Gleaners Cooking Matters Coordinator Jessica Klein shows class participants proper knife techniques while preparing a healthy recipe.

Gleaners Cooking Matters Coordinator Jessica Klein shows class participants proper knife techniques while preparing a healthy recipe.

Photo provided by Gleaners Community Food Bank

Healthy cooking is an important ingredient for fitness goals

By: Jonathan Shead | C&G Newspapers | Published February 5, 2020

METRO DETROIT — It’s that time of year again when people set out to become healthier individuals. Some head straight to the gym, while others take on 30-day diet challenges or try to eat better in general.

You’ll need to do both to really see the results you want, experts say.

“You can’t really have one without the other. You have to do both,” said Tina Allor, a health and wellness professor at Macomb Community College. “A lot of people will either just go to the gym and keep eating the way they have been, or they’ll change their diet completely and won’t go to the gym. You’re not getting the best of both worlds unless you’re doing both together.”

If cooking is not your forte, that’s OK.

“If someone hasn’t done a lot of cooking in the past and is just wanting to dip their toe into it, the easiest thing to do is start slow and small,” said Sarah Mills, the director of wellness and nutrition education for Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan. “It can be daunting to think about cooking every meal every day if that’s not something you’re used to doing.”

Allor said that trying to change or do too much at once is how people end up quitting early and feeling like they failed. She suggests that people “pick something small and start with that, then build upon it.”

One way to start small and experiment with cooking is by attending cooking classes. Gleaners hosts a free six-week cooking course for low-income individuals and families; Henry Ford Hospital, in West Bloomfield, has a demonstration kitchen that offers classes; and there are other offerings throughout the area.

Mills said cooking classes can be a good place to learn some of the techniques and terminology needed in the kitchen, as well as to clear up some of the misinformation or barriers that some people perceive around cooking.

The biggest barriers that Mills believes people face when learning to cook are the idea that it takes too much time or that cooking healthy meals is expensive.

“Cooking classes not only get you comfortable doing those things, but makes it feel like it’s realistic,” she said. “Then you’re more efficient too, if you are cooking and learning some of those techniques in the best way. Things will go faster and it doesn’t seem so time-consuming.”

Kickstarting the practice of healthy cooking at home doesn’t take much, either. People will just need the basics: a burner or hot plate, a medium-sized pot and skillet, a large spoon, a knife, a cutting board, a can opener, and a medium-sized bowl.

Mills added that cooking can seem expensive when comparing the frozen dinner one could buy for a couple of dollars to the $10 needed to buy the ingredients to make that same meal, but the difference in cooking it yourself is “you would have many more servings of that meal,” which can save you money in the long run.

“Meal prepping and eating at home is not only going to save you money, it’s going to save you on calories, sodium and fat, because you have control over what you’re putting in your body,” Allor said. “You don’t have control when you’re eating out or something processed.”

What you eat can have a direct impact on your motivation to get to the gym too, Allor said.

“You’re less likely to go to the gym if you’re eating a processed diet, because you won’t have the energy. When you eat processed foods, it gives you this boost of energy very quickly, and you utilize that food quickly. Then you’re hungry again and you feel tired and fatigued.”

Even when cooking at home, Allor recommends checking nutrition labels and being mindful of fats and sodium levels to ensure the food being put into your body is as healthy as possible. You can never go wrong with fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat pasta.

Mills said those products are found for relatively cheap at the grocery store, and they can be stretched and used across multiple meals.

The internet can be a good place to turn for resources. Choos can teach people about their individual calorie and nutrition needs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture website has information on food safety and how to properly store foods, and a quick Google search can help you find a simple recipe you may end up loving.

“People have this misconception that healthy food is going to taste bad or not be as satisfying as what they’re used to eating,” Mills said. “All food can be, and should be, enjoyed.”