As our country slowly (and hopefully not prematurely) opens, this ZooFit tip may seem a little late to the party. Eating Green during the Apocalypse? Wasn’t that, like, last month? Restaurants are preparing to invite guests back, but there are many people who still find themselves eating at home. They have been thrust in a quest they never thought they would embark on. Cooking. At home.
Here’s the thing about cooking at home- it doesn’t have to be hard. Or tedious. In fact, on my journey with ZooFit, I found cooking to be one of my favorite activities. It helped me kick my cigarette habit. And cooking from home has been one of the most impactful practices I’ve established. Tons of experts share this ideal principle with us. In fact, switching from fast food, take-out, or restaurant eating to meals prepared from home is honestly one of the single-most beneficial behavior changes we can incorporate for our health and well-being.
But cooking from home doesn’t just do our bodies good. It can do a world of good for the…world. The carbon footprint of eating out is astronomical. Eating at home can literally help save the world. It can have a better impact on conservation efforts worldwide– from deforestation in the rainforest to plastic pollution in the ocean.
How can we help save the world and ourselves during this pandemic? Well hopefully this guide will help you out.
#1- Start Small and Easy
I do feel fortunate that I established great eat-from-home habits years ago. When businesses temporarily closed due to coronavirus, our family wasn’t really as affected. We already ate a solid 95% of our meals at home. And I don’t mean I got take-out and brought it home. I mean I made homemade meals, often from scratch, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
But this principle of eating at home didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t wake up one day and decide “I’m going to be Miss Suzy Homemaker and create the most delicious meals ever imagined from scratch, every day, executed perfectly.”
For a long time, I basically cooked two things– Balsamic Rosemary Chicken (which is fine, but really basic), and Spaghetti. On special occasions, my cooking repertoire also allowed me to make Hawaiian Chicken.
And you know what? That was fine. Small and easy is great. Small and easy is how you gain confidence to get slightly bigger and more complicated (not monster steps, just little steps). It’s how animal trainers start a new behavior with their animals. And it’s how most experts recommend we start anything new. James Clear in his book Atomic Habits says if you want to learn something new, start so easy “you cannot fail”.
This small step can be a tomato sauce for your spaghetti. It can be a stir fry. Sauteeing veggies and proteins is super simple. My absolute favorite super-easy tool for easy (and green) cooking is the crock-pot. Cut veggies, put in pot, turn on pot–home cooked meal in a few hours without any further worry or fuss.
Here is an example of easy cooking in a crock-pot: Easy Sweet Potato
Crock-pots aren’t just convenient and make dinner super easy. They are also a very eco-friendly method of cooking. I haven’t talked about this aspect of crock-pots before, and it’s a shame, because this kitchen appliance can really cut down on energy use in the kitchen. An oven has a huge amount of space that it needs to heat up. Preheating the oven wastes a lot of energy. Crock-pots are small, so the energy it takes to heat it is significantly lower. If you don’t have a crock-pot, or insta-pot (although I admit I don’t use one so I’m not familiar with how to use it), do yourself, and the planet a favor and grab one.
#2- Do the Best You Can (With What You Have, Where You Are)
When you are starting out in the kitchen, you’re likely to make mistakes. As I said above, I did not get good at cooking overnight. In fact, I have some hilariously embarrassing stories about my early days of cooking at home.
Abs, and Mistakes, are Made in the Kitchen
I was making a stew– super easy, can’t mess it up, right? Wrong. The recipe called for a bay leaf. I looked at the bay leaf. This small teensy thing? That couldn’t be right. Maybe they meant a twig of bay leaf. That seemed like enough. So I put six bay leaves in my stew. Yes, six.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you are my people. But let me explain why everyone else is gasping in horror. Bay leaves are strong. Like, really strong. Strong enough that one single bay leaf is more than enough for a stew made for four people. And I put six in the stew.
My family teases my husband for being a human garbage disposal. Even Chris refers to himself as Kobayashi, the Japanese competitive eater. But that night? Even Chris couldn’t eat the stew. And I had made enough for leftovers the next day. It was horrible. On the plus side, our sinuses were opened.
The point of this story is simple. Mistakes are okay. I learned from that mistake. If I am not familiar with the recipe, style of food, or ingredient, I follow the recipe. I also learned to laugh at myself when cooking.
One of our good friends in Seattle was a head chef at a restaurant. He used to say when interviewing someone for a cook position, he’d ask them if they ever burnt bacon. If they say “Never”, he doesn’t hire them. They’re lying. Everyone has burnt bacon. Okay, maybe not necessarily bacon, but we’ve all burnt something. I burnt Jell-O once.
So, if you are uneasy in the kitchen and don’t know where to turn, know this– you are not alone. Everyone starts from the beginning. Even Gordon Ramsey or Bobby Flay didn’t start their careers as star chefs. They worked at it.
Hummingbird Mentality: Do What We Can
Doing what we can doesn’t just apply to our cooking skills. It applies to our conservation efforts, too. My only struggle I have had during this pandemic has been the incidental increase of plastic use in our family. I abhor plastic, but preventing the spread of COVID-19 requires that we use protocols and regulations which reduce the availability of plastic-free alternatives. My co-op, my favorite grocery store I’ve ever shopped at, has stopped letting customers bring reusable containers or bags from home.
The last time I was there, the lady in front of me didn’t accept any bags, she just put her items back in her basket and then bagged them when she got to the car. Genius, I thought. “Can I just do what the lady before me did?” I asked when the cashier asked me if I wanted a bag or a box for my groceries.
Doing what we can. In the kitchen, in the grocery store, for our health, and for the planet.
#3- Look for the Helpers
Fred Rogers’ mother used to tell him, “look for the helpers” in situations where there was unrest or turmoil. Okay, so cooking at home isn’t exactly World War II, or combatting climate change (well, it can help combat climate change, but it isn’t the same overwhelming feeling as combatting climate change).
If you are feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to turn for guidance, here are some great helpers.
Meal delivery services:
A new trend in our busy lifestyles has been home delivery meal kits. On a personal level, I don’t particularly care for them. Most use too much plastic for my liking, and I don’t have facilities which can recycle these items in my area. But for someone just starting out, I feel these can be a god-send. All your ingredients along with the recipe/directions to prepare your home-cooked meals, delivered to your doorstep. And many of these companies are making concerted efforts to source their ingredients as sustainably as possible. A couple of my favorite services are Purple Carrot and Sun Basket. Purple Carrot is strictly plant-based diet (vegan), but don’t let that deter you. Their meals are usually really great, and they give you the entire recipe, so if you enjoy a particular meal, you can repeat it whenever you like. Sun Basket is a little more varied, and caters to a variety of eating lifestyles. But as I mentioned before, if you are looking to decrease your plastic use, home delivery meal services might not be for you.
Thrive is my pantry essential market. I get any supplements, teas, and a lot of my canned goods from them. Currently, as you can imagine, they are swamped with orders and are out of quite a bit of food I miss receiving from them, but it’s worth a try to see if they have any products you can use. Thrive is committed to organic, sustainable products (although some foods do still contain palm oil). They have also cut down on their plastic use significantly since we first started using them, which is always a plus for me. Thrive is a membership-based company, but if you’d like to try them out, you can use this code as a referral and receive 25% off your first order- http://thrv.me/REDPUS
My only gripe about Imperfect Foods is that I wish I had known about them sooner. I did have issues when we first started with their service in that the deliveries were somewhat unreliable, but then they switched from FedEx deliveries to a personal delivery (employed by Imperfect Foods) and all my issues with them went out the window. I get close to 70% of my produce from Imperfect Foods. They are great at labeling which products are packaged or wrapped in plastic within their browsing categories. And when I get my box each week, I have no complaints with their packaging. Plus, it’s called Imperfect Foods, but a majority of the time, the food is absolutely gorgeous. Dare I say, almost perfect. I can order organic or conventional foods, and most of the produce is locally sourced. They may claim to be Imperfect, but they are a perfect solution to home-cooking chefs like myself. They might help you out as well. Check them out and earn $10- http://imprfct.us/v/pattie_69
#4- Meal Prep Like a Conservation Boss
Along with eliminating processed foods and plastic waste around our food, meal prepping is my go-to solution for eating green. Most people associate meal prepping with taking their lunches to work, and if you are working away from home right now, yes, absolutely, try meal prepping. But this skill can also be a life-saver for newbies in the kitchen.
Meal prepping has 3 aspects which can be huge time-savers. First is the concept of meal planning. Yes, planning meals is a part of prepping for meals. Plan your meals a week ahead, and get all your ingredients for the week in one grocery trip. This is a good idea nowadays, anyways, if you want to limit your exposure to interactions with strangers and potential germs. When we plan our meals in advance, it does a couple things. We are more likely to stick to our shopping list and resist impulse buys. We save time by not wandering through the grocery store wondering what meals we should make and what ingredients we might need. And it’s a great practice for buying your willpower at the store.
When we stick to our list and only buy what we need, we are a lot less likely to mindlessly eat at home, because everything has a pre-designated purpose.
You can also meal prep in the manner we might be most familiar with the phrase. Cook or prepare a huge batch of food at the beginning of the week, and divvy it out into easy grab-and-go containers. A couple favorites for this method:
But planning and doling out your meals aren’t the only two ways to meal prep. Pre-prepare your meals to make navigating during meal time a bit easier. Take this stew recipe for example. To save time in the morning, I sometimes chop the veggies the night before. That way, all I have to do is wake up, throw the whole mix in the crock-pot, turn it on, and BOOM, done.
Meal prep saves time, but it also saves lives. Some of our favorite animals are affected by the fast food industry- from deforestation with paper products, single-use plastics, and cheap and easy food products that are also contributing to deforestation. Be a hero for the earth by taking great care of yourself in the kitchen.
#5- Just Do It
I had a personal trainer years ago who drove me nuts by yelling at his class “Do something!” I’m not going to yell, but I am going to begrudgingly repeat his annoyingly wise words. Just get in the kitchen and do something. Are you going to mess up? Probably. See my story of killing our sinuses with bay leaves. But the only way you get better is with practice.
You can read a billion cook books but you won’t become a great cook or even proficient until you move from reading them to practicing the recipes you find intriguing. The step between theory and mastery is practice. Diligent, consistent, and persistent practice.
So grab an apron, and let’s get to it.
The apocalypse is a little less scary now with good meals on the horizon.
What are your favorite beginner cooking tips? Let me know and remember, we are all in this together (separately). If you want any help, give me a shout. There are tons more tools we can explore for making cooking at home a fun and positive experience.