Making Time to Cook and Eat

If you don’t mind my ramblings, read on:  Right now I’m on a no-chemicals, all-natural foods diet. Actually, I’d really like to make this a permanent thing, but I have to cook everything; it is so time consuming. I’m not complaining, I’ve lost weight and I feel wonderful. Yet, it really got me thinking about how we never really get the opportunity to sit and enjoy preparing and eating our meals, as we do around the holidays. Cooking and eating is just a secondary activity, that on most days I wish I could forgo.

Our society is now designed for fast food culture.  There just isn’t time to really eat and enjoy.  The school where I work schedules 40 minutes for the students and teachers for lunch.  By the time I settle down from my last class and consume my food,  lunch is over. It’s too fast.  When I used to work at part-time in retail, I’d only get 30 minutes for lunch. If I didn’t bring an already prepared meal (that didn’t need to be heated), I would barely have enough time to scarf down my food. What has happened to this country that we don’t respect the lunch hour anymore?

The amount of time we spend at dinner has been truncated as well. When I get home from work, I start cooking by 4:30 or 5:00. If I cook everything from scratch, eat dinner and then clean-up it’s about or 7:30pm or 8:00pm. And this doesn’t include the time it takes to prepare my lunch for the next day. If I want to wake up rested the next morning, I need to be in bed by 9:30pm. Wash, rinse and repeat.  What kind of life is that? When do I get to relax and unwind from the day? It would be infinitely easier to stop a restaurant and pick up food on the way home. Yet, if I did that every day I would be fat and sick.

To complicate my conflict with the status quo,  I have become obsessive, almost, on how my foods are prepared.  Nowadays, I do everything pretty much the old fashioned way.  I wanted to eat healthier and improve my health.  So, I’ve been paying attention to the ingredients in the food I buy, and decided I didn’t want to continue to consume the chemicals in processed foods. I decided to eat more naturally and healthfully.  These changes extend to how I prepare my food as well. I’ve abandoned the microwave after seeing this Facebook meme… If this is true– I actually want to do my own experiment to confirm–we need to rethink how we prepare our food. So as a safety precaution, I’m not microwaving.

Nonetheless, reheating food on the stove takes longer; as does many of the other old-fashioned cooking techniques. Making your own breads takes a few hours. I’ve recently discovered this gluten-free honey oat-bread that is absolutely amazing (I usually leave out the xanthan gum since I don’t have it). Making this bread takes a while especially if I’m turning instant oats into flour at home. Labor-intensive, from-scratch cooking doesn’t work well for the modern, working woman. However, my health is more important to me than any damn status quo. And quite frankly, homemade foods, once you get used to them of course, taste much better than any processed junk out there.

For instance: Early last week I had microwaved popcorn. I know, I broke my no-microwave and homemade-only cooking principles. Why, though, did I have microwave popcorn? I’m not really sure.  I guess I  was hungry, really bored and freezing (I was in this ice-box for a classroom). Anyway, this popcorn was disgusting. I probably haven’t had microwave popcorn in a few years since I discovered popping it on the stove. I never really liked the filmy residue on microwave popcorn, but for the longest, that was all I knew. For some idiotic reason, I decided, “why not?” It smelled good, so it might be alright. This microwave popcorn was the nastiest, chemical-flavored crap I’d eaten in a long time.  The temptation of food in front of me, overtook my quest for healthy and homemade eating. I hope I learned my lesson.

This brings me to another point.  It’s ironic really, how we as Americans are always eating, munching, snacking, sipping, and tasting, but we don’t take time prepare and eat our foods at home regularly. The object is to get food to our mouths as quickly as possible, and have it constantly available.  Every celebration and social event is marked with something to put in our mouths.  Quite frankly, if we spent less time at office parties, and did snacking throughout the day, we might be able to have time for cooking delicious, homemade meals.

Nonetheless, cooking at home isn’t something that we all know how to do. When I had to stop eating dairy, I couldn’t prepare 85% of what I liked to eat/knew how to cook. And stopping with wheat/gluten brings a whole new set of challenges.  And without pasta-roni and other quick-prepare/processed foods, what then, am I left to cook? I was surprised to find their are many healthy recipes and creative and delicious ways to make foods that I love. I’ve worked past these challenges but I still don’t consider myself a well-seasoned cook.  Nonetheless, I’m much better than I used to be, and  I can finally make rice without it being under-cooked and burned.

Even still, cooking at home is time intensive. Soaking raw beans overnight (instead of buying canned) and then cooking them (don’t even talk to me about re-fried beans) is two day endeavor. And I make a huge mess when I cook, too. I’m getting better at keeping things clean, but when you use the masher, and the blender, and the chopper, and measuring spoons, and 2 or 3 different pans, and plates and forks, and spoons, and God knows what else, its easy for things to get a little out of control….

healthy oatmeal cookies

Here’s the thing with cooking at home: Sometimes your recipe doesn’t exactly work out.  Maybe you forgot an ingredient (btw I made the honey-oat bread without eggs and it still came out really good), got distracted, or maybe the recipe wasn’t that great to begin with.  While I’ve had some successes, gluten-free cooking creates additional challenges in and of itself. It’s a process. (I won’t show you the gluten free tortillas I attempted to make. They looked like (and tasted like

Taking time to prepare your food at home requires patience, hard work, and time.  I think though, I need to spend more time planning my meals so I’m more efficient.  Here are some things I try to do to eat healthy, home-cooked foods as much as possible:

  1. Plan meals for the week– I don’t have to worry about grocery shopping during the week, and saves time in the morning trying to figure out what I’m making breakfast & lunch
  2. Do some cooking a few days in advance or on the weekends– Sometimes I’ll make a mashed chickpea salad, or the oat-honey bread so I’ll have to take it for breakfast or lunch during the week.
  3. Cook a week’s worth of meals on the weekends, and then freeze and re-heat them during the week- I haven’t actually tried this yet, but I can imagine it saving a lot of time. 
  4. Cook simple foods-This is probably the easiest way to eat pure/homemade foods. Honestly, making foods with a three day process, like the gluten-free, refried bean enchilada, isn’t always practical. It takes much less time to boil some rice and add some canned Amy’s Organic curried lentil soup on top of it. It’s my favorite that I buy from Whole Foods.  I actually heated the leftovers up this morning and put it in a thermos for lunch. It tastes good and required minimal effort on my part. Now if I would sit and enjoy my food instead of eating during the period before lunch.
  5. Save the experiments/new recipes for the weekend– That way, if it doesn’t come out right, or you want to try again, you won’t be pressed for time. On a weeknight, if your elaborate new recipe is completely inedible (like those tortillas I made), you will be short on time and a hungry raging maniac, and more incline to just eat “whatever.”
  6. Make cooking healthy meals a priority–  If you spend 3 hours watching TV or browsing Facebook after work, you wont have time to cook.  You have to make a deliberate effort to add cooking to your day if you don’t do it already. Sure, it may feel like you are taking time away from other, more exciting activities. But just like an exercise routine, you have put it at the top of the list.
  7. Stop trying to be the perfect healthy eater– The reality is, sometimes it isn’t practical to make everything. I seriously may never make gluten-free tortillas again. You are going to make mistakes, and eat things you shouldn’t, and not feel like cooking. But that’s the reality of life.  Do the best you can.

Other than making these small adjustments, the only way to truly take time to eat is to work for yourself. That way, you set your own schedule. You can set two hours in the middle of the afternoon to prepare lunch if you’d like.  I think, that every meal, or at least most, should be like the Thanksgiving Dinner meal.  Families should come together at meal time, and all help to put together the meal of the evening. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but if we were to all work on one part, a complicated meal might not take so much time.