I encourage cooking from scratch where possible, for reasons of health and happiness. For some of you, time in the kitchen is a pleasure. I’m also aware that many of you find it a stress. Whether that’s due to lack of time, confidence or interest, I understand where you’re coming from, and I’m grateful you’ve read this far already.
So this isn’t a lecture. It’s not designed to make you feel bad that you’re not doing more. And it’s certainly not written to imply that I, as a nutritionist, lead a “perfect” instagram life that you should follow like a guru. It’s just a few reflections for you and I to ponder on. And then perhaps we might both be inspired to make another small change or two, and bring more creativity, satisfaction and nutrients into our mealtimes.
Why do we eat?
For most people, food is about energy and satisfaction:
- When you need more energy (get an energy slump/can’t concentrate/feel your tummy rumble), eat something
- Make sure it hits the spot and/or tastes good
It’s as basic as that. In fact, in our hunter/gatherer conditions, that would probably suffice. The food available would have ticked these boxes, plus extra ones like:
- Ensure a broad range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients for growth, immune function and essential daily functions (like digestion, detoxification, breathing etc.)
What influences our food choices?
These days, we have a lot more distractions. We have ready meals, fast food, packaged foods and snacks that now offer the following extra boxes to tick:
- Provide an intense and emotionally rewarding balance of flavours, e.g. highly salty/sweet/creamy/fatty. Product developers actually design each meal or snack you buy to contain the perfect combination of these to trigger chemicals that light up the reward centre of your brain like a drug. This keeps you wanting more…
- Come in great packaging for visual stimulation and allure
- Are part of a national or global branding campaign that helps you feel part of a tribe
- Make you feel safe in your food choices (you can trust the food industry, right..?)
- Feed on your self-judgement, lack of self-confidence and fears around health and weight
- Are super convenient (or at least give the illusion of this)
- Are cheaper than home cooking (or at least give the illusion of this)
- Do the thinking and preparation for you, so you don’t have to waste time on planning and preparing meals any more
Some of these added benefits are hard to turn down. Cheap, easy, don’t have to think about it and gives me a happy hit when I eat it? Surely a no brainer?!
A life of convenience food and happy hits
Well, from time to time, there’s little or no harm in that. But when these kind of choices start to dominate, it’s time to ask a few questions. Like:
- What happens to your body when you keep giving it happy hits? How does it affect your mental health? How does it impact your physical health?
- Are your taste buds really enjoying convenience food, or can nature offer a more deeply satisfying array of flavours, textures and feelings?
- Which nutrients are lacking or out of balance in such foods? How is that taking its toll on your body?
- What impact are any artificial additives having? Or heavily processed foods?
- Is it really so much more convenient than simple food preparation? Can you batch cook? Or find quick, simple, healthy recipes?
- Is it really cheaper? How much would it cost to make the same thing from scratch?
- Is your health and happiness, and that of your family, worth taking more time to nurture?
We’ve over complicated things a lot over the years. The easiest way to head back towards really nourishing yourself with nutrient-rich, life affirming food is to go back to basics. Buy simple, fresh ingredients, and prepare them in simple ways. You don’t need to go “paleo” or “raw”, or become a “masterchef.” You just need to set your sails in a new direction, and you can pick up new skills, habits and confidence as you go along.
A few tips to start you off:
- Start simple, and make one change at a time
- One week perhaps focus on breakfast; the next week snacks; the next week lunches etc.
- Batch cook and freeze portions
- Get a veg box, so you get a good quality delivery every week (one less thing to do and think about!)
- Gradually build up your stock of herbs, spices and cupboard basics
- Be realistic – and don’t give yourself a hard time on the occasions where you choose not to cook from scratch
- Savour each mouthful of food you eat- whatever you’re eating. To gain maximum enjoyment, and to switch on your digestive processes
Simple ways to cook from scratch
You may prefer to cook from recipes – in which case, see some of the links below. I like to be a bit more spontaneous and creative. This can be easier and quicker than you might imagine, and just takes a bit of practice. For example:
It’s easy to throw a salad together when the weather’s warm. Be inventive, explore different flavour and texture combinations. In addition to classic salad fare (cucumber, spring onions, celery, tomatoes, avocadoes, radishes etc.), most vegetables can be grated or thinly sliced into a bed of lettuce or rocket. Including asparagus, celeriac, squash, fennel, beetroot, red or white cabbage etc.
Make your own salad dressing. Use as your base:
Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil + balsamic or apple cider vinegar
Then add in herbs, citrus zest/juice, yoghurt, mustard… whatever you fancy
Plus a good protein source, e.g. toasted seeds, feta cheese, chunks of grilled salmon, boiled eggs, roasted chicken drumsticks
Same principle, but instead of a dressing, you need a stock (either vegetable or meat-based – or some miso or good quality low salt stock cubes if you don’t have any).
I generally start by simmering finely chopped onions in coconut oil, with maybe some carrot and celery if I have some.
Then add whatever vegetables you fancy / need to use up, and your stock (or water and stock cube/miso), and simmer till cooked. Also play with adding different combinations of herbs or spices here.
Again, add some protein, such as chickpeas, lentils, ground almonds, meat or fish – when you add this will depend on whether they are pre-cooked leftovers or whether you need to cook them from snack.
Blend if required and season to taste. Sometimes soups turn out really flavoursome. Sometimes they’re blander than you hoped and need a bunch of fresh herbs and seasoning at the end. There are more specific soup recipes in some of my Recipe Blogs on this site.
Same again, but with much less (or no) stock. Gently stir-fry in a large pan with coconut oil, adding the ingredients that take longest to cook first. I like to add ginger, garlic, coriander, lemon or lime and coconut milk, and also have other spices in my cupboard I experiment with. Tamari (wheat-free soy sauce) makes a great seasoning for stir-fries.
Then you can serve this on its own, with brown rice or buckwheat noodles, or with short grain brown rice, plus a garnish of fresh coriander.
Useful recipes and courses
- I frequently share recipes on this website, and on my facebook and instagram pages
- Also check out Bloom Holistic Retreats, the Nutrition and Cookery retreats and workshops I run with holistic chef Hayley North – and bring your apron 🙂
- Finally, if you want to learn more and be part of a group that inspires each other with new ideas, sign up for my next Level 1 Nutrition course in Brighton