I’m probably the last person who should give eating advice: An amateur cook who dislikes sushi. However, the other day I had an interesting thought and I wanted to share it with the hope that it might actually help someone.
For my birthday, I received a copy of Ellie Krieger’s cookbook, The Food You Crave. (Thanks, Mom!)
In case you’ve not heard of her, Ellie Krieger is a dietitian who specializes in nutrition and has a successful show on the Food Network called Healthy Appetite. Her recipes are all about healthier living without forcing you into a rabbit hole with a leaf of lettuce and a tablespoon of low-fat vinaigrette.
I, for one, would starve.
In the first ten minutes of having the book, I was so excited that I immediately set to work on writing down the recipes I wanted to make and the list of ingredients I’d need. While I was flipping through the book, a strange thought came to me: Five years ago I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near a “healthy eating” recipe book. “Healthy” food wasn’t what my body wanted.
Five years ago I ate heavy food. If I wanted to make a meal, which wasn’t often, I would turn to Americanized Italian dishes with a lot of meat topped with heavy sauces and a lot of cheese. If I ate lighter foods I was still hungry or, in some cases, actually felt sick. I never resorted to boxed or frozen foods, but what I did eat was heavy.
When I got engaged, I decided I should find some meals to cook but had no idea where to start. My repertoire consisted entirely of cookbooks for fancy desserts or Americanized Italian, and a two years’ supply of Bon Appetit magazines whose recipes really intimidated me. Even if I could cook Bon Appetit caliber, I wouldn’t have eaten most of it anyway.
At Christmas, my future mother-in-law gave me a subscription to Taste of Home, a magazine that publishes “down home” recipes from its readers. The skill level of these recipes starts at about a Sandra Lee and goes up to about a Giada DeLaurentiis and, for most of them, the nutritional value is around a Paula Deen. Even Citizen Chef has taken a few cheap shots at the magazine for its lack of culinary savoir faire.
But this was where I was as a new cook, and it was what my body was used to eating. I cooked these meals, quite happily, for a couple of years. Eventually I became slightly more adventurous and curious about other food, and ventured (timidly) into other ingredients, styles, and flavors. One day I was ready for the next step: RecipeZaar.
Recipezaar is the same principle behind Taste of Home, except online and free. A community of cooks share their recipes that run the same skill level as ToH does and, with the recipe sifter tool, it’s possible to get specific lists of the kind of food you’re looking for. A nutritional calculator is a big perk for the site, as this way I know what I’m putting into my body before I make it. I have noticed that, just like Taste of Home, the highest rated meals are very Paula Deen. In fact, the highest rated chicken one-dish meal calls for an entire block of cream cheese.
Although I snubbed the cream cheese chicken, there were plenty of other dishes I made that were just as bad. I moved into stir fry dishes with chicken and steamed veggies — and the sauces called for 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1/4 cup of brown sugar.
That’s a whole lotta salt and sugar, folks.
But back then, it was a staple that I made about once a week, and it was indicative of the type of food we ate for quite a while. Eventually, we moved away from it and migrated to healthier territory — not necessarily because we were aiming to eat healthier, but because the cooking adventure I had started caused my palette and my body to change. It wasn’t an overnight change where suddenly I wanted to eat nothing but tofu and salad while wearing Birkenstocks, because I didn’t. For the record, I’ve never owned a pair of Birkenstocks despite growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I can’t stand tofu, and I’m still not a salad person.
The other day I came across that sugary soy teriyaki chicken sitting in my recipe box, and looking at the ingredients almost made me laugh. Today, I wouldn’t consider making it, but back then it was gold. It’s funny how we can change over time.
The point is, the road to better cooking, whether it’s healthier eating or finer dining, doesn’t happen overnight. If where you’re at right now is chicken breasts with a block of cream cheese or a teriyaki recipe that calls for a lot of sugar and soy — that’s OK. Remember when I said I use minced garlic from a jar? I don’t do that anymore. My palette has changed and I don’t like what pre-minced garlic does to a dish containing fresh ingredients. Everybody has to start somewhere and, if you aren’t in a medical position where your eating habits need to change overnight, I would encourage you to start now. Who knows what things you’ll love to eat in a year? Two years? Five? Ten?
Start your journey today.