The simplest way to improve your diet and eat more healthily isn’t counting calories, “eating a rainbow”, buying low-fat everything or following any other of the tired, ineffective mantras that are trotted out. In practical terms, the surest way to eat better is cooking most of your food at home or, failing that, talking some other nice person into doing it for you. The more you eat out or rely on convenience food, the more the balance of your diet will go the wrong way. The more food you eat that isn’t homemade, the poorer your diet is likely to be in terms of nutrition and the quality and provenance of its ingredients. If you base your meals on mainly unprocessed or minimally processed ingredients, and cook more often than not, you won’t go far wrong.
Motivate yourself for more hands-on activity in the kitchen by calculating how much money you’ll save. It’s easy to spend £20 a week on barely satisfying sandwich-based lunches. The most basic, most functional restaurant meals or takeaways will make an even greater dent in your finances. Kick the habit of reaching for the phone or dropping into the takeaway when you’re hungry and head for the kitchen instead. You’ll free up more money than smokers do when they give up fags.
Shake up your shopping habits. Don’t leave thinking about meals to the last minute. Most of all, avoid ending up in the corner supermarket after work, desperately looking for something that you can eat asap. Smaller supermarkets that cater for the lunchtime and post-work trade stock even more junky snacks and assorted products to be avoided than their bigger equivalents. And they offer a stultifying choice that doesn’t change 365 days of the year, which kills the urge to cook. Make a slot for food shopping, and get yourself down to interesting small shops, markets or anywhere the seasons are reflected in what’s on offer and the food isn’t smothered in antiseptic plastic. These environments will make you want to eat, and ideas of what to cook will smack you between the eyes. If you can’t make it to stimulating shops, get a box of high-quality ingredients delivered to your home or work and let the contents inspire you.
Initially, because it takes momentum to get into the routine of food preparation, don’t try to cook things you haven’t made before. Forget those dishes you meant to try but never got round to – that approach courts lethargy and self-delusion. Instead, revisit the old favourite recipes in your comfort zone, and remind yourself how much better they are than most of what you could buy eating out. Once you have got into a rhythm, start tackling recipes you have eyed up from afar. You might actually make some of them now.
Cookbooks are great, but less is more, especially if you are one of those people who’s better at buying them than cooking from them. Focus on one favourite book that is well within your skill set, one with short ingredient lists, and cook the easiest dishes you can find in it. Once you’re in the swing of regular meal preparation, then, and only then, add new techniques and cuisines – fermentation, sourdough bread baking, Kazakh cookery et al – to your core competencies. Never believe that watching TV cookery programmes is more likely to make you cook. Empirical observation of UK eating habits suggests that the opposite is the case.
Instead of trying to cook every day, most fatally in the early evening when you are already knackered, have a major once-a-week cooking session, probably at the weekend, that will break the back of your food preparation burden. Hero dishes here include soups, stews, casseroles, gratins, hefty salads, curries – anything that can be reheated or eaten cold, and served again for packed lunch or dinner in the week. Think in terms of a rolling programme. Last night’s spinach and potato curry becomes tomorrow’s side veg with sausages. Leftover roasted veg, with a bit of cheese crumbled on top, becomes the next day’s workplace salad lunch. Cook once, then eat twice or thrice. Make your dishes in bulk, freeze what’s left, and build up a store of homemade food for days when cooking seems too hard.
Don’t let appetite-crushing “healthy eating” guidelines and assorted food scares overrule your good sense about what to eat, or spoil your enjoyment of food. Base your diet around sound ingredients, studiously ignore fads, and reserve a healthy scepticism for everything from top-down government health orthodoxy to the latest trendy diet.
This content was originally published here.