By Sue Ingebretson
I blamed my culinary ineptitude in the kitchen on the invention of the TV dinner. In fact, for the past half a century or more, women have gotten a bum steer when it comes to the truths about cooking. How does this affect us? My fibromyalgia healing process was thrown into low gear due to my kitchen creativity hang-ups.
I don’t want this to happen to you.
Do you feel creative when you step into your kitchen? I know that I sure didn’t.
I shouldn’t blame my lack of kitchen spontaneity on the actual TV dinner itself. It just sat there innocently wrapped in foil awaiting its opportunity to jump from freezer to oven. The real assignment of responsibility goes to the advertisements of that era.
Consider that in the mid-1950s, the percentage of meals that were homemade hovered around 100%. In that environment, how do you pitch a dinner that costs more and tastes worse than anything home cooked? You appeal to your female viewer’s frustrations as a wife, mother and homemaker. Tell her that it’ll SAVE TIME and you’re in like Flynn.
Some sixty years ago, housewives were over-worked. The thought of simply popping something from the freezer to the oven was completely new. Advertisers spread the notion that cleaning and prepping veggies by hand was old-fashioned. Peas and carrots (pre-chopped!) should nestle together in their own segmented portion of a disposable tray – away from soggy fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and peach cobbler.
Advertising of this era touted these main themes:
- Kitchen work equaled drudgery
- Meal prep was an unneeded extra step and old-fashioned
- Kitchen work (women’s work) was solitary and not a family activity
New boxed and packaged products populated grocers’ shelves. They displayed these headlines:
- No measuring or following recipes from a book!
- Simply follow package directions!
- No guess-work – same results every time!
From this point on, mealtime standards had been forever changed. The modern woman of the 50s and 60s focused on time savings, convenience, and disposability.
Oh, how things have changed – or have they?
Women are still over-worked and looking for convenience. If anything, we have even more added responsibilities: trying to balance work, family and home life. The only change from decades past is a fairly current emphasis on recycle-ability rather than disposability.
There’s still a time-crunch when it comes to getting everything done, and if there’s a way to lighten the load, I’m all for it.
But here’s where today’s cooks have gotten the shaft.
but the application of it is wonky.
The message of convenience and efficiency is spot on. But what shortcuts are we taking with our health?
Instead of looking for better ways to make healthy foods faster, we’ve skipped right over the “healthy” part of the equation and put the emphasis on “faster.” That’s sort of like throwing out the baby with the bath water.
In our haste to make quick meals, we’ve turned our time in the kitchen into the enemy. Spending time in the kitchen isn’t the enemy. In fact, it’s the solution.
Why is our negative view of time spent in the kitchen a problem?
to do to get healthy is somehow
bad, wrong, old-fashioned, or obsolete –
we’re not going to do it!
I’m fond of hosting cooking classes in my home. I like to share the idea that time in the kitchen can be fun. I encourage children and spouses to attend, too. I teach others to make simple, flavorful, nutritious meals with ease.
Now, here’s the hard part.
I encourage my attendees to get creative. I encourage them to use the ingredients they already have on hand and improvise. I suggest that they use a recipe (if they prefer) as a jumping off point and then substitute, vary, and invent new and interesting meal-time creations.
I know. It’s radical, right?
You wouldn’t expect this to be the sticking point, but it often is. Most of us were raised to believe that throwing a meal together means reading the recipe on the back of the box and following it to the letter. In fact, I’ve literally witnessed clients cry over the concept of cooking without a recipe and without a box.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not anti-recipe.
Using a recipe is fine. In fact, I’m quite the recipe collector myself. I have hundreds (probably a gross understatement) of recipes on my computer and my bookshelves are crammed with recipe books. I love to collect, browse, search, sample, and surf through recipes.
My favorite foodie place to hang out? Pinterest!
Using recipes as a jumping off point is easy. Here’s the process I often suggest.
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1. Search for recipes.
Using Pinterest as an example, search for recipes that look interesting, list the main ingredients that you have on hand, and look suitable for your family. (Of course, you can just as easily peruse your favorite cookbooks and cooking magazines.)
Pinterest has a fabulous search feature. Let’s say you’re looking to make chicken for dinner. The first search term I typically suggest using is the word “paleo.” That way, you’ll know right off that the search results are most likely going to exclude recipes containing dairy, grains (of course, wheat/gluten), processed sugar, processed and packaged ingredients, etc.
Be sure to include terms that pertain to what you’d like to make. To look for chicken recipes you could search paleo, chicken, soup or paleo, chicken, tacos, etc. You get the point. Add other ingredients that you have on hand and would like to include.
Very soon, you’ll have a collection of recipes to try. Pin or print the ones that look the best-suited for your needs. For all the other eye-catching recipes, I suggest pinning them to another board for later. It’s easy to get distracted (that’s a gross understatement), so keep your focus on the meal you plan to make, and note the following.
Helpful tip: Create another board in Pinterest just for recipes that you want to come back to later. This “Recipes to Try” board can save you a lot of time by providing you with a holding place to put recipes that look interesting, but don’t necessarily pertain to the task at hand.
2. Narrow down your options.
Here’s where you get to flex your creative muscles. Review your choices and don’t let the fact that you don’t have every ingredient worry you. Instead, look at the recipe as a whole and choose the one that appeals to you the most.
It’s perfectly fine to not have every single ingredient on hand. Learn to embrace ingredient substitutions.
follow recipes to the letter!
Become flexible with changing ingredients to suit your needs. The more you do this, the more natural it becomes. You may wish to look up common substitutions for items using a webpage such as this one from AllRecipes. Or try this “27 Paleo Food Substitutions” list for more paleo-friendly options.
You’ll soon find yourself easily making swaps based on your tastes and ingredient availability. You may even find that once you swap, you’ll never go back. For example, I once substituted fresh mint for cilantro in a fruit salsa. It was surprisingly refreshing and delightful. Cilantro and mint are very different herbs, but by being flexible, I learned something new.
Use the ingredients you have on hand and make substitutions and/or deletions as needed.
3. Assemble and prep ingredients.
This doesn’t have to be as formal as it sounds. I like to chop my veggies when I bring them home from the store, so I often have chopped, sliced, or diced veggies ready to go in my fridge.
If you’ve got the veggie prep handled, finishing up the recipe probably includes preparing the protein source and perhaps adding a garnish or other addition to the meal.
My meals are pretty simple. They’re thrown together from the veggies I have on hand, the protein I have (oftentimes leftovers), and they’re cooked with healthy fats or drizzled (uncooked) with healthy fats. It depends on what I’m having.
If this sounds familiar, you may recognize that these are the macronutrients needed for any healthy diet. The only essential nutrients needed besides water are:
To learn more about discovering what balance of nutrients works best for you, check out this “Do You Know Your Nutrition Type?” article.
And, nearly every meal I make is served on a bed of greens. To refresh your memory on this subject, check out this post entitled, “Try This Fast and Easy Nutritional Boost Today.”
4. Switch mental gears.
This is where your kitchen experiments really gain traction. When you decide that your health is important, and your meals are important, you’ll look for ways to change things up in the kitchen. Looking for new recipes, new foods, and new methods can be a lot of fun.
Sure, there are experiments that don’t turn out as planned. I once made healthy nut bars that were so crumbly they had to be eaten by the spoon. But, they sure tasted good! Of course … I’ve had experiments that didn’t taste all that great, too.
But, I keep on keepin’ on – in my creative kitchen.
I’ve mentioned before that several years ago I attended a standing-room-only lecture from a world leader in natural health. He spoke about getting into the kitchen and making his meals from scratch. He said that taking this active role in his health helped him to turn his fatigue and digestive symptoms around.
I couldn’t agree more. I, too, have experienced profound benefits through nutrition and introducing whole foods into my diet. I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen for more than a decade, but it wasn’t until the last five years or so, that I realized that I was actually having fun!
I learned that it’s the fun factor that can really help to make my time in the kitchen feel valuable and worth it. I enjoy making new things, feeling creative, and helping my family to stay healthy.
Are you ready to get creative in the kitchen? Invite your friends and family, and don’t forget to have fun. Who knows what meal-time culinary creations you’ll invent?
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™– a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.
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