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Bring out your inner cook

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

I have noticed over the past few years that people are spending less time doing their own food preparation.

This led me to ponder the question, “Why aren’t we cooking as much as our parents and grandparents?” It might be because of the vast increase in restaurant and fast food establishments, the food companies growing an array of already-prepared meals ready for the table in minutes, and possibly the notion that more of us are working outside the home and have less kitchen time available.

Possibly, cooking is not a top priority as it has been in the past. Americans spend an average of only 27 minutes a day on food preparation. What is ironic is that Americans spend double that time watching cooking shows on television!

I really believe that all of us want to cook more. We just don’t know where to begin. If we truly want to improve the health of our country, we need to get back to cooking and focus on preparing real food and reducing our intake of convenient, processed foods. Here are some ideas for getting started. 

Get Organized 

Before you can cook, you need to know what you have. Take a look at your pans, utensils and other cooking equipment. You don’t need fancy supplies, but you will need a couple good pans and skillets, a paring knife and a cutting board, for starters. Tackle your cupboards and pantry and remove any outdated food items. Make a list of ingredients such as soups, pasta, rice, etc. that you already have in the house.

Keep It Simple 

Start with a few simple dishes and work on perfecting those before moving forward. Some ideas are: baked or grilled chicken breast, brown rice, cooked frozen vegetables, an omelet made with mostly egg whites or egg substitute, low fat cheese and vegetables such as chopped onion, mushrooms, spinach and peppers, whole wheat pasta with spaghetti sauce, a side salad and cut up fruit.

A very easy meal involves the use of tin foil and is an easy clean-up dish, too! See the attached recipe. You can also find recipes on the internet. Search for “easy and healthy recipes,” and you will get several websites to look at. 

Pay Attention 

Focus on your cooking. Read the recipe carefully and get out all of the ingredients before starting. Make sure you have everything you need, and give yourself a little bit of time to pay attention to your meal or recipe. 

Stick With It

It might take a while before you are ready to compete on Food Network’s Next Star, and not every recipe will turn out amazing. The important thing is you stick with cooking and give yourself real food to nourish your body and mind. 

Is it ok to eat out sometimes and take a break from cooking? Absolutely! The main goal is to do more home preparation and have fast food or restaurant food on occasion. 

Baked Chicken and Vegetable Foil Packs 

Ingredients: 

1 T canola oil 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves 

2 T red wine vinegar 2 medium slightly pre-cooked potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices (peeled or unpeeled)(white or sweet) 

1 1/2 t garlic powder 1 large onion, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices 

1/2 t. ground black pepper 1 large green or red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch strips 

1/4 t. salt 1 cup sliced button mushrooms 

1/2 t. Italian seasoning carrot and zucchini strips, optional 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stir together the canola oil, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, black pepper, salt and Italian seasoning in a bowl; set aside. 

Lay out 2 (12x12 inch) squares of aluminum foil. Place 1 chicken breast in the center of each square, top with potatoes, onions, bell pepper, mushrooms and additional vegetables as desired. Ladle half of the sauce on each and fold the foil around the ingredients to form two sealed packets. Bake the packets for 25 to 30 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center. Remove packets from oven. Carefully open packets and let steam escape. 

Makes 2 servings. Nutrition information per serving: 409 calories, 11.2 g fat, 1.2 g saturated fat, 86 mg cholesterol, 469 mg sodium, 43.4 g carbohydrate, 7.9 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 35.2 g protein. Vit C – 215% Vit A – 38% Iron – 27% Calcium – 2%. 

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This question is on the Nov. 4 ballot in Paw Paw: "Should the village of Paw Paw adopt an ordinance permitting and regulating the keeping of chickens within the village?" How would you vote?
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