As soon as you walk through the door, in some homes, the questions start, especially my favorite: What's for dinner?
And just like that, the second shift, an unpaid shift, begins before your shoes are off. "Bringing home the bacon and fry it up in the pan" was a great hook in a 70's commercial, but for home chefs with an 8 or 12 hour work schedules, finding time to prepare a home cooked meal remains challenging. So many food apps exist now that are inexpensive, and can even deliver a meal before you get home.
But with those deliveries, apps and drive-thru meals come some hidden numbers that can be astronomical. Some restaurant meals contain over 1200 calories per meal with more saturated fat, salt and sugar than is needed for a day. The latest food apps and food trucks deliver fully cooked meals in under an hour, give or take, but what else? How much salt, added sugar , food dyes?
For some Americans, most of their sodium intake, — over 75% -- is found in packaged and processed food, and restaurant food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in restaurants, some of us eat an extra 200 calories more per meal.
Now, switch up the chefs. You in the kitchen, with the right ingredients, in the right portions, can help prevent or manage common chronic health diseases like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease. And with time, create a entree on par with most restaurants.
The medicine cabinet may be in the bathroom, but the real command center at home, when it comes to health, is in the kitchen.
Every meal or snack has numbers attached- calories, fat , sodium and sugar content- that hyperlink to these numbers- blood pressure, glucose ,cholesterol, and pounds. A holistic approach to disease prevention or management that includes diet modification and home cooked meals can serve up the necessary numbers for a healthier household that saves money in the household budget ,and maybe, reduces valuable time spent in the physician's office, hospital or emergency room.
The DASH Diet- Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension- , Mediterranean diet, or African Heritage Diet, can help manage or prevent prehypertension, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and some cancers. The MIND Diet- Mediterranean- DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay- may even offer protection against dementia and cognitive impairment with meals filled with berries, dark green leafy vegetables, fish, lean meats, olive oil, nuts and beans.
But who has time to cook?
If you are a foodie that pins recipes, or consumes cable food shows religiously, you make time for home cooked meals. A weekend prepping, labeling , packing , and storing weekly meals neatly in the refrigerator may be part of your weekend routine. If not, personal chefs are just a click away to prep and cook personalized menu selections based on food preferences, allergies, food intolerances or medical conditions. And then there are the subscription meal kits that include recipes, herbs, spices, veggies and in some cases, a meat or seafood selection. And if you like farm fresh and local food, CSA memberships and farmers markets serve up a variety of vegetables, herbs, cooking demonstrations and recipes.
What happens next is easy. Grab a glass a wine ( or herbal tea) , put on some music and relax. Home cooked meals with local and fresh food doesn't have to be stressful.
First, you wash.
The leafy greens need a good rinse and soak to remove the clingy critters that sometimes accompany your veggies from the farm to your kitchen. You never know when you will discover a tiny snail, ladybug ( let them fly away please) or aphid. Not to mention the occasional corn worm clinging on your ear of your bicolor corn.
Flavonoid rich berries need a quick spray of water right before you use them. Rinse off the tomatoes, squash, winter and summer, and bell peppers if they're in season. And before the first bite of your sweet melon from the back of the pickup truck, rinse well under running water. Cantaloupes especially need a rinse because of the unique netting that can harbor Salmonella and other pathogens.
Time to process
Next step for a CSA share , depending on the season, is stripping the leaf from the tough stem , shelling peas, clipping the ends from green beans, shucking corn and , removing skins from the garlic and onions. And then it's time for the rough chop, chiffonade, grating, zesting, mortar and pestling.
Here are some tips to win in the kitchen:
1. Find your prep cook. End the "what's for dinner "questions. If everyone eats, everyone can help with the prep. Children of all ages can do more than take the chicken out of the freezer; they can wash vegetables and dishes. Your resident food critics can shell peas, clip green bean ends ,and remove garlic and onion skins like a pro. Depending on their age, kids can safely cut an onion, crush garlic cloves and peel potatoes.
2. Mise en place. No more " where is the.....? " Everything in its' place, clean, and ready to use. Your designated prep cook can even learn a little French at the same time.
3.Meal Plan. A weekly meal plan shaves off time in the kitchen, grocery store , or even on your smartphone app once you decide what's for dinner before dinnertime You can also keep track of your calories, sodium, sugar, simple carbohydrate and saturated fat intake with a meal plan that includes recipes with nutritional facts.
4. Marinades, Rubs and Sauces. Aji verde, salsa verde, dry rubs, wet rubs, pesto...Prepare and refrigerate these well before you're ready to cook. When it's time to tenderize and/or season meats and vegetables, this part of the recipe is done .
5. Prep, Cook and Freeze. Casseroles and one dish meals are great meals that you can cook and freeze for later . If it's a family favorite, double the recipe, savor some, label and freeze the rest. With a CSA membership, sometimes there's a bounty of one or more vegetables or herbs. You can freeze part of your share for the winter months. Have a surplus of green beans in your CSA share? Blanch, label, and store some in the freezer. Why buy frozen vegetables when you can freeze your own?
6.Communication. This is important. Your prep cook can quickly transform into an executive chef, and improvise a meal or snack with the ingredients needed for your weekly meal plan. Make sure everyone understands that some of the ingredients in the kitchen are for everyone ,and not for just a table for one.