One of the most important components to losing fat and building muscle is the food you eat, and the commitment to preparing a significant amount of what you eat yourself. However, if you’re not accustomed to spending much time in the kitchen, here are five things that you will need to know.
#1: Faster is not always better.
It seems logical enough – turn on the burner, throw your food in the pan, and keep the heat cranked as high as possible so you can be done as quick as you can. It turns out that’s not such a good idea, both for the flavor of the food and the nutritional quality.
Certain foods in general are best cooked slower and with a lower heat setting because they dry out very easily – most wild game (bison, elk, and ostrich for example) are this way. Otherwise you will wonder why the $15 bison steak you just bought tastes as dry as the package that it came in. Medium or medium-high cooking temps will heat everything evenly without drying it out.
High heat also has a tendency to overcook the outside and undercook the inside, damaging the nutritional profile of the meat (or vegetable, or whatever you’re making). Excessive heat can kill the protein and digestive enzymes in the food, which can lead to poor digestion and an upset stomach.
There are occasions where high heat is useful – searing a couple of steaks for a few minutes on each side before transferring to the oven, for example – but in general opt for more moderate temps.
#2. Get a Spice Rack.
If you’re going to be making a lot of your own food, it is critical that you have enough variety that you don’t get bored, because if you do, it’s going to be a hell of an uphill battle to stay consistent with your choices. I have seen more than my fair share of clients who begin a diet very gung-ho, saying “I can eat boiled chicken and broccoli five times a day no problem if it’ll help me lose weight!” And for a few days, that will be true. You’ll lose a couple of pounds a week and you’ll have the willpower to skip the invitation to hit the buffet with your friends after work.
But as the weeks go by and progress slows down a bit, then willpower starts to diminish and you start thinking, “if I have to look at one more piece of chicken I swear I will kick a puppy!” And before you know it you’re covered in Cheetos dust and surrounded by enough take-out food to satisfy the Chicago Bears defensive line.
So learn your options. Lots of sauces and marinades will be tossed out because of all of the added sugar and chemicals, but you’d be amazed what you can do with a dozen options for herbs, some olive oil and a little vinegar. At the very least, get yourself some paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, rosemary and sage. Be creative and seek out recipes – there are hundreds of “Paleo-approved” websites devoted solely to cooking.
#3. Use the right tool.
Like anything else, preparing healthy food that you’ll actually want to eat requires the right tools for the right job. If you’re somebody who’s tried to brown ground beef in a saucepan or tried to dice carrots with a butter knife, you will not enjoy your time in the kitchen. Learn the basics and keep things simple. Get a book on cooking for beginners – a simple search on Amazon gives you dozens of options.
Also, don’t go cheap – poor quality cookware will give you poor quality cooking. You don’t have to spend $600 on a set of pots and pans, but you also shouldn’t be buying your skillets from the dollar store. You can go far with a good quality cast-iron skillet, a saucepan, a grill, a slow-cooker and a couple of good knives (chef’s knife and paring knife are a must). Buy things a little at a time as you get better and can be more creative.
#4. Read the recipe BEFORE you start cooking.
We’re even guilty of this one at home – we’ll pull out everything we need for a recipe, skim the directions and before you know it, you’ll hear “#@!$, we weren’t supposed to put that in yet!” If you’re lucky, you might be able to salvage what you’ve got, but the recipe is there for a reason. Take your time and do it the way the writer intended. It will make a difference.
#5. Plan ahead.
This is particularly important if you plan on taking your food to work with you each day, or if you live alone (or both!). If your schedule is busy where it’s difficult to prepare your food as you need it, cut down the total time you spend in the kitchen by making more than one dish at a time, or by making double servings. Instead of cooking 6-7 times a week, you may only have to spend an hour twice a week. Refrigerate what you’ll use in the next 48 hours and freeze the rest. Then, when you start to run low, transfer dishes from the freezer to the fridge and you’re ready to go.
Your best chance for success with your nutrition is going to come from knowing what you’re eating, and the best way to do that is to do it yourself. Invest the time and the effort into taking care of your body with good nutrition, but don’t forget that you don’t have to sacrifice quality to do it.