You’ve got to cook. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s the harsh reality when it comes to healthy living.
I know it’s easier to go out to eat. I know it’s easier to throw a frozen pizza in the oven after a long day at work. I get that. But that habit will sabotage your diet faster than I can say supersize me.
And here’s a dirty little secret about cooking—you don’t have to be Bobby Flay or Rachel Ray to put good food on the table. No one expects Duck a l’Orange on a Wednesday night.
Take me for example. While I enjoy cooking, I don’t consider myself a gourmet chef. I don’t invent my own recipes. I can’t throw a little of this and a pinch of that into a pot and have it taste good. I'm not that talented.
What I do have going for me are the following traits:
1) I like fresh food
2) I’m willing to try new things
3) I’m not afraid of failure
4) I’m a planner
That’s really all you need. Well, that and the ability to read a recipe. So there you go.
I’m guessing that if you’re reading this and the thought of cooking makes you cringe, then you struggle with numbers three and four.
With respect to failure, get used to it. If you’re a beginning cook then you’re going to mess up. Trust me, I know.
I’ve made pot roast that was so tough you needed a machete to cut it. I’ve served undercooked chicken (for guests no less) and had to pop it in the microwave to finish it off (absolutely horrifying). I’ve accidentally left that bag of giblets in a turkey, made a pasta dish that was so sticky it could’ve substituted for mortar, and once, somehow forgot to add sugar to strawberry shortcake. AND, I served it for a birthday party.
You couldn’t possibly be any worse than me. You’ve just got to go for it. Realize that messing up is part of the journey and laugh it off. (My daughter Amanda still remembers the sticky pasta dish I threw out and that was over five years ago.)
Number four—planning—will take some getting used to and is the bigger hurdle, in my mind.
Hopefully I can help you with that.
When I think about the age-old question, “What’s for dinner?” I think of four components: a protein (meat or plant-based), fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and whole grains.
Using this philosophy, here’s a sample dinner menu that is one of my go-to weekday meals. It’s simple, quick, and doesn’t require any great culinary skill.
The protein: baked chicken.
Vegetables: tossed salad and steamed broccoli.
Fruit: fresh fruit medley.
Whole grain: crusty bread or side of whole grain pasta with a little olive oil and parmesan cheese
Here’s the game plan:
1. Get the chicken in the oven
2. Make the salad
3. Make the fruit medley
4. Boil water for the pasta
5. Steam the broccoli
1. Get the chicken in the oven
Preheat the oven to 375.
6 - Chicken thighs*
Salt & Pepper
Wash the chicken and pat dry.
Place the chicken, skin side up, in a 9x13 pan. Sprinkle the top with salt and pepper.
Bake for 45 – 60 minutes. You know it’s done when the juices run clear.
*Note: I know breast meat is leaner, but for the beginner cook, dark meat is a better choice because it doesn’t dry out as quickly. You can accidentally overcook it and it’ll survive just fine. And it’s cheaper than white meat.
Also, I bake chicken with the skin on so the fat flavors the meat, but I don’t eat it. It’s a sacrifice I know, but if you cook the chicken properly it’ll be moist and you won’t miss eating the skin.
2. Make the Salad
Lettuce (any kind will do, iceberg, romaine, mixed spring greens, arugula, etc.)
2 Tomatoes, cored and diced
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
1 small container of crumbled Goat cheese
A handful of Craisins
A handful Pecans
Layer the ingredients in a bowl as listed above and serve with balsamic vinaigrette dressing on the side. (My favorite dressing is Newman’s Own)
3. Make the Fruit Medley
I get whatever’s in season, for example last night we had the following:
1 red pear
Cut into bite-size chunks, place it in a bowl and serve.
4. Make pasta according to package directions
5. Steam the Broccoli
Wash the broccoli in cool water.
Trim off the tough stems leaving the florets.
Place an inch of water in a medium-sized pan.
Insert a vegetable steamer.
Fill the steamer with the broccoli, cover the pan and bring the water to a boil.
The broccoli’s done when it’s a bright green color, about 5 minutes.
Put it all on the table and enjoy. See how easy that is!