The number one critical skill that will help you overhaul your health
I’ve seen some things in my time. I’ve heard every excuse under the sun why someone doesn’t stay committed to their health.
I’ve been a personal trainer and nutritionist for nearly 20 years now. I’ve had the opportunity to work in health clubs in Canada, the US, England, and Australia. I’ve worked with every type of client you can imagine from young athletes to senior citizens.
Nutrition is the key component that will determine your success, and when it comes to sticking to a healthy diet, I found out why most people don’t stay with it:
They can’t cook.
These may seem simple, but a lack of skill in the kitchen has led to the downfall of many well-intentioned healthy lifestyle changes.
The ability to cook and to learn how to combine flavors is paramount in keeping your nutrition on track. The biggest benefit of cooking from scratch is that you use whole-food ingredients.
Watch any Food TV cooking show or competition. What do the chefs always say is the key to a delicious meal? Simple quality ingredients.
The more you can include real whole foods in your diet, the better. This helps you avoid the processed, manufactured junk by consuming high-nutrient, unprocessed, chemical-free, ingredients.
A great tip to eat better is to not eat anything that has a list of ingredients on it. Real whole foods don’t have ingredients, they are the ingredients.
I’ve encountered so many people who are intimidated by cooking and feel it’s a skill that’s beyond them. The lack of confidence deters them from trying to improve. It’s tough because it takes work.
You won’t become a good cook overnight, and the journey can be frustrating. But it may be the most important thing in getting you healthy.
A lack of skill in the kitchen is why people turn to easier choices. It’s why they go for ready-made food, aka choices that are unhealthy. The prospect of having to cook a meal makes fast food the go-to option on the way home — or ordering food in.
You can see how a lack of skill in the kitchen can drive you toward unhealthy choices. So how do you become a better cook and take back control of your health?
Start Learning From the Best
What I’m referring to here are all the resources out there to learn to cook. This is the number one thing by far to get you started.
There are hundreds of food tv show options. The hosts are showing you how to cook. Instead of watching them for entertainment — use them as education.
YouTube is a veritable gold mine for becoming a better cook. Any dish or recipe you can ever think of has a video for it showing you exactly how to make it.
I believe a great place to start is with Jamie Oliver. His videos teach simple, easy, and healthy cooking — and he lays it all out for you. Jamie Oliver’s YouTube channel is an absolute goldmine if you want to become a better cook. He caters to beginners, all the way to the more experienced.
Even Gordon Ramsay has some great videos that narrow things down to their basics, such as how to make perfect rice, or learning better knife skills. It’s all there, and it’s free — so make use of it.
Begin With One-Pot Meals
This is a great tip to make meals easier and develop your confidence in the kitchen. Start with soups and stews where all the ingredients are thrown into one pot. It makes the cooking process less daunting.
Include your protein of choice, some vegetables and potato, and lots of dried herbs and seasonings. One enormous advantage is soups and stews use broth; and it is an amazing health booster. Bone broth — or stock — is great for healing, and boosting your immune system.
The next best friend you’ll have in the kitchen is a slow cooker. You may call this a crock-pot, but it’s another simple way to put together amazing meals, easily.
A slow cooker is a great way to make use of cheaper cuts of meat as the slow cooking process makes anything tender. From there, just add in potatoes, (regular or sweet) broth, carrots, garlic, onion, and fresh and dried herbs. Maybe throw in a little red wine vinegar.
Then all you do is plug it in and let it do its thing. A great slow cooker meal can take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours. You can start it before you leave for work, and when you come home — dinner is ready.
When you’re tired and don’t feel like cooking after a long day, the slow cooker is your secret weapon to get healthy.
From there, you can start expanding into more complicated dishes. But remember, a great dish doesn’t need a ton of ingredients. Even the best chefs in the world say a dish shouldn’t really have over five.
You want the ingredients to stand out, so don’t feel you need to put together elaborate meals to make them delicious — or healthier.
Make Use of Seasonings
This is the secret weapon with cooking. Seasoning can make even the blandest meal taste great. Herbs and spices are one of the most important tools in the toolbox of talented chefs.
The other significant thing with herbs and spices is how healthy they are for you. Herbs and spices have some of the highest ORAC ratings of any food. The ORAC scale measures the amount of antioxidants contained in a food.
And we’re talking more than just salt and pepper here. Learning to combine herbs and spices will instantly transport a dish. You can make a simple three-ingredient meal, but take it to a whole other level with the right seasoning.
Here are some great seasoning combinations to try out:
Italian: garlic powder, oregano, thyme and add some fresh rosemary and basil
Mediterranean: Cumin, coriander, paprika, chili powder + some parsley, garlic, and red onion. (Check out my article on whether or not the Mediterranean diet is worth following here.)
Mexican: Chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne
BBQ dry rub: paprika, cayenne, thyme, chili powder, garlic powder
Cajun: cayenne, paprika, oregano, thyme, mustard powder
These are a few good ones to get started. What’s great is there’s no set recipe. You can add as little, or as much of each ingredient as you like. From there, you just adjust to what tastes best for you.
Start Meal Prepping
Meal prep may sound like an obnoxious Instagram fitness influencer thing, but it is valuable for eating as healthy as possible.
With meals and ingredients ready to go, you don’t have to worry about what to eat, or grabbing some processed junk when you don’t feel like cooking.
Here’s what I do: take one day (Sunday works well) and spend a few hours making as many meals for the week as you can. The best way to do this is to cook up a bunch of separate ingredients that you can combine together later.
Cook a few trays of diced sweet potato, a bunch of chicken breasts, several salmon fillets, chop up fresh vegetables and make a few big pots of brown or wild rice.
Side tip: a rice cooker is an amazing investment — and so simple to use. They cost little and can cook both rice and quinoa.
With all your food ready, just store them in the fridge in separate containers. When you need a meal, you can take a serving of sweet potato, dice up some chicken on top, add in a handful of spinach, season as you like, and even drizzle some olive oil over it.
You just have to heat it up, and you have a meal ready to go in a minute or two. It’s all about setting yourself up for success and making your meals as easy as possible.
Another simple meal tip is to keep big bags of spinach or greens in your fridge. When you need a quick, healthy meal, fill a salad bowl with the greens, dice up some of the chicken or salmon, add in some cubed avocado, red onion, and cucumber, and make your own dressing of olive oil and red or balsamic vinegar.
I make these salads all the time. Not only is it extremely nutrient-dense, but they also keep you full for hours. The key things that promote fullness are: protein, water, healthy fats, and fiber — and a salad like this has all of them.
Make Breakfast Easier
Another simple way to get a real whole food breakfast is to make overnight oats. There's nothing too fancy to this. Put a serving of oats in a bowl and fill with almond milk until it’s covered. You can even throw in a tablespoon of chia seeds for added nutrition.
The oats will soften overnight and in the morning, just add on some walnuts, blueberries, cinnamon, and maybe a drizzle of honey, and you’ve got the healthiest breakfast you can imagine that’s ready in like 25 seconds.
As you become more comfortable with the basics of cooking, it will encourage you to expand your horizons. Cooking doesn’t have to be hard, but it has become a big barrier for many people in pursuit of a healthier life.
Start making use of all the great free resources out there from YouTube, to blogs, and Pinterest.
The other important thing is learning to appreciate real whole foods. Our tastebuds have been hijacked by so many artificial flavors and ingredients, that you can forget what actual food should taste like.
Once your palate comes back, anything that’s not fresh and natural will repel you. Soon, you’ll be coming up with your own new flavor combinations and making the ingredients work for you, instead of being intimidated by them.,