Next up in this year-long series called Monday Health Basics is perhaps one of the most revolutionary actions you can take in order to ensure yours and your family's optimal health. It's about JERF. Just. Eat. Real. Food.
I've been catching up on a little television these last few days, holed up with a pretty good bout of the flu. I've had the chance to watch a few episodes of the Netflix series Cooked by Michael Pollan. (I highly recommend you track this one down.) In it, he explores food and our relationship to it through four different lenses: fire, water, air and earth. It's not about rocket science (although how that fellow roasts pig is pretty darn close to rocket science I think); it's more about what it means to be nourished by food, what food means to a community and culture. And how our way of cooking has changed in these last fifty plus years, and how this is affecting our overall health.
This series explores how much our food choices have been usurped and have altered in these last fifty years or so. One of the reasons is because of the immediate availability of ready-made meals and snacks that are easier to pick up on the way home than it is for us to make a full fledged meal. How do they get us to keep buying those ready made meals? They load them up with salt, sugar or fat; these are all things that we are hard wired to like and so we tend to reach more and more for these kinds of foods. We actually crave them! And that is the idea here, the manufacturers have scientists in their midst in order to develop that perfect mouth-feel for their customers, that perfect balance of salt/sweet/savoury in order to get us to keep buying their products over and over. Those flavours and the sugar factor is something we've evolved to like: when something has good fat in it, it will satiate us and make us feel fuller, longer. When something has a sweet taste to it, we developed an affinity for this as it indicated the vegetable or fruit at hand was at its peak freshness. Consuming sweet foods, and thus craving them, allowed us to eat a more nutrient-dense diet! That is, until processed foods came along.
The problem here is that these prepared foods, while they may taste amazing, are made with the cheapest and most refined ingredients possible, in order for the company making these foods to turn a profit. They don't end up supplying our bodies with as many nutrients to fuel us through our days as if we were making our own foods at home. There are many ingredients in these products that could contribute to inflammatory things we have going on in the body. They may also contribute negatively to our body's ability to digest. They may provide our bodies with some rancid oils, especially things like soybean oil. These rancid oils wreak free radical damage in our bodies, setting us up for some health concerns along the way.
Looking up statistics online, I found that on average, a Canadian household spends just short of $6000 per year on groceries. Money spent at restaurants is just over $2200. These stats are for 2014, the latest year available online. These numbers indicate to me that on average, most families are eating out quite a bit if the money spent outside of the home is equal to a third of what they spend on their grocery bill!
The simple act of cooking at home is perhaps one of the most revolutionary acts you can do.
In cooking from scratch, you are inherently using better ingredients than those found in processed and packaged foods. You are reaching for fresher produce which will better provide those necessary antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to help your engine run clean. And we're not talking gourmet meals here, friends. We're talking simple, delicious and easy meals that are good enough. And good enough is good. And that's enough.
EASY SHEET PAN DINNER
If you have time, turn your oven on to 350F.
If you're in a rush, turn your oven on to 425F.
Slather a roasting pan with a good fat (I love to use bacon fat here, but butter will work or any other fat you have on hand).
Chop the veggies you have in your crisper. I added purple yams here, celery root, carrots, Brussels sprouts, purple cabbage and asparagus. You can also add frozen veggies to the mix. The only limit is your supply and your imagination.
You can add sausage if you like, or chunks of chicken. Chop them into bite size and scatter on top of the veggies.
Drizzle with olive oil (I used a basil flavoured one here from Blue Door Oil + Vinegar)
Sprinkle with salt + pepper, and any herbs if you'd like (rosemary or paprika is good!)
Pop in your oven, if it's at 350F it will take an hour. If it's at 425F, it should take 30 minutes or so.
Other easy home-made meals: fry an egg and use it as topper to whatever veggies you got, throw some kimchi on the side for more flavour. Cook some easy veggies in a bit of fat, S+P and finish them by roasting in the oven at 375F. Make your own salad dressing of olive oil + apple cider vinegar, tossed over some shredded veggies like cabbage, green apple, carrots and green onions. Toss some asparagus in melted butter and squeeze some lemon juice over top. Perhaps the easiest and most nutrient dense meal idea: hard boiled eggs with some vegetable sticks. Roast a few chickens at a time, and shred the extras into freezer bags for easy retrieval on those busy weeknights. Toss leftovers together with some stock and maybe a bit of pasta, and flavour with some pesto.
If you're looking for a bit of support as you start easing in to cooking more at home, I urge you to check out Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, they just recently launched a brilliant service called 'Feeding Our People'. It is a subscription recipe service, where you get one email a week outlining three recipes along with a shopping list. That first recipe is a 'big batch' kind of recipe, it is usually a fairly basic thing (like say, cooking a big batch of beans). The other two recipes show you different ways of using up this batch item you have prepared, making it go for at least three meals. This is a brilliant service, and one that will celebrate cooking simply at home, and making flavourful foods part of your repertoire.