When I was in college, my cooking skills were limited to a giant skillet of Tuna Helper. Meals were chosen by how quick and how cheap. Nutrition? Never heard of it.
My outlook on cooking has changed since those days, and I now realize that despite my still limited culinary know-how, in the kitchen I have all the tools to transform my health.
“Cooking is easier than people think,” says Dr. David Eisenberg of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It is more fun and cheaper than eating out. And no matter your ability, anyone can learn to do it.”
The health of cooking
The more you cook for yourself, the healthier you live. It is that simple. People who frequently cook dinner at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less, according to a study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition. The findings also suggest those who frequently cook at home (six to seven nights a week) also consume fewer calories on the occasions when they do eat out.
Cooking also expands your intake of healthy foods. For instance, people who live alone — who are less likely to cook on a regular basis — often have diets that lack core food groups, such as fruits, vegetables, and fish, according to a review of 41 studies published in Nutrition Reviews.
Sharpen your skills
You don’t need to be a contestant on Top Chef to improve your cooking. “Instead of learning individual recipes, you need to learn techniques,” says Dr. Eisenberg. “This way, you can master a few basic staples and have the recipe for making all kinds of meals.” Here are some basic skills he says people should learn:
- how to fillet fish
- how to cut vegetables into cubes or julienne strips
- how to make simple soups, salads, and salad dressings
- how to make a few whole-grain dishes (e.g. brown rice, quinoa, farro, and others) as your starch of choice, as opposed to potatoes, white rice, or white bread
- how to pick and prepare healthier protein choices like fish, chicken, and tofu, as an alternative to a preponderance of red meat options
- how to reinvent desserts to include things like nuts, dark chocolate, and fruit, rather than dishes made primarily from fat, sugar, and dairy.
In-person guidance is always better than learning from videos, says Dr. Eisenberg: “You need someone in the kitchen to hold your hand, give you direction, and walk you through the process.” Here is where you can find that kind of guidance:
- Community education centers. Many offer basic cooking classes, individual workshops, or specialty classes like how to make various types of desserts.
- Local cooking schools. Many culinary programs have drop-in and introductory classes for the public. Others offer more detailed daylong or weeklong “boot camps” where you can learn a range of skills.
- Retail stores. Many stores that sell cooking equipment, such as Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma, also offer cooking classes.
Your new and improved cooking skills can heat up your social life. You may form a closer bond with your partner as you both become more involved with meal preparation, and you may be motivated to invite others to share a meal you cooked yourself.
You also might discover cooking can be a relaxing and liberating activity. “People find personal satisfaction in cooking, or come to view the experience as a way to tap into their creativity,” says Dr. Eisenberg. “Cooking no longer becomes a chore, but something that gives them great pleasure.” And you don’t even need Tuna Helper.