Your Health

Cooking from scratch

What you need to know to get started

Cooking from scratch

BY MARTINA GORNICK-MARION
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, March / April 2014

When was the last time you minced, simmered or sautéed anything?

If you can't remember or don't have a clue what I'm talking about, don't worry: you're not alone. There is growing evidence that Canadians are spending less time preparing meals from scratch and relying more on prepared items and convenience foods. Time constraints, shifting values and the availability of these easy-to-prepare and ready-made foods are just a few of the factors keeping us out of the kitchen. The trouble is adults aren't nurturing their own cooking skills, never mind passing them on to the next generation.

Besides being able to prepare fabulous-tasting meals, having basic cooking skills can help improve diet quality. Cooking from scratch is linked with increased intake of vegetables, fruit and whole grains and reduced consumption of fast food. What's more, children and teens who are involved in planning and cooking meals carry those healthy habits through into adulthood.

You don't have to be a "chef" to prepare foods from scratch or make healthy and delicious meals. The recipe for success in the kitchen comes down to a few simple ingredients. Read on and let's start cooking!

Stock up

Cooking is easier if your kitchen is ready for action by stocking up on basic food staples. In many cases, the easiest and most delicious meals are created from simple ingredients. Keep basics on hand always and be sure to replenish your stock quickly. Whether you use simple, basic ingredients on their own or add a few additional ingredients, you are armed to make many meals, from soups to casseroles and more.

Always have on hand

  • Fresh and frozen vegetables and fruit
  • Whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, oats and pastas
  • Milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Canned salmon or tuna
  • Canned or dried legumes such as chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils
  • Spices, garlic, oil, and vinegar
  • Canned tomatoes - crushed, diced, or whole
  • Reduced-sodium soup broth

I can't even boil water . . .

You don't need to be a gourmet chef to prepare great-tasting food. If your skills are limited, search out simple recipes. First, read the recipe from beginning to end, collect ingredients and the equipment needed, then give it a try.

A cooking term has you stumped? Not to worry. Look up unfamiliar terms online. In addition, the Internet can be your online cooking school with various videos demonstrating recipes and basic cooking techniques, from dicing an onion to boiling an egg. If you still want more direction in the kitchen, look for a local cooking class or attend a community kitchen where you can meet new friends and build skills together.

Tools of the trade

Cooking tools do not need to be expensive or fancy, but having some key equipment will have you cooking like a master in no time. Make sure your kitchen has:

  • Sharp knives
  • Box grater
  • Wire whisk & wooden spoon
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Various-sized pots (a frying pan, too)
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Colander or strainer

Cooking: the next generation

Set the stage for lifelong healthy habits by involving the whole family in cooking - including the kids. Children who are involved in cooking are more likely to make better food choices, be less picky and have better family relationships during the teen years. Not to mention cooking provides the added opportunity of practising math and reading skills. Start with simple tasks for younger children and gradually build based on your child's skill, age and confidence. Once grown, these kids will be armed with an essential life skill that can ultimately improve their diet quality and overall health.

Keep it simple and plan ahead

Lack of time is one of the factors that keep us out of the kitchen. The best way around this is to keep it simple and have a plan. On busy nights, why not have sandwiches or "breakfast" for supper? Planning even the simple meals ahead is key. You will always have the ingredients you need on hand, and can work around tight schedules. Try these good-for-you meals and pair with raw veggies and dip or a crisp green salad:

  • Whole grain pita pizza topped with mushrooms, pepper
  • Open-faced tuna sandwich with pesto
  • Spinach, mushroom and feta cheese egg scramble
  • Black bean quesadillas and pepper quesadillas, salsa and avocado
  • Sauteed shrimp with broccoli, ginger and garlic served over whole-wheat couscous

How can kids help

Children two to three years: Wash fruit and veggies, tear greens into salad bowl, add ingredients to a bowl.

Children three to four years: Help make sandwiches and pizza, mash veggies/fruits, help mix ingredients in a bowl.

Children four to six years: Crack and beat an egg, slice cheese and soft vegetables with plastic knife, shred cheese, set the table.

Children six to eight years: Use basic kitchen equipment like can opener, toss salad with dressing, create a smoothie, measure and pour ingredients.

Children eight to 11 years: Use a knife to chop and slice vegetables, fruit and cooked meat, make and pack their own school lunch, use the microwave or stove with parental assistance to prepare a recipe.

For more information

Download Dietitian of Canada apps for more information:

Martina Gornik-Marion is a registered dietitian with the Winnipeg Health Region.

Wave: March / April 2014

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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