January, the month of new fitness goals and healthier diet plans. The first month of the year has come to an end but gyms are still packed full of hopeful new recruits, each with the desire to shed the guilt of Christmas weight.
Being a fitness advocate myself, I am also passionate about food. I was fortunate to grow up in a household where my parents blessed my palette with home-made meals and the odd freshly baked treats. A staple diet of Ghanaian cuisine and the occasional West Indian and European dishes taught me that diet is the key to a happy and healthy lifestyle.
I am also an advocate for home cooked meals being the gateway to good physical and mental health. This said, only one-fifth of people have cooked an evening meal from scratch, according to a survey of 2,000 people, conducted by Lurpak in 2016. More than half of the people in the survey revealed that they would rather watch a meal being cooked on television than physically make it. The study found that the average adult spends 1 hour 37 minutes a week watching food-related shows, with the acclaimed ‘Great British Bake Off’, ‘MasterChef’ and ‘Come Dine with Me’ ranking in the top three. Results of the survey showed that Brits spend almost 1-hour reading food blogs and websites, and over three and a half hours on social media consuming food posts, per week! With this level of accessibility to ‘food media’ why aren’t we cooking more?
In speaking to friends about home cooking, particularly for work lunch, the consensus is that it is too time-consuming. The sheer effort of cooking and finding the time to plan meals can be off-putting for many. The study from Lurpak held similar results, with those surveyed commenting that although they loved to watch cooking shows, only three of their own home-cooked meals were made using fresh ingredients. I admit, I too stand with the masses to indulge in the occasional cookery show, however, I’m not quite convinced that the time factor is the underlying issue when an entire meal can be cooked in the duration of an hour-long show, plus ads.
Here are a few common myths and hurdles to overcome, for beginners who want to start cooking more often;
- Cooking from scratch is time-consuming
Start by cooking simple meals that require little prep and take an hour or less to cook. e.g. pasta bakes with fresh vegetables (sweet peppers, courgettes, spinach), grilled fish or meat with steamed veggies, potatoes, noodles or rice.
- Cooking from scratch is expensive
This myth will have you fooled into buying more take-outs and ready-made meals because they are inexpensive. Purchasing fresh ingredients allows you to cook a bigger quantity and even have surplus. I have consistently been taking a home-cooked lunch to work for one of three reasons;
1) The meal will stretch to a minimum of two days, which means cooking less frequently.
2) Cooking saves money. The occasional take-out or fast food lunch is a nice treat but once you calculate the cost of your weekly or annual lunch expenditure, a Nandos here, a Subway there, you’ll see that it’s not as cheap as you once thought.
3) Preparing your own meals means that you control what is in your food; the salt, sugar and fat content are particularly important as each of these are detrimental to a healthy diet. Many processed foods contain chemical preservatives and artificial additives which extend the shelf life but also increase the risk of cancers and other serious health problems.
- There are healthier choices of ready-made meals that are low in calories and just as good as fresh food
The shelf life of most processed foods is a minimum of one month, which is made possible by the preservatives. A meal made with fresh ingredients should not keep beyond one week unless placed in a freezer. It’s worth noting that the labelling of such foods is generally restricted and does not always disclose the full nutrient and vitamin content. When you do want to indulge, make sure you know what’s in your meals.
The causes of poor diet have been linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and cancer. A balanced and nutrient-based diet can help prevent and reduce the risk of such diseases. I’ve spent the past month enjoying a pescatarian diet, except that one day that I forgot and accidentally bought a beef pattie – yes, I still ate it.
After one month I have already seen a difference in my skin and there have been less sluggish days, which is often the result of eating meat. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, the last National Food Survey taken in the year 2000 records the improvements in British eating habits over the years.