fruits of vegetables being presented as a prize in a game show

How to Get Excited About Healthy Cooking

Last updated: September 2022

We all know eating healthy foods likely helps reduce the risk of cancer recurrences as well many other illnesses. But just the phrase – healthy food – is off-putting to so many of us. It brings to mind bland steamed vegetables and boiled meats. I say let’s “rebrand” that to “eating fresh.”

What does "eating fresh" mean?

To me, eating fresh focuses on fruits and vegetables and meals that are not processed and do not contain high amounts of sugar, fat, or salt. Flavor in these meals comes from fresh herbs and the food’s own flavors.

It takes moving away from the late-20th century mindset that cooking is a chore. It also takes some of our time, but so does surfing the internet, watching a movie, or playing games online. And many of us seem to find time for those things.

I’m here to convince you that eating fresh is good for your health, your budget, and how you feel overall. Many fresh fruits and vegetables have anti-cancer properties. Like any activity, eating fresh is a habit. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

It can be intimidating especially if you don’t already cook

If you didn’t grow up cooking or watching someone else cook and you subsist mainly on takeout, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. In this article, I’m going to offer some tips to get you in the right mindset if it all just seems too intimidating.

I get it. I grew up in Louisiana, a place in which fat, sugar, and fried are major food groups. There’s some delicious cuisine there but also some serious rates of obesity and diseases related to it. My parents cooked at home a lot and we ate fairly healthy, but the culture around us was not so healthy.

In a Part Two article, I offer two simple recipe ideas to get you started.

Start paying attention to fresh foods

Whether it’s online, on T.V., or in a book, there are numerous resources for learning about eating well. If you received your cancer treatment at a large, comprehensive cancer center, start there. They may offer classes, consultations, or recipes.

Just start paying attention and learning about the abundance of vegetables and fruits that are out there. We are enormously lucky, even in the pandemic, to generally have broad access to a rich diversity of nutritious foods. Read about their nutritional value and keep an eye out for recipes that contain foods that sound good to you.

Try thinking of spending time cooking as a new ritual instead of a chore. Think about how you could make it fun. Maybe listening to your favorite music or podcast while you cook? Or enlisting a family member to join new in this new adventure?

Start small and manageable

You don’t need to make a five-course dinner from scratch every night. In fact, less is probably more as you start to experiment with healthy cooking. Set small, attainable goals. Jumping in and trying to do too much too fast may end up exhausting and discouraging you.

I like to think of the time that cooking requires as 4 categories: planning, shopping, prepping (for more complex recipes), and actual cooking/preparing. When you use fresh ingredients, you do need to plan to cook them soon after you buy them. (But they can often be paired with shelf-stable staples like beans or grains.)

Basic kitchen tools

You will also need basic kitchen tools: a skillet, a pot, spatulas, a good knife for chopping, a blender. You don’t need a fancy kitchen. If you don’t have many tools already, you can buy basic sets at the store. Many people seem to have the tools but they just rarely use them.

I would suggest starting with something easy like smoothies if you’re new to cooking and healthy choices. Fruit smoothies can be a delicious breakfast, snack, dessert, dinner, really whatever you want. (I’ll give you a super easy, sweet, and delicious smoothie recipe in Part Two.)

Learn to read labels and to think of flavor in new ways

Learn to read the labels on packaged food. In particular, the “added sugars” are ones you want to avoid. You also want to check the saturated fat and sodium contents of any food.

Michael Pollan, whose excellent books In Defense of Food and Food Rules address fresh food, says that the “quieter” a food is, the more likely it is to be healthy. For instance, apples in the produce section are healthy but they don’t have labels announcing their health benefits.

In contrast, some cookies have labels that scream “healthy” claiming fiber and no fat. But you are better off with an apple. Learn to read labels and keep in mind the “quiet” food idea.

Check out: 2 Easy Recipes to Get You Excited About Healthy Eating

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