How to Build a Cooking Habit

YouBeauty’s Health Editor shares her journey from takeout queen to happy, healthy cook—and how you can do it, too.

| January 22nd, 2014

I’ve always thought that cooking was like windsurfing: intimidating, laborious, and more fun to watch than actually do. Thankfully, living in New York City for years meant I didn’t have to lift a saucepan—at the push of a button, I had access to every type of delicious takeout you could dream up. My husband and I enjoyed the U.N. of Eating most nights: Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Greek, Thai—you name it.

When our twins were born, though, I couldn’t bring myself to buy prepackaged food and wanted to know exactly what my munchkins were eating. So I surprised myself by cooking their baby food from scratch as soon as they were able to eat purées and solids (thanks to the fantastic, easy recipes on Weelicious). Since my twins couldn’t talk yet, they couldn’t complain about my cooking, making them the perfect audience as I honed my skills.

In November 2013, we moved cross-country from the heart of Manhattan to the suburbs of Northern California, and then my whole (cooking) world changed. I could no longer rely on takeout—the local Chinese food we’ve tried is abysmal—so I am actually cooking. Every. Single. Night. This would have been my nightmare in the past, but I realized if I wanted my family to eat healthfully, cooking was the best way.

Thanks to a wealth of simple, healthy recipes I found on Pinterest, handy gadgets such as my slow cooker, and lots of practice, I’m good at cooking now, with more hits than misses. Yes, there are nights when I’m bone tired and do not feel like going anywhere near a pot or pan, but the thing is, once I get started and have tasty, healthy food bubbling on the stove, with sautéed onions and garlic wafting throughout my kitchen, I actually enjoy cooking. Now there are four words I never thought I’d say. And if I can say that, so can you.

Granted, it’s not always easy to rewrite the script you’ve written for yourself (in my case, “I’m not a cook”) or know where to begin if you’ve never made anything more than spaghetti before, so we tapped the experts on how to develop the habit of cooking—one of the healthiest, most rewarding things you can do for yourself and your family.

• Let go of preconceived notions. You’re not alone if you find cooking intimidating. “Like any multi-component, complex skill, cooking is daunting,” says Darya Pino Rose, Ph.D., author of “Foodist” and the healthy eating blog Summer Tomato. “There’s fire involved. If you mess up you might go hungry. [But] you have to believe you can do it.” And forget about perfection. “The perfection of cooking is in the imperfection,” says chef Elana Horwich, founder of Meal and a Spiel cooking school in Los Angeles. “You are looking for food with great taste and that will come from loving the food as you cook it and from using top quality ingredients. Let go of notions of ideal presentation for the time being. Everyone would rather eat something that looked and tasted homemade than some fancy thing that has no feeling or love in it.”

• Start small. The first time I ever tried to cook a big dinner years ago, I decided to make risotto (harder than it looks) and crème brûlée—mini-blowtorch and all. Seriously? It was too ambitious and a total disaster. Instead, start small, such as with one- or two-ingredient recipes, like sautéed kale or lentils. “I recommend people build an arsenal of home court recipes—things that are so dead simple and easy you can cook them with your eyes closed and they’re tasty,” suggests Rose. “I have an easy recipe for cauliflower that tastes like French fries. Most people just steam their cauliflower, but if you roast it, the cauliflower crisps up and gets sweet. Start with a recipe like that. It’s not a full dinner—it’s the first step.”

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