Learning to cook can save money, trim waistlines

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published December 28, 2018

METRO DETROIT — Shelly Kemp, the executive director of the Royal Oak Chamber of Commerce, likes to lend her hand in the kitchen at Mirepoix Cooking School in Holiday Market.

But she’s hardly a trained chef, and she certainly wasn’t always an avid cook.

“My mom would be the one who would make sloppy Joes out of the can,” Kemp said. “But I can tell you the minute that changed. I got married in 1997, and right around then, I was at the bookstore and I picked up this Italian cookbook from Food & Wine (magazine). I thought I would try something new, so I just started. It was authentic Italian cuisine, but it was quick and easy. And I fell in love with it.”

That’s all it took. A little dabble resulted in a big lifestyle change, Kemp said. Soon, cooking became a kind of meditation for her, and she said preparing dinner for her family turned out to be a great form of stress relief.

“It was a mental health thing. I was preparing something for my husband and my son, and I knew where everything they were eating came from. And there was the added boost when everyone says, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing.’”

And the health benefits of learning to cook aren’t limited to the mind. As you might expect, even basic skills to prepare fresh food at home can lead to a lot of physical payoff — more energy, better digestion, and if you do it right, a smaller waistline.

Showing people how to design their diet for their nutritional goals is what Stacy Goldberg does every day. She’s the founder of Savorfull, a Quicken Loans venture aimed at helping organizations like corporations and even sports teams get their nutrition in check despite their intense schedules. She just ended a stint as the Detroit Pistons’ nutritionist, and she still serves as the official nutritionist for the NBA Coaches Association.

Goldberg said that families can choose the eating habits that work best for them, whether that calls for salads on the go or frozen organic veggies at dinnertime. But if you spend a little more time in your kitchen in 2019, you’re already making big strides toward a healthier year.

“When people eat out, the portions are two or three times what you would typically make at home. And you feel like you need to finish it all if you’ve paid for it. At home, it’s easier to cut back on portions, take leftovers for lunch the next day — which saves money — and cut back on the fat and sodium in your food. You have no idea how much salt or oil a restaurant is putting in your meal,” Goldberg said.

Food prepared at home is usually more satisfying because people have the option to add more nutrient-dense ingredients, with plenty of fiber and protein, that will fill you up and keep your blood sugar steady.

And cooking food doesn’t need to be fancy — in other words, if you can’t julienne a carrot, that’s fine. Just focus on adding more colors to your diet however you can.

“The first basic skill I encourage people to learn (is) how to cook vegetables, and I always say eat the rainbow,” Goldberg said. “Cut out the ‘white’ foods, like white bread and white flour, and swap white potatoes for sweet potatoes, and that will make a big difference. Swap white rice for quinoa, and maybe regular pasta for red lentil pasta or something like that.”

A little experimentation goes a long way, and often, even failed attempts at gourmet will still go over well with those at your table.

“I’m not a huge baker, because it’s so precise, and that can be intimidating. But with a meal, you can kind of toss a zucchini in if the recipe doesn’t call for it and you’ll be OK,” Kemp said.

Of course, when you’re not paying for dinners out and the labor involved there — you know, the chef, the busboy, a tip for the server — you can save major bucks and still enjoy great flavors and quality ingredients.

“Organic is so mainstream now, there’s not a huge cost difference most of the time between that and regular foods,” Goldberg said.

“I definitely would say I noticed a financial difference once I started cooking more,” Kemp said. “And you don’t need to spend money on expensive kitchen tools to do it. You can get good pans from discount stores if you keep your eyes peeled, and if you don’t have money for a cooking school, I’d say there’s probably millions of video tutorials for basic skills on YouTube.”