May 7, 2014

“Eat anything you want, just cook it yourself.” Harry Balzer

Wow, could it be true?

Michael Pollan, an author and activist, argues that cooking is one of the simplest and most important steps people can take to improve their family’s health.

This sounds so simple it’s almost laughable. “Why cook when someone else can cook for me?” “I’m too busy to cook.” “Cooking takes too long.” “I don’t have the skills.” “I can’t be bothered after a long day at work.” “If someone just told me what to cook, I’d do it.”

These are all familiar reasons (excuses?) people give for not cooking, and you may be one of those people, but listen to Michael Pollan talk and you may rethink your position. He states his case very convincingly.

Food cooked by someone else is easy, and often tastes great. Sometimes it’s even quick. Unfortunately, the ease of availability also has consequences.

Pollan says, “We have a public health crisis around food. It threatens to bankrupt us as a society: rates of obesity, rates of Type 2 diabetes, rates of heart disease. In America, 75% of health care spending is on preventable chronic diseases, most of which are linked to diet.”

Don’t think that we’re much different in Australia or New Zealand.

Harry Balzer is a leading researcher on food and beverage trends. Let’s go back to his advice to eat anything you want as long as you cook it yourself, and imagine you want some hot chips. You buy the potatoes, peel the potatoes, slice the potatoes, heat up a pot of oil, fry the potatoes, and eat the chips. Then you clean up the stove, figure out what to do with the pot of oil, and clean the pot. Compare that to dropping in to McDonalds and buying fries.

How often do you think you’d cook chips at home? With the amount of effort required, it would be perhaps once every couple of months, which is not going to do too much to derail your weight loss or your health. Dropping in to Maccas, on the other hand, is a daily occurrence for some.

The ease of access of food cooked by someone else makes it extremely easy to sabotage your good intentions, and in the process sabotage your weight loss progress and the health of you and your family.

So what does ‘home cooked’ mean? If you think it means sticking a ready-meal in the microwave, or sliding a frozen pizza into the oven, then you’re not cooking. You’re re-heating. If you think it means creating Masterchef meals, you might need to set your sights – and ambitions – a little lower. ‘Home cooked’ means that you purchase the ingredients as fresh (or frozen) vegetables and meat or fish or poultry or eggs or legumes, and combine them in a way that creates a meal.

If you’re ‘not a good cook’, enrol in some basic cooking lessons. Try the Healthy Inspirations recipe books, or one of the recipes posted on Facebook every Friday, or look on our website at the recipes archives. Be adventurous. Be prepared to mess it up sometimes. Use only ingredients from your healthy eating plan. A really healthy, tasty, nutritious meal can be ready and on the table within 30 minutes or less, and this is often faster than it takes ordering at the local take-away.

Of course, there is a proviso:  if you love cooking cakes and cookies and the like, and if you also eat them, Balzer’s statement won’t work for your weight loss. These are not meals, just snack foods which do little nutritionally but do stop you from losing weight.

So if weight loss and good health are a priority, be kind to yourself and to your family and cook your meals at home.

Listen to Michael Pollan’s talk at