By Peyman Gravori, DO and Su-Nui Escobar, MS, RDN
As a family doctor, I constantly tell others that healthy eating is essential to good health. However, walking the talk was difficult with my busy schedule and my zero cooking skills. Cooking felt like a big task considering I grew up watching my mother spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals. With my schedule, I didn’t see where I would possibly find those hours. Yet, I was determined to make it happen. I wanted to gain control of my body and my health. I started taking simple steps like selecting healthier options at the hospital cafeteria and eating healthier snacks, such as fruits and nuts. Later, I enrolled the help of my friends and family to teach me how to prepare basic meals. At the beginning, making my own grilled chicken and a pre-made salad was a great accomplishment, but after some time I found myself cooking fast, healthy, and tasty meals. Let me share some of the lessons I learned along the way. To start, keep it simple
- Make a few small changes per week and stick to them. For example, add a vegetable to 1-2 meals/day or drink more water and less sugary drinks.
- Ask for help. At the beginning of my journey, I asked my friend that enjoyed cooking to come with me to the supermarket to help me select a few items to start eating more at home and less out. The first time we purchased almond milk, berries and honey to make smoothies in the morning. I have to be at work at 6:00am and I used to either skip breakfast or eat the pastries available at my morning meetings. It was a very small change, making a smoothie took only three minutes and three ingredients yet I started giving my body and my brain the nutrients necessary to focus even better at my job and to maintain a healthy weight.
- Buy 2-3 important pieces of kitchen equipment. For me it was a blender and a decent pan, a dishwasher-safe one (I had to think ahead). It was amazing how much more I was able to do with simple appliances. I later spent $15 more dollars buying an adaptor to my blender that allowed me to do single servings of my smoothie and to just add a lid to take it with me.
Simplicity made it possible for me to start on the right path. Of course I had an open mind and the drive to change my habits, but with my crazy schedule I could not have done it unless it was quick and easy. The next step was for me to get more familiar with the supermarket. Surprisingly, I found that my local supermarket offers healthy eating tours. I was amazed to learn that many supermarkets now hire registered dietitians to conduct tours, wellness classes, events and promotions. I learned many tips and tricks to buy healthier groceries and to eat well and cheap on the run. I recommend you to do the same. Find the services that your local supermarket offers, such as
- Supermarket tours
- Free cooking classes and demos
- Newsletter with healthy eating tips
- Store apps with healthy recipes (my favorite is the Whole Foods app. It not only provides you with the recipes but will also create a shopping list).
Lastly, when I was already feeling a lot more confident, I enrolled in online healthy cooking classes. To be honest, I discovered later on that online videos or just following recipes work well but I prefer the structure of a class. It was just all about getting familiar with the kitchen. I also found my challenges and tackled them, one at a time. For example, one of my biggest obstacles was not having the basic ingredients some recipes called for. Thus, one day, I went and spent $40.00 to build my spice and herbs cabinet. I also started making sure I always had basics like garlic and onions. Such simple and inexpensive steps made it a lot easier for me to cook a variety of dishes. Of course I still look for simple recipes with 5-10 ingredients in addition to herbs and spices. 10 basic spices
- Sea salt, ground
- Black pepper, ground
- Red pepper or chili powder
- Onion powder (you can use real onions, too)
- Garlic powder or minced garlic (found at the produce section)
A few months after starting my journey, I now find myself eating healthier and even inviting friends and family for dinners. From time to time I bring a friend that can cook to help me out with more challenging meals. We bond over onions and tomatoes and when the food is ready we share it with friends that otherwise I would be meeting up with for a quick and probably unhealthy meal out.