The new year brings with it a whole heap of dietary advice: quitting sugar, gluten, grains, excessive calories, and even quitting eating a few days a week. So here’s some more advice to add to the mix: avoid the hype and try eating in moderation by cooking meals and snacks from scratch.
At PlanBuyCook we realised, when starting this project, that many people have gotten out of the habit (or have never known in the first place) how to cook meals from scratch and jumped on the ‘add a store-bought sauce to meat and vegetables’ bandwagon, or grab a box of ‘healthy’ snacks or packed juice from the supermarket for ease. We are working longer hours and there is no doubt that this can be a very tempting option. But it turns out, that ease comes at the expense of knowing what ingredients these sauces/drinks/snacks contain.
Cooking from ingredients you recognise
We have become so busy, that we have lost confidence in first principle cooking – cooking from scratch. This is cooking using base ingredients that you recognise: vegetables, meat, grains, pulses, oils, herbs. Ingredients that, for the large part, your grandparents would also recognise (with the noted exception of many Asian ingredients and a few modern grains that my grandparents would have no idea about). You can recognise the ingredients they were derived from. I myself come from generations of people who are not very good at cooking, and would come to a standstill when I don’t have an ingredient in a recipe. While neither my parents or grandparents were cooks, they did at least make meals from scratch. With some good tips and hints, a meal planning app and some great recipes of first principle cooking, I have reversed this inter-generational cooking know-how void and become a far more confident cook.
Too much choice
We are also flooded with so many recipes that the choice is so overwhelming. I recently saw a site that offered more than 350,000 recipes. Typing in chicken yielded more than 80,000 recipe options alone. For me, that is about 79,980 recipes too many. I’ve said it before and will say it again: we don’t need to go all Masterchef for every meal. Having a great repertoire of 30 or so standard evening meals is a great base to build from. Introducing one new meal a week is about as much as any normal person can manage. Everyday cooking is where we go wrong, rather than special occasion cooking. Zoe Nicholson of the Moderation Movement, is a big advocate of making good choices for 19 out of 21 main meals a day, make simply and done well. Don’t beat yourself up about the odd takeaway or special occasion meal if you are happy with the vast majority of your food intake for the rest of the week. Make it easy for yourself by standardising some of these meals rather than trying to make each meal unique.
Paralysis by analysis
I know there is some irony in publishing this on social media, but we have become so bamboozled by conflicting dietary information online that we don’t know who to turn to. Do we trust dietitians or nutritionists? Is a celebrity diet better than one advocated by an investigative journalist? Which food movement do we turn to for information? In the end, there is so much information out there it is easier to do nothing and stay with the status quo: what we call ‘paralysis by analysis’. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. At PlanBuyCook we are not advocating quitting sugar, going paleo, avoiding gluten for ‘health reasons’ or ‘clean eating’. Improving your everyday cooking rather than starting one diet after another is the way to get off the sugar (or salt or fat) merry-go-round. We are about everything in moderation and making everyday cooking simpler. Not too many ingredients, not too many complicated processes, not too many expensive kitchen tools or hard-to-find ingredients. Everyday, achievable cooking the household wants to eat.
Most of us know what are good food choices, we just lack the time to implement them and turn to either takeaway or a quick solution in a prepackaged sauce over a meat or similar. If you are busy working, up to you eyeballs in children, or simply lack the energy, look for tools that can simplify the process, such as meal planning and home delivered groceries. Get into the habit of doubling freezable meals and marinating your meat when you get home from the supermarket which will give you quick home cooked meal options when you are low on time.
5 keys to making lasting change to your diet
- Plan your meals to make cooking from scratch easier, which helps avoid last minute poor decisions or food wastage. Use a tool such as a meal planning app to help you out (we think ours is pretty good).
- Shop in the outer aisles of the supermarket (for fruit and veggies, pulses, dairy, meat and bread), plus delve into the middle for a few base ingredients such as flours, tinned pulses, grains, and the odd oil, vinegar and sauce, your diet should be fine. Or better still and you have the choice, shop at your local butcher, fruit and vegetable grocer, and baker.
- Follow people who advocate a moderate approach that you can achieve such as the Moderation Movement, or don’t follow anyone! Have confidence in your own choices.
- Cook from scratch so you control the amount of sugar and salt you add to your cooking, including making your own snack foods, including smoothies, muesli bars, flavoured yoghurt and the like. Homemade baked beans are super tasty: a great example of cooking from scratch to avoid hidden ingredients.
- Simplify your everyday meals by having a core repertoire of 30–40 or so meals everyone likes to eat, and then build on that from there. Make 19 good choices out of the 21 main meals you eat each week.