“I Don’t Cook”

So you don’t cook, huh? Are you bragging or complaining? And what difference does it make, anyway? Obviously, if it didn’t make a difference, it wouldn’t be the topic of much conversation or concern. So it must be of some importance. Let’s answer a few questions. First of all, why should you cook? Like it or not, it can make a difference. Knowing how to cook can save you money, you’ll generally eat more healthfully, you’re more attractive as a date for someone who admires that trait (who may not cook either), and if you’re the single parent – the Mr. Mom – to your kids, then you’ll do a better job of helping them eat healthfully if you know how to cook.

Second question, what are you missing? Freedom, for one thing. It’s helpful to know how to cook so that you can be self-sufficient. You’re not dependent upon the hours restaurants are open, what they serve, or how they prepare the food. If you cook, you’ll also have a lot more flexibility, of time in particular. No half hour wait in line, or to be served once you sit down to eat. No more hunting for food at midnight, which is when you get off work.

One of the most important benefits of knowing how to cook is that you get to eat the foods you want. Not what’s available, or what they want to serve you. Not overcooked or undercooked, but just right. And if you don’t cook, you’re not as likely to eat a balanced meal. Ever notice how much carbohydrate you get in comparison to fruits or vegetables when you order a meal in a restaurant? Don’t bet your lunch that you’ll even get a full serving of either fruit or veggie in a restaurant. One sprig of parsley is not a serving of veggie!

That also means you won’t get much fiber either. A fast-food meal, the choice of millions particularly at lunch, might have 3 grams of fiber in it &endash; if you’re lucky. Since you’re supposed to get 20-35 grams of fiber per day, you’re going to have to work very hard to make up the deficit. If you can’t cook.

If you can’t cook, you’re probably not going to be able to control your fat consumption either. Most restaurants recognize the fastest way to prepare a meal – to fry it. The drive-throughs do it, the sit-downs do it. And that’s what you’ll probably get – if you can’t cook.

If you can’t cook, you’ll also get pretty bored if you pack your lunch. Your primary choice is to make a sandwich. Two pieces of bread look unappetizing about the 30th day in a row. If you can’t cook, monotony will probably force you to go out for lunch, oftentimes to a fast-food restaurant. And it’s somewhat limiting not to be able to invite your friends over for dinner, except for pizza, pick-up or they bring the food.

Guess what? Nobody really cooks anymore. They ‘assemble’ their foods into an enjoyable, healthy, aesthetically pleasing meal. And so can you. So don’t get hung up on the fact that you can’t cook, to the point where you won’t try to assemble a good meal. Here are some good suggestions for how to assemble meals, and you hardly even need to know how to boil water. (But it would help to know the difference between a microwave and a VCR. The VCR is the one that keeps blinking 12:00 all the time!)

First of all, you need three places to store food (fridge, freezer, and pantry) and three pieces of equipment (microwave, grill – inside or outside, and a crock pot). Let’s stock the larder first. Buy some single fruits (e.g., apples, oranges, grapes), baby carrots, potatoes (white and sweet, if you like them), and tomatoes (maybe a bag of lettuce or mixed greens) – and store them in your fridge. Don’t buy more than you can eat in a week, and don’t buy things that get really mushy and unrecognizable if left too long! Buy some milk if you drink it on a regular basis.

Buy 3-5 bags or boxes of frozen veggies and/or frozen fruit, and stock them in your freezer. Bags last longer in a self-defrosting freezer. Also buy some chicken or burger, and store them in individual freezer bags before you toss them into the deep freeze. Also, buy a box or two of frozen, lightly breaded fish fillets. (Mrs. Paul’s is a good brand.) If you can afford it, buy a bag of frozen, deveined shrimp.

Next comes the pantry. Buy 3-4 cans of French-style green beans, several cans of tomatoes and tomato sauce, a large jug of salsa, and 2-3 cans of Progresso Soup. Find the rice that comes in individual bags that you just drop into a pan of boiling water, and buy one or two boxes for your pantry. If you like cereal, pick a low-sugar kind to put in your pantry (buy some milk for it). Save 1-2 cans of beer in your pantry as well. It’s for cooking, not drinking.

Now you’re ready. Let’s make some easy things. First of all, let the dog out. Get a piece of chicken from the freezer, and thaw it in the microwave. Take it out, and put a baked potato in to cook for about 5 minutes (stab it with a fork first – or it will explode). Place the chicken in a bowl or dish, and sprinkle it with a bit of garlic powder and pepper. Drown it in salsa. Cover it with plastic wrap or waxed paper and put it back in the microwave. Cook it for about 5-6 minutes. Let the dog back in. Take a handful of carrots and put them on your dinner plate with the baked potato. Add a bit of sour cream if you want to the potato, and then feed the dog. It’s probably time to take the chicken out of the microwave. Add it to your plate, leaving it covered in salsa. You’ve just assembled a tasty, balanced meal. Enjoy it!

Just remember, don’t worry about ‘cooking.’ Change your way of thinking. Start assembling. Have some options in the fridge, freezer and pantry. Then mix and match. Oh, the beer. Use it to cook fish in a glass dish in the oven. Set the oven at 350 degrees, put white fish (e.g., flounder) in the dish, pour in a can of beer. Cover the dish with aluminum foil – and watch. For about ten minutes. When the beer boils, the fish is done. And it’s rather tasty with the beer flavoring. As you assemble the rest of the meal, just remember to pick foods with color to go along with the white fish. Sliced tomatoes might be pretty. Or salsa and no-fat chips would go well. That’s a balanced meal, by the way.

Have fun on the ‘assembly line’ like the rest of us.

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Craig Audley
Craig Audley writes about and promotes many diet, weight loss and nutrition products.