell its flavours and aromas and enjoying it for simply what it is, WHOLE. Having the ability to create something together as a couple or family while having a conversation is what cooking is all about. This is the time where you get to talk, learn about each other, and appreciate the time together.
Whole & Plant-Based Recipes
So I wanted to provide you with some of my favourite whole and plant-based recipes that are inexpensive and don’t take a lot of time to make.
BBQ BAKED BEANS with SMASHED SWEET POTATOES
I love sweet potatoes. This recipe doesn’t require a lot of ingredients but it tastes great. I actually make my own BBQ sauce and use my own passata for this recipe. You can also substitute the passate with some pasta sauce but make sure you check the label on the bottle or can to ensure there is no sugar contained in the ingredients. You’d be surprised how much sugar is placed into canned and bottled tomato sauce.
- 2 red onions
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 fresh red chilli
- 2 large carrots
- 1 heaped teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
- 1 level teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 level teaspoon dried chili flakes
- 6 medium sweet potatoes
- 1 x 700 ml jar of passata or tomato sauce
- 2 x 400 g tins of mixed beans or soaked beans
- 100 ml BBQ sauce (I make my own)
- a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
- ½ loaf of whole wheat bread
- Water or vegetable broth for cooking vegetables
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F
2. Peel the onions and garlic, then finely slice with the chili. Peel and chop the carrots. Put all these into a large roasting tray and place on a medium heat with some water or vegetable broth, the paprika, cumin and chili flakes. Cook for 20 minutes, or until softened, stirring regularly. Meanwhile, scrub the sweet potatoes clean, then add salt and pepper, place on a baking tray and put aside.
3. When the time’s up, stir the passata into the tray, add a splash of water to the empty jar, swirl it around and pour it in along with the beans (juice and all). Drizzle over the BBQ sauce, season lightly with salt and pepper and stir well.
4. Pick and roughly chop the rosemary leaves, and sprinkle over the top, then place in the oven for around 1 hour, or until bubbling, baked and gorgeous, adding a splash or two of water to loosen, if needed. Put the tray of sweet potatoes into the oven for the same amount of time, or until soft and cooked through.
5. Remove everything from the oven, tear up or open the potatoes, and serve with the beans, and bread.
VEGETARIAN STUFFED PEPPERS
You can substitute the rice for whole wheat couscous or quinoa. I like to make up the rice or couscous ahead of time and store in the fridge along with some extra cooked beans. The prep work doesn’t take that long and the slow cooker does all the work for you. This is why I love this recipe so much.
- 2 cups cooked brown rice or whole wheat couscous
- 6 peppers, cut & de-seeded
- 1 can cooked tomatoes
- 3 small tomoatoes, chopped
- 1 small sweet onion, chopped
- ½ cup celery
- 1/3 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained (I soak and cook my beans)
- 1/3 cup canned red beans, rinsed and drained
- 4 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 10 10 green or black olives, thinly sliced for garnish
- 3 green onions, sliced thin
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
1. Mix the rice, tomatoes, onion, celery, bean, basil, garlic, salt & pepper in a large bowl.
2. Cut & discard tops from sweet peppers; remove seeds. Fill the peppers with the mixture.
3. Cook the tomato sauce in a separate pot and pour half of the mixture in a slow cooker. Top the remaining sauce over the stuffed peppers.
Cook, uncovered on low for 3.5 – 4 hours or until heated through and the peppers are tender.
5. Garnish with green onion and olives.
VEGETABLE WRAPS WITH CARROT RICE PILAF & BEANS
When I plan out my menu for the week, I always cook extra beans and rice and leave in the fridge. This comes in handy for a recipe like this. Wraps are one of those foods that you can grab and eat on the go or sit down and enjoy together as a family. You can either sautee the vegetables in the pan or grill them and wrap them up afterwards with the rice and beans along with some homemade salsa and guacamole.
INGREDIENTS (Carrot Rice Pilaf):
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 cup coarsely grated carrot
- 2 ½ cups low-sodium vegetable stock, divided
- 1 cup brown rice, uncooked
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- ½ cup sliced green onions
- In a pan over medium-high heat, sauté the onion and carrot in ¼ cup of the vegetable stock until tender, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the rice and cook until the rice browns slightly.
- Add the remaining 2 ¼ cups vegetable stock, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer until the rice is tender, about 35 – 40 minutes.
- Stir in the parsley and green onions just before serving.
I will keep it short since this was a long blog post. Some of us like to take a break from cooking, especially if you have lots of mouths to feed. As much as I love cooking, I like to take a break once in a while and have someone cook for me for a change. It really comes down to what your preference is. I like to control what goes into my food and since most restaurants are not whole foods, it’s something I like to stay away from but also I appreciate where my food comes from. I know the farms where I purchase my produce from and I appreciate all the time and effort they put into growing plant-based foods. You see, it’s not just about my health, it’s about saving the planet with my food choices and choosing to cook from home.
Eat Clean & Live Green!
Your Compassionate Coach,