Habits of Healthy Eaters: Cook at Home

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I didn't take home ec and never took a formal cooking class. I didn't buy a cookbook until I got to college, but I've been cooking for as long as I can remember.

Baking blueberry buckle, picking cherries and making applesauce with my Gramma Willie and watching Papa Jim make ground beef stew, roast beef and macaroni and cheese are among my earliest memories. They, along with my mother, invited me into the kitchen, gave me an apron and put me to work from the time I could walk.

I don't remember going out to eat unless we had gone to the mall (also a rarity for this small-town kid). Instead, I remember home-cooked meals for special occasions, with vegetables from my granddad's garden.

Growing up, my mom cooked dinner from scratch every night (She had a 101 ways to cook chicken cookbook, and I think she tried them all!), and we had family dinner at my grandparents house every weekend (roast beef or ham, mashed potatoes, a salad and a big plate of raw vegetables).

Today, we eat a home-cooked, nutritious meal at least six nights a week. People like me--and maybe you--have become an anomaly.

As obesity rates have risen, Westerners have become kitchen illiterate at alarming rates. Reacquainting ourselves with the kitchen--meaning the stove and oven, not just the microwave and refrigerator--is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

Forget becoming the next Top Chef. Can you cook to save your life?

The New York Times recently ran an article about how contestants on NBC's weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser have to learn to cook, sometimes for the first time in their lives, after they leave the show.

“Twenty minutes in the kitchen will save you three hours on the StairMaster,” said Devin Alexander, a chef in Los Angeles who developed the recipes for the [Biggest Loser] cookbooks. “You can’t trust restaurant food to be low fat.”

Think that not knowing how to cook or cooking very infrequently doesn't have an effect on your life? Then take a look at these facts, from that same NYT article:

"It is difficult to quantify a decline in cooking skills, but many studies show that time in the kitchen has declined steeply since 1965, when American women spent a weekly average of 13 hours cooking. Last month the government of Britain, where obesity is spreading rapidly, passed a law requiring all secondary-school students to attend cooking classes.

"Today, women in the United States report spending an average of 30 minutes a day preparing meals. The percentage of women who are overweight has risen to about 65 percent from about 30 percent in the 1960s."

The solution is both simple and complex: We need to learn how to cook. And if we know how to cook, we need to do it! That's easier said than done, I realize, and a task that would require more than a singular blog post to remedy.

Today, I'll offer a first step: If you never cook at home, do it once this week. If you already cook at home, try a new recipe.

For you newbies, your challenge is the simplest recipe I know:
Salsa chicken (or tofu for us vegetarians!) This recipe isn't fancy, but it's delicious, nutritious and easy!

4 3-ounce portions of chicken breast (skinless and boneless)
2 cups salsa (any variety)
1 cup brown rice, uncooked

Bring two cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add rice, cover the pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 30 minutes, or until rice is tender.

Saute chicken breasts in a nonstick pan set on medium-high heat. Cook about 6-8 minutes on each side. Add salsa to pan and heat through.

When rice is cooked, place 1/2 cup of rice on a plate and top with one piece of chicken and about 1/2 cup of salsa.

Serve with a green salad, broccoli or green beans.

You can also make this dish with 12 ounces of shrimp or tofu.

Makes 4 servings: 1/2 cup brown rice, 1/2 cup salsa and 1 piece of chicken.

Nutrition info:
220.9 calories
2.1 g fat
27.7 g carbs
5 g fiber
24.1 g protein

Did you have to learn to cook as an adult? Are you someone who doesn't know how to cook? Don't be ashamed. Speak up and ask questions. We're here to help!