“I wish I had the time and money to cook (and eat) good food.”
This is a statement I’ve heard uttered repeatedly, especially in response to my electing to be vegan, and my mention of how much I cook.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted the above photo on social media, along with the following note:
“It only takes twenty minutes (or less) to turn a basket of teeny taters into cheesy mash. The fact that this tater basket was only $1 at the produce stand made last night’s dinner taste ever better. Local green beans, broccoli, red pepper, sweet onion, spinach and cabbage were steamed in a pan on the stovetop and enjoyed alongside this mash + a fresh juicy tomato & DIY goddess dressing.”
I also mentioned that I only gave this meal 5-10 solid minutes of prep and stovetop attention and the rest of the time I let it cook itself while I fed the pup, let him outside, went outside with him (with window open to keep an eye on the food), straightened up some things, washed a few dishes, changed clothes…etc.
Truthfully, I’m always slightly baffled (and bummed) when I hear someone say they don’t have the time or funds to cook good, healthy food. Believe me when I say, it doesn’t take fancy ingredients, excess money, or excess time to cook up a fresh, hearty, delicious, local meal, using just a pot and a pan.
The European Way
If there was one season in my life that fully instilled in me the sensibility and value in cooking, it was studying abroad in Paris (Fall 2008, age 21), just before my vegan switch. While living in an expensive city in a teensy tiny studio apartment with a small fridge and stovetop for a kitchen, I learned what it truly means to be simple and sensible with food choices. We purchased only what we were going to eat, and we never purchased more than we needed. It was here I learned to keep it simple in the kitchen, while cooking up some sort of cous cous bowl most every single night, with the exception of group dining excursions. Here, I also realized the joy of cooking for others, rotating between dorms and apartments, sharing meals with friends.
Back then, I was a college student, taking four months off of working at Starbucks to study abroad, with the help of an academic scholarship. And now, I’m self-employed. Financially, there is an equal amount of frugality involved in both scenarios. Today, with the exception of traveling, or choosing to treat ourselves by dining out at one of our favorite eateries (on average, once every 1-2 weeks), Andrew and I cook together, at home, every single day. And sometimes twice, or even three times (depending on the day).
Not only do we feel good about what we’re putting into our bodies, cooking together, or for one another, is an experience we welcome in as an integral part of our shared time. By operating this way, we are able to have a solid handle on how much we’re spending, and spend less.
5 Reasons I [We] Cook Daily
The case of cooking isn’t complex, nor is it cumbersome. Here are five reasons we cook daily, plus some tips to help and encourage you in your cooking journey.
Disclaimer: Not all food is created equal. It certainly matters what you’re cooking, so when reading through the reasons I’ve included in this piece, note that I’m talking about the food we eat—an exclusively plant-based diet.
1. Cooking is Healthy
When you cook your own food, you know exactly what is going into your pan, and ultimately, your body. In short, you’re ensuring your body gets the fuel it needs, and you’re eliminating the risk of unwanted oils, preservatives, or hidden ingredients, past what you are choosing to allow in. When you cook, you have full responsibility, as well as full selectivity and freedom. Having several days worth of fresh veggies in your fridge, plus staples like quinoa, rice, tempeh, tofu, and beans on hand, sets you up to cook healthily, regardless of what you choose to combine and create.
Tip—Shop Local: Scout your local area for fresh produce options. In addition to having a farm fresh produce option 15 miles out into the country we trek to a couple of times a month, we are fortunate enough to be spoiled with a produce stand in walking distance. Here, the dollar table is my best friend.
2. Cooking is Economical
While in Paris, I would stop by the grocery store (the beloved Monoprix) almost daily on the walk home from school, to pick up just enough to stock our small fridge with food to cook immediately. When you’re regularly purchasing fresh food to prepare, you will find that you will be saving in the long run. Currently we visit the produce stand or market once a week, and also keep a steady supply of staples in stock (i.e. Almond Milk, peanut butter, oatmeal, quinoa etc.) We can whip up an entire meal using our fresh products and staples for less than it would cost to purchase or heat up two pre-packaged frozen options.
Tip—Shop Smart: Along with only buying what you need and will eat soon (and keeping the luxury or convenience items to a minimum), save your receipts so you know how much you’re spending, and how often you’re shopping, so you can adjust accordingly based on your budget. I am still in the process of doing this for us and look forward to sharing a full breakdown soon.
3. Cooking is Time Efficient
I am able to prep, cook, enjoy eating, and clean up after a meal in less time than it would take to go out to dinner, or order, drive somewhere, and pick something up. I have always had an “on the run” lifestyle, and for this reason, it’s rare anything I cook takes longer than 30 minutes. Sure, Andrew and I might go ahead and start something early if the oven is involved (i.e. spaghetti squash or sweet potato), but most often, everything we make involves one basic pot, one cheap, durable wok-style pan (thank you Ikea), and a few select dishes.
Dishes Used: One baking pan for the potato; Ikea wok-style pan for the broccoli, peppers, onion and quinoa; coffee mug used to mix up the peanut sauce we poured over the top; and plates from my best friend’s wedding. Time: 30 minutes (tops)
Tip—Cook Ahead: If you are reading this and thinking to yourself, “There’s no way I have time to cook regularly,” consider planning one day a week to cook and do meal prep. This can be both time efficient and economical, and alleviate stress. Honestly, this method doesn’t work for me because I love food so much I would eat all of the week’s meals in two days. Plus, I need my daily cooking therapy.
4. Cooking is Therapeutic
Speaking of therapy, everyone needs a release after a long day of work/whatever to clear their head, while letting off some steam. I use cooking as time of active decompression, and a creative outlet. When you think of cooking as creatively therapeutic and a gift to your body and spirit, it becomes less of a task (i.e. feeding your family/yourself), and more of a welcomed creative project.
Tip—Cook Together: One way to achieve added enjoyment from cooking is to cook with someone you love—kids, spouses, roommate, friend, significant other, etc. Early on, I experienced this love while cooking with my mom, and her mom (my grandmother). In Paris, and beyond, I’ve cooked with near and dear roommates. Today, I cook alongside Andrew, the artist, who shows me up on the creative front every single time we cook. In addition to experiencing added enjoyment when cooking side by side, and trading off cooking for each other, Andrew and I both equally enjoy preparing food for (and sharing it with) others.
On Our Plates: Family meal with my mom that Andrew prepared for us when she was in town few weeks back. Gimme Lean sausage patties baked up with a chia and nutritional yeast batter (similar to our chia-coated eggplant), with sautéed veggies, cous cous, and a garden salad (with even more chia).
5. Cooking is Simple
I am not an expert chef. I’ve had no technical training. I pretty much use a single knife and stirring spoon every single time I cook. At times I’m a bit haphazard, but my methods work. The point is, I’ve learned by doing, and you can too. If you know how to rinse off some veggies, cut them up, toss them in a pan, and add some water/coconut oil along with a dash of creativity, you can cook a delightful plant-based meal.
In Our Bowls: Collard greens (from a backyard garden); spinach, peppers, onion and carrots (all local / farm fresh) sautéed with fresh garlic; paired with tofu and tomato in peanut sauce; served over cous cous.
Tip—Cook Simply: Many recipes out there, especially in the vegan realm, can be daunting. I know at the beginning of my own journey, I was immediately overwhelmed and turned off after looking at highly involved recipes with long lists of confusing ingredients. In my opinion, keeping it simple and using as many fresh, whole foods as possible is the best and most foolproof way to achieve a tasty, healthy meal without stress and without throwing unnecessary time or resources down the drain.
Plus, in the vegan realm, there’s always room for “fast food,” like these grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwiches I made last week, with some Sriracha—a surprisingly delightful flavor combination achieved in less than five minutes.
Photo Note: If you follow along on with me on Facebook or Instagram, some of these dishes might look familiar. I regularly use these social channels to post quick visual snippets of our meals, with ingredient and process notes so you can readily recreate.
P.S. I’m always interested in hearing why others choose to cook. If you are someone who does so regularly, please leave a comment sharing your own “case for cooking.”